copyright 2013, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 55, fall 2013

Hong Kong’s liminal spaces:
unveiling nature and identity in
Tsang Tsui-shan’s Big Blue Lake

by Winnie L. M. Yee

Big Blue Lake (2011) adapts the conventions of romance and the family saga to tell the story of the return of a rebellious daughter who regrets her irresponsible departure ten years earlier. After her homecoming, Cheung Lai-yee finds herself and those around her trapped biographically, personally, and professionally, an entrapment that manifests itself as a confinement of time and space. The motif of liminal space is used to draw attention to issues of personal and collective identity. Central to this motif are reflections on the passing of the time and the swift transformation of the landscape of Hong Kong. In this respect, the movie belongs to the tradition of critical social commentary that has characterized Hong Kong’s independent cinema.

While most international audiences are familiar with the martial arts movies of Jackie Chan and Jet Lee, the gangster films of Alex Lau and Johnnie To, and the postmodernist works of Wong Kar-wai, they remain largely unaware of Hong Kong’s independent films, which combine elements of popular culture and social critique. Jessey Tsui-shan Tsang’s Big Blue Lake is such a film—one that highlights social problems and provides a reflection of the current culture. In part, the film offers an investigation of different forms of identity, personal and collective. The protagonists’ narratives are inextricably intertwined with the past—their own, their families’, even Hong Kong’s. The film also probes how an urban identity is forged and how it affects one’s relationship with nature. The “in-between” space of Ho Chung village is a setting that reveals alternative readings of one’s self and culture. Challenging the domination of the urban landscape in Hong Kong cinema, the film shifts its focus to landscapes that have been undervalued and underrepresented. Its investigations rely on the representation of the liminal space—the in-betweenness—embodied in the life of the protagonists, the locale of Ho Chung village, and in the filmic text as product of culture. The potentialities of liminal space are explored. Its restrictions and confinements illuminate possible reimaginings of one’s identity.

The Big Blue Lake portrays the personal quests of the two main characters, Lai-yee and Lam Chun. Both are trapped in Ho Chung—the village where they grew up—at critical moments of their lives. As the narrative progresses, the personal and the collective become increasingly intertwined. Ho Chung village is a potential space, which invites continuing dialogues between the city and the country, the present and the past, the personal and the collective. It is a place where the scourge of urbanization and the breakdown of families can be negotiated and reconciled. The suggestion of liminal space is established in three ways:

Liminal filmic text:
hallucinating the urban and rural

At the metatextual level, Big Blue Lake mediates between the mainstream and the independent scene, offering a critique of the dominant representations of Hong Kong cinema. One of the prominent features of this cinema is its preoccupation with urban space and, particularly, with the many changes that eventually transformed fishing villages into vast cities. Many scholars and viewers consider Hong Kong films excellent examples of “urban cinema.” That is, the films represent not only urban spaces but also a distinctly urban epistemology through their style and organization. This strong urban sensitivity in cinema dates back to the 1980s,[1] [open endnotes in new window] when New Wave Hong Kong filmmakers such as Ann Hui, Tsui Hark, and Patrick Tam produced works that explored the conditions of Hong Kong from a new perspective. P K Leung maintains that Hong Kong’s urban cinema brings into sharp focus many of the cultural contradictions of Hong Kong society—generational conflicts, cultural differences between Hong Kong and Mainland China, among others. Its recurrent trope—the perpetually changing skyline of Hong Kong—indicates its interest in the “exploration of the new urban environment and the change of attitudes towards values, ethics, customs, and lifestyle” (384). The cityscape itself has become a character in these films. Hong Kong is repeatedly portrayed as an example of a modern global metropolis, not only in local films but in Hollywood productions such as Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) and Alex Mark and Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs trilogy. The effect of this focus on urban Hong Kong, however, is to render any alternative formulation of Hong Kong identity invisible. The ability to read/understand Hong Kong differently is urgently required, but how will this alternative emerge? Who will take the risk of jeopardizing the box office?

