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Movie: Seventy-two Tenants (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elWEFDqTf7s)

After watching the movie, you should write two arguments, and the reading and the movie should use quote

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Requirement:

1. Purpose: to cultivate the habits of critical reading by making arguments and providing evidence 

2. Content: identify an argument (not merely a topic) from a required reading (with direct quotations and page numbers) and discuss it in relation to the designated film of the day 

3. Focus: your ability to articulate someone else’ argument and state your interpretation of a film in relation to that argument; mere factual information or plot summary won’t count as argument 

4. Length: 1 double-space page or 350 words for each short paper; the portion in excess of the limit will not be graded for credit 

5. Grading: out of 10 points for each commentary, 3 for identification of an argument and logical transition, 3 points for film discussion focused on details, and 4 for writing (grammar, expression, coherence, style)

6. Make sure you have a clear argument or statement: find a focus to organize your writing

7. A general plot or characterization summary earns little credit

8. Analyze film in detail (e.g., mise-en-scene, smiles or other facial expressions, camera angles)

9. Rephrase key words for better connection between the reading and your film analysis (e.g., metaphor, allegory, realism)

10. Always use the readings assigned in the same week as primary films; the same formula for commentaries 2-3

11. You only need to quote from 1 reading in the week, NOT 1 from each reading in the week

12. Your quote must be relevant to the rest of your discussion

13. Avoid a long quote or 2 or more quotes in a commentary

14. Similarly, avoid discussing 2 or more ideas because there is no space to do that adequately

15. Proofread your paper or grade yourself to improve before submitting

16. No need for a separate Works Cited page, but use in-text reference (e.g., Teo, page #)

the largest theater chain in Hong Kong and had acquired dozens more screens overseas (Bordwell 2000: 68). An even more spectacular period of success came when it cooperated with the Hui brothers and helped revive Cantonese cinema.

Television and Cantonese cinema: the Hui brothers and comedy

In spite of the Mandarin box-office boom, the early 1970s was an unsettling time of double-digit inflation, economic recession, stock market crash, rampant crime and corruption – all of which, together with new mainland immigrants (legal and illegal), provided fertile subjects for Hong Kong cinema and television news coverage. According to one estimate, news and weather forecasts reached 1.7 million viewers daily and were the two most popular television programs in 1974 (HKIFF 1984: 12). The household ownership of television sets in Hong Kong had grown from 12.3 per cent in 1968 to 41.2 per cent in 1970, 72 per cent in 1972 and 90 per cent in 1976 (Cheuk 1999: 26). Unlike in Taiwan, however, television did not drastically affect movie attendance in Hong Kong. But the rapid growth of the television industry still had an impact on Hong Kong cinema, not just in personnel flow but also in subject matter and modes of representation. During the decline of Cantonese cinema in the early 1970s, many film artists migrated to the television industry, where they were able to experiment with new subjects and styles (Teo 2000). The establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in 1974 and its high-profile arrests, as covered by the media, prompted public interest. And this explains the popularity of new crime films like Anti-Corruption (Lianzheng fengbao, dir. Wu Siyuan, 1975), with its fast-paced documentary- style presentation.

A more prominent Cantonese feature was The House of Seventy-two Tenants (Qishier jia fangke, dir. Chor Yuen, 1973), which set a new box-office record of over HK$5.6 million and single-handedly revived Cantonese cinema (HKIFF 1984: 149). Based on a hilarious Shanghai stage play about a housing shortage, this comedy remake of a Wang Weiyi film directed in Guangzhou a decade earlier is distinguished by its all-star cast, which included many top names in film and television of the time. Co-produced by Shaw Brothers and HK-TVB (Hong Kong Television Broadcast, TVB for short, Gangshi, aka Wuxian, established in November 1967), this ingenious work anticipated what was to come in Cantonese cinema from the cross-fertilization between film and television: loose episodic structure, smart punchlines, outrageous humor and exaggerated acting.

Under these circumstances, the Hui brothers’ rise to fame in cinema was only natural. In 1971 Michael Hui (Xu Guanwen) and Sam Hui (Xu Guanjie) co- hosted a popular TVB variety show. In 1972 Michael Hui proceeded to play the lead in The Warlord (Da junfa, dir. Li Hanxiang, 1972; Mandarin), a Shaw Brothers production that established him as Hong Kong’s leading comedian.

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After a few more films Michael and his brother Ricky (Xu Guangying) both left Shaw Brothers, and together with Sam they established the Hui Brothers Company in 1974. From the start, the comedies directed by Michael Hui frequently ranked among the top ten – a trend that continued until the early 1990s (Chan 2000: 40). For example, co-produced with Golden Harvest, Games Gamblers Play (Guima shuangxing, dir. Michael Hui, 1974) outperformed Bruce Lee’s films, taking HK$6.2 million at the box office. By the time The Private Eyes (Banjin baliang, dir. Michael Hui, 1976) grossed HK$8.5 million, the drawing power of Cantonese cinema had more than doubled that of Colorful Youth a decade earlier. The earlier temporary demise of Cantonese cinema now seemed very distant.

Owing much to the Hui brothers’ ingenuity, satirical comedy – characterized by verbal gags, humorous situations, insignificant urbanites and their incon- sequential acts – had become an effective competitor to martial arts pictures by the mid-1970s. Neither a lone hero of the martial arts films nor a decadent philanderer of the soft-porn pictures, the Hui brothers’ pathetic anti-heroes always work in a comic pair (paidang) – a Cantonese tradition of comedy that would be exploited to the fullest in subsequent decades. With all his pretensions, frustrations and complaints, the Hui brothers’ anti-hero stood for what Law Kar describes as ‘Hong Kong’s Everyman, a screen persona which arouses audience identification’ (HKIFF 1984: 65).

In Jackie Chan’s case, a subgenre of comedy would integrate martial arts into gongfu or action comedy in the years to come. Thanks to the outstanding per- formances of the Hui brothers and Jackie Chan, by 1977 the annual Cantonese production output had once again surpassed Mandarin cinema. But contrary to the postwar revival, the Cantonese opera movie did not come back this time and virtually disappeared as a genre after three swan-song releases in the mid-1970s (HKIFF 1987: 21).

Of cinema and television: new talents, new styles and new competitions

A group of new talent emerged from cinema and television circles during the 1970s, and among them Tang Shuxuan (Shu Shuen, Cecille Tang), a visionary woman director educated at the University of Southern California, stood out at a time when martial arts and comedies inundated the market. Supported by American money, Tang brought a breath of fresh air to the Hong Kong screen with her debut, The Arch (Dong furen, 1970; b/w, Mandarin).

Set in the Ming dynasty, the film opens with a series of alternating panning and zooming shots of mountains, pine trees, clouds, woods, fields and a village, where soldiers arrive to protect the harvest from bandits. Madame Dong (Lu Yan) is a model widow living with her teenage daughter Weiling and her mother- in-law, and the villagers have petitioned the emperor for an arch of chastity in her honor. Captain Yang stays with the Dong family, and Weiling admires Yang’s

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martial figure from behind a window. A series of shots detail Dong’s household chores and a door dividing the inner and the outer compounds is highlighted several times, with Dong standing by silently after Yang has left or Weiling has gone through to pay Yang a visit. Yang leaves a love poem for Dong in the study and accompanies Weiling to the woods. Under the light of a shining moon, Yang watches Dong applying make-up from outside the window. A cricket surprises them, and while chasing it they touch each other’s hands. In the wine party that follows, shots of Yang’s hands carrying the dishes are repeated, and later in the night Dong in her bed hears Yang reciting a love poem outside.

As is typical of traditional widow tales, The Arch proceeds to show Dong repressing her emotions and marrying Weiling to Yang. A short shot-reverse-shot sequence foregrounds Yang and Dong speechless in the courtyard. Upon seeing the newlyweds off, Dong resumes her household routines. After her mother-in- law’s death, Dong becomes even lonelier when the family’s male servant prepares to leave. The news of the emperor’s approval of the arch does not change her life. Dong shuts the window, sits by the spinning wheel, and the sorrow on her face is intensified by the overlapping images of hands – Yang’s hand writing the love poem, her hands applying make-up, their hands together over a cricket, and a worker’s hands chipping away at the arch stone. Dong stands up and paces around the room. She suddenly opens the door, grabs a knife, rushes out and kills a rooster, its blood spilling on her dress. The servant is stunned and, after a moment of facing each other, Dong runs away into the darkness. A cut to the firecrackers launched in celebration of the completion of the arch returns Dong to her usual demeanor. She lowers her head and silently stands alone under the arch dedicated to her name, while the camera pulls back and pans across the distant mountains and clouds, thus framing the story as an inconsequential drama in human history.

