In the West, Hong Kong's vigorous pop cinema (especially Hong Kong action cinema) has long had a strong cult following, which has become large enough that it is now arguably a part of the cultural mainstream, widely available and imitated. This influence has been particularly heavy on recent Hollywood trends in the action genre.
Hong Kong film derives a number of elements from Hollywood, such as certain genre parameters, a "thrill-a-minute" philosophy and fast pacing and editing. But the borrowings are filtered through elements from traditional Chinese drama and art, particularly a penchant for stylization and a disregard for Western standards of realism. This, combined with a fast and loose approach to the filmmaking process, contributes to the energy and surreal imagination that foreign audiences note in Hong Kong cinema.
In the small and tightly knit industry, actors (as well as other personnel, such as directors) are kept very busy. During previous boom periods, the number of movies made by a successful figure in a single year could routinely reach double digit.
For decades, films were typically shot silent, with dialogue and all other sound dubbed afterwards. In the hectic and low-budget industry, this method was faster and more cost-efficient than recording live sound, particularly when using performers from different dialect regions; it also helped facilitate dubbing into other languages for the vital export market. Many busy stars would not even record their own dialogue, but would be dubbed by a lesser-known performer. Shooting without sound also contributed to an improvisatory filmmaking approach. Movies often went into production without finished scripts, with scenes and dialogue concocted on the set; especially low-budget productions on tight schedules might even have actors mouth silently or simply count numbers, with actual dialogue created only in the editing process.
A trend towards sync sound filming grew in the late '90s and this method is now the norm, partly because of a widespread public association with higher quality cinema.
As in most of China, the development of early films was tightly bound to Chinese opera, for centuries the dominant form of dramatic entertainment. Opera scenes were the source for what are generally credited as the first movies made in Hong Kong, two 1909 short comedies entitled Stealing a Roasted Duck and Right a Wrong with Earthenware Dish. The director was stage actor and director Liang Shaobo. The producer was an American, Benjamin Brodsky (sometimes transliterated 'Polaski'), one of a number of Westerners who helped jumpstart Chinese film through their efforts to crack China's vast potential market.
Credit for the first Hong Kong feature film is usually given to Zhuangzi Tests His Wife (1913), which also took its story from the opera stage, was helmed by a stage director and featured Brodsky's involvement. Director Lai Man-Wai (Li Ming Wei or Li Minwei in Mandarin) was a theatrical colleague of Liang Shaobo's who would become known as the "Father of Hong Kong Cinema". In another borrowing from opera, Lai played the role of wife himself. His brother played the role of husband, and his wife a supporting role as a maid, making her the first Chinese woman to act in a Chinese film, a milestone delayed by longstanding taboos regarding female performers (Leyda, 1972). Zhuangzhi was the only film made by Chinese American Film, founded by Lai and Brodsky as the first movie studio in Hong Kong, and was never actually shown in the territory (Stokes and Hoover, 1999).
The following year, the outbreak of World War I put a large crimp in the development of cinema in Hong Kong, as Germany was the source of the colony's film stock (Yang, 2003). It was not until 1923 that Lai, his brother and their cousin joined with Liang Shaobo to form Hong Kong's first entirely Chinese-owned-and-operated production company, the Minxin (or China Sun) Company. In 1924, they moved their operation to the Mainland after government red tape blocked their plans to build a studio. (Teo, 1997)
Filmed Cantonese operas proved even more successful than wuxia and constituted the leading genre of the 1930s. Major studios that thrived in this period were Grandview, Universal, Nanyue and Tianyi (the last an early incarnation of the Shaw family dynasty that would become the most enduring and influential in Chinese film). (Teo, 1997)
This of course came to an end when Hong Kong itself fell to the Japanese in December 1941. But unlike on the Mainland, the occupiers were not able to put together a collaborationist film industry. They managed to complete just one propaganda movie, The Attack on Hong Kong (1942; aka The Day of England's Collapse) before the British returned in 1945 (Teo, 1997). A more important move by the Japanese may have been to melt down many of Hong Kong's pre-war films to extract their silver nitrate for military use (Fonoroff, 1997).
Another language-related milestone occurred in 1963: the British authorities passed a law requiring the subtitling of all films in English, supposedly to enable a watch on political content. Making a virtue of necessity, studios included Chinese subtitles as well, enabling easier access to their movies for speakers of other dialects. (Yang, 2003) Subtitling later had the unintended consequence of facilitating the movies' popularity in the West.
Low-budget martial arts films were also popular. A series of roughly 100 kung fu movies starring Kwan Tak Hing as historical folk hero Wong Fei Hung were made, starting with The True Story of Wong Fei Hung (1949) and ending with Wong Fei Hung Bravely Crushing the Fire Formation (1970) (Logan, 1995). Fantasy wuxia (swordplay) serials with special effects drawn on the film by hand, such as The Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute (1965) starring teen idol Connie Chan Po-chu in the lead male role, were also popular (Chute and Lim, 2003, 3), as were contemporary melodramas of home and family life.
