Pena's classes, I've taken two now, are head-bashingly boring. He simply reads off slides, with a bunch of useless facts and figures that you will never use again. He always takes role call, which is fine but does so on average 3-4 minutes before class, which is incredibly frustrating as lectures have been in Lenfest (if classes ever go back to in-person). He often pauses for questions or comments but gets annoyed when the student actually asks a question that does not afford him to show off his vast amounts of film knowledge and anecdotes, and god forbid if the comment does not fully corresponds to his interpretations. Personally, I believe he wants to be less of a professor with actual discourse, and more he just wants an audience to be amazed by him. (Also, the man signed that Polanski petition back in 2009, so let's ruminate on that.)
I took 2 Pena classes this semester and NEVER AGAIN. I had 24 papers due over the course of the semester and they were the most dreadful things to write (and literally the biggest pain of my semester). I liked how his PowerPoints were organized, but as a lecturer, I didn't think he was particularly stand-out. I felt that lectures included so much more history than necessary (like geopolitical history) in both courses I took and even as a film major, I just wanted them to end. If you don't mind always being plagued with a paper, then this class will be OK. I don't think it's as standout as many of these reviews say (and pretty sure everyone who agrees just hasn't written CULPA reviews because I don't know anyone else in my classes who say they love him).
Not totally sure why this guy has a silver nugget — he is extremely knowledgeable, and maybe it's because I took this class over Zoom, but isn't an astounding professor in any sense of the word. He has a huge huge focus on Chinese history, that honestly has very little relevance to the films themselves. He also repeats slides many times and his classes are just unnecessarily long. I also found the writing one paper a week extremely brutal, especially since I was taking 2 of his classes in the semester, and not really conducive to better learning anyways.
AVOID THIS CLASS IF YOU ARE NOT A FILM MAJOR!!!! To be honest, Pena did okay as a lecturer, but the weekly lecture seems to be almost useless when you are writing the paper. If you are taking this course for the global core and know little about film techniques(camera work, mise-en-scene, etc. ), you will definitely be frustrated in class. Pena does not tell you how to write about a film or offers any film essays/critics that you can study. The instruction he gave on assignments is vague, but he is extremely strict and crazy about the due date of the assignment. (he will write the due date in bold several times in a single prompt and emphasize again and again that there is absolutely no extensions). My TA of this class (Grace Swee) is even worse. I think she totally lacks the ability to hold a discussion session. She looks very unprepared as a discussion leader. I was astonished when she forgot the names of the main characters in the film which we are about to discuss in class. During the discussion, she just reads the questions on a list and seldom delves into a specific topic worth discussing. It seems that she does not want to hold the discussion since she keeps checking her phone during class time to make sure that she can leave as soon as possible. The workload of this class is ridiculous for a non-film major. Pena does not offer any specific instructions on the assignments and he claims that you can write anything you want on the film you watched. However, if you focus on any aspects rather than the analysis of the film technique, you will definitely receive a very low grade for your paper.
Prof. Pena is one of the most knowledgable and experienced film professors I have ever taken a class with. He is very passionate about what he teaches, and has a lot fo personal insight to offer about Chinese film. He has personally met a lof of Chinese film directors and recounts his meetings with them, which I found absolutely entertaining. He seems to have a life outside of academia, which is very admirable. My only criticism of the class would be that he assigns way too much unneccesary reading, and the books cost you an arm and a leg.