In many ways, The Arch is unique in Hong Kong cinema. First, it is a sympa- thetic exploration of female experience from a feminist perspective. Critic Liu Chenghan (Lau Shing-hon) has pointed out the inadequate portrayal of male characters in the film, but this proves Tang’s strategy of privileging female subjectivity at the expense of a balanced treatment of the genders. Second, Tang’s sophisticated use of cinematic techniques, such as dissolves, jump-cuts, deep focus and freeze-frame, has produced a psychological text which is rich in traditional symbolism and psychoanalytic implications. The shots of Weiling stroking an ear of corn and of Yang eating a peach, for instance, symbolically express their sexual desires, although such symbols of the male and the female sexual organs might appear all too obvious by present-day standards. The sym- bolic enactment of castration in the killing of a rooster also reveals Tang’s reliance on Freudian psychoanalysis: it is only through such an act of bloody violence that Dong can give vent to her frustrations and resume her semblance of peace (HKIFF 1984: 103–9). Third, the film’s critical and popular reception was sharply divided. Even though The Arch had a discouraging three-day run in Hong Kong theaters, Tang’s talent was immediately recognized at the 1971

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Golden Horse Awards, which honored her with a special prize for superlative imagination in film and Lu Yan with the best actress award.

Shot on location in Taiwan in 1974, Tang’s second Mandarin feature, China Behind, further confirmed her exceptional talent. In this first Hong Kong feature to confront the Cultural Revolution at a time when it was going on, Tang dramatizes the physical and emotional traumas four mainland students endure in their illegal border crossing to Hong Kong. Ironies abound in Tang’s drama. In the anti-climatic ending, the illegal immigrants who have reached the land of their dreams find Hong Kong an alienating city, as frenetic with capitalism as China is with Maoism. Even more unfortunate than The Arch, China Behind was banned in Taiwan for containing images of the CCP leaders and in Hong Kong on the premise that it would ‘damage good relations with other territories’ (Law 2001: 36).14 Although its Hong Kong ban was lifted in 1981, the film has never been released commercially, although its significance – especially its daring investigation of sensitive geopolitical issues – has been belatedly recognized.

Tang Shuxuan was ahead of her time with her avant-garde spirit and vision. She made two more features in 1975 and 1979 and, after both failed miserably, quit filmmaking altogether. Her sponsorship of the film magazine Close Up (Da texie) between 1976 and 1979, however, brought together a group of young writers who would launch Film Biweekly (Dianying shuangzhou kan) in 1979 and promote a new wave of cinema in Hong Kong.

Apart from Tang’s work, signs of a new wave were also present in Jumping Ash (Tiaohui, 1976) co-directed by Josephine Siao and Leong Po-chi (Liang Puzhi), a gangster film that created a new visual style in Hong Kong cinema. Skilled at filming commercials, Leong was credited for his realistic use of the hand-held camera, his location shooting in places like Kowloon’s Walled City, and his fast-paced, free-moving documentary style. With the opening scenes shot in Amsterdam and two pleasing theme songs, the film was nicely packaged and did well at the box office, indicative of the potential commercial value of avant-garde techniques.

Although new to the film world, Leong Po-chi was a pioneer of Hong Kong television, having started with TVB as early as 1967. By the time Jumping Ash was produced, television had become a training ground for future film artists. Between 1975 and 1977, when Selina Chow (Leong Suk-yi, Zhou-Liang Shuyi) was in charge of programming and production, TVB gradually shifted its emphasis from variety shows to 30- and 60-minute programs shot in 16mm film. With his distinctive style, Patrick Tam (Tan Jiaming) contributed to such TVB series as CID (1976) and Seven Women (Qi nüxing, 1977), the latter courting controversy with its daring exploration of female sexuality (HKIFF 1999a: 94–105). A pioneer in television dramas, TVB was able to attract several overseas-trained talents, including Tsui Hark (Xu Ke) from Texas, and Ann Hui (Xu Anhua) and Yim Ho (Yan Hao) from London.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s oldest station RTV (Rediffusion Television, Lidi), which had begun operating in cable in May 1957 and had switched to color

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and non-cable in December 1973,15 employed talents like Johnny Mak (Mai Dangxiong). Mak soon earned recognition with the RTV series Ten Assassin- ations (Shida cike, 1976) and Operation Manhunt (Da zhangfu, 1976). In September 1975, a third station, CTV (Commercial Television, Jiashi), was launched. In 1976 CTV also launched a martial arts series, which reached a million viewers, and it competed with RTV for second place in the television market. By early 1978 CTV had consolidated its position with the high-profile defection of Selina Chow along with around 200 former TVB personnel, including Tsui Hark, Patrick Tam, Ringo Lam (Lin Lingdong) and Eddie Fong (Fang Lingzheng). A bidding war for television talent ensued, but TVB was able to win back many of its defectors because it was the only station that generated profits. By late 1978 CTV had ceased production after having spent HK$50 million on production in merely three years (Cheuk 1999: 16).

In the midst of the unprecedented competition, RTHK (Radio-Television Hong Kong, Xianggang dianshi), the only public station in Hong Kong, produced Below the Lion Rock (Shizishan xia, 1975). Shot on film, this series benefited from young artists such as Allen Fong (Fang Yuping) and Ann Hui, the latter also shooting episodes for the ICAC (Law 2001). Not owning its own channel, RTHK broadcast its programs on commercial channels during government-allocated time (HKIFF 1999a: 167–94).

A number of characteristics distinguish this group of television talent from previous filmmakers or their contemporaries like the Hui brothers. First, their sense of television professionalism compelled them to capture the reality of Hong Kong using candid camera techniques, confronting taboo subjects and exposing government bureaucracy in an earnest rather than in a cynical way. Second, their profound sympathy for the underprivileged continued the humanist tradition of Cantonese cinema, but without the former’s didacticism. Further, the limited time per television episode prevented lengthy moral preaching and resulted in a realist documentary style. Third, their command of new film techniques further enhanced the visual quality and emotional impact of their dramas, which appealed in particular to younger audiences. By the time TVB canceled its film unit after the closure of CTV, most of these new television program-makers were on their way to feature filmmaking. Extras (Qielifei, dir. Yim Ho, 1978), the first feature film from this group, heralded the advent of a new wave in Hong Kong cinema.

The death of Mandarin cinema Even though it had monopolized the Mandarin market, Shaw Brothers had no idea when it co-produced The House of Seventy-two Tenants a year after Cantonese cinema’s temporary demise that the boom in Mandarin cinema would face an even worse fate. As Teo states: ‘By 1979, Mandarin-language cinema was dead’ (Teo 2000: 90). Teo attributes several factors to Mandarin cinema’s demise, a situation that was unimaginable at its peak in the early 1970s. First, when Shaw

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Brothers and Golden Harvest raised their distribution fees in the boom years, Southeast Asian exhibitors changed their strategy by seeking partnership with Taiwan and co-producing Mandarin films there. Second, the profitable partner- ship with Taiwan inevitably caused overproduction, which resulted in a backlog of Mandarin titles waiting for release in Southeast Asia. Third, Indonesia imposed an import quota on Mandarin films, which dropped from 300 in 1972 to 100 in 1973, ninety in 1974 and fifty-six in 1977. Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand raised their import duties on films, and the South Vietnam market was closed at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Finally, unlike Cantonese cinema, where new talent simply migrated from film to television and back, Mandarin cinema in Hong Kong suffered from the drain of its talent pool. Therefore, as the new wave pushed Cantonese cinema into the international spotlight, Mandarin cinema suddenly disappeared, and the history of Hong Kong cinema began an entirely new chapter.

CONCLUSION: TOWARD REGIONAL IMAGINATION

In April 1977 the Hong Kong Urban Council inaugurated the annual Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF), which exhibited films from various countries and regions and organized special retrospectives and forums on Hong Kong cinema. Apart from its political significance in promoting Hong Kong as a cosmopolitan city and its artistic significance in discovering new talent, themes and techniques, the HKIFF has carried cultural significance in reconstructing Hong Kong film history. Since 1978, the annual retrospectives and the accompanying bilingual publications have placed Hong Kong cinema on research agendas. Given the involvement of a new generation of critics and scholars, Cantonese cinema has received special attention.

A manifesto-like introduction by Li Cheuk-to (Li Zhuotao), a veteran HKIFF program coordinator, to the 1988 retrospective, Changes in Hong Kong Society Through Cinema, states that:

Hong Kong is a city commonly thought of as having no history . . . Where the last generation is concerned, Hong Kong was a place of refuge but whose time and locality was borrowed. Hence, a sense of belonging was lacking. To the newer generations, the sense of belonging is stronger but their perspective of history (especially that of China) is sadly limited . . . Hong Kong’s history has been subdued and a new historical consciousness was never nurtured.