A musical genre called Huángméidiào (黃梅調) was derived from Chinese opera; the Shaws' record-breaking hit The Love Eterne (1963) remains the classic of the genre. Historical costume epics often overlapped with the Huángméidiào, such as in The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959). (Both of the above examples were directed by Shaw's star director, Li Han Hsiang). Romantic melodramas such as Red Bloom in the Snow (1956), Love Without End (1961), The Blue and the Black (1964) and adaptations of novels by Chiung Yao were popular. So were Hollywood-style musicals, which were a particular specialty of MP&GI/Cathay in entries such as Mambo Girl (1957) and The Wild, Wild Rose (1960).
In the second half of the '60s, the Shaws inaugurated a new generation of more intense, less fantastical wuxia films with glossier production values, acrobatic moves and stronger violence. The trend was inspired by the popularity of imported samurai movies from Japan (Chute and Lim, 2003, 8), as well as by the loss of movie audiences to television. This marked the crucial turn of the industry from a female-centric genre system to an action movie orientation (see also the Hong Kong action cinema article). Key trendsetters included Xu Zenghong's Temple of the Red Lotus (1965), King Hu's Come Drink with Me (1966) and Dragon Inn (1967, made in Taiwan; aka Dragon Gate Inn), and Chang Cheh's Tiger Boy (1966), The One-Armed Swordsman (1967) and Golden Swallow (1968).
The first spark was the ensemble comedy The House of 72 Tenants, the only Cantonese film made in 1973, but a resounding hit. It was based on a well-known play and produced by the Shaws as a showcase for performers from their pioneering television station TVB (Yang, 2003).
The return of Cantonese really took off with the comedies of former TVB stars the Hui Brothers (actor-director-screenwriter Michael Hui, actor-singer Sam Hui and actor Ricky Hui). The rationale behind the move to Cantonese was clear in the trailer for the brothers' Games Gamblers Play (1974): "Films by devoted young people with you in mind." This move back to the local audience for Hong Kong cinema paid off immediately. Games Gamblers Play initially made US$1.4 million at the Hong Kong box office, becoming the highest grossing film up to that point, even beating such favourites as the (Mandarin) films of worldwide kung fu superstar Bruce Lee. The Hui movies also broke ground by satirizing the modern reality of an ascendant middle class, whose long work hours and dreams of material success were transforming the colony into a modern industrial and corporate giant (Teo, 1997). Cantonese comedy thrived and Cantonese production skyrocketed; Mandarin hung on into the early '80s, but has been relatively rare onscreen since.
In 1970, former Shaw Brothers executives Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho left to form their own studio, Golden Harvest. The upstart's more flexible and less tightfisted approach to the business outmaneuvered the Shaws' old-style studio. Chow and Ho landed contracts with rising young performers who had fresh ideas for the industry, like Bruce Lee and the Hui Brothers, and allowed them greater creative latitude than was traditional. By the end of the '70s, Golden Harvest was the top studio, signing up Jackie Chan, the kung fu comedy actor-filmmaker who would spend the next twenty years as Asia's biggest box office draw (Chan and Yang, 1998, pp. 164-165; Bordwell, 2000).
Meanwhile, the explosions of Cantonese and kung fu and the example of Golden Harvest had created more space for independent producers and production companies. The era of the studio juggernauts was past. The Shaws nevertheless continued film production until 1985 before turning entirely to television (Teo, 1997).
Director Lung Kong blended these trends into the social-issue dramas which he had already made his specialty with late '60s Cantonese classics like The Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967) and Teddy Girls (1969). In the '70s, he began directing in Mandarin and brought exploitation elements to serious films about subjects like prostitution (The Call Girls and Lina), the atomic bomb (Hiroshima 28) and the fragility of civilized society (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which portrayed a plague-decimated, near-future Hong Kong). (Teo, 1997)
The brief career of Tang Shu Shuen, the territory's first noted woman director, produced two films, The Arch (1970) and China Behind (1974), that were trailblazers for a local, socially critical art cinema. They are also widely considered forerunners of the last major milestone of the decade, the so-called Hong Kong New Wave that would come from outside the traditional studio hierarchy and point to new possibilities for the industry (Bordwell, 2000).
The 1980s and early '90s saw seeds planted in the '70s come to full flower: the triumph of Cantonese, the birth of a new and modern cinema, superpower status in the East Asian market, and the turning of the West's attention to Hong Kong film.
