Hong Kong Newwave

The Hong Kong New Wave burst onto the international film scene in 1979. During the late 1970s the film industry in Hong Kong suffered a serious decline in audience numbers, largely due to the popularization of television. Most studios were desperate to find solutions

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in Wong Kar Wei's international hit, Hua yang nain hua (In the Mood for Love, 2000).

everett collection. reproduced by permission.

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung in Wong Kar Wei's international hit, Hua yang nain hua (In the Mood for Love, 2000).

everett collection. reproduced by permission.

and therefore were willing to innovate. In addition, a new class of nouveau riche formed during the economic takeoff of the 1970s were interested in investing in the film industry. Thus, between 1979 and 1980 about thirty to forty new directors made their debuts. All of their films used Cantonese, and many were technically superior to earlier films made by the established studios, and more contemporary in style and theme. Important examples include Fengjie (The Secret, Ann Hui, 1979), Liang zhu (Butterfly Murders, Tsui Hark, 1979), Ming jian (The Sword, Patrick Tam, 1980), and Fu zi qing (Father and Son, Allen Fong, 1981). Although these films are generi-cally and stylistically heterogenous, one common characteristic of these New Wave films was that they shared a ''Hong Kong—centered'' sensibility, unlike the films of their refugee predecessors, who had taken Hong Kong as a temporary residence before their final return to China. This generation that grew up in Hong Kong fundamentally changed the look and the nature of its cinema.

Many New Wave productions were creative explorations of social issues and cinematic traditions, but not all were commercially successful. For instance, after several commercial failures Tsui Hark (b. 1950), one of the leading directors of the New Wave, found himself working for a newly formed commercial studio, Cinema City Company, which specialized in combining action with comedy. Its style combined glamorous visuals, fast editing, and modern urban settings. By using big budgets, big casts, and extensive packaging and publicity, it quickly rose to the top in the 1980s. Among its most successful hits were Zuijia Paidang (Aces Go Places, 1982) and its four sequels. New successful production houses such as Cinema City began to replace the old studio system of Shaw Brothers, which officially closed down production in 1986. Since then the financing of films usually have come from one of the three companies—Golden Harvest, Golden Princess (financier of Cinema City), and D&B Company—which control both production and distribution.

Because industry financing came from a small number of companies, it is not surprising that the New Wave's freedom from strict commercial demands would be short-lived. By the mid-1980s a ''Second Wave'' was taking shape, working more within the confines of the commercial system while continuing the technological advances and the social sensibility of the First Wave. The Second Wave was composed of some of the New Wave directors such as Tsui Hark, Yim Ho (b. 1952), and Ann Hui (b. 1947), as well as younger directors such as Mabel Cheung (b. 1950), Clara Law (b. 1957), and Wong Kar Wei (b. 1958). Second Wave films dealt with contemporary issues, particularly those related to the 1997 reunification of Hong Kong with China. Like their First Wave predecessors, many of the Second Wave's works were shown on the international festival circuit, at the Cannes Film Festival, New York Film Festival, and Tokyo International Film Festival. Some major works of this period include Center Stage (Ruan Linguy, 1992), by Stanley Kwan (b. 1957) and Floating Life (Fu Sheung, 1996), by Clara Law. Many of its popular productions, such as the Aces Goes Places series, beat Hollywood films at the domestic box office. During this time, Hong Kong films dominated the markets of Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and mainland China.


Prompted by anxiety over the imminent 1997 reunification with China, a significant number of Hong Kong's film producers, directors, scriptwriters, actors, and actresses emigrated throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Some were drained by Hollywood, but many simply gave up their careers. In addition to talent loss, Hong Kong suffered a serious economic downturn during the 1990s, and even the bigger studios such as Golden Harvest were affected. As well, pirated tapes, VCDs, and DVDs flooded the local market. By 1999 audience attendance had hit bottom; the only films that attracted a wide market were Hollywood blockbusters such as The Lion King (1994) and Titanic (1998).

At the same time, the commercial potential of Hong Kong cinema drew international attention. The success of Ying xiong ben se (A Better Tomorrow, 1986) by John Woo (b. 1946) in the United States had a lasting impact, popularizing Chinese kung fu in American action movies. Since then, many Hong Kong films have been shown in mainstream (versus art) cinemas in the United States. Directors such as John Woo and Tsui Hark, and actors such as Jackie Chan, Chow Yun-fat (b. 1955), and Jet Li (b. 1963) frequently work in Hollywood on films for global distribution. Chan's Ngo si sui (Who Am I?, 1998), for example, attempts to connect Hong Kong with the international community in its action-packed story involving a transnational mafia, the CIA, and locations in Africa and Amsterdam. Like many other films made during the 1990s, it also considers the question of identity, but seeks to answer it through a superficial connection with global communities. Since then, Chan has continued to build his world cinema either through local producers, with Hollywood financing (Rush Hour, 1998), or by coproduction (Bor lei jun [Gorgeous], 1999, and Shanghai Noon, 2000). Since the late 1990s and early 2000s, coproduction became increasingly necessary, for financing and to facilitate world distribution.

Amidst the gangster fantasies, ghost stories, and absurd comedies (especially those by the popular comedian Stephen Chow [b. 1962]) of the 1990s and 2000s, there were a number of important realist films made by a little-known loner, Fruit Chan (b. 1959), the first and arguably the only independent feature filmmaker of the period. Xianggang zhizao (Made in Hong Kong, 1997), Qu nian yan hua te bie duo (The Longest Summer, 1998), and Liulian piao piao (Durian Durian, 2000) have neither big action nor big stars, but their observations of the lives of ordinary Hong Kong citizens is poignant. The significance of these films for independent filmmaking, which was previously almost absent in Hong Kong, is still unknown. Major companies such as Golden Harvest and other production houses founded in the 1980s are still trying to find ways to adapt to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

see also China; Martial Arts Films; National Cinema further reading

Jarvie, Ian C. Window on Hong Kong: A Sociology Study of the

Hong Kong Film Industry and Its Audience. Hong Kong:

University of Hong Kong Press, 1977. Teo, Stephen. Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimension.

London: British Film Institute, 1997.

Yu, Mo Wan. Stories ofthe Beginning ofHong Kong Cinema.

Hong Kong: Wide Angle Publishing, 1985.

Jenny Kwok Wah Lau

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