Cinema of Hong Kong

Cinema of Hong Kong
A bronze statue on a pedestal, with the city skyline in the background. The pedestal is designed in the image of four clapperboards forming a box. The statue is of a woman wrapped in photographic film, looking straight up, with her left hand stretched upwards and holding a glass sphere containing a light.
A statue on the Avenue of Stars, a tribute to Hong Kong cinema.

The cinema of Hong Kong (Chinese: 香港電影) is one of the three major threads in the history of Chinese language cinema, alongside the cinema of China, and the cinema of Taiwan. As a former British colony, Hong Kong had a greater degree of political and economic freedom than mainland China and Taiwan, and developed into a filmmaking hub for the Chinese-speaking world.


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Unlike many film industries, Hong Kong has enjoyed little to no direct government support, through either subsidies or import quotas. It is a thoroughly commercial cinema: highly corporate, concentrating on crowd-pleasing genres like comedy and action, and relying heavily on formulas, sequels and remakes.

Hong Kong film derives a number of elements from Hollywood, such as certain genre parameters, a "thrill-a-minute" philosophy and fast pacing and editing. But the borrowings are filtered through elements from traditional Chinese drama and art, particularly a penchant for stylisation and a disregard for Western standards of realism. This, combined with a fast and loose approach to the filmmaking process, contributes to the energy and surreal imagination that foreign audiences note in Hong Kong cinema.

The star system

As is common in commercial cinema, the industry's heart is a highly developed star system. In earlier days, beloved performers from the Chinese opera stage often brought their audiences with them to the screen. For the past three or four decades, television has been a major launching pad for movie stardom, through acting courses and widely watched drama, comedy and variety series offered by the two major stations. Possibly even more important is the overlap with the Cantonese pop music industry. Many, if not most, movie stars have recording sidelines, and vice versa; this has been a key marketing strategy in an entertainment industry where American-style, multimedia advertising campaigns have until recently been little used (Bordwell, 2000). In the current commercially troubled climate, the casting of young Cantopop idols (such as Ekin Cheng and the Twins) to attract the all-important youth audience is endemic.

In the small and tightly knit industry, actors (as well as other personnel, such as directors) are kept very busy. During previous boom periods, the number of movies made by a successful figure in a single year could routinely reach double digit.


Films are typically high-budget in comparison with American product. A major release with a big star, aimed at "hit" status, will typically cost around US$5 million (Yang et al., 1997). A low-budget feature can go well below US$1 million. Occasional blockbuster projects by the very biggest stars (Jackie Chan or Stephen Chow, for example) or international co-productions aimed at the global market, can go as high as US$20 million or more, but these are rare exceptions. Hong Kong productions can nevertheless achieve a level of gloss and lavishness greater than these numbers might suggest, given factors like lower wages, and the lower value of the Hong Kong dollar.

Language and sound

Since the 1980s, films have been made mostly in the Cantonese language.

For decades, films were typically shot silent, with dialogue and all other sound dubbed afterwards. In the hectic and low-budget industry, this method was faster and more cost-efficient than recording live sound, particularly when using performers from different dialect regions; it also helped facilitate dubbing into other languages for the vital export market. Many busy stars would not even record their own dialogue, but would be dubbed by a lesser-known performer. Shooting without sound also contributed to an improvisatory filmmaking approach. Movies often went into production without finished scripts, with scenes and dialogue concocted on the set; especially low-budget productions on tight schedules might even have actors mouth silently or simply count numbers, with actual dialogue created only in the editing process.

A trend towards sync sound filming grew in the late 1990s and this method is now the norm, partly because of a widespread public association with higher quality cinema.


1909 to World War II

During its early history, Hong Kong's cinema played second fiddle to that of the mainland, particularly the city of Shanghai, which was then the movie capital of the Chinese-speaking world. Very little of this work is extant: one count finds only four films remaining out of over 500 produced in Hong Kong before World War II (Fonoroff, 1997). Detailed accounts of this period, especially those by non-Chinese speakers, therefore have inherent limitations and uncertainties.

Pioneers from the stage

A young Lai Man-Wai in 1913 in Zhuangzi Tests His Wife credited as the first Hong Kong feature film

As in most of China, the development of early films was tightly bound to Chinese opera, for centuries the dominant form of dramatic entertainment. Opera scenes were the source for what are generally credited as the first movies made in Hong Kong, two 1909 short comedies entitled Stealing a Roasted Duck and Right a Wrong with Earthenware Dish. The director was stage actor and director Liang Shaobo. The producer was an American, Benjamin Brodsky (sometimes transliterated 'Polaski'), one of a number of Westerners who helped jumpstart Chinese film through their efforts to crack China's vast potential market.

Credit for the first Hong Kong feature film is usually given to Zhuangzi Tests His Wife (1913), which also took its story from the opera stage, was helmed by a stage director and featured Brodsky's involvement. Director Lai Man-Wai (Li Ming Wei or Li Minwei in Mandarin) was a theatrical colleague of Liang Shaobo's who would become known as the "Father of Hong Kong Cinema". In another borrowing from opera, Lai played the role of wife himself. His brother played the role of husband, and his wife a supporting role as a maid, making her the first Chinese woman to act in a Chinese film, a milestone delayed by longstanding taboos regarding female performers (Leyda, 1972). Zhuangzhi was the only film made by Chinese American Film, founded by Lai and Brodsky as the first movie studio in Hong Kong, and was never actually shown in the territory (Stokes and Hoover, 1999).

