In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Hong Kong Cinema

  • Introduction
  • Overviews and Surveys
  • Encyclopedias and Dictionaries
  • Filmographies
  • Bibliographies
  • Databases
  • Journal Special Issues
  • Beginnings–1945
  • New Wave to 1997
  • The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
  • Film Festivals
  • Other Genres and Filmmaking Practices
  • Stars
  • Exile, Diaspora, and Migration
  • Asian America
  • Hollywood
  • Film and Hong Kong Society

Cinema and Media Studies Hong Kong Cinema
Gina Marchetti, Derek Lam
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 January 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0154


Beginning as a colonial enterprise under British rule and continuing to the present day as a key creative industry within the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong film occupies a unique place within global motion picture history. Most of the world understands and imagines Hong Kong through its cinematic depiction in popular films starring global personalities such as Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, Michelle Yeoh, Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung, Jet Li, and Sammo Hung, among many others. Works by auteurs such as Wong Kar-Wai, Johnnie To, John Woo, Tsui Hark, Stanley Kwan, and Ann Hui have won accolades at major film festivals in Cannes, Venice, Berlin, and beyond. However, Hong Kong cinema also serves local fans, diasporic Chinese spectators, the broader Asian regional markets, and mushrooming audiences for popular entertainment in post-Deng China. The scholarship on Hong Kong film in English and other European languages tends to follow a few key historical developments. The first materials to appear noted the popularity of Hong Kong martial arts films among a range of non-Chinese fans, including African Americans in inner-city areas, British and French immigrant audiences, and people throughout the developing world. With increased international prominence due to the breaking news of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 that would end British colonial rule in 1997, Hong Kong cinema gradually gained greater attention from international film scholars working within the expanding area of Asian cinema studies. The study of Hong Kong film also reflected other changes within the discipline, which began to go beyond auteur and genre studies to include considerations of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and ideology, among other issues. Current scholarship features revised histories of Hong Kong cinema that fill in the gaps in its early development, its relationship to overseas Chinese networks, and the linguistic patchwork that made up its pre- and postwar soundscapes as well as the involvement of Hong Kong filmmakers in the political struggles of the Cold War period. Research on Hong Kong cinema, however, is not mired in the past, but also engages in cutting-edge appraisals of the use of digital technologies, as well as the effects of globalization.

Overviews and Surveys

Surveys of Hong Kong film date back to Ian Jarvie’s 1977 monograph Window on Hong Kong (Jarvie 1977). In this pioneering monograph, Jarvie draws on newspaper reports, studio publications, some government documents, oral histories, and his own experience as a film viewer living in Hong Kong from 1962–66. Building on his background in sociology, he emphasizes the importance of cinema as a “window” on colonial society, with particular attention given to studio histories, audience demographics, box-office statistics, exhibition patterns, censorship, Mandarin versus Cantonese production, and the thematic content of Hong Kong films in the 1960s and early 1970s. An astounding twenty years separates Ian Jarvie’s monograph on Hong Kong cinema from Stephen Teo’s book Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions (Teo 1997). The culmination of Teo’s involvement with the Hong Kong International Film Festival and the considerable knowledge he gleaned from that experience, this work stands as the most comprehensive single volume to date on colonial Hong Kong film. Chu 2003 grapples with Hong Kong cinema in relation to the concept of the “nation.” Bordwell 2000 examines the reasons behind Hong Kong cinema’s success as popular entertainment domestically as well as internationally by focusing on the telltale markers of its unique aesthetic and the production practices underpinning its distinctive features. Bordwell juxtaposes Hong Kong films and production practices with examples from Hollywood and other film industries, providing a valuable global context for the examination of filmmakers as diverse as Wong Kar-Wai and Wong Jing. Stokes and Hoover 1999 looks at the political economy of Hong Kong cinema, primarily focusing on comedies, crime, and martial arts films made between 1984 and 1997, with the impact of the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 defining the period as a time of crisis, emigration, and uncertainty, as well as obsessive materialism and rampant consumerism. Monographs of Hong Kong Film Veterans (2000–2010) provides a rich resource spanning several decades of Hong Kong film history.

  • Bordwell, David. Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

    Richly illustrated with black-and-white frame grabs, this book exhibits the fan-boy’s love of martial artistry, vulgar humor, and popular thrills, along with the scholar’s appreciation of form, structure, and technique. The spotlight rests on the “motion emotion” (p. 199) of the action film, and on the stars, choreographers, and directors who put Hong Kong kung fu, swordplay, and gunfights on world screens.

  • Chu, Yingchi. Hong Kong Cinema: Coloniser, Motherland and Self. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003.

    Looking at the development of Hong Kong motion pictures within both the British colonial and diasporic “overseas” Chinese contexts, Chu defines Hong Kong as a “quasi-nation” in relation to the Chinese “motherland,” British colonialism, and a local sense of self. The book concludes with a consideration of Hong Kong film after 1997 as continuing to display a distinct identity.

  • Jarvie, Ian Charles. Window on Hong Kong: A Sociological Study of the Hong Kong Film Industry and Its Audience. Hong Kong: Centre of Asian Studies, University of Hong Kong, 1977.

    Given the period in which the book was written, in the 1970s, it provides a very different perspective on Hong Kong film than subsequent publications. For example, Jarvie does comment on Bruce Lee’s career and death in the book, but the photos collected in the volume point to an earlier era dominated by dynamic female stars such as Linda Lin Dai, Siu Fong Fong, Li Li-Hwa, Angela Mao, Ivy Ling Po, Lily Ho, and Cheng Pei Pei.

  • Monographs of Hong Kong Film Veterans. 6 vols. Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, 2000–2010.

    Translation of Xianggang Ying Ren Kou Shu Li Shi Cong Shu. The opening of a new facility for the Hong Kong Film Archive in 2001 provided a physical location for the investigation of the territory’s motion picture heritage, and the archive has made a valiant effort to gather as many oral histories of the early days of film production in the colony as possible. Volumes cover the 1930s and 1940s, Hong Kong’s “left-wing” production houses, reminiscences of director Chor Yuen, the career of Wang Tianlin, the 1960s, and the films of director Patrick Lung Kong (b. 1935–d. 2014).

  • Stokes, Lisa Odham, and Michael Hoover. City on Fire: Hong Kong Cinema. London and New York: Verso, 1999.

    Draws on extensive correspondence and interviews with key industry figures, such as Peter Chan, Chow Yun-Fat, Christopher Doyle, Ann Hui, Stanley Tong, Johnnie To, Tsui Hark, John Woo, Yim Ho, and Donnie Yen, among others. Thus, the authors are able to augment their analyses of industrial structures, popular trends, and postmodern film aesthetics with more intimate discussions of behind-the-scenes working conditions, labor relations, triad activities, and commercial concerns.

  • Teo, Stephen. Hong Kong Cinema: The Extra Dimensions. London: BFI, 1997.

    Teo begins his study with Liang Shaobo and Benjamin Brodsky’s collaboration that linked Hong Kong filmmaking with Shanghai commercial interests. He chronicles the careers of King Hu, Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan, the rise of the New Wave and the “second wave,” and concludes with a detailed discussion of Hong Kong’s “China syndrome” and films’ postmodern turn in anticipation of the Handover.

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