When Li announces the intention of the 1988 retrospective as ‘a beginning towards understanding Hong Kong’s history’, his ultimate goal is not history per se but culture – ‘Without a local history, there is no local culture. Without a local culture, the meeting of minds from both east and west would essentially come

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to naught’ (HKIFF 1988: 9). The Chinese phrase Li uses for ‘local culture’ is wenhua benwei, literally ‘culture’s original locale’, which foregrounds both the locality of Hong Kong culture and the historicity of this culture’s transformation. In this sense, cinema furnishes a means of retrieving collective memory and experience as well as reconstructing local history and culture.

Li Cheuk-to’s overview of Hong Kong cinema of the 1970s represents an attempt at such historical reconstruction of a ‘local culture’ through cinema. On the one hand, Li locates in Cantonese television programs and comedies such as The House of Seventy-two Tenants a sign of renewed interest in ‘the strong oral tradition of the Cantonese culture’, which added to local color and fostered a ‘genuine Hong Kong consciousness’. On the other hand, insatiable desires permeated the screen, as exemplified by Zhang Che’s swordsmen fighting for personal gain rather than moral principles or by Li Hanxiang’s women seeking emotional and sexual fulfillment while volunteering themselves as objects of the male gaze. As affection and morality became objects of distrust or ridicule, cynicism spread across all genres and furnished an outlet for discontented Hong Kong audiences: while submitting to the status quo, they at least could deride authority, injustice and decency. Such cynicism, nonetheless, betrayed a funda- mental contradiction in Hong Kong culture and engendered an intensifying identity crisis that sometimes verged on schizophrenia (as in soft-porn pictures produced by Lui Kei). For Li Cheuk-to, the cinematic search for Hong Kong’s ‘original locale’ (benwei) or local culture failed to go beyond native legends and folk wisdom, and the apathy to contemporary politics and marginality in history continued to characterize Hong Kong identity in the 1970s (HKIFF 1984: 123–31).

It is evident from Li Cheuk-to’s overview that an uneasy relationship exists between ‘Cantonese culture’ and Hong Kong’s ‘local culture’. Significantly, in a 1966 review Law Kar chose to describe Chan Po-chu as a ‘Cantonese woman’ rather than a ‘Hong Kong woman’, and as someone who represented ‘a pro- gressive new woman’ entirely independent in a male-centered society and thus distinguished herself from previous Cantonese female stars. Law detected in Chan’s screen images such ‘traditional Cantonese qualities’ as compassion, filiality, perseverance, reticence and righteousness. Already ‘modernized but not completely Hong Kong-ized’ as were some of her counterparts in Mandarin cinema, Chan’s was an outstanding image of ‘a new generation of Hong Kong’s Cantonese women’ (HKIFF 1982: 88–90).

For both Law Kar and Li Cheuk-to, Cantonese culture extends beyond Hong Kong’s borders, and Hong Kong’s local culture is therefore intimately related to Cantonese culture as a regional culture, at least up to the late 1960s. This intimate relationship is illustrated in the case of Li Wo’s radio storytelling, which reached a large number of listeners in the region of Guangzhou (originally designated as Canton), Hong Kong and Macao in the 1950s. Nevertheless, upon closer scrutiny, Law Kar and Li Cheuk-to differ in their concept of Hong Kong culture. Law’s term ‘Hong Kong-ized’ (Xianggang hua) reveals his suspicion

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of the ‘contaminating’ effects of a Westernized Hong Kong culture of the 1960s, which as a cosmopolitan culture (represented by Mandarin musicals) was not ‘local’ to Hong Kong but was originally imported from Shanghai in the postwar period. Li’s insistence on a ‘local culture’ in Hong Kong is therefore problematic, for what was ‘local’ to Li (Cantonese orality) was part of a regional culture and what was ‘Hong Kong’ to Law (Westernization) was, in Stephen Teo’s terms, the ‘Shanghai hangover’ or ‘Shanghai redone’ (1997: 14–39).

The historicity of Hong Kong culture is accentuated by the locality of its multiple origins, and what Leo Lee describes as the ‘Shanghainization’ of Hong Kong in the 1950s (1999: 330) is itself only part of a larger and longer process of translocal, transregional, transnational cultural integration in Hong Kong. With her multiple ties to Shanghai, Hong Kong and the US from the early 1940s to the mid-1960s, Eileen Chang’s Mandarin screenplays for MP&GI contributed to the formation of a cosmopolitan culture in Hong Kong that recognizes its multiregional origins (hence the popular theme of nanbei he – ‘south–north integration’). By the time Cantonese cinema reinvented itself with The House of Seventy-two Tenants, even characters from other regional backgrounds (Shanghai, Shandong and Chaozhou) spoke Cantonese, albeit with regional accents. In Teo’s opinion, The House of Seventy-two Tenants is ‘one of the first instances in Hong Kong cinema to show the territory as a Cantonese society able to assimilate Chinese people from different regions’ (1997: 145).

Grounded in such regional imagination, by the late 1970s Hong Kong cinema had gained the flexibility of crossing national and regional borders and the advantage of assimilating east and west as well as north and south. The grounding in regional imagination also enabled Hong Kong filmmakers to approach Chinese culture not as a single entity but as one consisting of multiple regional cultures characterized by many regional dialects. The awareness of southern Fujian thus accounts for a large number of Hong Kong productions of Amoy-dialect features intended predominantly for Southeast Asia and Taiwan. The cinematic negotiation with northern Chinese culture in martial arts pictures further confirms the advantage of regional imagination. It is interesting to note that in all three cases of Bruce Lee, King Hu and Zhang Che, a haunting sense of rootlessness accompanies the physical journeys of these artists and their screen heroes. Traveling between the US, Hong Kong and Taiwan, these martial artists presented uprooted knights-errant whose claims to certain origins – specific schools of martial arts connected to certain mountains or temples – remain at best nominal and must be tested through countless duels. The kind of Chinese ‘nationalism’ projected by these martial arts pictures, consequently, cannot help but be abstract: ‘China’ exists as an abstract ‘cultural ideal’ that does not impose any obligation on the part of Hong Kong filmmakers to support ‘a particular regime or political ideology’ (Teo 1997: 112).

Herein lies another definitive advantage of regional imagination. Hong Kong cinema can effectively evoke cultural nationalism – a sense of cultural pride and national belonging – without endorsing or identifying with competing

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representatives of the Chinese nation (either CCP or KMT).16 Bypassing the question of authenticity and legitimacy, Hong Kong’s cinematic productions of ‘China’ and ‘Chineseness’ are intended for mass consumption in Taiwan and overseas Chinese communities and at times have met with critical acclaim. The fact that Hong Kong has served as the site of such a large-scale production of signs of China and Chineseness – not just in martial arts films but also in opera movies originated from numerous localities – has further confirmed the advantage of regional imagination. Compared with Taiwan and the PRC, Hong Kong cinema may have been denied the status of a national cinema (see Chapter 1), but Hong Kong’s marginality in history and politics has fostered a distinctive type of regional imagination that transcends the national by assimilating both the local and the international. As evidenced by the multilocal operations of Minxin and Tianyi between Hong Kong and Shanghai, Grandview between Hong Kong and San Francisco, Cathay and Shaw Brothers between Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan, Hong Kong cinema has always been ‘borderless’ (Yau 2001) in its transregional and transnational imagination. Simply put, ‘Hong Kong’s is the regional cinema par excellence’ (Bordwell 2000: 61).

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BESIDES FISTS AND BLOOD: MICHAEL HUI AND CANTONESE COMEDY

Jenny Kwok Wah Lau

THE IMAGE OF HONG KONG CINEMA IN THE UNITED STATES

Hong Kong cinema began to gain popularity in the United States in the 1970s primarily through the English dubbed-versions of kung fu films. Before that time, kung fu films appealed only to a relatively small audience of martial arts fans and Chinatown immigrants, who managed to provide a stable market for these inexpensive films. Even though by 1979 the genres of kung fu (and wuxia)1 had been largely replaced by comedy in Hong Kong, they continued to be the Hong Kong cinema best known to the general audience of the United States up to this date.

During the early 1980s, several film festivals in the West, including the Edinburgh Film Festival and the New York Film Festival, discovered a few interesting films from Hong Kong. In 1982, Boat People (directed by Ann Hui), which was already a box-office hit in Hong Kong, was screened at the New York Film Festival and elicited unusual attention from critics for its (perceived) political content and its production quality.2 The film is the story of a Japanese journalist’s unsuccessful attempt to rescue a South Vietnamese Chinese woman on the eve of the Communist takeover of South Vietnam. By taking on a wartime melodrama, the film exhibited a non-kung fu version of Hong Kong cinema that was unfamiliar to Western spectators.