The following year, the outbreak of World War I put a large crimp in the development of cinema in Hong Kong, as Germany was the source of the colony's film stock (Yang, 2003). It was not until 1923 that Lai, his brother and their cousin joined with Liang Shaobo to form Hong Kong's first entirely Chinese-owned-and-operated production company, the Minxin (or China Sun) Company. In 1924, they moved their operation to the Mainland after government red tape blocked their plans to build a studio. (Teo, 1997)

The advent of sound

With the popularity of talkies in the early 1930s, the problem of China's various spoken dialects had to be grappled with. Hong Kong was a major center for Cantonese, one of the most widely spoken, and political factors on the Mainland provided other opportunities. The government of the Kuomintang or Nationalist Party wanted to enforce a "Mandarin-only" policy and was hostile to Cantonese filmmaking in China. It also banned the wildly popular wuxia genre of martial arts swordplay and fantasy, accusing it of promoting superstition and violent anarchy. Cantonese film and wuxia film remained popular despite government hostility, and the British colony of Hong Kong became a place where both of these trends could be freely served. The name (粵語長片, Jyutping: jyut6 jyu5 coeng4 pin3*2) soon became the standard name for black and white Cantonese movies.

Filmed Cantonese operas proved even more successful than wuxia and constituted the leading genre of the 1930s. Major studios that thrived in this period were Grandview, Universal, Nanyue and Tianyi (the last an early incarnation of the Shaw family dynasty that would become the most enduring and influential in Chinese film). (Teo, 1997)

The advent of war

Another important factor in the 1930s was the Sino-Japanese War. "National defense" films—patriotic war stories about Chinese resisting the Japanese invasion—became one of Hong Kong's major genres; notable titles included Kwan Man Ching's Lifeline (1935), Chiu Shu Sun's Hand to Hand Combat (1937) and Situ Huimin's March of the Partisans (1938). The genre and the film industry were further boosted by emigre film artists and companies when Shanghai was taken by the Japanese in 1937.

This of course came to an end when Hong Kong itself fell to the Japanese in December 1941. But unlike on the Mainland, the occupiers were not able to put together a collaborationist film industry. They managed to complete just one propaganda movie, The Attack on Hong Kong (1942; aka The Day of England's Collapse) before the British returned in 1945 (Teo, 1997). A more important move by the Japanese may have been to melt down many of Hong Kong's pre-war films to extract their silver nitrate for military use (Fonoroff, 1997).

The 1940s – 1960s

Postwar Hong Kong cinema, like postwar Hong Kong industries in general, was catalyzed by the continuing influx of capital and talents from Mainland China. This became a flood with the 1946 resumption of the Chinese Civil War (which had been on hold during the fight against Japan) and then the 1949 Communist victory. These events definitively shifted the center of Chinese-language cinema to Hong Kong. The colony also did big business exporting films to Southeast Asian countries (especially but not exclusively due to their large Chinese expatriate communities) and to Chinatowns in Western countries (Bordwell, 2000).

Competing languages

The postwar era also cemented the bifurcation of the industry into two parallel cinemas, one in Mandarin, the dominant dialect of the Mainland emigres, and one in Cantonese, the dialect of most Hong Kong natives. Mandarin movies sometimes had much higher budgets and more lavish production. Reasons included their enormous export market; the expertise and capital of the Shanghai filmmakers. For decades to come, Cantonese films, though sometimes more numerous, were relegated to second-tier status (Leyda, 1972).

Another language-related milestone occurred in 1963: the British authorities passed a law requiring the subtitling of all films in English, supposedly to enable a watch on political content. Making a virtue of necessity, studios included Chinese subtitles as well, enabling easier access to their movies for speakers of other dialects. (Yang, 2003) Subtitling later had the unintended consequence of facilitating the movies' popularity in the West.

Cantonese movies

During this period, Cantonese opera on film dominated. The top stars were the female duo of Yam Kim Fai and Pak Suet Sin (Yam–Pak for short). Yam specialised in male scholar roles to Pak's female leads. They made over fifty films together, The Purple Hairpin (1959) being one of the most enduringly popular (Teo, 1997).

Low-budget martial arts films were also popular. A series of roughly 100 kung fu movies starring Kwan Tak Hing as historical folk hero Wong Fei Hung were made, starting with The True Story of Wong Fei Hung (1949) and ending with Wong Fei Hung Bravely Crushing the Fire Formation (1970) (Logan, 1995). Fantasy wuxia (swordplay) serials with special effects drawn on the film by hand, such as The Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute (1965) starring teen idol Connie Chan Po-chu in the lead male role, were also popular (Chute and Lim, 2003, 3), as were contemporary melodramas of home and family life.

Mandarin movies and the Shaws/Cathay rivalry

In Mandarin production, Shaw Brothers and Motion Picture and General Investments Limited (MP&GI, later renamed Cathay) were the top studios by the 1960s, and bitter rivals. The Shaws gained the upper hand in 1964 after the death in a plane crash of MP&GI founder and head Loke Wan Tho. The renamed Cathay faltered, ceasing film production in 1970 (Yang, 2003).

A musical genre called Huángméidiào (黃梅調) was derived from Chinese opera; the Shaws' record-breaking hit The Love Eterne (1963) remains the classic of the genre. Historical costume epics often overlapped with the Huángméidiào, such as in The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959). (Both of the above examples were directed by Shaw's star director, Li Han Hsiang). Romantic melodramas such as Red Bloom in the Snow (1956), Love Without End (1961), The Blue and the Black (1964) and adaptations of novels by Chiung Yao were popular. So were Hollywood-style musicals, which were a particular specialty of MP&GI/Cathay in entries such as Mambo Girl (1957) and The Wild, Wild Rose (1960).

