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Hong Kong Connections

Hong Kong Connections: Transnational Imagination in Action Cinema

Meaghan Morris
Siu Leung Li
Stephen Chan Ching-kiu
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 358
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  • Book Info
    Hong Kong Connections
    Book Description:

    Since the 1960s, Hong Kong cinema has helped to shape one of the world's most popular cultural genres: action cinema. Hong Kong action films have proved popular over the decades with audiences worldwide, and they have seized the imaginations of filmmakers working in many different cultural traditions and styles. How do we account for this appeal, which changes as it crosses national borders? Hong Kong Connections brings leading film scholars together to explore the uptake of Hong Kong cinema in Japan, Korea, India, Australia, France and the US as well as its links with Taiwan, Singapore and the Chinese mainland. In the process, this collective study examines diverse cultural contexts for action cinema's popularity, and the problems involved in the transnational study of globally popular forms suggesting that in order to grasp the history of Hong Kong action cinema's influence we need to bring out the differences as well as the links that constitute popularity.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-158-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction: Hong Kong Connections
    (pp. 1-18)
    Meaghan Morris

    This book explores the proposition that Hong Kong cinema since the 1960s has played a significant role in shaping what is now one of the world’s most widely distributed popular cultural genres: action cinema. Hong Kong action has not only seized the imaginations of filmmakers working in many countries, cultural traditions and styles (a very long film could be compiled of scenes from world cinema remaking such Hong Kong signature moments as Bruce Lee’s shoulder-rolling, neck-cracking stretch from The Way of the Dragon, John Woo’s flying doves and bullet ballets, or Ringo Lam’s “three-way, guns-drawn standoff” from City on Fire¹),...

  6. Part 1: History, Imagination and Hong Kong Popular Culture

    • 1 Moving Body: The Interactions Between Chinese Opera and Action Cinema
      (pp. 21-34)
      Yung Sai-shing

      Shortly after the publication of A Brief History of Cantonese Opera, quoted above, its author Mak Siu-ha (Mai Xiaoxia 1904–1941) was killed during the bombing of Hong Kong Island by the Japanese Artillery in December 1941.² Recognized today as the first scholarly study on the history of Cantonese opera, the article has been used extensively in the classrooms of academies and universities of China and overseas. Mak was a talented Hong Kong artist of the 1930s. He was at the same time a playwright of Cantonese opera, a songwriter for Cantonese movies, an amateur Cantonese opera actor, a skilful...

    • 2 Interactions Between Japanese and Hong Kong Action Cinemas
      (pp. 35-48)
      Kinnia Yau Shuk-ting

      This essay is a study of the interrelations between action movies made in Japan and Hong Kong, primarily from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. First, however, a note on terminology: I use the term “action movies” here to refer in general terms to both Japanese judo film and samurai film (also known as jidaigeki or chanbara) as well as to Hong Kong’s “new-style” swordplay film (also known as new-style wuxia pian) and to kung fu film. In Japanese and Hong Kong film history alike, “action” has always been considered one of the most important film genres; some version of it...

    • 3 The Myth Continues: Cinematic Kung Fu in Modernity
      (pp. 49-62)
      Siu Leung Li

      “Back then I thought the era of using the sword would soon be passé. That’s why I sold my sword”: thus speaks the poverty-stricken, low-rank samurai Seibei, living in the last years of the Tokugawa period, to his opponent and to us, the film’s spectators — explaining why he has surprisingly drawn out a bamboo sword in the critical final duel of the recent award-winning film Twilight Samurai/Tasogare Seibei (2002).

      Seibei is ordered by his lord to take out a disobedient fellow samurai who is reputed to be the clan’s best swordsman. Although relying only on his shorter sword, still a...

    • 4 The Fighting Condition in Hong Kong Cinema: Local Icons and Cultural Antidotes for the Global Popular
      (pp. 63-80)
      Stephen Chan Ching-kiu

      In Hong Kong action cinema, the inevitable condition of fighting usually, though not always, ends up in one of the fighters winning the show, another losing it, such being a popular convention in matters of martial art. Culturally, the spectacle of any good fight is a matter for public appreciation, discourse, and indeed consumption, though the outcomes of any particular game could sometimes be whimsical, intangible or simply inconsequential. For politically Hong Kong is indeed rather intangible; the city has grown into perhaps one of the most sensitive ideological battlefields in the world, with its own unique cultural formation shaping...

