Academic journal article Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity

Academic journal article Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity

Article excerpt

The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity. Poshek FU and David DESSER, eds. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2000. xi, 333 pp. ISBN 0521776023 (paperback). ISBN 0521772354 (cloth).

At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World. Esther C.M. YAU, ed. Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2001.272 pp. Paperback ISBN 0816632359. Cloth ISBN 0816632340.

In the last decade, Hong Kong cinema has attained a distinctive place within the body of English-language scholarship on East Asian cinema. The unparalleled availability of inexpensive English and Chinese subtitled prints (predominantly in VCD and DVD formats) has resulted in the wide dissemination of Hong Kong films of a variety of genres. This, combined with the efforts of film festival programmers both in Hong Kong and abroad, has led to Western audiences' exposure to a greater diversity of films than accounted for under the "chop-socky" paradigm that has characterized writings on Hong Kong film in the past. Similarly, the industrial and textual in-betweenness of Hong Kong cinema also has contributed to its perception as one of the most accessible cinemas of East Asia. At once Chinese and not-Chinese, resistant to simple generic classifications, and peopled by directors and stars who themselves are unconstrained by industrial genre (working in cinema, television, and, in the case of performers, the recording industry), Hong Kong films appear to offer something for everyone. In contrast with the staunchly national inscriptions of mainland Chinese, Japanese, Korean and--to a lesser extent--Taiwanese cinemas, Hong Kong films seem at home in a more post-national world in which hybridity reigns and meanings reside largely in the minds of their beholders.

The difficulty of forging a place for the academic study of Hong Kong film is made apparent through the ways in which scholars and critics have endeavored to negotiate its co-existing indeterminacy and local specificity. Writings that attempt to engage the transnational nature of Hong Kong cinema have been bound by national cinema frameworks, in which an almost utopian cultural "Chineseness" is substituted for the absent nation; in contrast, research seeking to explicate the postmodern bent of Hong Kong films often has risked theoretical abstraction. Yet, despite these shortcomings, such work has been crucial to the evolution of Englishlanguage research on Hong Kong cinema, charting an ongoing process of learning how best to engage those unique characteristics that make it so intriguing. It is in the context of such an evolution that two of the most recent anthologies focusing on Hong Kong film may best be understood. The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity, edited by Poshek Fu and David Desser, and At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World, edited by Esther Yau, put forth some of the most provocative English-language scholarship on Hong Kong cinema to date, offering new perspectives on both familiar and unfamiliar films and filmmakers, contributing to the body of historical research of Hong Kong cinema, and, notably, addressing issues of past scholarship of this cinema in the interest of fostering new avenues for future research.

"The Cinema of Hong Kong" speaks to future scholarship of Hong Kong cinema by taking on discourses that have framed its study in the past. The essays collected here address misperceptions of Hong Kong cinema as mere entertainment, as perpetuated not only by discourses surrounding Hong Kong film fandom in the West, but also by those China scholars working from the perspective of what Fu terms "the Central Plains syndrome" (199). In a departure from previous anthologies, the book emphasizes research by Hong Kong critics and academics, with the effect that a greater body of work--both film and written--is open to consideration than heretofore possible. Moreover, essays here reflect scholars' attempts to further engage the in-betweenness of Hong Kong cinema through a tacit recognition of its inherent ambiguities; arguing against national cinema frameworks, the editors suggest that, for Hong Kong film, "perhaps a postmodern model is more appropriate--a transnational cinema, a cinema of pastiche, a commercial cinema, a genre cinema, a self-conscious, self-reflexive cinema, ungrounded in nation, multiple in its identities" (5). …

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