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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

The State of HK Film Geek Culture

Comedian Patton Oswalt recently set the Twitter-verse aflutter with a piece he wrote for Wired magazine entitled “Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die.” With its title reference to a bit of dialogue from Blade Runner, Oswalt’s article laments the death of nerd culture as he once knew it, calling for its necessary death in its current form as a way to “save” it for future generations. Or something. He kind of goes off the rails in the last few paragraphs in an attempt to make some kind of big poetic flourish. Even so, I think Oswalt’s larger point still stands — things ain’t how they used to be. Anyway, you can take a look at the article here and see where you fall on this issue.

While Oswalt is speaking to a larger geek culture that enjoys Star Wars, Marvel Comics, Lord of the Rings, and various other iconographic cultural texts of geekdom, that have gone on to become real cultural forces in the twenty-first century, I want to focus on something far less ubiquitous — Hong Kong and, to a larger extent, all of Asian cinema — or to be more precise, the people who enjoy it. I think of the things Oswalt mentions about geek culture still applies to HK/Asian cinephiles, even if our numbers have dwindled rapidly since the early 2000s. Could it be that we’re on the brink of extinction?

But before getting to that, let me give you an anecdote that illustrates how much the landscape has changed since I started getting into HK films. When I went to visit my parents in Oklahoma for Christmas vacation, I was surprised to see Merantau — an Indonesian action flick — featured prominently on the shelves of a local Wal-Mart. Not only did they have the DVD, but they had the Blu-Ray for $20. Nearby were a handful of Hong Kong and Thai releases from Dragon Dynasty, as well as a few Japanese flicks sprinkled here and there. So basically, we have progressed to the point where not only can you buy Hong Kong, Japanese, Thai, and some Korean films at your Wal-Marts, Targets, Meijers, and K-Marts across the nation, but now an Indonesian film! As Mr. Dylan once sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

Merantau

Merantau is a film from Indonesia. My parents used to live there. That’s all I got.

When I first started getting into Hong Kong cinema, resources were scarce. Contacting mail order catalogs, buying VHS tapes of questionable quality, and taping dubbed Hong Kong movies off of Cinemax late at night were just some of the primitive methods one had to resort to in order to see a film made during the Hong Kong New Wave. Unless you lived near a Chinatown, it sucked.

Nowadays, it’s no big deal. You can order directly from Yesasia, rent from Netflix, and in some instances, download the film directly to your laptop or game system for a nominal fee. There are so many options nowadays that I think we’ve become a little spoilt. Case in point: when I read people’s complaints about a Hong Kong DVD release not having an absolutely pristine picture or flawless audio, I have to roll my eyes a little. I mean, back when I was collecting films, you’d be lucky if you could see who the hell was who in HK flick.

Granted, these people have every right to complain; we all want the best quality product possible. But what’s even more annoying is the sense of entitlement that spurs folks to regularly download Hong Kong films illegally. I won’t pretend that I haven’t gotten my hands on a bootleg or two in the past, but a) those were films that weren’t available in the United States, with little hope of them every being released here, b) it wasn’t always that easy to get your hands on one, and b) I was more than happy to buy the licensed release whenever it became available on American shores. Now, however, a movie is just a few clicks of the mouse away.

Sure, I know I sound like some old dude reminiscing about how hard things were back in the “good ol’ days” and chastising you young whippersnappers for how easy you got it now, but like Oswalt, I, too, miss the sense of community that those challenges provided — that shared feeling that the knowledge you obtained was both hard-earned and special, rather than the sum effort involved in a visit to Wikipedia.

But even in this era of instant gratification, what is the state of Hong Kong cinema geek culture? Of Asian cinemaphiles? I don’t really know how to gauge it, but the community seems smaller. I mean, if you’re of the belief that Hong Kong cinema is dead or at least gravely ill, then you’ve got to think that HK/Asia cinephiles are a dying breed, too. I mean, I remember people being all hot-to-trot for Korean films about five years ago, but I don’t get the sense that nation’s cinema still ranks as highly, especially once Tartan video folded in the States.

What do you think? Am I making a point here? Or do this just sound like the ramblings of some old fogey?
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*I had to rewrite this article TWICE. The first time it had to be rewritten from memory, as an internet glitch left me with only the pic of plastic Ekin and Sanjuro staring at me when I finally got reconnected to my wireless. I successfully posted the restored article and read the dang thing just to make sure everything was okay, and it looked fine. And then when I check back online later after being cut off from the internet, I find out that it’s been truncated and the Merantau picture is missing! Luckily, I had that version saved, although I did have to do all the formatting again. Man, this New Year is already getting off to a rough start!

2 Responses to “The State of HK Film Geek Culture”

  1. CeeFu Says:

    In honor of your persistence, a comment! I hear you about access in the dark ages. Geesh, let’s not even think about it!

    I don’t know if the numbers of Asian cinemaphiles are dwindling, I mean how do we gauge this? I hope not. This could of course be my denial talking, but I think that these extra avenues of access (yes, internet, I’m talking about you) makes it hard to gauge and just makes it seem that stuff is readily available. Netflix and I are seeing other people because according to browsing, they haven’t added a Hong Kong released after 2009. And I have a whole conspiracy theory about how the internet contributes to a sense of amnesia, such as if it’s not readily available or saved on some safe spot, then it didn’t exist! It’s like a Twilight Zone episode. I’ve often dreamt of a way to quantify people who do crazy things to get their Hong Kong film on (I include myself in this group). This is the excuse given by capitalist powers when asked why we can’t get wide release of Hong Kong films without moving heaven and earth. People won’t like it. Who are these people? Ah, the mainstream masses……

    I’m always wary of news of anything’s demise. I think there is a lull, and things pick up, and things are lulling all over the place these days. You know even whippersnappers will not deny the brilliance of GOOD HK film, but the key is making then aware. I’m an optimist!

  2. Calvin McMillin Says:

    Yeah, it’s sort of like academia — something is either flourishing or perpetually “in crisis.”

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