The Oxford History of World Cinema

By Geoffrey Nowell-Smith | Go to book overview

from Taiwan. The Taiwanese film industry was very small, and, with an economically resurgent Taiwan, opportunistic investors decided to pour money into Hong Kong movies as they were usually more profitable than their own. Thus, ironically, the gradual drop of annual attendance by 25 per cent from the recent peak of 66 million in 1988 was indirectly caused by the huge success that Hong Kong films achieved overseas in the 1980s.

New genres?

The valuable experience gained in making kung-fu films for nearly two decades, coupled with the introduction of special-effects hardware from the west, produced brilliant action stunts and flamboyant visual effects in the Hong Kong films of this period. These are best embodied in the work of Jackie Chan, Tsui Hark, and John Woo, which opened up new markets like Japan and South Korea, and received releases in Europe and America.

In terms of genre development, the modern period of Hong Kong cinema is a continuation of the major trends (kung-fu and comedy) of the 1970s. More polished visuals and urban settings aside, martial arts action and comic high jinks have remained the staples of Hong Kong movies,

The modern Hong Kong cinema is strongly characterized by genre combinations, where all subject-matters are game for comedy. This reflects the industry's ambitions to open up more markets and attract the widest audiences in the community; essential after the drastic rise in production budgets following Cinema City's lead. Comedies remain an overwhelmingly popular genre; the majority being farces which emphasize excess, chaos, a quick rhythm, and a preponderance of gags.

The evolution and adaptation of kung-fu into other genres has been complicated. The early works of the New Wave directors in the crime thriller genre were more heavily influenced by Hollywood, and succeeded in imparting a fresh feel to audiences by shooting in real street locations. When Jackie Chan turned to urban settings, he chose the same genre, but essentially just 'dressed up' traditional kung-fu acrobatics and combat sequences in modern clothes. The most important subgenre was the so-called 'hero film', initiated by John Woo 's A Better Tomorrow (Yingxiong bense, 1986), which was a modern variation on the old martial arts movie. While gun-toting replaced sword-fighting, the emphasis on the kung-fu themes of honour, brotherhood, and male bonding remained unchallenged. Nevertheless, the successful adaptation of martial arts choreography into designing gun fights, explosions, and action stunts contributed to an aesthetics of stylized violence unrivalled anywhere in the world. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hard Boiled (Lashou shentan, 1992), where the combined talents of director John Woo, art directors James Leung and John Chong, and cinematographer Wong Wing-heng produced a spectacle of quite dizzying proportions.

The ghost story movie emerged as a popular genre in the 1980s, encompassing all movies dealing with sprites and demons, superstitions, fatalism, and supernatural phenomena. The genre mixed horror, comedy, kung-fu, special effects, suspense, and melodrama. The rise of production standards with big investments in state-of-the-art special effects greatly benefited the rise of the ghost story movie. The most representative films were those of Sammo Hung; and Ching Siu-tung's A Chinese Ghost Story (Qiannu youhun, 1987).

The popular rise of the ghost story film in the early 1980s can be seen as a response to the uncertainties of the future. The prospect of the 1997 hand-over of Hong Kong to the Chinese has caused Hong Kong grief and anxiety. The spirits, demons, and superstitious fatalism that are inherent to the ghost genre mirror the fears of the people.


Teo, Stephen ( 1996). Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimension.

Taiwanese New Cinema


The Taiwanese cinema is best known in the west for its kung-fti and other action films which for a time rivalled Hong Kong films in world-wide popularity. But Taiwan is also home to a movement known as 'Taiwanese New Cinema', of which the best-known representative is Hou Hsiao-hsien.

The New Cinema movement emerged in the early 1980s and has been seen as a culmination of the 'back-to-theroots' cultural nationalism that swept Taiwan during the 1970s. A critical era of change for the island, the decade began with a series of embarrassing political set-backs for Taiwan -- the forced severance of diplomatic ties with the USA, Japan, and other major nations, expulsion from the United Nations, and exclusion from the Olympic Games --


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The Oxford History of World Cinema
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contributors ix
  • Contents xi
  • Special Features xv
  • List of Colour Illustrations xvii
  • General Introduction xix
  • 1 - Silent Cinema 1895-1930 1
  • Origins and Survival 6
  • Early Cinema 13
  • Transitional Cinema 23
  • The Hollywood Studio System 43
  • The World-Wide Spread of Cinema 53
  • The First World War and the Crisis in Europe 62
  • Tricks and Animation 71
  • Comedy 78
  • Documentary 86
  • Cinema and the Avant-Garde 95
  • Serials 105
  • French Silent Cinema 112
  • Italy- Spectacle and Melodrama 123
  • British Cinema from Hepworth to Hitchcock 130
  • Germany- The Weimar Years 136
  • The Scandinavian Style 151
  • Pre-Revolutionary Russia 159
  • The Soviet Union and the Russian émigrés 162
  • Yiddish Cinema in Europe 174
  • Japan- Before the Great Kanto Earthquake 177
  • Music and the Silent Film 183
  • The Heyday of the Silents 192
  • 2 - Sound Cinema 1930-1960 205
  • The Introduction of Sound 211
  • Hollywood- The Triumph of the Studio System 220
  • Censorship and Self-Regulation 235
  • The Sound of Music 248
  • Technology and Innovation 259
  • Animation 267
  • Cinema and Genre 276
  • The Western 286
  • The Musical 294
  • Crime Movies 304
  • The Fantastic 312
  • Documentary 322
  • Socialism, Fascism, and Democracy 333
  • The Popular Art of French Cinema 344
  • Italy from Fascism to Neo-Realism 353
  • Britain at the End of Empire 361
  • Germany- Nazism and after 374
  • East Central Europe before the Second World War 383
  • Soviet Film under Stalin 389
  • Indian Cinema- Origins to Independence 398
  • China before 1949 409
  • The Classical Cinema in Japan 413
  • The Emergence of Australian Film 422
  • Cinema in Latin America 427
  • After the War 436
  • Transformation of the Hollywood System 443
  • Independents and Mavericks 451
  • 3 - The Modern Cinema 1960-1995 461
  • Television and the Film Industry 466
  • The New Hollywood 475
  • New Technologies 483
  • Sex and Sensation 490
  • The Black Presence in American Cinema 497
  • Exploitation and the Mainstream 509
  • Dreams and Nightmares in the Hollywood Blockbuster 516
  • Cinéma-Vérité and the New Documentary 527
  • Avant-Garde Film- The Second Wave 537
  • Animation in the Post-Industrial Era 551
  • Modern Film Music 558
  • Art Cinema 567
  • New Directions in French Cinema 576
  • Italy- Auteurs and after 586
  • Spain after Franco 596
  • British Cinema- The Search for Identity 604
  • The New German Cinema 614
  • East Germany- The Defa Story 627
  • Changing States in East Central Europe 632
  • Russia after the Thaw 640
  • Cinema in the Soviet Republics 651
  • Turkish Cinema 656
  • The Arab World 661
  • The Cinemas of Sub-Saharan Africa 667
  • Iranian Cinema 672
  • India- Filming the Nation 678
  • Indonesian Cinema 690
  • China after the Revolution 693
  • Popular Cinema in Hong Kong 704
  • Taiwanese New Cinema 711
  • The Modernization of Japanese Film 714
  • New Australian Cinema 722
  • New Zealand Cinema 731
  • Canadian Cinema/Cinéma Canadien 731
  • New Cinemas in Latin America 740
  • New Concepts of Cinema 750
  • The Resurgence of Cinema 759
  • Index 785
  • List of Picture Sources 823


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