In the second half of the 1960s, the Shaws inaugurated a new generation of more intense, less fantastical wuxia films with glossier production values, acrobatic moves and stronger violence. The trend was inspired by the popularity of imported samurai movies from Japan (Chute and Lim, 2003, 8), as well as by the loss of movie audiences to television. This marked the crucial turn of the industry from a female-centric genre system to an action movie orientation (see also the Hong Kong action cinema article). Key trendsetters included Xu Zenghong's Temple of the Red Lotus (1965), King Hu's Come Drink with Me (1966) and Dragon Inn (1967, made in Taiwan; aka Dragon Gate Inn), and Chang Cheh's Tiger Boy (1966), The One-Armed Swordsman (1967) and Golden Swallow (1968).

Years of transformation (1970s)

Mandarin-dialect film in general and the Shaw Brothers studio in particular began the 1970s in apparent positions of unassailable strength. Cantonese cinema virtually vanished in the face of Mandarin studios and Cantonese television, which became available to the general population in 1967; in 1972 no films in the local dialect were made (Bordwell, 2000). The Shaws saw their longtime rival Cathay ceasing film production, leaving themselves the only megastudio. The martial arts subgenre of the kung fu movie exploded into popularity internationally, with the Shaws driving and dominating the wave. But changes were beginning that would greatly alter the industry by the end of the decade.

The Cantonese comeback

Paradoxically, television would soon contribute to the revival of Cantonese in a movement towards more down-to-earth movies about modern Hong Kong life and average people.

The first spark was the ensemble comedy The House of 72 Tenants, the only Cantonese film made in 1973, but a resounding hit. It was based on a well-known play and produced by the Shaws as a showcase for performers from their pioneering television station TVB (Yang, 2003).

The return of Cantonese really took off with the comedies of former TVB stars the Hui Brothers (actor-director-screenwriter Michael Hui, actor-singer Sam Hui and actor Ricky Hui). The rationale behind the move to Cantonese was clear in the trailer for the brothers' Games Gamblers Play (1974): "Films by devoted young people with you in mind." This move back to the local audience for Hong Kong cinema paid off immediately. Games Gamblers Play initially made US$1.4 million at the Hong Kong box office, becoming the highest grossing film up to that point. The Hui movies also broke ground by satirising the modern reality of an ascendant middle class, whose long work hours and dreams of material success were transforming the colony into a modern industrial and corporate giant (Teo, 1997). Cantonese comedy thrived and Cantonese production skyrocketed; Mandarin hung on into the early 1980s, but has been relatively rare onscreen since.

Golden Harvest and the rise of the independents

In 1970, former Shaw Brothers executives Raymond Chow and Leonard Ho left to form their own studio, Golden Harvest. The upstart's more flexible and less tightfisted approach to the business outmaneuvered the Shaws' old-style studio. Chow and Ho landed contracts with rising young performers who had fresh ideas for the industry, like Bruce Lee and the Hui Brothers, and allowed them greater creative latitude than was traditional. By the end of the 1970s, Golden Harvest was the top studio, signing up Jackie Chan, the kung fu comedy actor-filmmaker who would spend the next twenty years as Asia's biggest box office draw (Chan and Yang, 1998, pp. 164–165; Bordwell, 2000).

Meanwhile, the explosions of Cantonese and kung fu and the example of Golden Harvest had created more space for independent producers and production companies. The era of the studio juggernauts was past. The Shaws nevertheless continued film production until 1985 before turning entirely to television (Teo, 1997).

Other transformative trends

The rapidly growing permissiveness in film content that was general in much of the world affected Hong Kong film as well. A genre of softcore erotica known as fengyue became a local staple (the name is a contraction of a Chinese phrase implying seductive decadence). Such material did not suffer as much of a stigma in Hong Kong as in most Western countries; it was more or less part of the mainstream, sometimes featuring contributions from major directors such as Chor Yuen and Li Han Hsiang and often crossbreeding with other popular genres like martial arts, the costume film and especially comedy (Teo, 1997; Yang, 2003). Violence also grew more intense and graphic, particularly at the instigation of martial arts filmmakers.

Director Lung Kong blended these trends into the social-issue dramas which he had already made his specialty with late 1960s Cantonese classics like The Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967) and Teddy Girls (1969). In the 1970s, he began directing in Mandarin and brought exploitation elements to serious films about subjects like prostitution (The Call Girls and Lina), the atomic bomb (Hiroshima 28) and the fragility of civilised society (Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which portrayed a plague-decimated, near-future Hong Kong). (Teo, 1997)

The brief career of Tang Shu Shuen, the territory's first noted woman director, produced two films, The Arch (1970) and China Behind (1974), that were trailblazers for a local, socially critical art cinema. They are also widely considered forerunners of the last major milestone of the decade, the so-called Hong Kong New Wave that would come from outside the traditional studio hierarchy and point to new possibilities for the industry (Bordwell, 2000).

1980s – early 1990s: the boom years

The 1980s and early 1990s saw seeds planted in the 1970s come to full flower: the triumph of Cantonese, the birth of a new and modern cinema, superpower status in the East Asian market, and the turning of the West's attention to Hong Kong film.