By situating Big Blue Lake in a rural setting and drawing attention to the withering of nature, Tsang has assumed the task of deconstructing the urban cliché. Tsang,[2] who received the Best New Director award at the 31st Hong Kong Film Awards and the New Talent Award at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival (2011), has proven herself to be capable of negotiating the commercial and the independent scene in order to provide a thoughtful analysis of Hong Kong. Focusing on the inhabitants of Ho Chung village in the New Territories[3], Big Blue Lake challenges Hong Kong’s urban focus. Through the simple story of Lai-yee and her childhood memories of the village, Big Blue Lake suggests that the shift from the urban to the rural world does not necessarily romanticize the natural landscape, uphold the binary opposition between the city and the country, or condemn the cityscape out of hand. Rather, the return—the idea of going home—suggests a turning or shifting of perspectives and positions in relation to things and places. The film depicts a physical space that allows room for reflection on one’s past and future, on one’s urban and pre-urban relationship with the environment, and, hence, on the identity of Hong Kong. The space is key: means can be constructed only in spaces that are actively lived and felt. In Big Blue Lake, nature is an important element that shapes our memories and experiences, as well as the way we understand our community as a whole.

Featured at international film festivals (including the 30th Vancouver International Film Festival, the 8th Asian Film Festival, and the 22nd Stockholm International Film Festival), Big Blue Lake critiques the commercial film industry’s narrow focus on Hong Kong’s urban identity. The alternative offered by Big Blue Lake represents a poetic departure, which allows for connection and reflection and highlights the interrelationship of nature and culture. It should be noted that the film would not have been made without generous government subsidies, which can be considered an unique feature of Hong Kong independent cinema. The flourishing of Hong Kong’s independent cinema in the 1990s was largely connected to the establishment of Hong Kong Arts Development Council (ADC), which boosted its development. In 1995, the Urban Council (rechristened the Leisure and Cultural Service Department in 2000) “collaborated with [Hong Kong] Arts Centre to launch the Hong Kong Independent Short Films and Video Awards (IFVA), an annual event” (Cheung 23), which directly contributed to the revival of independent cinema the 1990s. Benefited from various external subsidies, Big Blue Lake received support from IFVA for its production, its opening gala, and its distribution by Golden Scene Co. Ltd. By providing editing facilities, accounting services, and funding, IFVA allow filmmakers to gain commercial advantages (e.g., the use of professional actors and actresses for the leading roles) while maintaining their critical stance. Unique to Hong Kong independent cinema are the continuous support and opportunities offered by the competitions and festivals subsidized by government related funding, and the self-reflexivity of the independent filmmakers, Tsang included, in criticizing social problems as well as the film industry’s focus of the urban.

A strong sense of self-reflection characterizes Big Blue Lake. This self-reflection is strengthened by the film’s visual portrayal of the opposition between urban and rural, stagnation and movement. Unlike films that use nature as backdrop (e.g., Wong Kar-wai’s As Tears Go By [1988] or Derek Yee’s The Truth about Jane and Sam [1999]), Big Blue Lake refuses to make easy distinctions between the events and their setting. Big Blue Lake outlines contradictions between urban and rural by representing an inevitable lack and lag of the urban in the film. This kind of lack and lag does not have much to do with marginalizating nature; rather, it is symptomatic of the excesses that characterize Hong Kong’s unstable identity.

At the outset, the film uses contemporary symbols and movements to suggest an unreflective urban identity. Rather than reiterating conventional images of skyscrapers, automobiles, billboards, and technology, the film indicates urbanity by cold walls and the glassy façade of an anonymous theatre hall. There is an absence of significant landmarks often used to represent the topography of Britain, Hong Kong, or even Shenzhen. Instead we see a cramped apartment against a background of traffic. Urban spaces are evoked by these minimal means not because they are insignificant but because the urban identity of Hong Kong is so established that it does not need to be trumpeted by big billboards.

