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  • The GrandmasterSocio-Political Plurality in Contemporary Hong Kong
  • Tom Cunliffe (bio)

In the era of twenty-first century Hong Kong-mainland China co-productions, there have been several cops-and-robbers movies featuring politicized images of a Hong Konger kneeling down before a mainland cop, including Lady Cop and Papa Crook (Felix Chong, Alan Mak, 2008) and Drug War (Johnnie To, 2012). In the local production Election 2 (Johnnie To, 2006), a shadowy mainland Chinese security chief official towers over a Hong Konger. These images suggest the possibility of conciliation between Hong Kong and mainland China to be a pipe-dream and visualizes the vertical hegemonic relationship between China and Hong Kong. In Lady Cop and Papa Crook, a mainland cop pointing a gun at the Cantonese-speaking Hong Konger barks out, "Ten years after the handover and you still don't understand Putonghua [Mandarin language]?" This reflects the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP) dislike of Cantonese, since it dislodges the national China imaginary, and also considers the increasing emphasis on Putonghua over Cantonese at Hong Kong schools and the attending concerns over local Hong Kong culture and identity waning. In Drug War, a Hong Kong gangster on his knees begs a mainland cop not to be given the death penalty. Yiu-Wai Chu points out that the relatively independent and impartial legal system has become the "pride of Hong Kong"1 but Drug War ends with the state execution of a Hong Kong drug dealer, graphically depicted to the extent that it reveals that Hong Kong's political autonomy and civil liberties are in danger of being compromised by the hegemonic power of China. The climax of Election 2 contains what is perhaps the strongest political statement in a post-1997 film about the Hong Kong-China relationship. On top of an apocalyptically dark [End Page 101] mountain, a mainland Chinese security chief condemns Louis Koo's character, recently chaired triad chief, to lifelong servitude to a new triad system, ruled by China. The security chief spouts, "Your help will make Hong Kong a safer place" and "Hong Kong can only prosper" under this new Chinese rule, receiving a blow from Louis Koo's character after each of these typical pro-Beijing slogans. By the end, however, resistance has crumbled as Louis Koo's character collapses on the ground and the security chief standing above him thanks him for his cooperation. As Stephen Ching-kiu Chan points out, in the postcolonial conditions of Hong Kong, resistance is a space that forms in an estranging context where historically leftover "universal" concepts and values like democracy, social justice, and human rights are sought after by previously colonized locals but are not accepted by those close to power in pro-Beijing circles for fear of destabilizing "prosperity" and "stability."2 This ideological minefield is exactly what is being negotiated around in the scenes described above.

Unlike the more overt examples of resistance above, I argue that Wong Kar-wai's The Grandmaster (2013) fits into a growing number of Hong Kong-mainland China co-productions that appear to be complicit with the current Chinese state national discourse yet curiously share similar sentiments to those that spurred on recent protests in Hong Kong, including against compulsory national education and for true universal suffrage. These films have appeared from Hong Kong film-makers self-consciously aware of their own politics in response to the increasingly encroaching political culture of mainland China in Hong Kong, whose autonomy was supposed to remain largely unchanged for fifty years after 1997 under the "One Country, Two Systems" formula. Hong Kong's core values, including a free press, freedom of speech, and transparent law system, are gradually eroding. These films resist being "mainlandized" because they are directly tackling issues related to Hong Kong itself becoming "mainlandized." In different ways, they suggest there is not just one way to see things (Beijing's) but different possible constellations in a constantly changing environment and world, offering a pluralistic conception of China rather than the (failed) national imagination of a unified China.

For example, scholar Yang Yuanying has illustrated how Bodyguards and Assassins (Teddy Chan, 2008) was calculated to touch mainland...


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