Asian Theatre Journal 18.2 (2001) 279-281
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On 1 July 1997, to the accompaniment of thunderstorms and heavy rain, Hong Kong was undergoing a transformation from being a British colony for 156 years to becoming a new Chinese laboratory for experimenting with Deng Xiaoping's concept of "one country, two systems." This event drew newshounds to the island from all over the world. Ever since, a profound and vigilant international gaze has been focused on Hong Kong. This gaze has been partly responsible for a reinvestigation and reexamination of Hong Kong, long regarded as a cultural desert. Because it is a mirror of Hong Kong society and therefore a meaningful medium for conveying what Rey Chow, in Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies (1993), calls "postcolonial nostalgia," the cinema of Hong Kong has become a hot topic.
The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity is a key contribution to studies of Hong Kong's cinematic representation. As its subtitle indicates, this book comprehensively and effectively traces the development of Hong Kong cinema from the three perspectives of history, arts, and identity. The editors' lucid eleven-page introduction provides informative and analytical accounts of Hong Kong's identity vis-à-vis a mainland mentality that--in a manner antagonistic yet stimulating--has projected and constructed the evolution of Hong Kong cinema. This book comprises sections on history, arts, and identity that contextualize fourteen essays written by a diversified group of Hong Kong natives, mainland Chinese, and Westerners in the fields of history, film, literature, and bibliography. This unique heteroglossia marks a new level of both substantiation and sophistication in scholarship on Hong Kong cinema.
Taking a historical approach, the first section explains, chronologically, how Hong Kong cinema enters mainstream overseas markets. David Desser sketches the popularity of Hong Kong martial arts films among U.S. audiences in "The Kung Fu Craze: Hong Kong Cinema's First American Reception." He convincingly argues that "the values and motifs [of kung fu films] clearly mirror the psychosociological states of young people" (p. 38) and calls the kung fu craze "a deceptively complex moment in American culture history" (p. 39). Law Kar's "The American Connection in Early Hong Kong Cinema" illustrates how Hong Kong experience, the American influence, and the theatrical elements of local Cantonese opera blended to form the first golden age of Hong Kong film: 1937-1941. His distinctive terms--"two-way traffic" and "interflow"--vividly highlight the filmic scenario of the period. "The 1960s: Modernity, Youth Culture, and Hong Kong Cantonese Cinema," a well-written essay by Poshek Fu, addresses the issues of modernity, media politics, and colonial identity via a rigorous analysis of a series of Cantonese films of the 1960s and their political and cultural roles in [End Page 279] the history of Hong Kong cinema. In "The 1970s: Movement and Transition," Stephen Teo provides an informative overview in which he carefully examines the overproduction of Mandarin films, the reemergence of Cantonese films, and the rise of the New Wave.
The second section begins with David Bordwell's "Richness Through Imperfection: King Hu and the Glimpse." Bordwell's essay elucidates the artistic and visual styles of Hong Kong kung fu film through the masterpieces of noted film director King Hu. Bordwell's excellent and expert reading of King Hu's films shows readers the technical merits of the genre. Also in the arts section, Tony Williams' "Space, Place, and Spectacle: The Crisis Cinema of John Woo," Jenny Lau's "Besides Fists and Blood: Michael Hui and Cantonese Comedy," and Patricia Brett Ernes' "The Film Work of An Hui" all aim at discussing artistic elements in accordance with the contention of each director's films. All examine their directors' ongoing contributions to the formation of Hong Kong cinema's significant stages, and all engage the reader in an illuminating analysis of the directors' cinematic aesthetics.
The third section, which includes...