At first glance, this “minimal” presentation of urbanity suggests its marginality and insignificance. Obviously, the “absence” of urbanity (or its minimal representation) is a tactical move in Big Blue Lake. It suggests that our cognition of urbanity is so omnipresent and obvious that it needs no prompting. By not showing the conventional symbols of urban life, the film challenges our uncritical acceptance of Hong Kong’s urban identity reflected in its cinema. This identity is so overwhelming that any “showing” is redundant. The film also challenges the urban identity of Hong Kong that has characterized the New Wave by highlighting the stark contrast between excess and minimalism. The minimalism evoked in Big Blue Lake does not signify marginality; instead, it is a response to the dominant logic of representation in late capitalism. Rather than maintaining contact with the real, our representational structures have become empty symbols. Deprived of substance, we, the audience, rush to fill the gap. Now urban identity can be rendered by minimal images because its meaning is never challenged.

Another way that the film highlights distinctions between urban and rural is its focus on movement (the movement of vehicles conveyed by long tracking shots at the beginning of the film is a striking example). Lai-yee’s progress is followed as she travels on a shuttle bus and in taxis, inviting the audience to share her experience of the changing terrain and her re-entry into a world that is no longer familiar. The movement underscores the journeys of the main characters and also the transformation that the village and the larger community must undergo. It is also hinted that an urban eye can freshly appreciates the essence of nature and be inspired to develop a different mode of negotiating life.

It seems that such a minimal presentation of the city (and its implicit message) is only possible in independent films such as Big Blue Lake, which do not rely on the commercial draw of Hong Kong’s urban image. The representation of nature in Big Blue Lake provides a different perspective on Hong Kong’s identity, one that is neither simple nor simplified. After the rapid movement of the opening, the city is evoked by scenes in a café and in a retail shop where Lai-yee poses as a customer in order to perform a surreptitious inspection. In the city, the characters focus on human problems such as cheating (Lam Chun’s flirtation with two women), dishonesty (the casual cruelty of the staff at the café towards the visually impaired), selfishness (Lam and Lai-yee’s fight over a pair of sunglasses). The alternative Hong Kong of the village, in contrast, is presented as amicable, static, and serene. The lake, the hills, and the meadows are presented using static camera shots and long takes to instill a sense of quietness and awe. In the sections presenting village life, rather than the successive images of a journey, the audience is invited to contemplate nature’s own rhythms. The scenes that are devoted to the protagonists’ observation of nature also offer a space for exploration. Nature is not romanticized; it requires rational negotiation. It is not a spectacle, a refuge, or an enemy, but a space that allows the protagonists to reconcile their identities with the past. Nature is continuously shaped and reshaped by humans and non-humans. Many scenes in Big Blue Lake depict human immersion in nature and suggest deep connections between nature and our identity. Again this emphasis on nature suggests that the film offers an alternative space where a different reading of Hong Kong is possible.

Liminal space as lived space:
enlivening memories and place

In his work on space and the construction of post-colonial identity, Homi Bhabha maintains that liminal spaces are cogent and productive because

“in-between spaces provide the terrain for elaborating strategies of selfhood—singular or communal—that initiate new signs of identity, and innovative sites of collaboration, and contestation, in the act of defining the idea of society itself” (1–2).

As an example of his thesis, he cites a postmodernist installation by the African-American artist Renee Green, which evokes a liminality that challenges fixed identifications and opens up “the possibility of a cultural hybridity that entertains differences without an assumed or imposed hierarchy” (4). Ho Chung village in Big Blue Lake is also a liminal space, which represents both the entrapment and potential of the two main characters at a pivotal moment in their lives.

The otherness of Ho Chung village is underscored by its geographical situation. For example, a bridge links the old village with urban Hong Kong. The bridge suggests the invasion of urban development that has led to the disappearance of nature and old ways of living and has rendered Ho Chung a liminal space, trapped between rural traditions and urban innovations. Liminal physical space is also introduced at the opening of the film, when Lai-yee is introduced backstage, since backstage is an in-between space that suggests that the character is entrapped between pretense and self-knowledge. The sense of entrapment is reinforced when the camera later reveals the confines of Lai-yee’s small apartment in Britain. Here, the spatial relation between the character and the mise-en-scène is subjectivized. Close-ups and medium shots are used to keep Lai-yee away from the center: she cannot control the space and its materiality.

