Hong Kong’s film industry gained global attention in the 1980s, at the time of negotiations over Great Britain’s return of the colony to China. Uncertainty about the post-handover era accelerated Hong Kong’s race for economic growth, and found expression in cinema’s depictions of a ‘city on fire.’ In this accessible introduction to the extraordinary cinematic output of the colony, Michael Hoover and Lisa Stokes review the directors and films that have established Hong Kong cinema internationally: John Woo’s martial arts flicks, Tsui Hark’s wire-worked fantasies, Ann Hui’s exile melodramas, Stanley Kwan’s limpid romances, and Wong Kar-wai’s stylish art films.
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The world first took notice of Hong Kong cinema in the 1970s, when Bruce Lee's Fists of Fury and Enter the Dragon brought a new level of psychological realism to the "chop socky" movies being made up until that point. But it wasn't until the 1980s that a new generation of directors and stars--a moviemaking system, in fact--reached its boiling point, and American audiences began to hear about John Woo's "heroic bloodshed" films and Jackie Chan's Chaplinesque martial arts action movies. City on Fire is the authoritative account of that system, and authors Stokes and Hoover--a pair of community college teachers from central Florida--have traced the industry back to the early decades of the century when Shanghai-financed films first gave way to local productions like Rouge, Li Minwei's story of courtesans. The remaining bulk of the book is given over to the go-go '80s when record attendance at local movie houses fueled the industry and gave large-as-life careers to the likes of Chow Yun-Fat, Jackie Chan, Michelle Yeoh, and Maggie Cheung, and to directors like Woo, Ann Hui, Stanley Tong, and (Quentin Tarantino's favorite) Kar-Wei Wong. As the authors tell it, it was in the '80s when Hong Kong moviemaking most resembled the early days of Hollywood, when money flowed and movies rolled out from sketchy scripts and a few rat-a-tat weeks in the editing room (complete with a "dark underbelly" of exploitation too). The final, encyclopedic chapters detail American productions like Rumble in the Bronx and Face/Off, and international successes like Peter Chan's Comrades: Almost a Love Story. But it's really the years from 1978 to 1995 that the authors are sweet on, and anyone interested in--or in love with--Hong Kong cinema will find themselves feeling the same way, paging through this fascinating title. --Lyall BushAbout the Author:
Michael Hoover teaches Political Science and Lisa Stokes teaches Humanities at Seminole Community College in Central Florida.
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