A cinema of greater technical polish and more sophisticated visual style, including the first forays into up-to-date special effects technology, sprang up quickly. To this surface dazzle, the new cinema added an eclectic mixing and matching of genres, and a penchant for pushing the boundaries of sensationalistic content. Slapstick comedy, sex, the supernatural, and above all action (of both the martial arts and cops-and-criminals varieties) ruled, occasionally all in the same film.

The international market

During this period, the Hong Kong industry was one of the few in the world that thrived in the face of the increasing global dominance of Hollywood. Indeed, it came to exert a comparable dominance in its own region of the world. The regional audience had always been vital, but now more than ever Hong Kong product filled theaters and video shelves in places like Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea. Taiwan became at least as important a market to Hong Kong film as the local one; in the early 1990s the once-robust Taiwanese film industry came close to extinction under the onslaught of Hong Kong imports (Bordwell, 2000). They even found a lesser foothold in Japan, with its own highly developed and better-funded cinema and strong taste for American movies; Jackie Chan in particular became popular there.

Almost accidentally, Hong Kong also reached further into the West, building upon the attention gained during the 1970s kung fu craze. Availability in Chinatown theaters and video shops allowed the movies to be discovered by Western film cultists attracted by their "exotic" qualities and excesses. An emergence into the wider popular culture gradually followed over the coming years.

Leaders of the boom

The trailblazer was production company Cinema City, founded in 1980 by comedians Karl Maka, Raymond Wong and Dean Shek. It specialised in contemporary comedy and action, slickly produced according to explicitly prescribed commercial formulas. The lavish, effects-filled spy spoof Aces Go Places (1982) and its numerous sequels epitomised the much-imitated "Cinema City style." (Yang, 2003)

Directors and producers Tsui Hark and Wong Jing can be singled out as definitive figures of this era. Tsui was a notorious Hong Kong New Wave tyro who symbolised that movement's absorption into the mainstream, becoming the industry's central trendsetter and technical experimenter (Yang et al., 1997, p. 75). The even more prolific Wong is, by most accounts, the most commercially successful and critically reviled Hong Kong filmmaker of the last two decades, with his relentless output of aggressively crowd-pleasing and cannily marketed pulp films.

Other hallmarks of this era included the gangster or "Triad" movie fad launched by director John Woo, producer and long-time actor Alan Tang and dominated by actor Chow Yun-fat; romantic melodramas and martial arts fantasies starring Brigitte Lin; the comedies of stars like Cherie Chung and Stephen Chow; traditional kung fu movies dominated by Jet Li; and contemporary, stunt-driven kung fu action epitomised by the work of Jackie Chan.

Category III films

See also List of Category III films

The government's introduction of a film ratings system in 1988 had a certainly unintended effect on subsequent trends. The "Category III" (adults only) rating became an umbrella for the rapid growth of pornographic and generally outré films; however, while considered graphic by Chinese standards, these films would be more on par with movies rated "R" or "NC-17" in the United States, and not "XXX". By the height of the boom in the early 1990s, roughly half of the theatrical features produced were Category III-rated softcore erotica descended from the fengyue movies of the 1970s. (Yang, 2003) A definitive example of a mainstream Category III hit was Michael Mak's Sex and Zen (1991), a period comedy inspired by The Carnal Prayer Mat, the seventeenth century classic of comic-erotic literature by Li Yu (Dannen and Long, 1997). Naked Killer (1992) also became an international cult classic.

The rating also covered a fad for grisly, taboo-tweaking exploitation and horror films, often supposedly based on true crime stories, such as Men Behind the Sun (1988), Dr. Lamb (1992), The Untold Story (1993) and Ebola Syndrome (1996). Films depicting triad rituals would also receive a Category III rating, an example of this being Crime Story (1993) starring Jackie Chan.[1]

Since the mid-1990s, the trend has withered with the shrinking of the general Hong Kong film market and the wider availability of pornography in home video formats (Bordwell, 2000). But in 2000s, three Category III movies: Election its sequel, Election 2 (aka Triad Election), and Mad Detective still enjoyed surprising box office successes in Hong Kong.

Alternative cinema

In this landscape of pulp, there remained some ground for an alternative cinema or art cinema, due at least in part to the influence of the New Wave. Some New Wave filmmakers such as Ann Hui and Yim Ho continued to earn acclaim with personal and political films made at the edges of the mainstream.

The second half of the 1980s also saw the emergence of what is sometimes called a "Second Wave." These younger directors included names like Stanley Kwan, Clara Law and her partner Eddie Fong, Mabel Cheung, Lawrence Ah Mon and Wong Kar-wai. Like the New Wavers, they tended to be graduates of overseas film schools and local television apprenticeships, and to be interested in going beyond the usual, commercial subject matters and styles (Teo, 1997).

These artists began to earn Hong Kong unprecedented attention and respect in international critical circles and the global film festival circuit. In particular, Wong Kar-wai's works starring Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung in the 1990s has made him an internationally acclaimed and award-winning filmmaker.

Mid-1990s – present: Post-boom

The industry in crisis

During the 1990s, the Hong Kong film industry underwent a drastic decline from which it has not recovered. Domestic ticket sales had already started to drop in the late 1980s, but the regional audience kept the industry booming into the early years of the next decade (Teo, 1997). But by the mid-1990s, it went into freefall. Revenues were cut in half. By the decade's end, the number of films produced in a typical year dropped from an early 1990s high of well over 200 to somewhere around 100 (it should be noted, however, that a large part of this reduction was in the "Category III" softcore pornography area [Bordwell, 2000].) American blockbuster imports began to regularly top the box office for the first time in decades. Ironically, this was the same period during which Hong Kong cinema emerged into something like mainstream visibility in the U.S. and began exporting popular figures to Hollywood.

