An introduction from series curator, Sean Gilman:
Hong Kong cinema blossomed in the 1960s and 70s with bright colorful musicals and astoundingly acrobatic martial arts spectacles. It reached international prominence in the 80s and early 90s with audacious and anarchic experiments in genre film form: lush romances, hyper-kinetic thrillers, mind-bending comedies. But by 1997, when the former British colony was handed over to Mainland Chinese control, many of Hong Kong’s brightest stars and directors had left for Hollywood. This is a series about what happened after they left, about the filmmakers who stayed behind and how they navigated their new world in-between East and West.
Stephen Chow unites the traditions of 1970s comedy and kung fu with modern special effects in Kung Fu Hustle while Ang Lee adapts the epic wuxias of King Hu into a stately international box office smash with *Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Johnnie To charts the arcane rituals of the criminal underworld, and their manipulations by a ruling elite in Election and Election 2. And Fruit Chan carves out new territory for independent cinema with Made in Hong Kong, shot on scrounged bits of leftover film scraps and released mere months after the Handover, an essential snapshot of teens trapped in a world they know is about to end, haunted by the idea of what happens next.
About the curator:
Sean Gilman is a film critic from Tacoma, Washington. He’s the editor of SeattleScreenScene.com and has written extensively about Chinese-language and East Asian films for sites such as the Mubi Notebook, InReview Online, Frame.land, Movie Mezzanine, and the Criterion Collection. His archive of reviews of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Hong Kong film can be found at TheChineseCinema.com.
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KUNG FU HUSTLE
Dir. Stephen Chow
Stephen Chow was Hong Kong’s biggest star in the 1990s, with a series of box office smash comedies that mixed complex verbal wordplay with farcical slapstick and martial arts action. In the 2000s, now directing his own films, Chow began making increasingly sophisticated works, while at the same time integrating computer-generated effects. In Kung Fu Hustle, Chow plays a wanna-be hoodlum who gets involved in a war between a vicious gang and the residents of a housing complex who have a surprising amount of martial arts skill. Freely grabbing from old martial arts serials, post-war Cantonese comedies, and Looney Tunes cartoons, Kung Fu Hustle is one of Chow’s most accomplished works, and was by far his biggest hit in the US.
JUNE 13th, 2022
Crouching tiger, Hidden Dragon
Dir. Ang Lee
Still the highest-grossing non-English language film in American box office history, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s lush reimagining of the classic wuxia films of King Hu (Dragon Gate Inn, A Touch of Zen). Gathering a cast from across the Chinese-speaking world (Hong Kong’s Chow Yun-fat and Cheng Pei-pei; Malaysia’s Michelle Yeoh; Taiwan’s Chang Chen; and the Mainland’s Zhang Ziyi), Lee adapts a story of martial chivalry set in the Qing Dynasty, where the free-spirited daughter of an official steals a powerful sword from two aging heroes of the jianghu, the borderlands outside normal society that is the home of warriors and bandits governed not by laws or desires, but by a strict code of duty and honor. With dazzling choreography by the legendary Yeun Woo-ping (The Matrix, Drunken Master) and a propulsive score by Tan Dun, Crouching Tiger remains a landmark of prestige martial arts cinema.
*Note: While Crouching Tiger received financing from the U.S., China, and Taiwan and Ang Lee himself is Taiwanese, the film is a significant one in the story of Hong Kong cinema. The film features Hong Kong superstars, including Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh, and Cheng Pei-pei; much of the film crew is based in Hong Kong, including famed action choreographer Yuen Woo-ping; and the film received financing from EDKO Films, a Hong Kong company. These elements, among others, made Crouching Tiger eligible for the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2000, where it won 8 out of 16 nominations, including Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, and Cinematography.
June 13th, 2022
ELECTION & ELECTION 2
Dir. Johnnie To
In the mid-1990s, Johnnie To, who had been a successful, if rather anonymous, director of popular films for the past decade, founded his own studio and began churning out a remarkable series of genre films, almost experimental in their visual and narrative approach to the traditional Hong Kong crime film. This work reached its peak of popularity with Election, a film about a succession struggle within an organized crime Triad gang that plays out entirely without firearms. The shadowy dealings and betrayals form a none-too-subtly pessimistic commentary on the future of democracy in the former colony.
.To’s follow-up continues the story of gangster Jimmy (Louis Koo) as he struggles for control of the Triad. Further complicating the intra-gang rivalries are the interventions and manipulations of powerful outside forces, who have a vested interest in seeing one side or another in charge of Hong Kong’s criminal activity. Packed with top-notch suspense and action sequences and a deep sense of paranoia, the Election films remain To’s definitive statement on the relationship between Hong Kong and China in the years after the Handover.
July 11th, 2022
made in hong kong
Dir. Fruit Chan