A cinema of greater technical polish and more sophisticated visual style, including the first forays into up-to-date special effects technology, sprang up quickly. To this surface dazzle, the new cinema added an eclectic mixing and matching of genres, and a penchant for pushing the boundaries of sensationalistic content. Slapstick comedy, sex, the supernatural, and above all action (of both the martial arts and cops-and-criminals varieties) ruled, occasionally all in the same film.
During this period, the Hong Kong industry was one of the few in the world that thrived in the face of the increasing global dominance of Hollywood. Indeed, it came to exert a comparable dominance in its own region of the world. The regional audience had always been vital, but now more than ever Hong Kong product filled theaters and video shelves in places like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea. Taiwan became at least as important a market to Hong Kong film as the local one; in the early '90s the once-robust Taiwanese film industry came close to extinction under the onslaught of Hong Kong imports (Bordwell, 2000). They even found a lesser foothold in Japan, with its own highly developed and better-funded cinema and strong taste for American movies; Jackie Chan in particular became popular there.
Almost accidentally, Hong Kong also reached further into the West, building upon the attention gained during the '70s kung fu craze. Availability in Chinatown theaters and video shops allowed the movies to be discovered by Western film cultists attracted by their "exotic" qualities and excesses. An emergence into the wider popular culture gradually followed over the coming years.
The trailblazer was production company Cinema City, founded in 1980 by comedians Karl Maka, Raymond Wong and Dean Shek. It specialized in contemporary comedy and action, slickly produced according to explicitly prescribed commercial formulas. The lavish, effects-filled spy spoof Aces Go Places (1982) and its numerous sequels epitomized the much-imitated "Cinema City style." (Yang, 2003)
Directors and producers Tsui Hark and Wong Jing can be singled out as definitive figures of this era. Tsui was a notorious Hong Kong New Wave tyro who symbolized that movement's absorption into the mainstream, becoming the industry's central trendsetter and technical experimenter (Yang et al., 1997, p. 75). The even more prolific Wong is, by most accounts, the most commercially successful and critically reviled Hong Kong filmmaker of the last two decades, with his relentless output of aggressively crowd-pleasing and cannily marketed pulp films.
Other hallmarks of this era included the gangster or "Triad" movie fad launched by director John Woo, producer and long-time actor Alan Tang and dominated by actor Chow Yun-Fat; romantic melodramas and martial arts fantasies starring Brigitte Lin; the comedies of stars like Cherie Chung and Stephen Chow; traditional kung fu movies dominated by Jet Li; and contemporary, stunt-driven kung fu action epitomized by the work of Jackie Chan.
The government's introduction of a film ratings system in 1988 had a certainly unintended effect on subsequent trends. The "Category III" (adults only) rating became an umbrella for the rapid growth of pornographic and generally outré films; however, while considered graphic by Chinese standards, these films would be more on par with movies rated "R" or "NC-17" in the United States, and not "XXX". By the height of the boom in the early '90s, roughly half of the theatrical features produced were Category III-rated softcore erotica descended from the fengyue movies of the '70s. (Yang, 2003) A definitive example of a mainstream Category III hit was Michael Mak's Sex and Zen (1991), a period comedy inspired by The Carnal Prayer Mat, the seventeenth century classic of comic-erotic literature by Li Yu (Dannen and Long, 1997).
The rating also covered a fad for grisly, taboo-tweaking exploitation and horror films, often supposedly based on true crime stories, such as Dr. Lamb (1992), The Untold Story (1993) and Ebola Syndrome (1996).
Since the mid-'90s, the trend has withered with the shrinking of the general Hong Kong film market and the wider availability of pornography in home video formats (Bordwell, 2000). But in 2000's, three Category III movies: Election its sequel, Election 2 (aka Triad Election), and Mad Detective still enjoyed surprising box office successes in Hong Kong.
In this landscape of pulp, there remained some ground for an alternative cinema or art cinema, due at least in part to the influence of the New Wave. Some New Wave filmmakers such as Ann Hui and Yim Ho continued to earn acclaim with personal and political films made at the edges of the mainstream.
The second half of the '80s also saw the emergence of what is sometimes called a "Second Wave." These younger directors included names like Stanley Kwan, Clara Law and her partner Eddie Fong, Mabel Cheung, Lawrence Ah Mon and Wong Kar-wai. Like the New Wavers, they tended to be graduates of overseas film schools and local television apprenticeships, and to be interested in going beyond the usual, commercial subject matters and styles (Teo, 1997).
These artists began to earn Hong Kong unprecedented attention and respect in international critical circles and the global film festival circuit. In particular, Wong Kar-wai's works starring Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung in the 1990s has made him an internationally acclaimed and award-winning filmmaker.
