Arts and Culture
Ever since Bruce Lee kicked his way to global stardom in the 1970s, violent action and criminal enterprise as portrayed in Hong Kong cinema have shaped perceptions of the city around the world. Most scholarly attention so far has focused on the action and crime films during Hong Kong cinema’s heyday of the 1970s and 1980s, with little analysis of its earlier, formative stage, and the traumatic reflections of post-colonial Hong Kong. This panel aims to change this state of affairs: first, by engaging the history of Hong Kong crime cinema from the 1940s to the 1960s, and second, by rethinking the notion of violence in Hong Kong literature on the eve of Hong Kong’s 1997 Handover to the People’s Republic of China.
Vivien Yan Wei’s paper sets the stage for this discussion by exploring the rarely studied crime films of the 1950s and 1960s. Focusing on the noirish films of this period, she looks at the morally dangerous urban spaces that form the backdrop of their tales of crime and transgression, and explores how we can read these films in the context of Hong Kong’s post-war culture. Kristof Van den Troost deals with the hugely popular Wong Fei-hung kung fu film series of this period, arguing that they can productively be read as crime films. Wong Fei-hung was not a gangster, of course, but the similarity between these kung fu films and later gangster films highlights how in Hong Kong cinema, genres with global resonance also draw on centuries-old Chinese codes of homosocial community and heroism. In a similar vein, Timmy Chen Chih-Ting’s paper looks at the noirish 1961 Cantonese film Father is Back, and explores how the father figure in this male melodrama is trapped by his ties to family, community and the underworld. Finally, Melody Yunzi Li brings the discussion closer to the present by exploring the “secret violence” in pre-1997 Hong Kong literature. The violence in her paper is no longer physical, but refers to the traumatic experience of disappearance in the face of a threatening future.