Numerous, converging factors have been blamed for the downturn:

  • The Asian financial crisis, which dried up traditional sources of film finance as well as regional audiences' leisure spending money.
  • Overproduction, attended by a drop in quality control and an exhaustion of overused formulas (Yang, 2003).
  • A costly early 1990s boom in building of modern multiplexes and an attendant rise in ticket prices (Teo, 1997).
  • An increasingly cosmopolitan, upwardly mobile Hong Kong middle class that often looks down upon local films as cheap and tawdry.
  • Rampant video piracy throughout East Asia.
  • A newly aggressive push by Hollywood studios into the Asian market.

The greater access to the Mainland that came with the July 1997 handover to China was not as much of a boon as hoped, and presented its own problems, particularly with regard to censorship.

The industry had one of its darkest years in 2003. In addition to the continuing slump, a SARS virus outbreak kept many theaters virtually empty for a time and shut down film production for four months; only fifty-four movies were made (Li, 2004). The unrelated deaths of two of Hong Kong's famous singer/actors, Leslie Cheung, 46, and Anita Mui, 40, rounded out the bad news.

The Hong Kong Government in April 2003 introduced a Film Guarantee Fund as an incentive to local banks to become involved in the motion picture industry. The guarantee operates to secure a percentage of monies loaned by banks to film production companies. The Fund has received a mixed reception from industry participants, and less than enthusiastic reception from financial institutions who perceive investment in local films as high risk ventures with little collateral. Film guarantee legal documents commissioned by the Hong Kong Government in late April 2003 are based on Canadian documents, which have limited relevance to the local industry.

Recent trends

Andy Lau at a film interview

Efforts by local filmmakers to retool their product have had mixed results overall. These include technically glossier visuals, including much digital imagery; greater use of Hollywood-style mass marketing techniques; and heavy reliance on casting teen-friendly Cantopop music stars. Successful genre cycles in the late 1990s and early 2000s have included: American-styled, high-tech action pictures such as Downtown Torpedoes (1997), Gen-X Cops and Purple Storm (both 1999); the "Triad kids" subgenre launched by Young and Dangerous (1996); yuppie-centric romantic comedies like The Truth About Jane and Sam (1999), Needing You... (2000), Love on a Diet (2001); and supernatural chillers like Horror Hotline: Big-Head Monster (2001) and The Eye (2002), often modeled on the Japanese horror films then making an international splash.

In the 2000s, there have been some bright spots. Milkyway Image, founded by filmmakers Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai in the mid-1990s, has had considerable critical and commercial success, especially with offbeat and character-driven crime films like The Mission (1999) and Running on Karma (2003). An even more successful example of the genre was the blockbuster Infernal Affairs trilogy (2002–2003) of police thrillers co-directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak (the Oscar winning movie, The Departed, was based on this movie). Comedian Stephen Chow, the most consistently popular screen star of the 1990s, directed and starred in Shaolin Soccer (2001) and Kung Fu Hustle (2004); these used digital special effects to push his distinctive humor into new realms of the surreal and became the territory's two highest-grossing films to date, garnering numerous awards locally and internationally. Johnnie To's two Category III movies: Election and Election 2 also enjoyed Hong Kong box office successes. Election 2 has even been released in the US theatrically under the new title Triad Election; this movie received very positive reviews in the United States, with a more than 90% "Fresh" rating on Groundbreaking new films such as City Without Baseball, Permanent Residence and Amphetamine followed the success of earlier 1990s films such as Bugis Street (a Hong Kong–Singapore co-production), and Hold You Tight.

Still, some observers believe that, given the depressed state of the industry and the rapidly strengthening economic and political ties among Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan, the distinctive entity of Hong Kong cinema that emerged after World War II may have a limited lifespan. The lines between the mainland and Hong Kong industries are ever more blurred, especially now that China is producing increasing numbers of slick, mass-appeal popular films. Predictions are notoriously difficult in this rapidly changing part of the world, but the trend may be towards a more pan-Chinese cinema, as existed in the first half of the twentieth century.

See also

Film awards:



  1. ^ Bey Logan. (Crime Story, 2003) (DVD). Audio Commentary. Hong Kong Legends.
  • Bordwell, David. Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-674-00214-8.
  • Chan, Jackie, with Jeff Yang. I Am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action. New York: Ballantine Books, 1998. ISBN 0-345-41503-5.
  • Cheuk, Pak Tong. Hong Kong New Wave Cinema (1978–2000). Bristol: Intellect, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84150-148-2.
  • Chute, David, and Cheng-Sim Lim, eds. Heroic Grace: The Chinese Martial Arts Film. Los Angeles: UCLA Film and Television Archive, 2003. (Film series catalog; no ISBN.)
  • Dannen, Fredric, and Barry Long. Hong Kong Babylon: The Insider's Guide to the Hollywood of the East. New York: Miramax, 1997. ISBN 0-7868-6267-X. Biographies of film makers, as well as reviews.
  • Fonoroff, Paul. Silver Light: A Pictorial History of Hong Kong Cinema, 1920–1970. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, 1997. ISBN 962-04-1304-0.
  • Leyda, Jay. Dianying/Electric Shadows: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1972.
  • Li Cheuk-to. "Journal: Hong Kong". Film Comment September–October 2004: pp. 10–12.
  • Logan, Bey. Hong Kong Action Cinema. Woodstock, N.Y.: The Overlook Press, 1995. ISBN 1852865407, ISBN 0-87951-663-1.
  • Stokes, Lisa Odham, and Michael Hoover. City on Fire: Hong Kong Cinema. London: Verso, 1999. ISBN 1-85984-716-1, ISBN 1-85984-203-8. Hong Kong cinema analyzed from a Marxist perspective.
  • Teo, Stephen. Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions. London: British Film Institute, 1997. ISBN 0-85170-514-6.
  • Yang, Jeff, and Dina Gan, Terry Hong and the staff of A. magazine. Eastern Standard Time: A Guide to Asian Influence on American Culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997. ISBN 039576341X.
  • Yang, Jeff. Once Upon a Time in China: A Guide to Hong Kong, Taiwanese, and Mainland Chinese Cinema. New York: Atria, 2003. ISBN 0-7434-4817-0.