Subsequent to the “discovery” of director Ann Hui (and director Allen Fong in Edinburgh through his work Father and Son), critics suddenly rec- ognized a Hong Kong cinema quite distinct from their earlier impression, one which its local critics have named the Hong Kong New Wave since 1979. In the years that followed, early New Wave films, characterized by modern techniques and social realism, such as The Secret (Ann Hui, 1979), The Story of Woo Viet (Ann Hui, 1981), Father and Son (Allen Fong, 1981), Ah Ying (Allen Fong, 1982), Nomad (Patrick Tarn, 1982), Last Affair (Tony Au, 1983), and Home Coming (Yim Ho, 1984), became fixtures of the festival/center circuits in the United States.

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Almost all of the New Wave directors learned their basic craft in the West. Their ease with modern production equipment and their interest in modern special effects (versus traditional special effects) created such innovative films as Butterfly Murders (Tsui Hark, 1979), The Sword (Patrick Tarn, 1980), and Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain (Tsui Hark, 1981). On the whole, the works of New Wave directors were more sophisticated with mise-en-scene and visual effects. The result can be seen in areas as simple as lighting, color, the use of visual motifs, composition, and editing, or as complex as “high- tech” postproduction manipulation, of which Zu is the best example. In fact, art direction, a position that organizes the overall visual impact of a film, gained importance in the New Wave. (This position, which sometimes enjoys a full screen credit, had been practiced in the West for a number of years by then.)

Another significant aspect of the New Wave films is their realignment of the Hong Kong cinema with its older tradition of social realism – that cinema is not about glamorized fictions made up of stereotypical characters but the concrete retelling of real-life experiences and a reinterpretation of the meaning of such experiences. A few examples of some of the earliest New Wave films best illustrate the point. The Secret, a. film that was more appreciated than Boat People by both its director, Ann Hui, and the local critics of the time, is a social drama based in part on a local news story. It deals with the taboo issue of premarital pregnancy and how society forces a pregnant woman into insanity; she then ends up brutally killing the father of her child. Up until that point, with the exception of director Michael Hui, such candid social realism was rare in the cinema of Hong Kong.

Another New Wave film, Man on the Brink (1981), by Alex Cheung Kwok Ming, was an unusually honest portrayal of the life of an undercover cop. Unlike most cop movies, the film neither entertains by cliche chase scenes nor glorifies male chauvinism. The drama of having to live two lives, which results in serious misunderstanding even by one’s family, was later taken up by Jackie Chan in his much glamorized Police Story (1985).

The quintessential New Wave film, Father and Son, is a nostalgic bio- graphical reflection on growing up in the 1960s in one of the government- built, low-income residential areas of Hong Kong. The highly congested buildings, each consisting of seven to eight stories, provide only basic accom- modation, with no elevators to aid the elderly or the disabled. The film begins with a slow crane up from the outside of one of these buildings and cuts to the protagonist’s father gasping for air as he climbs the stairs. At the end of the film, the father dies of a heart attack while climbing the same set of stairs. This social space of poverty, which was rarely shown on the screen during the 1970s became a key motif of the film, which succinctly portrays the hardship suffered by a working-class family and the conflict between a father and son. The father’s dream is to send his son to study abroad. This works

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against the son’s wish to be a local filmmaker, a career not appreciated in a traditional family. Unlike earlier cinema, which romanticized intergenerational conflicts, Father and Son reflects on the reality of the pain caused by tradi- tional filial piety and affirms the rebellious nature of the younger generations.

Indeed, the greatest achievement of the Hong Kong New Wave lay in its resurrecting realism on a screen that had been dominated by fantasy images of rich mansions, parties, beautiful women, and handsome men. It was also a cinema that did not build on the star and genre system that had permeated the industry for decades.3 Although the New Wave created works such as Butter- fly and Zu, which belong to the kung fu/wuxia genre, it also showed the West, at least for a while, that there was more to Hong Kong cinema than action dramas.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how one perceives it), after the mid-1980s the Hong Kong New Wave was basically absorbed into the commercial studio system. Soon a so-called Second Wave appeared. During the 1980s and early 1990s directors such as Mabel Cheung (An Illegal Immi- grant, 1985; An Autumn’s Tale, 1987; Eight Tales of Gold, 1989), Clara Law (The Reincarnation of the Golden Lotus, 1989; Autumn Moon, 1991; Tempta- tion of a Monk, 1993), Stanley Kwan (Love unto Waste, 1986; Rouge, 1988, The Actress, or Center Stage, 1991; Red Rose White Rose, 1994), Lawrence Ah Mon (Gangs, 1988; Queen of Temple Street, 1990), and Wong Kar-wai (As Tears Go By, 1988; Days of Being Wild, 1990; Ashes of Time, 1994; Chungking Express, 1994) were part of a slightly younger group that inherited the New Wave’s technological competence as well as some of its social sensitivity. Most of these directors (together with some First Wave directors) were quite successful working within the commercial confines of the studio/ star system while still being able to impart some creative personal elements into their films. Although their works are, by comparison, neither as daring nor as idiosyncratic as the New Wave films (with the notable exception of Wong Kar-wai), they constituted a significant aspect of the non-action- oriented contemporary Hong Kong cinema. Some of their films succeeded in reaching a broader U.S. audience beyond museums and festivals, generating critical interest.4

Yet the burgeoning new U.S. perception of Hong Kong cinema was quickly eclipsed by the publicity needs of both the festival circuits and the commercial distributors. As might be expected, kung fu superstars (actors and/or directors) provided an easier selling point in the West. Examples are Jackie Chan (Police Story), Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China and its sequels), and John Woo (A Better Tomorrow, 1986, and its sequels). Most of these artists were introduced to the United States during the late 1980s by film magazines and by appearing as guests in film festivals and at centers as part of the Hong Kong New Wave. Some of their films were soon taken up by major commer- cial distributors.5 The “New Wave” label served publicity needs but with the

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exception of Tsui Hark, few of these artists, including Jackie Chan and John Woo, could be considered as part of the New Wave per se. Being established showmen in the business even before the New Wave, their clever incorpora- tion of the young production talents in the 1980s benefited both sides, by providing more modern visuals for the former and production opportunities for the latter. By the time the Second Wave arrived (roughly in 1984 with Mabel Cheung’s Illegal Immigrants) John Woo, who was an assistant director for the old-time famous kung fu director Chang Che and who had directed a few comedies on his own, was considered a veteran director of the old cinema. But in 1985 he regained recognition through his now-renowned work A Better Tomorrow, which was more a product of the studio and star system, albeit a good one, than of the New Wave.

Although some of the Second Wave non-kung fu directors such as Wong Kar-wai and Stanley Kwan were also taken up by commercial distributors, the majority of the U.S. releases of Hong Kong films were more of the Jackie Chan or John Woo type.6 Obviously, the strategy of these distributors was to capitalize on the preexisting kung fu image of Hong Kong cinema and further expand the market to include the art film audience, which previously gener- ated by the Hong Kong New Wave. The publicity for these films usually took on a more “artsy” tone compared to the low-profile, “cheap” image of the 1970s kung fu movies.

Soon the reports on Hong Kong cinema were loaded with descriptions of “its hyper energy,” “its poetics of violence,” and “its vengeance.”7 Big- budget publicity campaigns for such films as The Killer and Bullet in the Head drew attention away from the Second Wave non-action-oriented films, although the latter are still shown in film festivals and centers to this day. In exaggerating the blood and violence from Hong Kong, U.S. commercial distributors have managed to pigeonhole the cinema of Hong Kong back into its preconceived kung fu corner, only this time it was further mystified by some “high taste” rhetoric.8

To fixate on the violence of kung fu or its modern weaponized mutation yields a far from complete picture of the very creative and the most dramatic era of the cinema of Hong Kong – that of the 1980s. In fact, the excessive violence found in some films that the West now so savors9 is not always the most attractive element for the local audience. Even the film A Better Tomor- row (a more accurate translation would be Essence of a Hero), which sold extremely well in both Hong Kong and the United States and launched Woo’s career in Hollywood, was complimented by local critics not so much for its blood and fists but for its revival of the spirit of wuxia, its transformation (or “weaponization,” a term used by local critics) of wuxia action into gun- fights,10 and its modernization of the romantic wuxia hero. The film fits well with Woo’s experience in making wuxia films. Among the subsequent large number of films that imitated the action of the “brother-hero” genre (of

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which A Better Tomorrow is the prototype) only a few were box-office successes. In fact, the genre died a quick death. By the time A Better Tomor- row III (1989) appeared in the local market, the attraction of action movies had slipped considerably. Only Jackie Chan’s Miracle was among the top five best sellers of the year. Both A Better Tomorrow III and The Killer were considered box-office flops.11 The local cinema of Hong Kong had been recaptured by comedy, a genre that has dominated Hong Kong cinema for most of the 1980s and the 1990s.

