Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender

By Sheldon Hsiao-Peng Lu | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Transnational Action John Woo, Hong Kong, Hollywood

Anne T. Ciecko

Hong Kong cinema poses a number of interesting problems for film scholars. A comprehensive film history remains to be written, and the work that has been done by Hong Kong film critics and historians has yet to be translated.1 Meanwhile, old prints of films (and collective memory) are disappearing.2 Without proper documentation, collection, and preservation, it is as if Hong Kong cinema exists only in the present-and its future is unknown. Who knows how 1997 will change the shape of Hong Kong cinema? Another thorny issue is that of identity: Who is a Hong Kong director, and what constitutes a Hong Kong film? In discussing Hong Kong cinema, as Paul Fonoroff has asserted, one must always consider cultural and linguistic crosscurrents (the language of the current Hong Kong output is almost exclusively Cantonese, subtitled in English and Chinese 3) and the interrelationships between Hong Kong production and the industries of Mainland China and Taiwan,4 not to mention the global audiences in Africa, Latin America, Japan, Asian communities in Europe and North America (especially the Chinese diaspora -- "Chinatowns" around the world). Finally, to the Western spectator, Hong Kong film is often perceived as synonymous with the popular in its most degraded sense, for example, "achopsocky" martial arts films as opposed to the "art" films of the Chinese Fifth-Generation filmmakers (although, as Nick Browne has suggested, the highly commercial "action" mode in Hong Kong cinema can be viewed as the most directly "political"5). In this essay, I will explore the status of John Woo ( Wu Yusen) and action cinema in a transnational context. Born on the Mainland, reared in Hong Kong, and now expatriated to the United States (living in Los Angeles) for political and practical reasons, Woo is an émigré director in the process of becoming.6


Hong Kong Action: Visual Pleasure and the Transnational

For much of his American audience, John Woo's name is synonymous with "action" films, which, according to Richard Dyer, promote an active-even erotic

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