It is a thoroughly commercial cinema: 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. There were 56 Hong Kong films and foreign films released in In the vertically integrated Hollywood film industry of the s, s, and s, these responsibilities were all undertaken by the studios themselves. The studios made the stars and, due to notoriously restrictive terms imposed by exclusive services contracts, the studios also owned the stars McDonald, 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, 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 digits. Budgets[ edit ] Films are typically low-budget when compared with American films. Language and sound[ edit ] Films in the Cantonese language have been made in Hong Kong since the beginning. In the s, it also became a center of Mandarin language film making after the Communist takeover in mainland China and the entertainment industry shifted from Shanghai to Hong Kong.
From the s to mids, Mandarin film productions became dominant, especially those made by the Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong. 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 for example, Standard Mandarin for mainland China and Taiwan.
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 s and this method is now the norm, partly because of a widespread public association with higher quality cinema.
History[ edit ] to World War II[ edit ] 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: Detailed accounts of this period therefore have inherent limitations and uncertainties. Pioneers from the stage[ edit ] 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 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 , which also took its story from the opera stage, was helmed by a stage director and featured Brodsky's involvement.
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, 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, 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, It was not until 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 , they moved their operation to the Mainland after government red tape blocked their plans to build a studio. Teo, The advent of sound[ edit ] With the popularity of talkies in the early s, 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. This film proved to be very successful, and in , they established a branch of the Tianyi Studio in Kowloon to make Cantonese films. 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.
Filmed Cantonese operas proved even more successful than wuxia and constituted the leading genre of the s. Major studios that thrived in this period were Grandview, Universal, and Nanyang which later became the Shaw Brothers Studio that would have an enduring influence on Chinese film. Teo, The war era[ edit ] Another important factor in the s, was the second Sino-Japanese War.
The genre and the film industry were further boosted by emigre film artists and companies when Shanghai was taken by the Japanese in This of course came to an end when Hong Kong itself fell to the Japanese in December 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 ; a. 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, 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 resumption of the Chinese Civil War which had been on hold during the fight against Japan and then the 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, Competing languages[ edit ] 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.
The distinction between the two languages is in sound Kei, During the silent film age the written language was Chinese and was known to all, no matter the language spoken Kei, Subtitles allow both markets access to films Kei, 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, Another language-related milestone occurred in Making a virtue of necessity, studios included Chinese subtitles as well, enabling easier access to their movies for speakers of other dialects.
Yang, Subtitling later had the unintended consequence of facilitating the movies' popularity in the West.
Cantonese movies[ edit ] During this period, Cantonese opera on film dominated. Yam specialised in male scholar roles to Pak's female leads.
They made over fifty films together, The Purple Hairpin being one of the most enduringly popular Teo, Low-budget martial arts films were also popular. Fantasy wuxia swordplay serials with special effects drawn on the film by hand, such as The Six-Fingered Lord of the Lute starring teen idol Connie Chan Po-chu in the lead male role, were also popular Chute and Lim, , 3 , as were contemporary melodramas of home and family life, including the dramatisation of sibling rivalries in Our Sister Hedy starring Julie Yeh Feng.
The renamed Cathay faltered, ceasing film production in Yang, Both of the above examples were directed by Shaw's star director, Li Han Hsiang. In the second half of the s, 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, , 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. Years of transformation s [ edit ] Mandarin-dialect film in general and the Shaw Brothers studio in particular began the s 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 ; in no films in the local dialect were made Bordwell, 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[ edit ] 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 , 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, The rationale behind the move to Cantonese was clear in the trailer for the brothers' Games Gamblers Play 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, Cantonese comedy thrived and Cantonese production skyrocketed; Mandarin hung on into the early s, but has been relatively rare onscreen since.
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. California-born, Bruce Lee only found minor roles in U.
The Fists of Fury, came into theatres. This jump-started Lee's career into stardom and made martial arts and kung fu a global trend. Raymond Chow built upon Lee's success with Big Boss a. Fists of Fury, , Fist of Fury a. The Return of the Dragon, , each of which broke Hong Kong box office records. Bruce Lee appeared with minor Hollywood actors in a larger budget Enter the Dragon , a coproduction with Warner Bros.
Lee's death under mysterious circumstances made him a cult hero. Lee played a key role in opening foreign markets to Hong Kong films.
Lee's films enjoyed throughout the Third World, were often taken as symbolizing the rebellious pride of insurgent Asia. The era of the studio juggernauts was past.