The U.S. translation of Essence of a Hero into A Better Tomorrow draws audience attention to the Hong Kong 1997 issue, which is an obviously good selling point in the West. Unfortunately, to some critics the merits of the film were then largely attributed to its metaphorical interpretation of the 1997 Hong Kong annexation to China.12 This “1997 reading” for every contem- porary film coming from Hong Kong ran the risk of reducing the understand- ing of Hong Kong culture in general, and film in particular, to the narrow spheres of economics and politics. Unquestionably, the 1997 issue is one of the strongest factors shaping the current life of Hong Kong. Yet the cultural tradition of Hong Kong extends well beyond the Sino-British Joint Declara- tion (1984) and the Western recognition of the imminence of the 1997 project. Reductionistic reading of the cinema neglects the tradition of the local (Can- tonese) cinema, which has always been vibrant and dynamic in addressing multifaceted interests and concerns of daily life.

Worse still, some critics, somewhat condescendingly and without looking deeply into the history of local popular cinema, simplistically linked 1997 with the success of Hong Kong cinema (of the 1980s) and claimed that because of the former the latter had “awakened” and finally found itself (Hong Kong) as a “subject” (and hence was making itself more interesting). Such a generalization of the 1997 effects on Hong Kong cinema tends to erase the concrete details of cultural experiences and covers up the complex social and psychological realities of life in Hong Kong in the early 1980s, a life which, though overshadowed by the two-headed monster of colonialism and “China-ism,” was still capable, in certain instances, of reconnecting itself. As mentioned earlier, the contribution of the New Wave was indeed to reestablish (the temporarily Mandarin-dominated) local Hong Kong as its subject within the cinematic discourse through its portrayal of poverty, social prejudice, modernization, and other issues. Because this happened in 1979, it was at least three years before 1997 became an issue.13 It is only fair to say that after 1982, 1997 became one (but not the only) issue in some (but not all) of the best films coming out of Hong Kong.

In the past, it may have been true that Hong Kong was marginalized by some China-centered and/or Eurocentric cultural scholars who were engaged in literature, fine arts, or other “high-art” circles. To them, Hong Kong was a cultural desert, which implied that Hong Kong had no culture of its own.

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The high or proper culture of Hong Kong was but a weak extension of mainland China culture and/or Britain, and the indigenous culture, if there was any, was of low level and even base. These scholars tended to link such a “lack of culture” to Hong Kong’s detachment from its root (i.e., mainland China) and related its baseness to its commercialism.14 It was not uncommon, then, that many cultural elites hardly watched or wrote about local films. In fact, some of them attended only European films screened in Studio One, a “high taste” film club in Hong Kong. But in the popular art of movie- making itself, for which the audience was mostly made up of the middle and lower classes, elitist arrogance was not prevalent. Many of the popular films of the 1950s and 1960s, including those that featured the Cantonese super- stars Cheung Ying (Zhang Ying) and Ng Chor-fan (Wu Chufan), were quite Hong Kong conscious, although some of them did not fail to be escapist.15 Another prime example is Chor Yuen’s The House of 72 Tenants (1973), a definitive work of Cantonese social satire. Obviously, this part of popular culture history is easily left out of elitist historiography because it is the domain in which, using Ranajit Guha’s terms, “the principal actors are the subaltern classes.”16

In hindsight, it is not surprising that the New Wave directors (First or Second) were Hong Kong-centered even though their technical training was mostly Western. Most of the directors of the New Wave were born and raised in Hong Kong in contrast to their parents’ midlife immigration from mainland China. By the time they began their careers in local TV in the 1970s the industry had turned completely to Hong Kong for its programming. Major prime-time programs included variety shows such as Happiness Tonight and serial dramas such as Family Change, Tears of a Crocodile, and Heavenly Silkworm. All of these programs were focused on issues directly related to Hong Kong. It is therefore not accidental that these directors, after switching to film production, also identified Hong Kong as the center of their subject.

Whether there is a 1997 issue or not, China has always been a factor in Hong Kong cinema for obvious historical and geographical reasons.17 Never- theless, the 1997 consciousness did further sensitize China-related issues in a large number of films made between 1982 and 1986. Furthermore, ever since mainland China opened itself up in 1979, the commercial and cultural exchange between the PRC and Hong Kong made a more open discourse possible. Films that were considered politically sensitive and were censored by the colonial government in the past, such as The Last Winter in Beijing and China Behind, were rereleased. Even icons that were prohibited, such as the flags of communist and nationalist China, were permitted to be shown on the big screen. The reopening of China to the rest of the world, including Britain, prompted certain regulatory changes that facilitated the curiosity of the younger generation, most of whom had long been fascinated by their parents’ China stories, real or imaginary.

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Some frequently cited ” 1 9 9 7 ” films such as Stanley Kwan’s Rouge and Center Stage are good examples of works that mix history and imagination into the relationship between China, Hong Kong, the past, and the present. According to the director himself, the inspiration for these films came from his own childhood experience with his Shanghai family. He had always wanted to seek out the relationship between the two places, one of which is real and concrete, whereas the other seems fascinating but elusive. By not reducing the films to a simplistic 1997 political metaphor, one can better comprehend how they portray the contradictions involved in having to live through a history of dislocation and relocation, rejection and identification, and other particular aspects of an exile/colonial culture.

Despite the many social and political changes of the 1980s, three clear lines of development can still be delineated: comedy, kung fu or martial arts, and social drama. While none ever disappeared completely, each had its own period of prominence. Comedy was most popular from 1980 to 1984 and again from 1988 to 1993. Even during its decline between 1985 and 1987, the comic element never totally disappeared. Thus vampire comedies, kung fu comedies, detective comedies, and others rampaged the markets of both Hong Kong and Taiwan. Along with comedy were the ever-present genres of mod- ern martial arts films (climaxing in 1985 with A Better Tomorrow) and the social dramas of the New Wave. Currently, the martial arts and the art films are popular in the United States, with the former leading the commercial front, leaving behind the most dominant genre of comedy, a genre which generated nine out of the top ten best sellers of the past two decades.18

It is not difficult to understand why the West has ignored comedy in the cinema of Hong Kong. First, as discussed in Comedy/Cinema/Theory, the genre of comedy has traditionally not received much attention or respect in the cultural history of the West (or in that of the East for that matter).19 Second, the analysis of comedy is exceptionally difficult because the recog- nition of humor depends heavily upon the understanding of the complex dynamics involved in the interaction of the symbolics, such as gestures, icons, linguistics, and so on, which are defined by their own social and cultural traditions. The difficulty is especially pronounced in the scrutiny of social or political comedy, which depends on a fairly specific contextual relationship between the text and the viewer and whose unfinalizing game-like form calls for what deconstructionists describe as ” a state of conspiratorial irony.” That is, a comic moment is appreciated when the audience recognizes that it could or should be “read against the grain.”

Finally, the reading of Hong Kong comedy is further complicated by its heavy dependence on Cantonese dialogical gags. Although comedies of the 1980s tended to stage the chase scenes, fights, sex, and slapstick action common in Western films, whimsical slang and even nonsense verse and puns

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still remained major ingredients of the humor. At times they tended to be bizarre or even ridiculous. Popular examples included Wrong Kind of Love (1983) by Cheung Kin Ting, Aces Go Places (1984) by Tsui Hark, and My Lucky Stars (1985) by Samo Hung. Yet if one agrees with Jameson that any general theory of the modern – assuming one to be possible in the first place – would have to register the informing presence of, among others, sign systems and mass culture, of which popular cinema is a major point of convergence,20 then comedy, as an extremely contextualized text and the most popular form of cinematic entertainment, provides a significant entry point for the consid- eration of the culture of modern Hong Kong.

SOME HISTORY

To appreciate the central role of comedy in Hong Kong cinema one should trace its history back to its initial phase of industrialization. This major step, which established Hong Kong as an important film producing city, did not begin until 1949-50, when the refugee waves coming from mainland China brought an influx of artists and film entrepreneurs to the island. These immi- grants, who fled the Chinese communist government, were from northern China and for the most part spoke Mandarin. Soon a fierce competition broke out between Mandarin films produced by the newcomers and Cantonese films made by the locals.