During the 1990s, the Hong Kong film industry underwent a drastic decline from which it has not recovered. Domestic ticket sales had already started to drop in the late '80s, but the regional audience kept the industry booming into the early years of the next decade (Teo, 1997). But by the mid-'90s, it went into freefall. Revenues were cut in half. By the decade's end, the number of films produced in a typical year dropped from an early '90s high of well over 200 to somewhere around 100 (it should be noted, however, that a large part of this reduction was in the "Category III" softcore pornography area [Bordwell, 2000].) American blockbuster imports began to regularly top the box office for the first time in decades. Ironically, this was the same period during which Hong Kong cinema emerged into something like mainstream visibility in the U.S. and began exporting popular figures to Hollywood.
Numerous, converging factors have been blamed for the downturn:
The greater access to the Mainland that came with the July '97 handover to China was not as much of a boon as hoped, and presented its own problems, particularly with regard to censorship.
The industry had one of its darkest years in 2003. In addition to the continuing slump, a SARS virus outbreak kept many theaters virtually empty for a time and shut down film production for four months; only fifty-four movies were made (Li, 2004). The unrelated deaths of two of Hong Kong's famous singer/actors, Leslie Cheung, 46, and Anita Mui, 40, rounded out the bad news.
The Hong Kong Government in April 2003 introduced a Film Guarantee Fund as an incentive to local banks to become involved in the motion picture industry. The guarantee operates to secure a percentage of monies loaned by banks to film production companies. The Fund has received a mixed reception from industry participants, and less than enthusiastic reception from financial institutions who perceive investment in local films as high risk ventures with little collateral. Film guarantee legal documents commissioned by the Hong Kong Government in late April 2003 are based on Canadian documents, which have limited relevance to the local industry.
Efforts by local filmmakers to retool their product have had middling results overall. These include technically glossier visuals, including much digital imagery; greater use of Hollywood-style mass marketing techniques; and heavy reliance on casting teen-friendly Cantopop music stars. Successful genre cycles in the late '90s and early 2000s have included: American-styled, high-tech action pictures such as Downtown Torpedoes (1997), Gen-X Cops and Purple Storm (both '99); the "Triad kids" subgenre launched by Young and Dangerous (1996); yuppie-centric romantic comedies like The Truth About Jane and Sam (1999), Needing You... (2000) and Love on a Diet (2001); and supernatural chillers like Horror Hotline: Big-Head Monster (2001) and The Eye (2002), often modeled on the Japanese horror films then making an international splash.
In the 2000s, there have been some bright spots. Milkyway Image, founded by filmmakers Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai in the mid-'90s, has had considerable critical and commercial success, especially with offbeat and character-driven crime films like The Mission (1999) and Running on Karma (2003). An even more successful example of the genre was the blockbuster Infernal Affairs trilogy (2002-2003) of police thrillers co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak (the Oscar winning movie, The Departed, was based on this movie). Comedian Stephen Chow, the most consistently popular screen star of the '90s, directed and starred in Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004); these used digital special effects to push his distinctive humor into new realms of the surreal and became the territory's two highest-grossing films to date, garnering numerous awards locally and internationally. Johnnie To's two Category III movies: Election and Election 2 also enjoyed Hong Kong box office successes. Election 2 has even been released in the US theatrically under the new title Triad Election; this movie received very positive reviews in the United States, with a more than 90% "Fresh" rating on Rottentomatoes.com .
Still, some observers believe that, given the depressed state of the industry and the rapidly strengthening economic and political ties among Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan, the distinctive entity of Hong Kong cinema that emerged after World War II may have a limited lifespan. The lines between the mainland and Hong Kong industries are ever more blurred, especially now that China is producing increasing numbers of slick, mass-appeal popular films. Predictions are notoriously difficult in this rapidly changing part of the world, but the trend may be towards a more pan-Chinese cinema, as existed in the first half of the twentieth century.
Note that "[e]very year, since 1978, the HKIFF has published both a catalog of films released that year and a retrospective book -- and sometimes, special interest publication or two in the form of books and pamphlets. In 1996, a 10th Anniversary special was issued, and from 1997 onward, there have been yearly 'Panorama' special interest books in addition to the annual catalogs, retrospective books, and occasional pamphlets. In 2003, the HKIFF started carrying publications of the Hong Kong Film Archive, as well."— Bibliography of Hong Kong International Film Festival Retrospective Books Related to Hong Kong Action Cinema
STRONG QUESTIONS MOVE TO MAXIMUM SECURITY THE PATIENT SAYS HE SHOULDN'T BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR A STAFF MEMBER'S ALLEGED MISCONDUCT.(FRONT)
May 25, 2006; Byline: JASON STEIN email@example.com 608-252-6129 A mental health patient and an advocacy group are questioning why officials...
Colorful brains, cooling lasers, disease-detecting lights, and more: highlights of Frontiers in Optics 2010/ Laser Science XXVI meeting.(CONFERENCE PREVIEW)
Sep 01, 2010; [GRAPHIC OMITTED] Scientists and engineers from around the world will gather on the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester, New...