    • 5 Order/Anti-Order: Representation of Identity in Hong Kong Action Movies
      (pp. 81-94)
      Dai Jinhua

      In the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the reality was fast approaching that China would resume sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997 and the power structure in Hong Kong society was beginning to experience gradual changes, a profound anguish and a sense of political powerlessness permeated Hong Kong society. At the level of cultural expression, these feelings of anguish and powerlessness became an oppressing sense of uncertain identity. While Hong Kong’s colonial rule of nearly 150 years was coming to an end, the end of the cold war was giving new vigor to globalization. The nation-state was suddenly more...

  7. Part 2: Action Cinema as Contact Zone

    • 6 Genre as Contact Zone: Hong Kong Action and Korean Hwalkuk
      (pp. 97-110)
      Kim Soyoung

      The South Korean cinema has recently won attention on international film circuits in the form of either the art cinema or the blockbuster in the Korean mode. The commercial releases of Chunhyang (2000), Memento Mori (1999), Nowhere to Hide (1999), and Shiri (1999) in North America as well as in Asia and Europe mark a new momentum for the Korean cinema. Chunhyang is an art house film. As a teen horror film, Memento Mori invites cult fans locally, at festivals, and on the art-house circuit. Nowhere to Hide and Shiri, however, are action movies. For the last few years action...

    • 7 Hong Kong Action Film and the Career of the Telugu Mass Hero
      (pp. 111-124)
      S. V. Srinivas

      Indian cinema’s Hong Kong connections can be traced by examining two distinct but related aspects. On the one hand, there is the circulation of Hong Kong action films locally, within industrial and cultural contexts that are distinctly “Indian” in the manner in which an import travels down the chain of distribution/exhibition and becomes available for local audiences/appropriations in the process. In this essay however I focus on the other aspect of Hong Kong action film’s circulation, the other connection so to speak, that of how locally produced films are impacted by the import. I confine the discussion to the examination...

    • 8 Hong Kong–Hollywood–Bombay: On the Function of “Martial Art” in the Hindi Action Cinema
      (pp. 125-150)
      Valentina Vitali

      The stunt film, which first appeared in India in the 1910s with US serials, experienced a boom in the mid-1930s with the Hindi films of Homi Wadia. There are indications that the historiographic perception of an autonomous stunt genre at this time derives from the US distributors’ and South Asian exhibitors’ explicit use of the action ingredient as a marketing strategy. If, from this perspective, the Indian stunt film may be interpreted as an effect of the US film industry’s export operation in the Subcontinent, contemporary reviews, stills, plot synopses and the movement of stunt actors reveal a connection between...

    • 9 Let’s Miscegenate: Jackie Chan and His African-American Connection
      (pp. 151-162)
      Laleen Jayamanne

      Who Am I? I am an Australian-Sri Lankan who discovered Jackie Chan in 1996 thanks to Charlie Chaplin and Meaghan Morris. I had read a paper on Chaplin’s mimetic mode of performance at a conference in Sydney when Morris asked me what happened to that tradition of slapstick in Hollywood. I said it died with silent cinema and the death of vaudeville. She said I had to see Jackie Chan’s Project A (Jackie Chan 1983) and then lent me her copy of Chan’s great 1978 success Drunken Master (Yuen Wo-ping). At that time it was not easy to get either...

    • 10 The Secrets of Movement: The Influence of Hong Kong Action Cinema upon the Contemporary French Avant-garde
      (pp. 163-174)
      Nicole Brenez

      My conviction and endeavour are dedicated to the hope that film studies in universities do not become a “registration office” administering the corpus imposed by the industry. This means that we have a duty (urgent to the point of becoming an emergency) to seek out and to comment on what I would call “free-films”, that is to say, films made outside the industry for ethical, political, economic or purely aesthetic reasons. Nowadays it appears that fewer and fewer films are made by the industry, because more and more films are the same film under different titles — like those in the...

