The mainland's "acceptance of history"
Moderator: Left-wing films were the first to enter the mainland, which gradually opened it up for more Hong Kong productions.
Luo Gang: Li Han-hsiang's "The Burning of Yuan Ming Yuan"《火烧圆明园》and Hsu Hsiao-ming's "Mirage"《海市蜃楼》were the first mainland-Hong Kong co-productions. Of course, we are talking here about the mainland angle, and while they might have been unimportant in Hong Kong, they had a very great impact on the mainland.
Sun Ganlu: Hong Kong movies really spread on the mainland after the ban on them was lifted in the 80s. Li Han-hsiang's co-production was very important for re-establishing mainland-Hong Kong filmmaking co-operation.
Mao Jian: The Hong Kong industry itself was developing very well at that time: the 80s were their golden age, the peak era for the Hong Kong movie genre.
Sun Ganlu: But for mainland audiences, Hong Kong movies in that era were on video, not in theaters.
Luo Gang: Yes, for instance, we never saw films like those of John Woo and Tsui Hark on the big screen, everyone just saw them on video tape. Actually, they weren't from official channels, just pirated. Sometimes, exhibiting Hong Kong movies and TV series entering the mainland at that time wasn't that open, and were viewed in videotape halls.
Mao Jian: In fact, Hong Kong videos were inverted in time. Hong Kong films shown here on the mainland back then were reordered, and weren't brought in according to the time the films were made.
Moderator: We could say that the mainland acceptance of Hong Kong films, and Hong Kong films themselves, were not entirely the same thing.
Luo Gang: Yes, and movies like Stephen Chow's "A Chinese Odyssey"《大话西游》were phenomenal on the mainland, but not so popular in Hong Kong.
Lie Fu: When you all saw "A Chinese Odyssey" for the first time was it on videotape or VCD?
Moderator: It was released in theaters, but did poor box office. Most mainland viewers can still see it on DVD.
Lie Fu: I wrote an article in 2007 in which I discussed how there was probably a misreading of Stephen Chow's film culture. Why is he so popular on the mainland? Because none of you [mainlanders] have seen Michael Hui's movies. You had no awareness, no experience of the filmmakers of his generation, so when you suddenly saw Stephen Chow, it was like discovering a new continent, you felt it was very special, very innovative. His influence in Hong Kong has not been as strong as it has been on the mainland, but he didn't create this effect, it was because the earlier work of Michael Hui was inconceivable to them.
Moderator: He has also been popular in Hong Kong, but he's just one of many, while on the mainland, he's been raised to heaven, completely "deified."
Luo Gang: On the mainland, Stephen Chow is a symbol of youth culture. If you had people compile a list of who they thought had the greatest influence on young people since the 1980s, Chow would certainly be in the top 10.
Mao Jian: It wasn't that we hadn't seen Michael Hui, it was just that by that time we had reached the stage where we needed something "inconceivable." If we had seen Michael Hui before, it wouldn't necessarily have lit a fire, because our time for that hadn't yet arrived. When Stephen Chow came out with "Flirting Scholar"《唐伯虎点秋香》in 1993, it wasn't popular, we just thought he was silly.
Moderator: We originally thought movies like his were a mess, and didn't watch them. But when the right time arrived, we were suddenly able to accept them, that he was ahead of the game.
Mao Jian: It was the social atmosphere, or the time had arrived.
Luo Gang: After we entered a commercial society, our young people had certain psychological needs, and they projected their needs onto Stephen Chow.
Moderator: I remember when Wang Meng (王蒙) [Chinese author] advocated "avoidance of the sublime," (躲避崇高) it touched off quite a controversy.
Sun Ganlu: Hong Kong movies were a pleasant surprise.
Luo Gang: Also, Stephen Chow's fans on the mainland have a relatively high level of culture; Stephen Chow is greatly respected by students at many of the country's colleges and universities, .
