The bamboo cinema : a formal, cultural and industrial analysis of Hong Kong cinema in the 1990s
Chan, Shu Ching
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In the 1990s, the fact that Hong Kong cinema thrived in the world market, with both art and commercial films, is a theoretical anomaly. Despite its petite size and lack of government support and protection, it has survived both colonial administration and Hollywood domination. Hong Kong has a long history of prolific filmmaking, and has flourished during a decade full of challenges, and out of proportion to the size of the city and the industry. Hong Kong film is now recognized for its directors’ personal style and action aesthetic. How did this happen? How did Hong Kong filmmaking develop into an efficient system that could survive the harsh conditions of its past and thrive in the competitive environment of the 1990s? Hong Kong’s story is one of paradox and Hong Kong cinema relates that story by embracing paradox in both its industrial system and cultural ideology. This project is a formal, cultural and industrial analysis of Hong Kong cinema in its multiple contexts. Instead of replicating the Hollywood studio system or other national cinema models, Hong Kong cinema, like bamboo surviving by bending with the wind, has developed a flexible system adapted to its habitat, but that also simultaneously created a space for a unique style of filmmaking with a transnational perspective. I will investigate how the cinematic system worked, and how individual filmmakers devised tactics to both work within and push the limits of the system. I will explore what they reveal about the local condition I call “orphan island anxiety”, a deep sense of insecurity underneath the economic miracle, and a paradoxical state that people from a non-conventional nation state experience in an age of universal and normative ideas of the nation. The case of Hong Kong cinema will illuminate for us an industrial model substantially different from that of Hollywood, and a voice that was missing from official Sino-British talks, which reveals a cultural sensibility not found in either Hollywood or in Chinese national cinema.