HONG KONG 1997-2017: 20 YEARS IN 11 FILMS

This programme of films “Creative Visions: Hong Kong Cinema 1997-2017” has been curated to celebrate Hong Kong cinema over the past two decades. In that time we have seen a commercial recovery of the industry and the beginnings of new artistic voices from a younger generation of filmmakers. The selection of films reflects the continued creativity of Hong Kong filmmakers, an evolution from the trends established by the heady mix of New Wave artistic ambitions and action genres of the 1980s. Today, a New Wave pioneer like Tsui Hark has found a broad canvas for his grand visions in the blockbuster special effects films he makes in China often as co-productions with Hong Kong. Time and again we see in his films a restless spirit of experimentation with technologies, driven by an unfettered imagination. A look at films over the past 20 years allows us to trace the later careers of these pioneering filmmakers from the Hong Kong New Wave of the early 1980s, and to be impressed that their creative energies continue undiminished. Ann Hui’s A Simple Life is an apocryphal example – a film rooted in the Cantonese cinema of domestic compassion and conflict, which captures at its heart the essential humanity of a society often characterized as materialistic. Although we may lament the sporadic output of another New Wave leader, Patrick Tam, we can see in After This Our Exile an expression of faith and spirituality unburnished by the vagaries of the outside world. The works that these filmmakers produce now shows a profound maturing of their world view. It is as if all their filming over the years has been distilled into the essence of life. Hong Kong and its cinema however do not dwell on the past, a cosmopolitan city is always on the move. As a crossroad of Asia, Hong Kong absorbs and synthesizes experiences and ideas whether in the arts or in commerce. Two filmmakers who have forcefully emerged in our time period are quite different, but in their own way, each demonstrates a synthesis of cinema. Perhaps the most recognizable Hong Kong film director internationally, Wong Kar-wai has created worlds of his own inflected with aesthetics and experiences not only from Hong Kong and China, but also South America, France, America and beyond. If Wong’s work is essentially a contemplation of culture and non-verbal communication (his auteurist trope of yearning is almost a preferred means of expression), this gestation finds high expression in his 2013 work The Grandmaster where different martial arts styles jostle like the babble of languages – words become fists, sentences become patterns. The syntaxes of martial arts are kicked around, thrown up in the air, understood and misunderstood. Yearning is a consequence of ‘lost in translation.’ In his own way, Johnnie To has also become a face of Hong Kong cinema. His prolific output comprises forays into a range of genres often reflecting the times and also the flow of global cinema, one reason why his works resonate so well with overseas audiences. To moves through different universes – the Melvillian constellation of his gangster films, a Planet Noir with a Bressonian atmosphere (PTU, The Mission), a Tati-esque construction for the musical Office, the romantic comedies that take on a host of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Western angles. Yet each film bears his distinctive signature, the sign of a true auteur who despite film references, genres, conventions, emerges triumphant as a genuine original. Part of this originality stems from his fluency at handling narrative and ensemble cast, often working with a regular stable of actors that includes Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Anthony Wong, Lam Suet and for many years, Wong Tin-lam, the often neglected but great director of the Cantonese film era, e.g. The Wild Wild Rose (1960) who stands as a kind of cipher for Johnnie To’s own contemporary studio- level output and the link to the rich traditions of Hong Kong cinema. Of the younger generation who have emerged in the past 20 years, overseas and local audiences have heard and responded to the voice of Pang Ho-cheung. In true Hong Kong tradition, Pang embodies a kind of quirkiness that is neither a whimsy nor an affectation, but grounded in reality. Watching his films in Hong Kong cinemas in the early 2000s, what has always impressed me is that the people in the audience often look like some of the people on the screen. Pang has shown himself expert at the quirky comedy which seemingly racy is surprisingly chaste and touching. From AV to Vulgaria we see a mind that revels in the morality of immorality. With his Love in the… (Puff/Buff/Cuff) group of films covering the up and down relationship of a skittish couple in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, he has found a narrative to suit his delicate touch and reach a wide audience. With films by Philip Yung (Port of Call), Heiward Mak (High Noon) and Adam Wong (The Way We Dance) among others, we are witnessing the gradual emergence of a new generation of filmmakers. While to most of the world, Hong Kong cinema is characterized by action and genre films, these younger filmmakers naturally bring a new perspective to the popular genres of Hong Kong cinema. The selection is far from comprehensive but we hope that the programme gives a flavor of the characteristics of Hong Kong cinema from the past two decades, and that this taste will leave our audiences hungry for more!
Roger Garcia