Planet Hong Kong - Popular Cinema And The Art Of Entertainment
This book by David Bordwell was the first one I read that talked specifically about HKC film theory. I wouldn’t necessarily say it is an academic book however it is published by Havard University Press. It being easy to digest is quite important for me as I started reading Roland Barthes, Music Text Image but found it so hard to get through that I stopped reading it.
Bordwell talks at length about what makes HKC so popular and on top of that the odds that they faced, without being subsidised by the government like other national cinemas are and with minimal outside funding as well. He says that “in order to attract mass audiences popular art deals in emotions like anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and indignation. Since these feelings evidently operate in all cultures, a film that appeals to them travels well.” this quote essentially sums up everything I am trying to do, especially when you take into account the fact that I am looking at a global audience.
reading this book was also the first time, but not the last, that I came across the name King Hu. He was the legendary director who put string female characters at the centre stage rather than focusing on just making them hot and available. Bordwell mentions that his favourite film is ‘A touch of Zen’, he talks a lot about why, for example he mentions that Hollywood action genre was doing very well at this time which spurred HKC to push their distinctive approach. Audiences around the world would then intuitively recognise the uniqueness of HKC.
Bordwell also does very nice break downs of some of the most iconic HKC films talking about their camera tricks and shots that they used a lot due to low budget but that the rest of the world were staying away from, this again gave HKC its own feel and the uniquiness that he was talking about above. This is really useful for me when constructing and composing my final production, utilising similar effects and zooms for example will help give my outcome a real HKC feel.
At Full Speed - Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World
As this book suggests in the title its subject is all about how HKC and how its popularity spans the globe, again this is an almost perfect book for my research. Having said that it does go over a lot of things that the previous book did, that being said I let I got more from it as it goes into more depth and much like the next book talks more about how it compares to the worlds biggest cinema Hollywood. So all three of these have gone over similar things as each other but each one has given me something different, or just a little bit more than the last.
There is a great section in this book where the editor, Elaine Yes-lin Ho talks about women in HKC in particular Ann Hui. Ho gives some great insight into the patriarchal world of film making and that of the films subject matters. She talks about how Ann only gets her chance through HKC New wave cinema, which do not focus very much on Wuxia. But essentially what Hui does is just talk about woman history. Ho says that “Through visual narratives of womens history and subjective transformations, these films fracture the patriarchal determinations of old and also chart recognisable passages toward a horizon of the ‘modern’ in which utopian ideals of equality, compassion and society are never lost sight of.” I love this passage and I think this is really one of the main factors that lead me down the route I wanted to take, along with my history with Anya and previous projects we have undertaken. I would really like to think I am continuing this trend as I see it as something that under pins most of what I want to do. The first time I had thought about it stretches back to ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger where he talks about how women are portrayed in European oil paintings and ultimately how we see them the same way now.
Remade in Hollywood - The Global Chinese Presence in Transnational cinemas
The third and final book in HKC film theory, as mentioned before does touch on all the same areas as the last 2 books, however it is doing much more from the point of view of how it compares to Hollywood and what Hollywood has taken from HKC. The best section of this book is entitled Woman Warriors Ascend: A Feminist reading. As the title suggests the chapter covers women in HKC but what makes this chapter so valuable to me is how Kenneth Chan questions womens roles in HKC. For example he pays particular attention to Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. This was one of the most successful Wuxia films and acted as a rebirth of the genre but most importantly one of the first times that Hollywood had taken on the genre, so yes it wasn’t a HKC film. But it was directed by Ang Lee who started out in HKC in the 80’s so you could see this as a hybrid of the two. What Chan does is ask first of all whether crouching tiger is a feminist film just because it features women at the centre of its story line. Chan ponders the question “One wonders, if the centering of the women and their control on the films action are attempts to write in female agency as feminist empowerment; or can the reinscription of the women ”walking the path of the ‘way’" be construed as their recommitment to patriarchal order and its ideology”. This is a great point, is it enough to just put women in the foreground. The last book makes it sound like it is just that simple, But Chan is asking if this is not just a vein attempt to appeal to the liberal audience that make up a lot of the US cinema market, as lets not forget this is not HKC. He does however make an excellent point, along with concluding that yes crouching tiger can be seen as a feminist film. He notes that one of the characters whose on screen name is ‘Jade Fox’ is played by Cheng Pei-Pei whose plays golden swallow in the film I have talked about before called ‘Come drink with me’ This is a calculated move, playing on intertextuality to stamp home the female empowerment mark. The film come drink with me was heralded as were all King has films for the female empowerment in the 1970s when it was almost unheard in HKC at the time. So by using Pei-Pei, Lee is nodding towards female empowerment quite boldly. I really like this, I believe it is certainly something I can do, whether that is basing our main character on Golden Swallow or even just by giving her a similar name I think i can successfully pull on the intertextual thread and give my production the same empowering strength.