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Until recently, when it comes to entertainment movies, it was Hong Kong movies. There were Jackie Chan, Michael Hui (Hui Brothers), Chow Yun-Fat... Each of them kept attracting the audiences in their own genres; Kung-Fu, Comedy, and Hong Kong Noir (“Noir”mainly used for gangland movies) respectively. That was when the studio system, which means big production companies produces large scale and high quality films continuously, was functioning in Hong Kong movie industry, just like the Golden Era of Hollywood in 1930's and 1940's, represented by “Gone with the wind.”

I guess it was around the beginning of the 80's when I started to get into Hong Kong movies. At that time, Hong Kong movie industry had already been missing Bruce Lee and there were neither big political or economic moves in Hong Kong overall. It was also around the time when the reversion of Hong Kong of 1997 was awaiting, after Japanese troops' occupation of Hong Kong came to an end in 1945 and the wave of Great Cultural Revolution of 1967 was gone. That was exactly when above mentioned movie stars came into the scene.

For instance, Jackie Chan swept away the negative image of Kung-Fu movies before his age and pioneered the new genre of “Kung-Fu comedy” by playing a funny character in his movie“Snake in the Eagle's Shadow,”and Hoi Brothers (the "Games Gamblers Play" series) and Chow Yun-Fat (the "A Better Tomorrow" series ) used cars and guns in their action scenes and succeeded in breaking away from old-style Kung-Fu movies. Thereafter, the boom of contemporary action movies, so-called "New wave" trend, in Hong Kong movie industry lasted until the 90’s.

After the 90’s, a further change hit the Hong Kong movie industry. Responding to the big hits of the Hong Kong noir movies by John Woo and Chow Yun-Fat, tons of imitation movies started to be produced. Under that situation, Wong Ka wai and Andy Lau were among those who rode the tide successfully. You can see it easily by watching Wong Ka wai's debut film "As Tears Go By." Besides two of Hong Kong’s Four Heavenly Kings at that moment, Andy Lau and Jacky Cheung, the movie featured Maggie Cheung as a main character and the storyline was full of elements from Hong Kong noir and youth group portrayal. As a matter of fact, before debuting in the movie industry, Wong Ka wai had been writing the scripts for TV dramas, which are highly competitive field for viewer ratings, and working hard to develop his script-writing skill. He might have chosen an entertainment movie as his debut work with taking his future life in the movie industry into consideration. (Without the success of "As Tears Go by," he couldn’t have gone on to make other masterpiece films like "Days of Being Wild" and "Ash of Time.")

Andrew Law, on the other hand, directed“As Tears Go By,” and went on to produce “Young and Dangerous” series, which had more entertaining elements than Wong Ka wai’s productions, and “Infernal Affairs” series, which Hollywood has decided to remake in the U.S. His movies are so-called "Youth Group Portrayal," in which no box-office stars were needed. It's not clear if he was already predicting the no-big-stars-situation nor working against the past Hong Kong movies, or if it could be called as a "sophistication" or "maturity," meaning that great movies could be made without big stars. But it is obvious that his movies were clearly different from those movies prior.

Precisely the same time, Hong Kong movie industry entered the era of no star figures and started to experience hard times. The problem wasn't only about movie industry itself. Since the middle of the 90’s, Hong Kong has been exposed to the significant changes politically and economically; the retrocession of Hong Kong to China and Asian currency crisis in 1997, SARS epidemic and bird flu in 2003... It might not be surprising that people don't have the luxury to watch entertainment movies with no worries under the situation like this...

Currently, due to the globalization of the film industry, those movies which are generally categorized as "Hong Kong movie" are not quite the 'pure' Hong Kong movie as they aren't "actually made in Hong Kong" or "rich in indigeneity" any more. Taking this fact into account, it appears that movie industries around Hong Kong (China, Korea, and Japan) are more vibrant than Hong Kong's. Globalization is fine as long as they continue to produce good movies, but for me personally, it is quite a pity that recent Hong Kong movie industry hasn't been as energetic as it used to be. Therefore I can't help but feeling nostalgic about classic, characteristic, and entertainment-type Hong Kong movies, rather than current artistic Hong Kong movies.


text by Tomoyoshi Izumi
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