    • 11 At the Edge of the Cut: An Encounter with the Hong Kong Style in Contemporary Action Cinema
      (pp. 175-188)
      Adrian Martin

      Occasionally, in the middle of a lecture or an essay, one finds the great question of film analysis quietly, anxiously avowed: how to proceed? Meaning: what level of the film, which exact bits of it demand our attention? We have often heard the (reassuring) truism that ‘analysis constructs its objects’. But those objects, unfailingly, still manage to resist our best efforts at corralling them into one specific framework or another. And hence we are left with the disturbing but inviting temptation to find a method of analysis that is adequate — I would say culturally and poetically appropriate — to its object....

  8. Part 3: Translation and Embodiment:: Technologies of Globalisation

    • 12 Wuxia Redux: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as a Model of Late Transnational Production
      (pp. 191-204)
      Stephen Teo

      This essay takes up Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (Ang Lee 2000) as an exemplary model of “late transnational” production in the Hong Kong film industry. By selecting Crouching Tiger as a prototype, I am investigating, firstly, the concept of genre movies as the most popular channel of transnationalism in the Chinese cinema; and secondly, the wuxia genre (the swordfighting martial arts genre that deals with the theme of chivalry) as an archetypal mode of transnational production. Crouching Tiger as a wuxia model of late transnational production mirrors (but does not duplicate) the stage of early transnationalism at the hub of...

    • 13 Hong Kong Film and the New Cinephilia
      (pp. 205-222)
      David Desser

      In her essay, “The Decay of Cinema”, Susan Sontag begins by decrying the witless, cynical and decadent state of contemporary cinema.¹ But this polemical, if largely conventional attack on post-1980s Hollywood cinema, makes a more controversial move in claiming that this sad state of affairs does not bespeak the end of cinema, but, rather, the end of cinephilia. For Sontag and others (even those who disagree with her conclusions) cinephilia names a special and particular kind of “love” of cinema, a love which gathered among university students and other young people who fell in love not just with actors but...

    • 14 Action Cinema, Labour Power and the Video Market
      (pp. 223-248)
      Paul Willemen

      Much has been said about the way cinema talks about class. Nothing has ever been said (to my knowledge) about cinema’s relation to one of the most fundamental concepts in historical or dialectical materialisms: labour power. Rather than attributing such a surprising omission to a lack of concern or interest, the explanation must be sought in the inadequacies of film theory itself. Consequently, the former problem cannot be addressed without paying serious attention to the latter. It has become, or should have become, a truism to note that the existing corpus of film theory, largely because it has not paid...

    • 15 Spectral Critiques: Tracking “Uncanny” Filmic Paths Towards a Bio-Poetics of Trans-Pacific Globalization
      (pp. 249-268)
      Rob Wilson

      Under the space-time compressions of globalization, time all too often seems harried, frantic, out of sorts; place all but lost into a matrix-like hologram of flux, speed, and mixture; the self coded into a trans-local semblance of inter-connection, multiplicity, and pseudo-power.² “Thank you for activating your Bank of Trans-America credit card. You may now use it at any one of 19 million locations worldwide”, a voice-message from God-knows-where comforted me, as I used my not-so-bottomless credit card to purchase an electronic ticket to jumbo-jet across sixteen times zones from San Francisco to Hong Kong. As if to glaze over everyday...

    • 16 Technoscience Culture, Embodiment and Wuda pian
      (pp. 269-286)
      Wong Kin-yuen

      In this era of new technologies in which posthuman forms of human energy are emerging, and in which humans themselves will soon, according to Jean-Françis Lyotard, reach a “material point” at which the complexification of materials is such that our perceptual, experiential and cognitive rhythm will be unable to describe or represent it,¹ cultural or film critics are suddenly witnessing the unique phenomenon of Hong Kong style wuda (武打)² impacting on the film industry almost everywhere in the world. Not only is the traditional Chinese wuxia novel a unique genre in the sense that it seems to be the only...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 287-324)
  10. Index
    (pp. 325-344)