- World Film Locations: Hong Kong ed. by Linda Chiu-han Lai and Kimburley Wing-yee Choi, and: Historical Dictionary of Chinese Cinema by Tan Ye and Yun Zhu, and: The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas ed. by Carlos Rojas and Eileen Cheng-yin Chow
China has fascinated the West since publication of Marco Polo's Travels in the early 1300s. Subsequent accounts of armchair travelers and memoirs of real ones, philosophical essays and poetic encomiums, breathless newsreels and prolix documentaries have expressed every sentiment from admiration to contempt. Just as often, they exposed "Orientalist" misunderstandings. Six hundred years later, the Middle Kingdom acquired cinema and began depicting itself, projecting Chinese-manufactured images and perspectives beyond self-imposed political and cultural borders. Chinese film in turn became fodder for academic rumination, until the scholarship now occupies considerable real estate in university libraries. Without undue strain, one can find under the rubric of Chinese cinema, papers and book-length studies dealing with transnationalism, modernism, postmodernism, identity politics, women, homosexuality, urban culture, auteurism, Chinese dialects, and, of course, martial arts. How is one to broach this great wall of erudition? Three recent books on Chinese cinema offer some guidance for the intrepid traveler.
World Film Locations: Hong Kong joins an expanding series of books that explore the role urban locales – from Vienna to Las Vegas – play in films. Each short volume presents movie stills and location photos along with maps pinpointing scenes described. Short texts accompany the images, often reminiscent in tone and content of the audio commentary on DVDs, except that academics – not actors or directors – supply the anecdotes and analysis. Not striving for historical comprehensiveness, editors Linda Chiu-han and Kimburley Wing-yee Choi have selected films released for the most part after 1980. What the thumbnail essays lack in academic heft they make up for in nostalgic pull. The reader learns, for example, that the pier featured in Our Dream Car (dir. Evan Yang, 1959), upon which the protagonists, a young married couple, meet after work every day was demolished in 2007 to make room for road expansion and a shopping center. And the Main Building of the University of Hong Kong, completed a century ago and backdrop to the sexual acrobatics in Lust, Caution (dir. Ang Lee, 2007), remains one of the semi-autonomous city's most significant landmarks.
Comments range from the quaint, as when Steve Fore informs the reader in his remarks about My Life as McDull (Toe Yuen, 2001) that "the view from the Number 15 bus's meandering trip up and down the slope is better than the straight-up cable-car trip from the Peak Tram" (70), to the ominous, as when Chu Kiu-wai writes that the upper floors of the low-rise blocks depicted in Metade Fumaca (Riley Yip, 2000) today "offer an exclusive and quiet reading environment for boutique-style bookshops, which has become a unique culture in HK" (66). Rising protests over the alleged involuntary removal to China of five Hong Kong booksellers critical of the Chinese government transform the fictitious violence of the film into a metaphor for real evils on a governmental scale. [End Page 59]
Meanwhile, Tan Ye and Yun Zhu organize knowledge alphabetically in their Historical Dictionary of Chinese Cinema. Names of over a century's worth of actors, directors, cinematographers, screenwriters, and genres are listed not chronologically but according to their pinyin transliterations or, in the case of films, to their often more famous English titles. Hence, one finds Chen Kaige's Farewell My Concubine (1993) listed under "F," not under Bawang bie ji, the romanized version of its Chinese character title (an appendix records...