Further reading

In English

Hong Kong cinema

  • Baker, Rick, and Toby Russell; Lisa Baker (ed.). The Essential Guide to Deadly China Dolls. London: Eastern Heroes Publications, 1996. ISBN 1-899252-02-9. Biographies of Hong Kong action cinema actresses.
  • Baker, Rick, and Toby Russell; Lisa Tilston (ed.). The Essential Guide to Hong Kong Movies. London: Eastern Heroes Publications, 1994. ISBN 1899252002. Contains reviews, but is best for its Hong Kong Film Personalities Directory.
  • Baker, Rick, and Toby Russell; Lisa Tilston (ed.). The Essential Guide to the Best of Eastern Heroes. London: Eastern Heroes Publications, 1995. ISBN 1-899252-01-1.
  • Charles, John. The Hong Kong Filmography 1977–1997: A Complete Reference to 1,100 Films Produced by British Hong Kong Studios. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co., 2000. ISBN 0-7864-0842-1. Very comprehensive.
  • Cheung, Esther M. K., and Yaowei Zhu (eds.). Between Home and World: A Reader in Hong Kong Cinema. Xianggang du ben xi lie. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0195929691.
  • Chu, Yingchi. Hong Kong Cinema: Coloniser, Motherland and Self. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003. ISBN 0700717463.
  • Eberhard, Wolfram, The Chinese silver screen; Hong Kong & Taiwanese motion pictures in the 1960s, Taipei: Orient Cultural Service, 1972.
  • Fitzgerald, Martin. Hong Kong's Heroic Bloodshed. North Pomfret, VT: Trafalgar Square, 2000. ISBN 1903047072.
  • Fonoroff, Paul. At the Hong Kong Movies: 600 Reviews from 1988 Till the Handover. Hong Kong: Film Biweekly Publishing House, 1998; Odyssey Publications, 1999. ISBN 962-217-641-0, ISBN 962-8114-47-6.
  • Fu, Poshek, and David Desser, eds. The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, July 2000. ISBN 0521772354.
  • Glaessner, Verina. Kung Fu: Cinema of Vengeance. London: Lorimer; New York: Bounty Books, 1974. ISBN 0856470457, ISBN 0517518317.
  • Hammond, Stefan. Hollywood East: Hong Kong Movies and the People Who Make Them. Contemporary Books, 2000. ISBN 0809225816.
  • Hammond, Stefan, and Mike Wilkins. Sex and Zen & A Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong's Mind-bending Films. New York: Fireside Books, 1996. ISBN 0-684-80341-0, ISBN 1-85286-775-2.
  • Jarvie, Ian C. Window on Hong Kong: A Sociological Study of the Hong Kong Film Industry and Its Audience, Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies, 1977.
  • Jarvie, Ian C. "The Social and Cultural Significance of the Decline of the Cantonese Movie", Journal of Asian Affairs (SUNY Buffalo), Vol. III, No. 2, Fall 1979, 40-50.
  • Jarvie, Ian C. "Martial Arts Films", in Erik Barnouw, ed., International Encyclopaedia of Communications, 1989, vol. 2, pp. 472–475.
  • Kar, Law, and Frank Bren. Hong Kong Cinema: A Cross-Cultural View. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2004. ISBN 0810849860.
  • Li, H. C. Chinese Cinema: Five Bibliographies. Hong Kong: Studio 8, 2003.
  • Lo Che-ying (comp.). A Selective Collection of Hong Kong Movie Posters: 1950s–1990s. Hong Kong in Pictorials Series. Hong Kong: Joint Publishing (H.K.) Co., Ltd., 1992. ISBN 962-04-1013-0. Bilingual: (English) (Chinese)
  • O'Brien, Daniel. Spooky Encounters: A Gwailo's Guide to Hong Kong Horror. Manchester: Headpress, 2003. ISBN 1900486318.
  • Pang, Laikwan, and Day Wong (eds.). Masculinities and Hong Kong Cinema. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2005. ISBN 9622097375, ISBN 9622097383.
  • Stokes, Lisa Odham, Jean Lukitsh, Michael Hoover, and Tyler Stokes. Historical Dictionary of Hong Kong Cinema. Historical dictionaries of literature and the arts, no. 2. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2007. ISBN 0810855208.
  • Stringer, Julian. "Problems with the Treatment of Hong Kong Cinema as Camp". Asian Cinema 8, 2 (Winter 1996–97): 44–65.
  • Stringer, Julian. Blazing Passions: Contemporary Hong Kong Cinema. London: Wallflower, 2008. ISBN 1905674309, ISBN 1905674295.
  • Tobias, Mel C. Flashbacks: Hong Kong Cinema After Bruce Lee. Hong Kong: Gulliver Books, 1979. ISBN 9627019038.
  • Wong, Ain-ling. The Hong Kong-Guangdong Film Connection. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2005. ISBN 9628050338.
  • Wong, Ain-ling. The Shaw Screen: A Preliminary Study. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2003. ISBN 9628050214.
  • Wood, Miles. Cine East: Hong Kong Cinema Through the Looking Glass. Guildford, Surrey: FAB Press, 1998. ISBN 0952926024. Interviews with Hong Kong film makers.
  • Yau, Esther C. M., ed. At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. ISBN 0816632340, ISBN 0816632359.
  • Zhong, Baoxian. "Hollywood of the East" in the Making: The Cathay Organization Vs. the Shaw Organization in Post-War Hong Kong. [Hong Kong]: Centre for China Urban and Regional Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, 2004. ISBN 9628804448.
  • Zhong, Baoxian. Moguls of the Chinese Cinema: The Story of the Shaw Brothers in Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore, 1924–2002. Working paper series (David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies); no. 44. Hong Kong: David C. Lam Institute for East-West Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, 2005.