While melodrama and detective fictions were popular genres for both groups, the dream factory of the Mandarin camp excelled in producing Hol- lywood imitations of historical epics and musicals, while the Cantonese camp specialized in martial arts films, which featured popular folk heroes such as Wong Fei-hung’s well-known series (modernized in Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time in China) and social satire, which depicted the suffering of the lower classes.21

From 1950 to 1970, three thousand Cantonese films were made and shown in Hong Kong. Out of this corpus, about 750 films (about 25 percent) were comedy, indicating a steady local preference for jokes and laughter.22 How- ever, when the big-budget Mandarin films carrying extravagant Hollywood glitziness began to gain the upper hand in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the smaller local (Cantonese) cinema deteriorated until it literally ceased produc- tion in 1972. Mandarin films were dominant for much of the 1970s.

But miracles do happen sometimes. In 1974, Games Gamblers Play, a Cantonese comedy scripted, acted, and directed by the now well-known “master of modern Cantonese Comedy,” Michael Hui, who then was a popular TV talent, drew a huge audience. The film was the top box office hit of the year, grossing three times as much as its runner-up. Hui’s next four films, The Last Message (1975), The Private Eyes (1976), The Contract

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(1978), and Modern Security Guard {Modern Bo-Biu, 1981), continued to top the box office. Cantonese/local films had finally made their way back via one of their best traditions – social comedy.

MICHAEL HUI – MASTER OF CANTONESE COMEDY

Michael Hui grew up in one of the government-built, low-income residential areas of Hong Kong. As a graduate of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, he had an unusually outstanding educational background in the world of show business before the 1970s. His major in sociology would soon be reflected in his social satirical films. Hui started his career in local television as a cohost with his brother in a highly successful game/talk show. Between 1972 and 1974 he starred in four films directed by the then major director Li Han Hsiang (Li Hanxiang). In 1974 he made his writer-director debut with Games Gamblers Play. The rest is history.

As Hong Kong film critic Law Kar has pointed out, “Michael Hui is to Comedy what Bruce Lee is to the Martial Arts: they both reign supreme.”23 Yet the latter was a catch name in the West, and the former is still almost unknown. Between 1974 and 1992, Michael Hui scripted and acted in fourteen films, half of which he also directed. It is clear that by occupying key positions in production Hui had the luxury of almost total control of his films. He was one of the few auteurs who not only survived but prospered even in the cutthroat commercial setting of Hong Kong cinema. Unlike many directors of his generation who turned cinema into an unsuccessful dream factory, Hui managed to be consistent in enriching his films with social messages. Some of these films have been quite successful, such as The Private Eyes, the story of a private detective; The Contract, the struggle of a minor TV talent to advance his career; Modern Security Guards, which satirizes an egotistical security worker; Teppanyaki (1984), a food-fixated sex comedy; Chicken and Duck Talk (1988), which details a competition between a traditional roast duck restaurant and a Western fast-food store; Mr. Coconut (1989), which is about a mainland Chinese rural bumpkin’s visit to his metropolitan Hong Kong city relatives; Front Page (1990), a satire on yellow journalism; and Magic Touch (1992), a critique on superstition. Others have not been as successful, such as Happy Ding Dong (1985), a Hong Kong version of Some Like It Hot.

Hui’s success in combining entertainment with local social concern was also a factor that indirectly ushered in the Hong Kong New Wave (1979-84). Between 1978 and 1979, the Hong Kong film industry suffered from both an internal creative block and the popularization of television. It seemed that the cinema could no longer attract an audience even with sex or violence. While the studios were desperate to find some kind of solution, Hui’s outstanding success in tackling social issues obviously challenged the dream factory’s

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escapism. It seemed that, at least for once, investors and theater exhibitors were convinced by Hui’s films that social realism and money making could sometimes go together. With the financial boom of the late 1970s and early 1980s, some investors began to take advantage of the crisis in the movie industry. Instead of depending on established directors to grind out new films, which had proven to be of little success, money was given to a group of young directors whose films would be different from those of the past. Be- tween 1979 and 1980 about thirty to forty directors made their debuts. A New Wave was born.

The old Cantonese cinema had died out partly because it lacked a new perspective on the changing society of Hong Kong, but Hui succeeded exactly where the old approach failed. His sensitivity in capturing the unique transi- tions that Hong Kong was experiencing during the 1970s provided him with plenty of fresh material for dramas. At the same time, as local critics soon realized, Hui was capable of retaining the strength of the Cantonese comic cinema of the 1950s and 1960s – the comedy of the everyday man versus the Mandarin cinema of the upper class fairyland from Shanghai. Although Hui’s characters are strongly based on traditional Chinese social and moral norms, his concern is with how his protagonist uses these values in interacting with the modern environment of Hong Kong. It is Hui’s genius to be among the first in local cinema to capture the nuances of this encounter and to comment on it in a comic forms.24

Hui’s classic story is of the everyday person who is caught in the reality of a fast-paced society, moving more and more toward Westernization and me- tropolitanization. In some films his characters are unaware of the change and hence get caught in impossible situations. In others, they try to fight against the encroaching reality of progress, while others try to compromise without actually grasping what is taking place around them. The variations are numer- ous, but Hui’s sometimes humorous, sometimes sarcastic, but usually sympa- thetic treatment of the major character, which he himself performs very well, elicits both laughter and tears from his audience.

Although even up until his last film (Magic Touch, 1992) Hui’s productions continue to be among the best sellers in Hong Kong, I choose to introduce one of his earlier works, Modern Security Guards (Modern Bo Biu), which was considered by both the director himself and his critics to be an unusually significant film. According to Hui, Modern Security Guards represented the beginning of a new phase of Hui’s filmmaking in which effort was shifted from creating the purely comic, which he had mastered in previous films, to a sophisticated integration of his humor with a more refined story that carried a deeper social message. Critics saw the film as a forerunner of the ‘ ‘high-tech comedies,” especially those from Cinema City (the major comedy studio for the first half of the eighties) that were to follow. In retrospect, one can see that as an early-1980s film Modern Security Guards was the first to fully

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capture and explore the unique moment of the transformation of modern Hong Kong, a transformation that involved not only industrial technology and eco- nomic growth but the official political reconsideration of the relationship between Hong Kong and China. In the reading of the film I delineate two major structuring themes, old/new and China/Hong Kong. These pairs of antinomies, which continued to play the most significant role in many impor- tant films to come, first appeared in Modern Security Guards.25

MODERN SECURITY GUARDS Modern Security Guards satirizes technology’s penetration into contemporary Hong Kong daily life and the increasingly inseparable relationship between Hong Kong and China. In the film, Hui renegotiates traditional values and at the same time mediates a dialogue of social transition with an audience that would soon be in search of a cultural and political repositioning.

The story is about an arrogant captain Chow (played by Hui) who works in a security company. Despite his exploitative attitude, his subordinates, Sam and Ying, work hard and cooperate with him. Consequently, they end up doing the hard work while Chow gets the credit. This works out to Chow’s advantage until the son of the owner of the company returns from his studies in the United States. He soon takes over his ailing father’s business. The young boss discovers Chow’s incompetence and demotes him while raising the assistant Sam to the position of captain.

Although Sam is now Chow’s superior, he exercises no retribution for past injustices. He is considerate and well-liked by his colleagues. Three major crimes occur after Sam becomes the captain, which he and his team success- fully solve. After undergoing a lot of difficulties, Chow finally learns to be a responsible, helpful, and generous teammate.

THE OLD AND THE MODERN/WEST The Chinese title of the film, Bo-Biu, is an old term for security guard. It is also strongly associated with the wuxia (martial arts) film/fiction genre of which it is one of the major generic characters. Putting Modern and Bo-Biu together already indicates an attempt to heighten the contrast of the old (as connoted by wuxia) and the new, the cross-cutting between the two eras during which rapid changes are taking place.

In Modern Security Guards the new, which is also Western, is represented by the metropolitan outlook of the city with its skyscrapers, shopping malls, banks, automobiles, and high-tech environment. In Hui’s film, this new form of living is in the process of integrating itself with tradition while the old way of life is also trying to adjust and adapt to the input of the new. The weaving

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together of these two trends creates numerous comic moments. For instance, in one scene electronic sensors are put under a doormat to illustrate a modern theft prevention mechanism. But the old “Chinese” problem with punctuality generates conflicts with the new device. While Chow is boasting about his “theft prevention doormat,” Ying, one of his crew members, rushes in late to class. The latter, not knowing that Chow is demonstrating the new gadget, steps on it and accidentally discharges an electric current. Chow, who is at the other end of the circuit, is jolted by the strong electric shock as his class roars in laughter. In another scene, the technology of parachuting to escape a high-rise fire does not seem to work without the aid of human intuition as to when to open the parachute during the fall. Thus when Chow’s crew test-flies a mannequin it falls to the ground and breaks on impact, creating fear as well as laughter. Even a sophisticated computer-controlled door lock, used in an antique exhibition, depends on the human (Hui’s) voice to be activated. Thus, the superiority of the New and the Western is not always apparent. The new both challenges and relies on the old.