Ho Chung’s liminal space, in contrast, is one where the potential for reunion, self-reflection, and communion are maintained. The two main characters manage to develop a new relationship; Lai-yee is reconciled with her parents after her ten-year exile; and the elderly people of the village regain their self-respect. This sense of potential is strengthened by the meanings associated with the “big blue lake.” Big blue lake is a film title, a physical locale, and an imaginary space that encompasses childhood, adolescence, and the present. The city may have reshaped relationships, and the sense of community may have been supplanted by postmodern distrust, but the big blue lake brings back the sense of overlooked potential. It illuminates each character’s personal sphere and is also a shared part of the community’s experience.

Ho Chung village is an example of a representational space that is alive and speaks. To use the terminology of Henri Lefebvre, it has an affective kernel that embraces the “loci of passion, of action and of lived situation” (42). To Lefebvre, geography may confine and restrict the way we make sense of it; it is through human participation that we can bring alive spatial potential. And the lived experience that contributes to the fluidity of the space in Ho Chung is best represented by the oral histories and memories of the villagers. Recorded in a documentary style, several villagers share their personal memories of the village, their early closeness with nature, and their experience of the process of modernization.

Lai-yee decides to write a script and asks the older generation to act on an invisible “stage.” The elderly are encouraged to act out their past lives, performing their version of history, which includes sowing seeds, harvesting, fishing, singing, and interacting with nature. The play showcases the personal memories of the villagers. The script is unique because it underscores oral histories rather than official representations of the history of Hong Kong. The performance involves no outside audience but the villagers themselves. As producers, performers, and audience, the villagers reveal that history is a palimpsest: accumulation does not erase but adds another layer. The elderly villagers do not merely act out their memories but also revive them in the present, giving the younger generation new opportunities to reconnect with nature.

Lai-yee “translates” her interviews with the villagers into a play. During the interviews, the respondents are placed in the forefront of the camera, against the backdrop of the village and nature, in order to highlight their subjective experiences and memories. Their tales of growing crops, fishing, and communing with nature represent a mode of life that is totally different from that of urban dwellers (which is signified by the traffic at the entrance of the village). The interviews convey an acceptance of the transition from the old ways to the new Hong Kong. Still, the passion and emotion closely connected to the unsullied space of Hong Kong suggest a more fluid understanding of the identity of a place, one that allows us to sustain our attachment with nature. The cultural theorist Raymond Williams describes culture as a “structure of feeling,” reflecting people “as they actively lived and felt” (132). “Culture” refers to

“affective elements of consciousness and relationships: not feeling against thought, but thought as feeling and feeling as thought” (ibid).

Although conceived in a different cultural context, his notion of the interrelation of consciousness and culture can be applied to our reading Hong Kong as a physical space experienced by its inhabitants. In Big Blue Lake, there is a possibility of a new reading of Hong Kong, entirely different from the alienated urban landscape presented at the beginning of the film.

The memories of the villagers become a source of inspiration: the lines between official histories and oral stories are blurred. This public stage is also the setting of the traditional festival Taiping Qingjiao (The Purest Sacrifice Celebrated for the Great Peace), which is held every ten years in Ho Chung village. During the week-long festival, villagers restrict themselves to a vegetarian diet, watch traditional Chinese opera, and perform other Taoist rituals. The stage is set for the re-enactment of the collective memory. The absence of a traditional stage eliminates the hierarchy of performer and spectator, puts the villagers themselves on centre stage, and transforms the public area of Ho Chung into a representational space. The reconceptualization of public space as a stage for memories and oral histories does not evoke symbolic or imaginary realms; rather, it is a platform for interweaving old and new experiences, which allows for the transcendence of boundaries and new readings of a place. The representational space does not merely purport to restore the past of the villagers; it also gives the younger generation an opportunity to reconnect with nature and to envision a future in harmony with the landscape. As the film shows, the landscape that surrounds Ho Chung is tied to people’s identity. It shapes and regulates their relationships with the past and the future, and it engenders a strong bond with the older generation.