Note that "[e]very year, since 1978, the HKIFF has published both a catalog of films released that year and a retrospective book—and sometimes, special interest publication or two in the form of books and pamphlets. In 1996, a 10th Anniversary special was issued, and from 1997 onward, there have been yearly 'Panorama' special interest books in addition to the annual catalogs, retrospective books, and occasional pamphlets. In 2003, the HKIFF started carrying publications of the Hong Kong Film Archive, as well."— Bibliography of Hong Kong International Film Festival Retrospective Books Related to Hong Kong Action Cinema

Works which include Hong Kong cinema

  • Access Asia Limited. Cinemas, Film Production & Distribution in China & Hong Kong: A Market Analysis. Shanghai: Access Asia Ltd, 2004. ISBN 1902815629.
  • Berry, Chris (ed.). Perspectives on Chinese Cinema. London: British Film Institute, 1991. ISBN 0851702716, ISBN 0851702724.
  • Berry, Michael. Speaking in Images: Interviews with Contemporary Chinese Filmmakers. New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 2004. ISBN 0231133308, ISBN 0231133316.
  • Browne, Nick, et al. (eds.). New Chinese Cinemas: Forms, Identities, Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 0521448778.
  • Eberhard, Wolfram. The Chinese Silver Screen; Hong Kong & Taiwanese Motion Pictures in the 1960s. Asian folklore and social life monographs, v. 23. [Taipei: Orient Cultural Service], 1972.
  • Fu, Poshek. Between Shanghai and Hong Kong: The Politics of Chinese Cinemas. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 2003. ISBN 080474517X, ISBN 0804745188.
  • Hunt, Leon. Kung Fu Cult Masters: From Bruce Lee to Crouching Tiger. Columbia University Press, 2003. ISBN 1903364639.
  • Julius, Marshall. Action!: The Action Movie A–Z. Bloomington: Indiana University Press; London: Batsford, 1996. ISBN 0253332443, ISBN 0253210917, ISBN 0713478519.
  • Leung, Helen Hok-Sze. Undercurrents: Queer Culture and Postcolonial Hong Kong. Sexuality studies series. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2008. ISBN 0774814691.
  • Lu, Sheldon Hsiao-peng, ed. Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1997. ISBN 0-8248-1845-8.
  • Marchetti, Gina, and Tan See Kam (eds.). Hong Kong Film, Hollywood and the New Global Cinema: No Film Is an Island. London: Routledge, 2007. ISBN 0415380685, ISBN 0203967364.
  • Meyers, Ric. Great Martial Arts Movies: From Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan and More. New York, NY: Citadel Press, 2001. ISBN 0806520264.
  • Meyers, Richard, Amy Harlib, Bill and Karen Palmer. From Bruce Lee to the Ninjas: Martial Arts Movies. Secaucus, N.J.: Citadel Press, 1985 (reprinted 1991). ISBN 0806509503, ISBN 0806510099.
  • Mintz, Marilyn D. The Martial Arts Film. South Brunswick, N.J.: A.S. Barnes, 1978. ISBN 0498017753.
  • Mintz, Marilyn D. The Martial Arts Films. Rutland, VT: C.E. Tuttle, 1983. ISBN 0804814082.
  • Palmer, Bill, Karen Palmer, and Ric Meyers. The Encyclopedia of Martial Arts Movies. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1995. ISBN 0810830272.
  • Read, Pete. The Film and Television Market in Hong Kong. [Ottawa]: Canadian Heritage, 2005. ISBN 0662437675.
  • Server, Lee. Asian Pop Cinema: Bombay to Tokyo. Chronicle Books, 1999. ISBN 0-8118-2119-6.
  • Tasker, Yvonne. Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Genre and the Action Cinema. London: Routledge, November 2003. ISBN 041509223X, ISBN 0415092248.
  • Thomas, Brian. Videohound's Dragon: Asian Action & Cult Flicks. Visible Ink Press, 2003. ISBN 1578591414.
  • Tobias, Mel C. Memoirs of an Asian Moviegoer. Quarry Bay, Hong Kong: South China Morning Post Ltd., 1982. "The book is actually an updated, enlarged and revised edition of 'Flashbacks' which was first published in 1979. I have decided to change the book's title because it now has widened its scope in the world of cinema."—from the book's introduction.
  • Tombs, Pete. Mondo Macabro: Weird and Wonderful Cinema Around the World. London: Titan Books, 1997; New York, NY: Griffin Books, 1998. ISBN 1852868651, ISBN 0-312-18748-3.
  • Weisser, Thomas. Asian Cult Cinema. New York: Boulevard Books, 1997. ISBN 1572972289. Updated and expanded version of both volumes of Asian Trash Cinema: The Book; reviews and filmographies.
  • Weisser, Thomas. Asian Trash Cinema: The Book (Part 2). Miami, Florida: Vital Sounds Inc./Asian Trash Cinema Publications, 1995.
  • Weisser, Thomas. Asian Trash Cinema: The Book. Houston: Asian Trash Cinema/European Trash Cinema Publications, 1994.
  • Weyn, Suzanne, and Ellen Steiber. From Chuck Norris to the Karate Kid: Martial Arts in the Movies. New York: Parachute Press, 1986. ISBN 0938753002. Juvenile audience.

