This article begins with a review of the debate on cross-cultural analysis and the relationship between Western theory and Asian texts that took place in film studies. Film scholars have often applied theories of melodrama to interpret Chinese family films, romances and art cinema. Given the vast differences between the historical and theoretical construct of melodrama and these Chinese films, it is advisable to locate an intrinsic and, perhaps, more illuminating term to explain Chinese-language cinemas. The second part of the article focuses on Chinese wenyi as an alternative to the concept melodrama in writing Chinese film history and criticism. The review of the term wenyi and its shifting meanings and contexts demonstrates how a new corpus of wenyi cinema may emerge as a distinct historiography in film scholarship. © 2009 AMIC/SCI-NTU.