Alternately, neither can new wine be kept in an old bottle. In one scene, Chow attempts to conduct a driver’s class. In the late 1970s the automobile, another sign of “foreignness,” began to gain popularity in Hong Kong, and driving became a common, necessary skill. But Chow’s teaching technique of forcing his class to memorize a driving rhythm (composed by him) while practicing on models made of domestic cleaning tools such as toilet brushes and so forth is absurd. Such a ludicrous pedagogy parodied a learning experi- ence common among Hui’s audience, namely, that of forced memorization and coerced acceptance of outdated teaching. Chow’s way of driving does not work. Not only does his student Ying fail the driving test, but Chow himself is bumped into the harbor by Ying’s car. At the very end of the film Ying still cannot drive his car and finishes off his wedding by crashing his bridal carriage into a little yellow Porsche.

A new environment requires a new approach. The old boss of the security company has to retire due to illness, and the company is taken over by his son. The young man’s new knowledge, acquired from the United States (the West), helps him approach the management of his company differently. An interesting scene occurs when the young man’s parents receive their son at the airport. Instead of the typical Cantonese drama of a son’s homecoming, with its involved oversentimentalism, we witness the Hong Kong spirit of no- nonsense, business-like mannerisms between the parents and the son.

The relation of the old and the new is also one of conflict. Chow is demoted after fifteen years of service in the company because he is found to be inefficient and his techniques outdated. Here, Hui captures the common prob- lem of a generation of Hong Kong workers who suddenly find themselves losing competitiveness due to modernization.26 Chow angrily stomps out of the office after hearing of his demotion. He stands right in front of a new

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yellow Porsche, which happens to be parked in that spot and has two gamblers hiding inside. To let off steam, Chow yells and pounds on the car. The Porsche is automated to respond to push and touch. Thus each time Chow pounds the car it opens its doors, windows, sky roof, and so forth. By the end of the scene, the boiling Chow leaves the Porsche flapping and swinging every one of its parts with the two gamblers inside wondering what is going on. The scene depicts not only the sometimes violent war between the old (boss and Chow) and the new (young boss) but also contrasts the rich (boss and Porsche’s owner) and the poor (Chow).

Hui’s questioning of modernization and his comic evaluation of the much- celebrated economic accomplishments of Hong Kong were not totally new subjects on the screen. Yet, here one discovers a new sense of ambivalence that did not exist in the Cantonese social satires of the 1950s and the 1960s. In the previous era, theater audiences, many members of whom were refugees from China, were generally China-centered. That is, they identified more with the (romanticized) China than with Hong Kong and were quite willing to position Hong Kong as the “other.” Some of the older films, although they exposed problems such as greed and exploitation as Hong Kong’s capitalistic faults, also implied that social virtues were to be found in China. The criti- cisms made in Modern Security Guards, however, do not favor the Chinese. This cinematic role shift between Hong Kong and China reflects a major change in the perception of identity of the Hong Kong people as they experi- enced important social changes in the 1970s and early 1980s.

CHINA AND HONG KONG

Monetary transactions between banks, bank robberies, ma-jong, and gambling were the daily routine of the booming business city of Hong Kong in the 1970s. But looming in the background of this effervescent society was the “China Shadow,” which became increasingly prominent after China re- opened itself to the Western world. The reconsideration of the relationship between China and Hong Kong is carried out in Modern Security Guards by the drama of the terra cotta soldiers exhibition and the subplot of the gamblers.

Ever since Deng Xiao Ping uttered his promise that in Hong Kong after 1997 “horses will keep racing, and dancers will keep dancing,” horse racing, which has traditionally been a symbol of bustling Hong Kong, has inevitably carried unmistakable political overtones. The two gamblers who hide in their yellow Porsche conniving to win big money, epitomize the Hong Kong money-making mentality. The fact that they are always hiding and squeezing inside tiny spaces is another metaphor for the physical environment of Hong Kong, a city that has the highest population density in the world. Space or, rather, lack of space, is virtually symbolic of the place. On the level of its sociopolitical environment, the lack of space is symbolic of the city. The fact

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is that Hong Kong has little space in which to maneuver in world politics, and its existence is totally dependent on the outside world. In the film, the yellow car always gets caught in the crossfire of the outside world just as Hong Kong gets caught in the struggle between world powers, especially those between China and Britain.

The scene of the exhibition of the golden jade suit from the terra cotta soldiers’ tomb in China refers to a real exhibition of this Chinese wonder, which took place in Hong Kong earlier on. Here, the China-Hong Kong- Western complex worked well into the humor. First, the gangsters who at- tempt to steal this masterpiece do not look like Hong Kong criminal stereo- types. From their crude outlook, manner, and weapons, they are more like robbers from mainland China (as perceived by Hong Kong). That they are ignorant, backward bumblers during their robbery attempt is sarcastically highlighted in a few comic incidents. For example, while the gangsters try to activate the computer-controlled door lock of the exhibition hall, one of the members, following Chow’s method, sings a tune. But he gets a quick retort from his leader, who says, “You don’t know how to sing. How can you be a thief?” Then, after they finally break into the exhibition hall and take a close look at the golden jade suits, the leader discovers that there is a “made in Hong Kong” label on the bottom of one shoe. (This is due to the fact that Chow and his colleague who are fleeing the gangsters are now cornered and forced into hiding in the golden jade suits. Unfortunately, one of their shoes becomes exposed.) When a gangster suggests that maybe the ancient Chinese had come to Hong Kong to purchase shoes, he is slapped by the leader, who angrily scolds him, saying, “Not knowing history, how can you be a thief.”

Although the Chinese thieves are bumpkins, the Hong Kong protection offered for the China display is both modern and Western. The computer sensors, which are the major component of the security system for the exhi- bition, represent the sophistication of the arrangement. These sensors work in coordination with two coded tunes, that of the happy birthday song, which makes the Western link to the instrument, and the horse neighing, which again is a reminder of Hong Kong.

The two Hong Kong security guards, wearing shoes that are made in Hong Kong, are protecting China and its treasure from loss. In the final episode of the chase between the guards and the thieves, Chow and Sam are wearing the golden jade suits with parachutes on their backs. The contradiction between China and the West, the old and the new, cannot be more extreme or ludicrous by the juxtaposition of the thousand-year-old golden jade suits and the modern parachute. With the gangsters right at their backs, Chow and Sam are forced to parachute from the top of a high-rise building. Interestingly enough, they are blown off course to the horse-racing tracks and land on the back of a racing jockey, ruining a race. Although the horse race, which is also Hong Kong, saves China, which is represented by the golden jade suits, the Hong

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Kong people, as represented by the two gamblers and the crowd, have lost their game. The gamblers have worked hard to finally design a way to win the game only to be destroyed by the parachutists, who accidentally sabotage the Hong Kong money dream.

Although in the last ten minutes of the film the audience is exhausted with laughter, the message conveyed is particularly serious. To fully appreciate the issue one has to return to the context again. The economic boom of the 1970s in Hong Kong had created an expanding, well-educated middle class who became interested in political participation in the colonial government. This desire was further facilitated by a government-sponsored “localization pro- ject,” which sought (limited) transferral of political power (from the British) to the local elites.27 These ecopolitical changes had a decentering effect on the Chinese identity of the Hong Kong community.

The decentering of (the cultural/romantic/mythical) China did not necessar- ily imply an automatic identification with the colonial. As Seamus Deane pointed out in the introduction of Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature (a seminal collection of three essays by Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and Edward Said), “at the extreme, colonialism is dispossession.”28 In the colo- nial history of Hong Kong the most radical dispossessions have been lan- guage, history, and political autonomy. Although 99 percent of the population is Chinese, English was regarded as the colony’s official language. The mate- rial and psychological deprivation resulting from such a silencing policy has yet to be exposed.29 Likewise, because contemporary Chinese and Hong Kong history are not included in basic discourse channels such as school curricula, there is a loss or dispossession of collective memory, a fundamental criterion for building identity. It is no surprise that the denial of political autonomy is but the ultimate dispossession of self-determination. My observation is that these dispossessions have created splits in all major spheres of self- identification, namely, in the political, the traditional/cultural, and the eco- nomic. The consequence is an almost schizophrenic triple split of the subject into (1) a political nonidentity with neither China nor Britain nor Hong Kong, (2) a “confused” cultural identity mix of Hong Kong and China, which provides only precarious references insufficient for serious self-reflection, and (3) an economic identification with capitalism, which has proven to be “suc- cessful” but unsatisfying. This period of the pre-1997 debate (the 1970s and the very early 1980s), which is often criticized by many local scholar elites as a period of “money-making, mindless merry seeking,” is in fact the period of the traumatic triple split of the center.

