Director Ann Hui directed the award-winning Song of the Exile, with a female protagonist who comes to terms with career and family ties to various countries.
To Liv(e), by Evans Chan, incoporates a polyglot mixture of languages and dialects. Chan lives in New York and Hong Kong and makes Godardian-like low budget features for a Hong Kong audience.
Rouge, by Stanley Kwan, uses nostalgia to idealize Hong Kong’s past.
Lan Yu, by Stanley Kwan, offers a melodramatic look at contemporary gay personal relations in Hong Kong.
Lan Yu depicts details of the “translocal gay ghetto” in Hong Kong. One critic compared it to the TV series Queer as Folk.
Happy Together uses Argentina as a background.
Happy Together deals with a gay couple’s emotional distance. The film treats the theme of displacement in many ways.
Clara Law’s award-winning The Goddess of 1967 shows dislocation through a transnational couple’s roadtrip into the Australian outback.
With consumerism shaping their identities, Law’s duo share a passion for a classic Citroen, the “goddess.”
In 1997 Clara Law made a scathing attack on China’s takeover of Hong Kong. She emigrated to Australia, the location for her previous film about a family’s move there from Hong Kong, Floating Life.
Chungking Express, like many of Wong Kar-Wai’s films, finds new ways to depict the relation between public and private spaces.
Fallen Angels by Wong Kar-Wai is all about the rapid spread of capital as seen in the instantaneous moments of time and space.
Comrades: Almost a Love Story by Peter Chan Ho-San deals with physical migration and migrations of the heart. Locations include both Hong Kong and New York.
In Comrades: Almost a Love Story one young woman works in McDonalds. Another, an older aunt, fantasizes that the William Holden of Love Is a Many Splendored Thing will come to her.
In “Women on the Edges of Hong Kong Modernity: The Films of Ann Hui,” Elaine Ho explores the multiple and shifting deployments of the figure of woman and also Hong Kong’s crisis of modernity through a critical study of the trajectory of women characters in Ann Hui’s work. In these films, Ho find a new possibility for agency lying within Hong Kong’s intense rupture of modernity that is remaking the city’s identities. Ho does not propose a universal figure of woman nor see Hui’s women characters as a site of unambivalent resistance. Rather, Ho’s critical analysis considers the shifting use of the figure of woman in Hong Kong to consolidate both hegemonic and counter-hegemonic discourses. A larger question that Gina Marchetti covers in her treatment of women in “Transnational Exchanges, Questions of Culture, and Global Cinema: Defining the Dynamics of Changing Relationships” is how diaspora and transnationalism affect women’s subjectivities. Marchetti uses a critical analysis of To Liv(e) and Crossings to illustrate ways that women experience the personal dimension of political concerns. In the films, the women characters undergo displacement, exile and immigration differently, and the films show the range of how these large political forces can shape identity. Looking at the films in terms of contemporary viewership, Marchetti illustrates how displaced female figures experience and negotiate the personal dimension of 1997’s political concerns.
In Part Three, “A Culture of Disappearance: Nostalgia, Nonsense and Dislocation,” Rey Chow centers on Stanley Kwan’s film Rouge to examine “a cultural politics of self-nativizing that is as complex and as deserving of attention as critiques of colonialism and Orientalism themselves” (210). Chow looks at nostalgia as a form of idealization that Hong Kong popular culture directs towards its own past. Chow names this “alternative way of conjuring a ‘community’ amid the ruthless fragmentations of postcoloniality” (226) as “self nativizing.” It is a strategy that tries to avoid celebrating Hong Kong’s pluralism by exploring the conflicting aspects of cultural identity. Also taking up nostalgia, in “Film and Enigmatization: Nostalgia, Nonsense, and Remembering,” Linda Lai sees nostalgia mingled with a sense of local community and faith in modern progress. Collective memories of history and everyday experiences become intertwined with the history of popular culture in a process Lai calls “enigmatization.” “Enigmatization” in this sense means reorganizing existing pop culture images to select the local audience as a distinct, privileged interpretative community. Understanding this imagery distinguishes those within from those “outside” by marking as special those viewers who share a similar pop culture history. Lai uses “enigmatization” as a theoretical trope to examine the phenomenon of how Hong Kong cinema deals with identity. He draws on two films as examples—C'est La Vie, Mon Cherie and He Ain't Heavy, He’s My Father—and also on the work of Clifton Ko and Stephen Chiau. In preserving a textual domain where local expressions, memories and contentions find articulation, Hong Kong cinema takes up those themes conjured up by enigmatization at a time when regional identities are undergoing tremendous reconfiguation. Also examining the theme of identity and here using specific films as case studies in “Transnationalization of the Local in Hong Kong Cinema of the 1990s,” Kwai-Cheung Lo reassesses a notion of localism which cultural producers and intellectuals often want to attribute to local cultural productions as they react against globalized film and television, especially Hollywood film. Lo illustrates his argument through analysis of Back to Roots, First Option, He’s a Woman She’s a Man and Comrades, Almost a Love Story. Lo especially challenges critical paradigms that can easily once again set forth parameters to describe and thus reinscribe a stable Hong Kong identity. He argues that different temporalities and spatialities have often co-existed as people and films articulate and constitute multiple aspects of Hong Kong’s identity; he names what he sees as a common phenomenon, “trans-subjectivity” (265). Lo uses the notion of “trans-subjectivity” to study the social and cultural conditions of 90s Hong Kong cinema and to rethink the concept of “local” identity within a new global context.