Sun Ganlu: This is very closely related to the cultural ecology of the mainland. Stephen Chow offered a kind of movie rarely seen on the mainland. But young people on the mainland had a natural demand for these, so there was a strong response to his movies, he became the voice of young people. In the first Stephen Chow movie I saw, he had a supporting role, playing a naive young man being used by his older brother.
Luo Gang: When he came out with "All for the Winner" in1990, people evaluated him as a "poor imitation of Chow Yun Fat." But by the arrival of "A Chinese Odyssey" he was deified.
A sense of identity
Moderator: Gambling films are a special class of Hong Kong films, and together with gangster films and action films have special characteristics.
Luo Gang: The Hong Kong film genre is very well developed, but that particular thread has had relatively little influence on the mainland. I personally am fond of the "Milky Way Image" films of Johnnie To and Patrick Yau, but these movies have not basically been screened on the mainland. Like "The Longest Nite" had a fast-clipped style, which affected later films "The Mission" and "PTU." Through their use of cops and robbers films as a metaphor for the 1997 return [of Hong Kong], they showed a strong political consciousness. The Hong Kong movies of that time were an upgrade: in the 80s, John Woo and Tsui Hark had developed this type of film to a mature stage, but by 1997 or so, a great many Hong Kong filmmakers were inspired by a "Hong Kong consciousness."
Sun Ganlu: At the beginning of "Infernal Affairs 2," Eric Tsang opened a door, and in the lens there was a shot of the fireworks during the 1997 return. This sort of shot turned up in a lot of the films of that period.
Moderator: This expressed a sense of history, but also a sort of desolate and disturbed mentality.
Luo Gang: The most typical of this mentality was Stanley Kwan's "Rouge."
Lie Fu: Wong Kar-wai's "Days of Being Wild" was like that too, with the big clock. Speaking of Hong Kong movies' "golden decade" (early 80s to early 90s), the great development of movies during this era certainly had a political background to it, and to a considerable extent the return of Hong Kong could be said to have triggered the creation of such a golden age. At the same time, "New Wave" filmmakers were symbolic of a quest for identity, nostalgia and attitudes about the city of Hong Kong. This is why Shaw was weeded out of competition: it had no feeling for the city, making very few modern dress movies, they were mostly ancient costume films. But the "New Wave" emerged with Hong Kong as the theme: on the one hand, there was a new generation of filmmakers who grew up there, and had a passion for Hong Kong; on the other hand, when Sino-British negotiations [for the return] began in the 80s, Hong Kong people were excluded, filmmakers grasped this feeling and projected that turbulence into such films as "A Better Tomorrow." In the early 90s there emerged a large number of fiercely ambitious movies like "Lord of the East China Sea," "Lee Rock" and "To be Number One," in which the filmmakers were searching for a kind of dream, and projected their own emotions into their films.
Mao Jian: The current decline of Hong Kong movies is also related to this, an indistinct sense of identity.
Luo Gang: After the return of Hong Kong, society entered a normal condition. How was this normality expressed? Johnnie To tried to express it afterwards in "Election," but the sympathetic response wasn't as strong as it had been with earlier Hong Kong films.
Sun Ganlu: It's very interesting that so much of the content of Hong Kong films has been committed to the cops and robbers genre. The "PTU" series later on had a lot of confrontations among the internal staff of police stations, and this could also be seen a projection. Earlier, similar films had talked about the external pressures, but with "PTU" the choice was for internal pressures, and not talking about good guys and bad guys, but the choice of a particular incident could slide into some sort of crime.
Luo Gang: Part 1 of the "PTU" series was shot completely in darkness, with no distinction between police or bandits, between good or bad, but driven by some fortuitous events, all wrapped into the story line. "Infernal Affairs" was also in such a chaotic state.
Mao Jian: Which can be seen as suggesting some kind of Hong Kong identity.
Luo Gang: There was also such an arrangement in "Beast Stalker," for which Nick Cheung won an award, when right at the end we discover that everything that happened was because of a traffic accident, and a crook becomes a most pitiable character.
[In Part 4: "Going north" is the only alternative] Part I Part II