Why focus on Hong Kong cinema in my exploration of the island’s postcolonial identity? In terms of reach and sheer volume, the Hong Kong film industry proves to be best when one attempts to study the fluidly changing landscape of the post-colonial consciousness. The Hong Kong film industry is the among the largest in the world in terms of the number of movies produced per year, second only to the United State’s Hollywood scene. Its popularity is also very high throughout the world, what with actions stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Bruce Lee, in addition to the martial arts film crazy that appeared in the 80s and 90s. Indeed, Hong Kong is in its own right a colonizer of the rest of East Asia, particularly Mainland China, Malaysia, and Singapore, through its film industry.
The history of Hong Kong cinema is marked by a series of eras, beginning with the first production created on its shores. Yingchi Chu divides the eras into four significant periods: Hong Kong cinema as part of Chinese national cinema (from 1913-56), Hong Kong cinema as Chinese diasporic cinema (from 1956-79), Hong Kong cinema as part of its own national cinema (1979-97), and cinema in the post-July 1997 period. I find that her categorization of Hong Kong cinema during 1956-79 as Chinese diasporic cinema is more convenient in its description than accurate. The term diasporic implies a group of individuals who have migrated away from their ancestral homeland; hence, diasporic cinema indicates cinema that either focuses on this experience or is produced with heavy diasporic themes (such as nostalgia) apparent. While Hong Kong can be considered as an example of diasporic Chinese, I think it is more useful to address the qualities that Hong Kong has that makes it appear diasporic: that is, its position as both a local and global entity torn between a mother and father. Hong Kong never migrated away from China—it was still very much in touch with the Mainland during this period, with Hong Konger’s travelling to the mainland for holidays to get in touch with their cultural roots. At the same time, spatially, Hong Kong the island was no longer a part of China, making is part of a global Empire.
Even with my hesitance to accept her definition of diasporic cinema, Chu’s division of the eras is useful when attempting to study the shifting consciousness in the island nation as its status as being a part of China changed to being an English colony changed to imminent independence changed to re-colonization by China. I will use her categorizations to help organize my study of Hong Kong’s post-colonial identity.