- Hong Kong Connections: Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema
In the decade since the international acclaim of Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in 2000, the martial arts film has undergone a renaissance in Asia and Hollywood. Lee’s homage to the wuxia (swordplay) genre has inspired epic Chinese blockbusters like Hero (Zhang Yimou, 2002), The House of Flying Daggers (Zhang Yimou, 2004) and The Promise (Chen Kaige, 2005). Its box office success has also brought record attendance and new audiences to the crossover films of Jet Li, Jackie Chan, and Stephen Chow, with the Rush Hour trilogy (Brett Ratner, 1998Brett Ratner, 2001Brett Ratner, 2007), Shanghai Noon (Tom Dey, 2000), The One (James Wong, 2001), Unleashed (Louis Letterrier, 2005) and Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, 2004). In Hollywood, award-winning films such as The Matrix trilogy (Andy and Lana Wachowski, 1999Andy and Lana Wachowski, 2003) and the Kill Bill series (Quentin Tarantino, 2003Quentin Tarantino, 2004) are styled by Hong Kong martial arts choreographers. Even auteurs such as Martin Scorsese have successfully remade the Hong Kong gangster film, and celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Dustin Hoffman have lent their voices to kung fu animations. Across Asia, Tony Jaa, with his unique and raw muay thai kickboxing, has become a household name, and Korean pop stars are launching new action film markets in cross-border coproductions. As these have become bankable cultural commodities and exports, it is now commonplace to find the martial arts film style in advertising, on reality television, and even across Broadway musicals. [End Page 357] According to the coeditors of the collection Hong Kong Connections: Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema, “Hong Kong cinema is now a benchmark of achievement, a site of inspiration and cross-cultural borrowing, a model for emulation and a target of rivalry” (p. 2).
Hong Kong Connections provides a timely and valuable assessment of the impact of martial films in the last decade. Although half a decade has passed since its publication, the collection furnishes an important lens to reflect on the genre as it has traveled and been transformed. Jointly published by Duke and Hong Kong University Presses, the book has enjoyed wide circulation and is now considered a landmark collection. Helmed by a team of three renowned Hong Kongbased authors, Meaghan Morris, Stephen Chan, and Siu Leung Li, this collection features chapter contributions from a wide variety of established international film scholars, including Paul Willemen, Kim Soyoung, Laleen Jayamanne, Adrian Martin, and Rob Wilson. It offers the first comprehensive account of the global reach of this genre; anchors the diversity of its style through historical traditions in theatre, cinema, and literature; and provides a new approach to considering the genre by accounting for its globalizing influences.
Three terms frame this collection: “transnational,” “action,” and “imagination.” The transnational is a contact zone where the national and the local meet the global. It serves as a theoretical and geographical frame to consider how multidirectional flows of aesthetics, traditions, and resources have influenced the Hong Kong genre. It also suggests how the genre itself has transformed other cinemas and their social practices. A framework for cultural circulation and an approach to cross-cultural film studies, it calls attention to the material connections between industries and their circuits of distribution and exhibition, as well as how these are shaped by the forces of different media temporalities and cultural histories. The term “action” is a rubric for a range of genres and desires. It includes the sword-playing, fistfighting, and gun-toting cinemas from the 1950s to the present. It covers not only the main fare from Hong Kong, but also Japanese samurai films, Korean hwalkuk movies, Telegu and Hindi action cinema, Hollywood slapstick comedies, and the French avant-garde. These genres are not only examined textually; critical attention is also given to how the genre has produced new desires of...