Liminal space of cinematic techniques:
between looking and hearing

Throughout the film, there are references to the act of looking. For example, the characters are repeatedly shown looking at photos. These photos reveal the once intimate relationship between Lai-yee and May (in stark contrast to their present lack of physical contact), Lai-yee’s professional background (by means of her portraits in various costumes), and even the Ho Chung lineage (when Lam examines the black and white photos and photos of ritual ceremonies where women were excluded). The photos convey the protagonists’ quest to understanding the meaning of traditions and reveal the way that the past is caught in a series of visual images.

Chun’s profession as a photographer also highlights the importance of looking. Lai-yee’s job requires her to pretend to be blind to check on the customer service in a café. Her experience teaches that casual observation hinders people from looking correctly and at the right objects. This reinforcement of the visual is further strengthened by the obsession with camera by both characters. For example, Chun is shown with a camera around his neck a couple of times in the film. The urgency to capture a place on camera is revealed by the sorrowful progress from horizons of fields and hills to the city skyline. Rather than accepting change as inevitable, the film hints at ways to transcend these changes. This is accomplished by two means: highlighting the potential of the visual and finding the point of interception between the acoustic and the visual.

In Big Blue Lake, memories, which are prompted by the open space of nature, are also, interestingly, held in the contained space of a fish tank. The fish tank embodies the memories and childhood fantasies of Lai-yee, May, and Chun. The close-ups that show the characters as the backdrop of the fish tank can be understood as a way of blurring our understanding of the characters while foregrounding the importance of the water as a symbol and distinguishing feature of the village.

The repeated cinematic strategies that focus on the fish tank and frame the protagonists within the tank suggest an attempt to render identities static. However, one should look beyond the focus on the fish tank and see that stagnation triggers possible movement. There are several transitions from shots of the fish tank to shots of outdoor areas: Lai-yee’s mother leaves the house after looking into the fish tank, and Chun and Lai-yee search for the big blue lake after staring at its bluish water. This motion suggests a transcendence of confinement and stagnation. This transcendence purports to connect the inner self with the external world; the transitional scenes foreshadow this connection every time the fish tank is shown.

All five scenes devoted to the fish tank are followed by a cut to the outside world, where the protagonists experience nature. The scenes are repeated each time with a twist and an extension of meaning. The first scene of the fish tank is followed by May’s departure from home. This movement suggests an attempt to search outside and also the personal yearnings of May that have led her to search her past. The second scene captures the relationship of Lai-yee and Chun. The couple is shown behind the fish tank, and then the film cuts to the outdoors—showing them in the forest, searching for the big blue lake. The movement is from a personal to an interpersonal relationship. The third time the fish tank is shown, it is followed by a cut to one of the elders who, taking up the center stage of the frame, discusses his early bond with nature and the various kinds of planting he has done. This time the inner space is linked to the more communal space of Ho Chung village and, particularly, the old ways of life that have been destroyed by urbanization. The fourth fish tank shot is followed by a flashback of the lake involving several shots of the children’s legs, presumably those of the young Lai-yee and her friends. This scene introduces the revelation of the drowning accident that happened in Lai-yee’s childhood and still haunts her mother. The final shot of the fish tank is followed by darkness: Lai-yee picks up the camera left by Chun and presses the shutter. The subsequent darkness is followed by a scene devoted to the preparation of the village ritual, exemplifying the relation between the present and the past. This opening up of the visual conveys possibilities of transcendence and reflects the way the filmmaker’s self-reflexive strategy are used to escape confinement. A liminal space and a different temporality are achieved by these shifts.

This highlighting of spaces of different kinds is accompanied by a creative use of sound and music. Often the soundtrack challenges the visual images of Big Blue Lake, creating a tension between what is seen and what is heard. The in-between space bridging the visual and the acoustic suggests a different poetic time and space.