In other languages


  • Armanet, François, and Max Armanet. Ciné Kung Fu. France: Ramsay, 1988. ISBN 2859566996. (French)
  • Fonfrède, Julien. Cinéma de Hong-Kong. Les élémentaires - une encyclopédie vivante series. Montréal: L'Ile de la tortue, 1999. ISBN 2-922369-03-X. (French)
  • Glaessner, Verina. Kung fu: La Violence au Cinéma. Montreal: Presses Select, 1976. Translation of Kung Fu: Cinema of Vengeance. (French)
  • Glaessner, Verina. Kung Fu: La Violence au Cinéma. Paris: Edit. Minoutstchine, 1975. ISBN 2856940064. Translation of Kung Fu: Cinema of Vengeance. (French)
  • Reynaud, Bérénice. Nouvelles Chines, nouveaux cinémas. Paris, France: éditions des Cahiers du Cinéma, 1999. ISBN 2866422260. (French)
  • Seveon, Julien. Category III, sexe, sang et politique à Hong Kong. Paris: Bazaar & Compagnie, 2009. ISBN 978-2-917339-03-9. EAN 9782917339039 (French)


  • Kuhn, Otto. Der Eastern Film. Ebersberg/Obb.: Edition 8½, 1983. ISBN 3923979029, ISBN 3923979029. (German)
  • Morgan, Jasper P. Die Knochenbrecher mit der Todeskralle: Bruce Lee und der "Drunken Master" - Legenden des Eastern-Films. ("The Bone Crushers with the Death Claw: Bruce Lee and the Drunken Master: Legends of the Eastern Film".) Der Eastern-Film, Bd. 1. Hille: MPW, 2003. ISBN 3931608565, ISBN 978-3931608569. (German)
  • Umard, Ralph. Film Ohne Grenzen: Das Neue Hongkong Kino. Lappersdorf, Germany: Kerschensteiner, 1996. ISBN 3-931954-02-1. (German)


  • Bedetti, Simone, and Massimo Mazzoni. La Hollywood di Hong Kong Dalle Origini a John Woo ("Hollywood of the East: the Cinema of Hong Kong from the Beginning to John Woo"). Bologna: PuntoZero, 1996. ISBN 8886945019. Book + computer disk (3½ inch) filmography. (Italian)
  • Esposito, Riccardo F. Il Cinema del Kung-fu: 1970–1975. Rome, Italy: Fanucci Editore, March 1989. ISBN 88-347-0120-8. (Italian)
  • Esposito, Riccardo F. Il Drago Feroce Attraversa le Acque ("The Fierce Dragon Swim Across the Waters"). Florence: Tarab Edizioni, 1998. A "little handbook" about (selected) kung-fu movies released in Italy. (Italian)
  • Esposito, Riccardo, Max Dellamora and Massimo Monteleone. Fant'Asia: Il Cinema Fantastico dell'estremo Oriente ("The Fantastic Cinema of the Far East"). Italy: Grenade, 1994. ISBN 88-7248-100-7. (Italian)
  • Nazzaro, Giona A., and Andrea Tagliacozzo. Il Cinema di Hong Kong: Spade, Kung Fu, Pistole, Fantasmi ("The Cinema of Hong Kong: Swords, Kung Fu, Guns, Ghosts"). Recco (Genova): Le Mani, 1997. ISBN 88-8012-053-0. (Italian)
  • Parizzi, Roberta. Hong Kong: Il Futuro del Cinema Abita Qui. Parma: S. Sorbini, 1996. ISBN 8886883056. Notes: At head of title: Comune di Parma, Assessorato Alla Cultura, Ufficio Cinema; Cineclub Black Maria. (Italian)
  • Pezzotta, Alberto. Tutto il Cinema di Hong Kong: Stili, Caratteri, autori ("All the Cinema of Hong Kong: Styles, Characters, Authors"). Milan: Baldini & Castoldi, 1999. ISBN 88-8089-620-2. (Italian)


  • Escajedo, Javier, Carles Vila, and Julio Ángel Escajedo. Honor, plomo y sangre: el cine de acción de Hong Kong. [S.l.]: Camaleón, 1997. (Spanish)
  • (Tortosa,) Domingo López. Made in Hong Kong: Las 1000 Películas que Desataron la Fiebre Amarilla. Valencia: Midons Editorial, S.L.: 1997. ISBN 84-89240-34-5. (Spanish)

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