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Reviewed by:
  • Masculinities and Hong Kong Cinema
  • Kam Louie (bio)
Laikwan Pang and Day Wong, editors. Masculinities and Hong Kong Cinema. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005. xi, 342 pp. Hardcover $59.50, ISBN 962-209-737-5.

As one of the co-editors of this informative and stimulating collection observes in her introduction, in recent years Hong Kong cinema productions have been recognized "as the most interesting and successful alternatives to Hollywood's dominant global, commercial film market" (p. 1). This recognition is evidenced by the large number of scholarly and popular publications on this topic that have appeared in the past few years. In particular, Hong Kong University Press has led the field in publishing excellent academic titles such as the monographs in its acclaimed New Hong Kong Cinema series. Masculinities and Hong Kong Cinema is a worthy addition to its list of titles.

The appearance of this volume is very timely given the growing interest not just in Chinese cinema, but in masculinities in Asia. As East Asians become increasingly wealthy and confident and Chinese men are perceived by more people around the world as "sexy," Chinese masculinity has become a major topic for investigation in the past few years. Given that Hong Kong cinema is best-known for its action movies, one would expect discussions of Chinese masculinities to take center stage in this genre. However, this has not been the case. The majority of critical studies and collections have tended to concentrate more on nationalist or transnational concerns. Although this is understandable given Hong Kong's geopolitical significance and importance in the East-West divide, the bottom line is that Hong Kong cinema made its name and prospered because of the success of the kung fu genre.

This book places masculinities in the forefront. It is divided into three parts: (1) "History and Lineage," (2) "Transnational Significations," and (3) "Production, Reception and Mediation." But these groupings do not mean that the topics are mutually exclusive or that they exhaust all the major issues discussed in the book. For example, many of the essays look at the role of women as much as that of men. Indeed, with women audiences becoming major consumers of the industry, [End Page 488] and the rise of femocrats and metrosexuals in the industrialized world, the distinctions between chick flick and dick flick could eventually blur. Certainly, the stated intention of the editors of this volume is to "investigate the multiple meanings and manifestations of masculinities in Hong Kong cinema that compliment, contradict, and complicate each other" (p. 7). The assumption throughout is that masculinity is a moving target, and its composition changes as the context changes. This assumption enables the discussions to take masculinity into both territories that are familiar and those that are less trodden.

Interestingly, the less-known features of masculinity in Hong Kong cinema for Western readers relate to the indigenous origins of this cinema itself. In part I, the first two chapters address these origins. David Desser's discussion of the development of male movies in the late 1960s and early 1970s is especially enlightening. I am convinced by his argument that of the two early martial artists—Zhang Che and King Hu—it is Zhang Che who had an immediate and lasting impact on the Shaw Brothers' films that became so influential in later years. Unfortunately, the book does not contain a chapter specifically on the period directly after this: from the late 1970s to the early 1990s. This is a pity because the 1980s and early 1990s were highly profitable years for Hong Kong cinema, and discussions about them would have been robust in tone. Nonetheless, Laikwan Pang's chapter, which concentrates on the post-1997 situation, is fascinating in terms of the information it provides about the local context at that less prosperous time. Pang illuminates this context by focusing on the work of the relatively new film studio Milkway Image (Yinhe yingxiang). This is a wise choice, not only because this company was established during an economic recession, but also because it continues to be successful, thanks to its innovative director Johnnie To, whose gangster films such as The Mission (Qianghuo...


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pp. 488-490
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