The effects and significance of non-diegetic music in Big Blue Lake should not be underestimated. As film and music critics have often observed, music does not merely “resemble” or “contradict” the particular mood of a scene. Jerrold Levinson has identified fifteen functions of music in film, including signification of a certain state of affairs, the creation of a mood, and a means of communicating fear, tension, or excitement.[4] In Big Blue Lake, however, music is not merely functional; it is a major component in narrative structure. The images, sound effects, dialogue, and music are inextricably intertwined. This combination is reminiscent of music’s capacity to create particular rhythm, mood, atmosphere, and cinematic space. More importantly in the case of Big Blue Lake, music supplies a dreamy rhythm that transcends the modern tempo of everyday life. Music constructs an alternate temporality, outside the urban imaginary of Hong Kong, which is closely related to the images of Hong Kong as a bustling financial center.

Masamichi’s soundtrack for Big Blue Lake functions on various levels. The dripping sound of river is a constant reminder to the protagonists and the audience of the dominant role nature plays and the fact that it has its own life. The dripping sound recalls May’s traumatic memories and reinforces the effects of her Alzheimer’s disease. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata (No. 14) reminds Lam Chung of practicing the piano with his first love in their adolescence. The “Little Flower Girl” song (based on “O My Darling, Clementine,” which recounts the story of a drowning) prepares the audience for Lai-yee’s childhood trauma. The recurrent music links past and present inextricably. It recalls memories and creates expectations. It links us to the cyclical time of nature and the recurring images of the river and the open sky that shows no sign of urban Hong Kong.

The movement from diegetic sound (monologues and dialogues) to non-diegetic sound (voice-overs) is also striking. During the conversation between Chun and Lai-yee in front of the fish tank when he reveals his “simulated story” of elopement, Chun’s voice in conversation is replaced by a voice-over expressing his subjective time and memories. The classical music that they listen to also transitions from diegetic to non-diegetic: it continues as the film cuts to their search for their primary school. The transition is smooth and abrupt at the same time: the audience is exposed to the constructed nature of Chun’s memories. A similar effect is created when the two protagonists recount their personal stories while searching for the big blue lake. Their diegetic dialogue again becomes non-diegetic—a voice-over, presented in the dreamy setting of the big blue lake.

At the same moment, the audience is reminded of the characters’ personal struggles because of the re-emergence of a musical motif from the beginning of the film. Music becomes a reminder of a particular psychological state. It creates an awareness of continuation and disjunction simultaneously. The transitions from dialogue to voice-over remind the audience of the storytelling aspects of the film: Chun’s version of his “story” and its “authenticity” are queried. The discontinuities in sound and image can hardly be resolved. Rather than relying on the eyes to chart a narrative progression, the narrative voice interrupts and poses questions.

Big Blue Lake is evidence of the recent return to nature and the countryside in Hong Kong cinema. The projection of a different façade of Hong Kong gives a better sense of the city’s true character. Hong Kong’s identity crisis has arisen because it is viewed from a conventional ingrained perspective, which does not comprehend Hong Kong itself. In order to understand Hong Kong, one must begin with a different perspective, a novel way of reading. The construction of liminal space of Big Blue Lake—in the spaces between the mainstream and the independent, the filmic and the social, and the visual and the acoustic—offers another view of Hong Kong, one where nature can trigger different imaginaries and possibilities. The alienation of the city is not eliminated, but it is articulated and possibly reconciled. The film suggests the possibility of a more harmonious relationship between the past and the present, nature and artifice, the self and the collective. In its refusal to present stark dichotomies, Big Blue Lake opens up the possibility of dialogue between the city and country, symbolized in the reparation of relationships with others and with the past.


Acknowledgments:  Thank you to Gina Marchetti and the editors at Jump Cut for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article.

1. For more information on the New Wave, see Law Kar, “An Overview of Hong Kong’s New Wave Cinema” and Hector Rodrignez, “The Emergence of the Hong Kong New Wave,” in Esther Yau, ed., At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World. (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota Press, 2001), pp. 31–52 & 53–72. [return to text]

2. Tsang has worked as assistant director, location sound assistant, and production coordinator in commercial films such as Lust, Caution (2007), The Mummy 3 (2008), and Strawberry Cliff (2011). A frequent nominee and award winner at IFVA (Hong Kong Independent Short Film and Video Awards), Tsang has been recognized for several films: Lonely Planet (Silver Award, “Open Category,” 10th IFVA [2005]), All about My Ho Chung (Special Mention, “Single-Screen-Based Interactive Media category,” 12th IFVA [2007]), and The Life and Times of Ho Chung Village (Special Mention, “Open Category,” 15th IFVA, [2010]). Her repeated return to the setting of Ho Chung village where she grew up suggests that she is compelled to search for her identity in her first home. The critical acclaim that her work has received demonstrates that critics and judges support alternative visions of Hong Kong based on personal experiences and observations from the margins.

