The Japanese bombed Shanghai in 1932, disrupting film production. By 1937 the film industry in China dispersed from Shanghai to Chungking (the wartime capital) and Hong Kong. Between 1933 and 1941 four hundred Cantonese films were made in Hong Kong, many with patriotic themes. When the Japanese occupied Hong Kong in 1941 production abruptly ceased, though the screening of films, mostly American, continued. By 1943 the occupying Japanese formed a coalition and began to make pro-Japan films without the participation of Hong Kong film companies.
Immediately after World War II ended the Great China Film Company, which had existed before the war, resumed filmmaking in both Cantonese and Mandarin. One year later, a new company, Yung Wah (Yonghua), was formed by a rich, well-educated film enthusiast, Lee Tsu Wing from Shanghai. Yung Wah made Mandarin films that were lavishly supported by money, stars, and directors from Shanghai. Among them were the excellent actresses Li Li-Wah and Lin Dai, and directors Li Han Hsiang (Li Hanxiang; 1926–1996) and Chiang Nam. All of these talents stayed in Hong Kong after the collapse of the company in the early 1950s and became the core group of filmmakers for the later, dominant Shaw Brothers company. Yung Wah's first film, Guo hun ( Soul of China , 1948), was a box-office success. It was directed by Shanghai's Po Man Chun, who later would become one of the most important directors in Chinese film history. In contrast, Cantonese films were made with much less money by smaller companies, and the quality was usually poor.
During this time, a number of left-wing filmmakers came from China to Hong Kong to make films, including the well-known directors Tsoi Chu San, Hsieh Tung San, Pai Yen, and Oa Lin. Among some of their works were Wild Fire and Spring Wind ( Ye Huo Chun Feng , 1948) and Floating Family ( Fu Zhai , 1949).
Among the Hong Kong New Wave filmmakers, Wong Kar Wei is perhaps the most celebrated by critics. He is a winner of many awards, including a best director award at the Cannes Film Festival for Chun guang zha xie ( Happy Together , 1997). Wong's films are usually narrated by characters' internal monologues, which creates a seemingly haphazard, fragmented postmodern style. They reflect modern living, urban alienation, lost opportunities, transient love relationships, and acute melancholy.
At the age of five Wong and his parents moved to Hong Kong from Shanghai. Since he could not speak the local (Cantonese) dialect, his first few years were spent going to movie houses, which later became his obsession. Upon graduating from Hong Kong Polytechnic, where he studied graphic design, he joined TVB, the most popular local TV production and broadcasting channel at the time, becoming a scriptwriter for TV drama series. The popular TV soap opera series "Don't Look Now" ("Ge Dou Bou," 1982), of which Wong was one of the major writers, attracted quite a bit of attention at the time because of its unusual story. Wong started his film career as a scriptwriter, making his directorial debut with Wang jiao ka men ( As Tears Go By , 1988), which was shown during the critics week at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989. It was unique in its untraditional narrative structure and visual style.
His second film, A Fei zheng zhuan ( Days of Being Wild , 1991), marked the beginning of his long-term partnership with cinematographer Christopher Doyle. It is set in the 1960s, a period that continued to attract Wong in his later films. Although Days won five Hong Kong Film Awards, including for best film and best director, its unfamiliar style and story (or, for some, lack thereof) led to its box-office failure. Four years later, Wong tried his hand at a period martial-arts genre film, Dong xie xi du ( Ashes of Time , 1994). During a break from the frustrating production of this film Wong made a quickie, Chong qing sen lin ( Chungking Express , 1994), essentially a prank of two consecutive love stories in which no one seems to get it right. The film, which was endorsed by Quentin Tarantino but was reluctantly distributed by Miramax, soon became a cult film in the United States and Europe, and it raised Wong to auteur status.
Wong works with the same crew and cast (mostly superstars such as Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Andy Lau) for most of his films. His work is marked by mesmerizing visuals that draw attention to themselves and refuse any deep historical reading. His images almost always reside in the contemporary time period even when they are images of the past. Using the strengths of Doyle, whose hand-held camera effectively translates light and shadow into mood and style, Wong's films are about lost moments that sink deeply into one's emotional memory, a (lost) past filtered through the desire of the present. Thus, Days of Being Wild is a memory of the 1960s constructed through the experience of modern living in the 1980s, Chungking Express is about the 1970s imagined from the metropolitan view of the 1990s, and Happy Together is an old-style romance conducted through the culture of twenty-first-century global migration.
Wang jiao ka men ( As Tears Go By , 1988), A Fei zheng zhuan ( Days of Being Wild , 1991), Chong qing sen lin ( Chungking Express , 1994), Chun guang zha xie ( Happy Together , 1997), Hua yang nain hua ( In the Mood for Love , 2000), 2046 (2004)
Abbas, Ackbar, et al. Wong Kar-Wai . Paris: Dis Voir, 1997.
Payne, Robert. "Ways of Seeing Wild." Jump Cut , no. 44 (Fall 2001).
Teo, Stephen. Wong Kar Wai: Auteur of Time . London: British Film Institute. 2005.
Jenny Kwok Wah Lau
After 1949, the shipping tycoon Loke Wan To began to pay attention to Hong Kong. Loke's Cathay Organization (headquartered in Singapore), which already controlled the entertainment industries in Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, and Brunei, began to buy up theaters in Hong Kong. Later, Loke set up Cathay Film Production in Hong Kong, and was able to dominate the domestic industry between 1957 and 1961. After Loke was killed in a plane crash in 1964, his rival Run Run Shaw soon gained the upper hand.