Beyond the crisis: the “chaotic formula” of Hong Kong cinema
Abstract Hong Kong’s film industry has been living through and beyond the 1997 handover to China. Along a complicated socio-economic and cultural heritage, the city’s “crisis cinema” successfully milked takeover fears for an anarchic display of showmanship. Local filmmaking conditions, popular narratives and aesthetics from that time can be identified as ingredients in a “chaotic formula” that instigated Hong Kong cinema’s “Golden Age.” Unlike other film industries, which point to their disaster centres in a search or celebration of national identity, Hong Kong survived at a fragile historic juncture largely by sailing around the cliffs of political affront and resorting to metaphorical speech instead. Yet, following the handover, the film industry has retired its previous attitudes about itself and the future; it has integrated a new “China factor” and riddled cinema with contradictory statements about the “condition” of Hong Kong.” System failure, madness and identity theft in crime stories appear alongside celebratory historicism, cultural allegiance and escapist spectacle, especially in Hong Kong-China co-productions. This paper follows the evolution of the crime genre along general dynamics and transformations of the formula from the 1980s, past the turbulent 1990s and into recent postcolonial Hong Kong, in which the inability to formulate a new crisis, or the resolution of the previous one, has put cinema itself into crisis.
Keywords: Hong Kong, film, 1997-syndrome, China, city, violence, crisis
Petra Rehlingis a German scholar, sinologist, freelance journalist, artist and former Associate Professor of the English Department at Da-yeh University, Taiwan. In Germany, her book on Hong Kong cinema, Schöner Schmerz—Das Hongkongkino zwischen Traditionen, Identitätssuche und 1997-Syndrom (2005), is considered one of the few standard works on the market. Her previous publications include articles on Wong Kar-wai, science fiction, wuxia, cyberculture and the Harry Potter phenomenon.