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The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts and Identity Hong Kong Cinema and Its Interaction with Global Culture

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The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts and Identity Hong Kong Cinema and Its Interaction with Global Culture

Hong Kong Film Awards Statue

 

The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts and Identity Hong Kong Cinema and Its Interaction with Global Culture

Zhen Zhao, The Hong Kong Polytechnic University


 

ABSTRACT

The cinema of Hong Kong is a major thread of Chinese cinema along with that from Taiwan and Mainland China. In ‘The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity’, the Hong Kong cinema industry is examined from its three titular aspects from 1840 to the return to China. The challenges faced by globalization, revitalization of Cantonese movies and its ultimate reception by Hollywood are also themes. The source essays contained vary from academic history books to papers published by academic magazines concerning the topic of cinema or film. This book review explores how the authors chart the development of the Hong Kong filmmaking industry and how it interacts with global culture, and will highlight chapters that explore the significance of Kung Fu Crazy, Infernal Affairs and Chungking Express. The analysis of these examples clearly shows that apart from the prosperity of Hong Kong movies worldwide, pan-Chinese movies are gradually becoming the new trend.

Keywords: Cinema, globalization, Hong Kong, interaction, Pan-Chinese



The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts and Identity. Edited by Poshek Fu and David Desser. Cambridge: Cambridge University Pres. 2000. ISBN: 9780521772358. 348 pp.

 

The cinema of Hong Kong, together with the cinema of Taiwan and Mainland China are three major threads of great importance in the history of Chinese cinema. As a former British colony and a Special Administrative Region of China after 1997, Hong Kong has a greater degree of economic and political freedom compared to that in Mainland China and Taiwan. This has contributed to the establishment of a truly unique genre. It is significant, therefore, to investigate the most popular and prosperous cinema traditions in history and the development of the filmmaking industry in Hong Kong through the book The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity.

Edited by Poshek Fu and David Desser, and published by Cambridge University Press in 2000, the book concentrates on a period from 1840 to 1997, when Hong Kong returned to China. The book focuses on Hong Kong cinema from numerous stances: before and during World War II; the cinema of the turbulent 1960s; its rise to world prominence in the 1970s; the revival of Cantonese cinema, and its ultimate reception by Hollywood. The source essays contained are of a wide range: varying from academic history books to papers published by academic magazines concerning the topic of cinema or film, while the majority of sources stem from academic archives. In Rewriting History: Hong Kong Nostalgia Cinema and Its Social Practice, Hong Kong’s 1990s is described as a place caught in postcolonial nostalgia, the simulacra of late capitalist technological advancement, the terror of the upcoming Communist takeover in barely seven years, the continual influx of unwanted refugees, and the continual outflow of prized citizens (Chan, 2000).

The dates in this book are used intelligently to mark some big events. In The American Connection in Early Hong Kong Cinema (Law, 2000), Hong Kong’s society, especially the development of its cinema is explored and marked by specific dates. The author also uses charts and pictures intelligently in the book to express their points of view. For instance, the pictures in the Richness through Imperfection: King Hu and the Glimpse taken from the movie scenes demonstrated King Hu’s artistic prowess as one of Asia’s finest directors with a significant contribution to the development of cinema in Hong Kong (Bordwell, 2000).

Each of the book’s three parts has essays devoted to Arts, Identity and History. In The Kung Fu Craze: Hong Kong Cinema’s first American Reception, the connection between the cinema of Hong Kong and that in the United States, especially the Kung Fu Craze, remains the focus (Desser, 2000). In Space, Place, and Spectacle: The Crisis Cinema of John Woo, loyalty,honesty, passion for justice, and commitment to one’s family are the themes (Williams, 2000). And in Rewriting History: Hong Kong Nostalgia Cinema and Its Social Practice (Chan, 2000), Hong Kong’s issue of identity as seen in a series of nostalgia films produced in the 1980s and 1990s is explored.

The authors in the book believe that the Kung Fu genre is paramount in the development of the cinema of Hong Kong from 1970s and remains so until today. In The Kung Fu Crazy: Hong Kong Cinema’s First American Reception, Desser notes that when Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx (a gangster film) opened in February 1996 and quickly became the top box-office draw of the month, film fans over forty may have been forgiven for the uncontainable excitement that it produced within them (Bordwell, 2000). It was at this point that the Hong Kong film industry underwent a drastic decline resulting from the Asian financial crisis, overproduction, and a newly aggressive push by Hollywood studios into the Asian market. But this would not last long.