Not surprisingly, in the past three years, all the Gold Awards in the “Open Category” of IFVA have been given to films that focus on issues that have been exacerbated by the social conditions in the SAR. They feature the life of the Philippine helper in Hong Kong (Homecoming by Zune Kwok, 15th IFVA, 2010), the solitary life of an old woman (This Pair by Wong Yee-mei, 16th IFVA, 2011), the problem of urbanization and the eradication of a local village (1+1 by Lai Yan-chi, 17th IFVA, 2012), and the impact of current social protest and activism on adolescents (6th March by Wong Chun, 18th IFVA). The articulation of the prevalent sense of disillusionment and the focus on issues that are rarely discussed have characterized recent independent cinema in Hong Kong.

3. A brief outline of Hong Kong’s colonial history is necessary to draw attention to the uniqueness of Ho Chung village and the liminal space it represents. Hong Kong was taken by the British in the middle of the 19th century. The southern part of the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island with all its surrounding islands were ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Nanking in 1842. A large part of the peninsula—the New Territories—was leased to the British government in 1898 for 99 years. Long before the occupation of the British, the earliest permanent human settlements in the New Territories were villages surrounded by vast tracts of arable lands for growing rice and other crops. Under the colonial government, Sai Kung, the eastern area of the New Territories, became a recreational area for the local residents as well as a tourist attraction.

Ho Chung village is one of the oldest and largest village settlements in Sai Kung. All sides of the village with the exception of the east are slopes of undisturbed woodland. A number of streams and tributaries flow from the slopes to the lowland area. The village used to be one of the main employers of agricultural and industrial workers in Sai Kung district. Such employment has been in decline for the last two decades. Only a small portion of the agricultural land is currently under active cultivation, and much of the industry has moved out.

A strong adherence to tradition characterizes Ho Chung and its neighbouring villages. District organizations unite the various villages. The main district institution is the community temple, where the rituals Taiping Qingjiao are mounted every 10 years, drawing villagers from the surrounding region. Da jiao and its representation in the film will be discussed later.

For further information on Ho Chung village and its history, see Patrick H Hase, The Historical Heritage of Ho Chung, Pak Kong, and Shak Kok Mei, Sai Kung” (online references), Planning Department, HKSAR Government, “Pamphlets on Planning for New Territories” (online references), and Information Services Department, HKSAR Government.

4. See Jerrold Levinson, “Film Music and Narrative Agency,” Contemplating Art: Essays in Aesthetics. Oxford: Clarendon P. 2006, pp. 143-183.


Bhabha, Homi. K. The Location of Culture. London and New York: Routledge. 1994.

Cheung, Esther M. K. Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2009.

Hase, Patrick. The Historical Heritage of Ho Chung, Pak Kong, and SHak Kok Mei, Sai Kung. June 2003. Web. 6 May. 2013.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Donald Nicholson-Smith. Trans. Oxford & Cambridge: Blackwell. 1998. (1974)

Leung Ping-kwan. “Urban Cinema and the Cultural Identity of Hong Kong.” Esther M K Cheung & Chu Yiu-wai. Eds. Between Home and World: A Reader in Hong Kong Cinema. HK: Oxford U P. 2004.

Levinson, Jenold. Contemplating Art: Essays in Aesthetics. London: Clarendon P. 2006.

Planning Department, HKSAR Government. “Pamphlets on Planning for New Territories.” Web. 6 May. 2013.

Williams, Raymond. Marxism and Literature. Oxford & NY: Oxford U P. 1977.

Yau, Esther. Ed. At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World. Minneapolis and London: U of Minnesota P. 2001.

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