The term "New Wave" generally suggests a connection to the revolutionary film movement initiated by the French directors Truffaut, Godard, and Rohmer. However, the term also refers to the Hong Kong New Wave, a movement of a different sort that has... [more]
The term "New Wave" generally suggests a connection to the revolutionary film movement initiated by the French directors Truffaut, Godard, and Rohmer. However, the term also refers to the Hong Kong New Wave, a movement of a different sort that has proven to be as much a fiscal frenzy as an aesthetic undertaking. Baldly interested in the capital promised by untethered violence and adrenaline-spiked martial arts films, Hong Kong cinema has defined itself less by philosophical ideals than by thrills.
In the late '70s, when Hong Kong New Wave got rolling, the population of the territory was no longer composed primarily of immigrants from China but was increasingly made up of Hong Kong-born citizens who felt connected to the place and anxious about its imminent return to Chinese control. No one knew if capitalism would come to an end when the Communist Chinese government assumed rule of Hong Kong in 1997, and even murkier was the future of artistic expression in the soon-to-be-former English colony.
From the anticipation of the ashes, however, rose a successful overhaul of Cantonese cinema, a revamping that had failed in the 1960s. Young artists came out of the woodwork and entered a tyrannical studio system dominated by two rival companies. Despite the rigidity of the film industry, artists maintained an unprecedented professional fluidity, moving freely between television, pop music, and film production. They were, however, denied the sizable paychecks issued elsewhere in the film world (Hong Kong film workers tell stories of being forced to live in on-site dormitories so that the studios could extract more labor from them).
Though native to Hong Kong, many New Wave directors trained at vocational schools in the West. Their films, more often than not urban comedies placed in Westernized settings, were marked by gangster realism and technical competence. Violence and sensationalism became the deus ex machina of the New Wave films, and Chow Yung Fat, now a cross-over actor who has found success in Hollywood, ruled the screen in such features as Tsui's "The Killer."
Although many critics have dismissed Hong Kong New Wave directors as purveyors of shallow plots and hollow aesthetic thrills, these directors created a movement that has influenced the expectations of audiences worldwide and has secured a place for the martial-arts action film as a fixture in world cinema.