Although the parachutists smash the money-making dream of the people of Hong Kong and thus end the “merry seeking” epoch of the 1970s, because it is China that shatters such a dream, the trauma of identity crisis continues. That is, the reawakening of the colonial state of Hong Kong has not ushered in a post-colonial condition. Neither nationalism nor colonial imperialism has

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MICHAEL HUI AND CANTONESE COMEDY 1 73

gained much trust from the populace.30 Instead, by the mid-1980s, the 1997 anxiety had finally wiped out the “new Hong Kong center,” which the society had been trying to build over the past decade. It was replaced by a strong sense of ambivalence or even cynicism. As cinema participates in the articu- lation of the new experience, Modern Security Guards is among the first films to forecast and express the trauma of an ambivalent identity. The Hong Kong/ China-Old/New theme remained prominent through the 1980s creating such interesting films as Hong Kong Hong Kong (1982), Home At Hong Kong (1983), Home Coming, Long Arm of the Law (1984), Rouge, The Reincarna- tion of the Golden Lotus, and Mr. Coconut. These works continued to repre- sent an evolving society unique in its cultural condition.

NOTES

1. Kung fu is the term used mostly in the West. The Chinese called the genre wudar, which means unarmed martial arts or wuxia, which means armed (mostly with swords) martial arts.

2. See reviews in Sight and Sound 51 (Autumn, 1982): 227, New York Times reviews by Janet Maslin September 27, 1983, III, 17: 5, and November 13, 1983, I, 78: 1. Also, Ann Hui did not see her films as being political. See the interview in Film Biweekly 96 (October 7, 1982): 19-23.

3. Such an achievement was sometimes more a result of circumstances than a con- scious redefinition of what the new cinema should be.

4. The first Hong Kong film festival held in the United States in 1988, which became an annual event and was instrumental in reintroducing Hong Kong cinema into the United States, was “The Cinema Explodes,” organized by the Film Center of The Art Institute of Chicago. A few years later, Hong Kong film festivals began touring major U.S. cities and were sometimes sponsored by the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office and the Hong Kong Picture Industry Association. One example is “Hong Kong Forever” (1994), which toured ten cities in the United States, includ- ing Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York, and San Francisco.

5. In 1993 Golden Harvest and AMC arranged a two-week release of Hong Kong films in Southern California outside of Chinatown. Soon, similar commercial releases of subtitled Hong Kong films followed in different cities.

6. Based on research reported by Linda Lai during the Sixteenth Ohio University Film Conference (1994) in her paper “The Hong Kong Cinema 1990 As (Post-) Colonial Resistance: Identity Politics and Subversive History Via ‘Enigmatization,’ ” the current U.S. version of Hong Kong cinema is comprised of about thirty, mostly action-oriented, films.

7. There are numerous examples of such writings ranging from the publicity release of Kino International Corp. on The Killer to the LA. Weekly and LA. Times reports on the opening of The Killer in the United States. An early writing, which is indicative of the trend of portraying Hong Kong cinema, is found in “Made In Hong Kong,” (Film Comment 24. 3 (May-June 1988): 33-56, in which the four major films introduced are: Zu, A Better Tomorrow, Peking Opera Blues, and Police Story. Major stars featured in these articles are Jackie Chan, Samo Hung, Tsui Hark, and Chow Yun-fat. In short, this lengthy report is rather action-movie oriented.

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8. Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx and John Woo’s Broken Arrow were the U.S. national top box-office hits during their first weekend release in February 1996. After the success of Rumble in the Bronx, Miramax announced it would release five more Jackie Chan films. This chapter, which was initially written before the release of Rumble in the Bronx, already predicted such a popular trend.

9. The fact that Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs was inspired by the Hong Kong film City On Fire (directed by Ringo Lam) and that Tarantino acknowledged his debt to John Woo in creating cinematic violence was repeatedly reported in a number of film magazines. One recent example would be Cineaste 3. xxi (1995): 58.

10. The transformation of wuxia into modernized gun fights can be traced back to Ann Hui’s Story of Woo Viet (1981, also starring Chow Yun-fat), a fact that was hardly recognized by western writers. For comments of local critics see Film Biweekly, 231 (January 21, 1988): 28.

11. Each sold about HK$18 million, half of the top-seller record of the year. 12. In the 1990s (five years after the first release of A Better Tomorrow) a popular

discussion on the issues of masculinity and homoeroticism in John Woo’s films began in the United States. The latest example includes “Reinventing Masculinity: The Spectacle of Male Intimacy in the Films of John Woo” by Jillian Sandell in Film Quarterly 49. 4 (Summer 1996): 23-34.

13. Hong Kong residents were not actively conscious of the 1997 problem until after Margaret Thatcher visited Beijing in 1982.

14. A detailed scholarly discussion of this thought was presented by professor Yau Si- man of Hong Kong Baptist University in the “Conference on Hong Kong Culture” jointly organized by the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Baptist Univer- sity in June 1995. In his presentation, professor Yau traced literary sources back to the 1800s written by prominent Chinese scholars such as Lun Shun. But since the 1990s, this China-centered cultural hierarchy has been strongly criticized by contem- porary scholars such as Rey Chow, and some scholars began to replace the notion of desert with the idea of marginality, a term that resonates with contemporary multicultural discourse.

15. For further analysis of the subject position of Hong Kong cinema, see “The Chang- ing Power Relationship Between China and Hong Kong: An Examination of the Concept of ‘home’ and its function in Hong Kong movies in the ’40s and ’50s,” by Leung Noong-kong in The Twelfth Hong Kong International Film Festival. Changes in Hong Kong Society Through Cinema. Hong Kong Urban Council, 1988, 21-28.

16. Ranajit Guha, “Historiography of Colonial India,” in Subaltern Studies I. (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982): 3-4.

17. See The Sixteenth Hong Kong International Film Festival. The China Factor in Hong Kong Cinema. Hong Kong Urban Council. 1992.

18. For the record of the ten top sellers of the past two decades see Film Biweekly, 256 (January 12, 1989): 8-9. In the United States, the only organized introduction of comedy occurred at the Film Center of the Chicago Art Institute in 1989, which featured Michael Hui’s works along with a personal appearance.

19. Andrew Horton, Comedy/Cinema/Theory (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

20. Fredric Jameson, Signatures of the Visible (New York: Routledge, 1990). 21. Note that in recent years a number of these old films were remade by the Second

Wave directors. This is seen by some critics as a sign of postmodern nostalgia and an attempt to rethink the history of Hong Kong. Wong Fei-Hung is recorded as

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MICHAEL HUI AND CANTONESE COMEDY 1 75

being the most repeated character played by a single actor (Kwan Tak-Hing) in the history of world cinema. He is the protagonist in seventy-seven films. See Patrick Robertson, Guinness Film Facts and Feats (Britain: Guinness Superlatives Limited, 1985): 103.

22. The Ninth Hong Kong International Film Festival. Tradition of Hong Kong Comedy. Hong Kong Urban Council, 1985, 36.

23. The Eighth Hong Kong International Film Festival. A Study of Hong Kong Cinema in the Seventies. Hong Kong Urban Council. 1984, 6, and “More Michael Hui Than Michael Hui: An Interview with the Comedy Master of the Generation,” Film Biweekly 298 (August 30, 1990): 10-14.

24. Other comedy directors such as Chan Yau and Cheung Kin Ting are virtually unknown to the West.

25. This author has written another analysis of Modern Security Guards in her disserta- tion from a very different point of interest, that of Hong Kong-China cultural tradition. The two writings are complementary to each other.

26. In Father and Son this problem is enacted in great detail. 27. The localization project was initiated after the 1968 anti-British riot as the govern-

ment realized a new strategy for the colonial rule. For more information, read J. Cooper, Colony in Conflict: The Hong Kong Disturbances, May 1967-January 1968 (Hong Kong: Swindon Book Company, 1970); I. C. Jarvie, “A Postscript on Riots and the Future of Hong Kong.” In Hong Kong: A Society in Transition, ed. I. C. Jarvie and Joseph Agassi, eds. (London: Frederick Praeger, 1969); and Yuan Bang- jian Xianggang shilue (A Brief History of Hong Kong) (Hong Kong: Zhongliu Publishers, 1987).

28. Terry Eagleton, Fredric Jameson, and Edward Said. Nationalism, Colonialism, and Literature. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1990).

29. The film Father and Son has pointed at some of these problems. 30. For more details, read Decolonization without Independence. Lau Siu Kai (Hong

Kong: Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1990); and John Walden, “Toward the Democratization of Hong Kong: The Grand Illusion,” in Excellency, Your Gap is Growing: Six Talks on a Chinese Takeaway, John Walden, ed. (Hong Kong: All Noble, 1987).

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