Marc Siegel in “The Intimate Spaces of Wong Kar-Wai” analyzes Hong Kong cinema’s politics of representation from a gendered context; his essay deals with the interconnections of global, gay/queer and sexualized identities in the context of the film Happy Together, which garnered Wong Kar-Wai the Cannes 1997 Best Director Award. In light of Guy Hocquenghem’s invocation of the importance of the ghetto to the urban gay male traveler, Siegel argues that Happy Together’s narrative assumes the existence of practices of non-familial sexualities across national boundaries; the film, which depicts its Chinese gay couple on a trip in Argentina, refuses the more affirmative rhetoric found in scripts based on a nationalist politics of intimacy. Using the notion of the “translocal gay ghetto,” Siegel argues that what is portrayed in Happy Together is a queer world in which intimacies between its travelers, journeying in Argentina on the eve of Hong Kong’s political transition to China in 1997, bear no necessary relation to the logic of family and the hetero-normative narration of nation. Siegel explores the invocation of homosexuality in Wong Kar-Wai’s movie as transforming concepts of citizenship so as to lead viewers to think about new ways to conceptualize nationality and culture. The essay leads to a reconsideration of concepts of public and private, noting that the film takes up these themes and presents the geographical displacement of the couple in Happy Together not only to imagine diaspora in conventional terms related to ethnic dispersion but to imagine it queerly, that is, to challenge the normativity of the social and political forces contingent on people’s lives.
To conclude with a discussion of the book’s overview, in her introduction to At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in the Borderless World, Esther Yau critically examines Hong Kong cinema in the age of globalization. She takes into consideration the notion of “speed” that Paul Virilio calls “the instantaneity of ubiquity”(4). Virilio objects to the eradication of distance, which diminishes freedom and subjectivity as it leads to the dis-appearance of reality. Yau evaluates “speed” in regard to production relations, now ever more flexible and subject to the kind of “space-time” compression that Marxist critics associate with global capitalism. Yau applies this concept of time-space compression to Hong Kong cinema and adds the concept of borders/ “borderless,” notions commonly used to analyze disasporic cultures. Here she uses the term “borderless” to legitimize analyses of an evolving Hong Kong cinema that do not use the conventional critical constructs of national cinema. Her introduction makes readers aware of how recent political and economic developments have reshaped and challenged the old intellectual paradigms of “national cinema” which previously dominated cinema studies.
While we acknowledge the strength of global capitalism, we should also recognize the transformation and not decline of “borders,” regions, and nation-states. In The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Interlinked Economy, Kenichi Ohmae celebrates the coming of a “borderless world” with an attitude that is not only affirmative but in some ways utopian about the disintegration of borders in a global economy. In contrast, in “A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation-State,” Masao Miyoshi suggests that colonialism becomes more dynamic in a global economy by functioning through transnational corporations. Miyoshi argues that nation-states will gradually give way to transnational corporations in a “borderless world.” As a critical term, “borderless” occupies a contradictory position. Pheng Cheah summarizes the sides of the contradiction:
In this “borderless” world, what is not so visible but still dominant among the sparkles of dis-appearance is capital. Capital is spreading and flowing so fast in the instantaneous moments of time/space that it is beyond perception. Transnational capitalism may be borderless, but exactly because of its borderlessness, it produces other kinds of borders that mask new geopolitical formations and inequalities between and across regions, nations and localities. Of particular importance to understanding Hong Kong cinema, major centers of capital accumulations in East Asia have grown just as non-European capitalist societies are making their own contributions to this narrative about filmmaking. Ironically, the larger flow and dispersal of capital across Asia also means that the dominant culture industries, such the Hollywood industry writ large, have ever more influence over the production and distribution of entertainment within the circuits of global capital, including local film production in Asia.
At Full Speed is a provocative, stimulating volume. Positioned at the crossroads of an altered global terrain, this anthology analyzes the evolving issues of the social and cultural context of 90s Hong Kong cinema, reconsiders the concept of “local” identity in a new global framework, and examines the dynamics between the intercultural movement of images. Images travel so far and so fast that the extent of their diffusion makes the history of their production ungraspable. Cinema marks a phase in the development of capitalism and gives evidence of capital’s utter modification of social, material and perceptual conditions. Essays in the anthology negotiate the local and the global as they look at how local constituencies, which traditionally have secured identity and belonging, now are manipulated by and must react to a new global network created by the transnational production and global circulation of films.
1. Lowe, Lisa and David Lloyd, eds. The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1997.
2. Ohmae, Kenichi. The Borderless World: Power and Strategy in the Interlinked Economy. London: Harper Collins, 1990.
3. Miyoshi, Masao. “A Borderless World? From Colonialism to Transnationalism and the Decline of the Nation-State.” Critical Inquiry 19 (1993), 726-751.
4. Cheah, Pheng. “Spectral Nationality: The Living On [sur-vie] of the Postcolonial Nation in Neocolonial Globalization.” boundary 2, 26:3 (1999), 251.