At the height of Hollywood’s dominance in global cinema, Infernal Affairs, a 2002 Hong Kong crime-thriller film directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak was released to the public. The movie tells a story of a police officer who infiltrates the triads, and of another police officer secretly working for the same gang.  In the essay, Made in Hong Kong - a Conversation with Hong Kong Director, Andrew Lau said that the film reflected the conflict between people and the definition of good and evil in modern society. The movie provoked people’s thoughts with regards to money, status and the truth values and suggested that doing bad things to succeed does not guarantee success in this life or the next one (Lau, n.d.).

The other iconic classic of Hong Kong Cinema, Chungking Express, also receives liberal attention throughout the book having no less than 30 references made to it.  Telling the tale of two love-struck cops, the title refers to the notorious Chungking Mansions, a high rise block in Tsim Sha Tsui, known for its seedy environment and the drug trafficking of south East Asians.  Marchetti (2000) notes that at that time, Hong Kong film makers sought ways to include more global elements in local films.  Brigitte Lin, who played the drug dealer disguised as Marylin Monroe became “another aspect of the specter of global consumerism that forms the visual foundation of the film’s vertiginous bricolage of American pop culture, British colonialism, and Asian commerce.” (Marchetti, 2000, p. 289).

Hong Kong films plays a prominent part in World Cinema and the industry is now the third largest motion picture industry in the world, as well as the second largest exporter. Hong Kong has also developed into a filmmaking hub for the Chinese-speaking world and for East Asia in general. As Wikipedia notes, “The lines between the mainland and Hong Kong industries are even more blurred, especially now that China is producing increasing numbers of slick, mass-appeal, popular films. The trend in the future may be towards a more pan-Chinese cinema, similar to the one that existed in the first half of the twentieth century” (“Cinema of Hong Kong”, n.d.). Fu and Desser’s anthology, therefore, provides a valuable addition to the growing range of widely available materials to aid teaching about this most popular period of cinema. Perhaps with the now mature status of Hong Kong cinema, there exists a need for more focused and nuanced studies of the genre. Studies of contemporary filmmakers as well as studies which will consolidate academic awareness of the richness of other recent Chinese cinemas will be eagerly received by movie enthusiasts and student alike.

 

REFERENCES

Bordwell, D. (2000). Richness through imperfection: King Hu and the glimpse. In P. Fu and D. Desser (Eds.), The cinema of Hong Kong: history, arts and identity (pp. 113-136).  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Chan, N. S. H. (2000). Rewriting history: Hong Kong nostalgia cinema and its social practice. In P. Fu and D. Desser (Eds.), The cinema of Hong Kong: History, arts and identity (pp. 252-272). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cinema of Hong Kong. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Cinema_of_Hong_Kong&oldid=454780559

Desser, D. (2000). The Kung Fu craze: Hong Kong cinema’s first American reception. In P. Fu and D. Desser (Eds.), The cinema of Hong Kong: History, arts and identity (pp. 19-43). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Lau, A. (n.d.). Made in Hong Kong - a Conversation with Hong Kong Director.  

Law, K. (2000). The American connection in early Hong Kong cinema. In P. Fu and D. Desser (Eds.), The cinema of Hong Kong: History, arts and identity (pp. 44-70). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Marchetti, G. (2000). Buying American, consuming Hong Kong: Cultural commerce, fantasies of identity, and the cinema. In P. Fu and D. Desser (Eds.), The cinema of Hong Kong: History, arts and identity (pp. 289-313). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.  

Williams, T. (2000). Space, place, and spectacle: The crisis cinema of John Woo. In P. Fu and D. Desser (Eds.), The cinema of Hong Kong: History, arts and identity (pp. 137-157). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

 

ASSIGNMENT SUMMARY

This article is part of a subject that aims to improve students’ understanding of the various aspects of Hong Kong from a historical perspective. Through a book review of a particular facet of Hong Kong, students could reflect on the reading and obtain a better understanding of the historical development of Hong Kong.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Zhen Zhao is a Year 2 student in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, majoring in English Studies for the Professions (Hons).

 

  1. I am reminded here of Chinese (Mainland) cinema that is perhaps not so “slick” or massively popular as Zhao suggests, but – please forgive the varying nuances of this word – perhaps “niche” in its audience appeal and public embrace. Films like Farewell My Concubine, Yellow Earth, Red Sorghum and (to an extent) The Last Emperor – films which made up the Fifth Generation of Chinese movies – that probably silently underscored many of the more mainstream and widely known Chinese film lauded in Zhao’s review.

  2. You have noted very interesting points! ps nice internet site. “It is better to be hated for who you are than to be loved for what you are not.” by Andre Gide.

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