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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 New Hong Kong Cinema Series


Ashes of TimeABT

When I was attending the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, I did a keyword search of “Wong Kar-Wai,” and amongst the results, I was directed to a couple of HK cinema-related books that I had no idea existed. One was a booklength study of Ashes of Time by Wimal Dissanayake; the other was an equally extensive look at Happy Together by Jeremy Tambling. Both were extremely well-written, illuminating, and full of little known facts about the films. The idea that this would be an ongoing series was an exciting prospect for a Hong Kong cinema fan such as I.

When I visited Hong Kong a few years back, I picked up a copy of Karen Fang’s informative look at A Better Tomorrow at one of the museum gift shops, and just recently, I finished reading Gina Marchetti’s take on the Infernal Affairs Trilogy. She does a heckuva job keeping everything that goes on in the trilogy straight, teasing out the implications of new, seemingly contradictory information we receive in the two sequels. To date, these are the covers of all the books in the series, save Lisa Oldham-Stokes’ He’s a Woman, She’s a Man and  Tony Williams’ A Bullet in the Head, which aren’t coming out until May.

  HappyZuDurianZenAutumnCenterIAKillerPTUWing Chun

Why am I listing these books here? Well, I’m not getting a commission from the University of Hong Kong Press, I can tell you that. No, I’m spotlighting these books for three reasons:

 1) This is a Hong Kong cinema site, so I suspect the readership would be somewhat excited to hear about this series if they weren’t already aware of it.

2) I’m curious — What Hong Kong movies/series do you hope will be spotlighted?

3) And to everyone — but Kozo, Kevin, and Sanney especially — what movies would you write about if you had the time/opportunity? Yuen Woo-Ping’s Wing Chun has a book! I like the movie, but wow, Wing Chun! That means you could write about ANY Hong Kong movie! Keep that in mind.

To answer my own questions, I would say — after some consideration — that I would love to write a book about the entire Once Upon a Time in China series, but I have to admit that the sheer scope of such a project, not to mention my difficulties with Chinese languages, scares the hell out of me. I would really want to do the series justice, but I would probably would not have the time or energy to devote myself to such a project. There are a lot of other Hong Kong films that I enjoy (Fong Sai-Yuk, Hard Boiled, Needing You, the list goes on) , but if I had to narrow it down to one film, I can honestly say that I’d love to write a book about Comrades: Almost a Love Story, although to be perfectly honest, a booklength study of the My Wife is 18  would probably be a lot less pressure for me to deal with.

Anyway, I’m curious what you all think.

Oh, and if you’re living in Hong Kong, you can order directly from the press. For those of you in the United States, you can also order these books on Amazon or directly from the University of Washington Press.

15 Responses to “The New Hong Kong Cinema Series”

  1. langong Says:

    I have a question for you. Are those books like a longer review version of the movie or an extreme detailed explanation of every moves, actions, dialogues in the movie?
    I imagine the latter for them to be in book form?
    I would like to see OUATIC in book form if you do it.


  2. Sanjuro Says:

    I’m not sure either description is quite apt. It’s basically an extended look at an individual film that goes beyond a review, covering what’s in the film, the major themes, the context, the filmmaker’s other work, etc.

    For instance, the chapter headings for “A Better Tomorrow” break down like this:

    1) Introduction
    2) The Film
    3) Hong Kong Reception, 1986
    4) Global Reception, 1997
    5) Afterword: A Better Tomorrow, Today?
    Appendix: Interview with John Woo

    “Happy Together” is a little different.

    1)Introduction: Approaching the Film
    2)Happy Together and Allegory
    3) Contexts: Why Buenos Aires?
    4) Contexts: The Road Movie
    5) Reading the Film
    6) Happy Together and Homosexuality
    7) Happy Together, Hong Kong and Melancholy
    8) Epilogue: Happy Together and In the Mood for Love

    Hope that helps! And thanks for the vote of confidence!

  3. Crystal Says:

    I would help you do the OUATIC (’member, Texas?). C’mon!

    I would like to see Young and Dangerous (plus the spinoffs), but something that put those films in their cultural and historical context, not just rehashing the films themselves. That would also require a team effort!

  4. anotherlonelyday Says:

    well what a coincidence!

    i’m currently (very behind and very over-due) writing my dissertation on hong kong cinema and one of the chapters/case study is on *infernal affairs. right beside me i am holding gina marchetti’s book, which i found from the library and was very surprised by the ‘dedicatedness’ i.e sole study of this book. however, after you listing, i’m even more surprised there are so many more from this series! it makes me proud to know that hk cinema is getting more cinematic-academic coverage.

    anyways regarding your question i think i would like to see a study on stephen chow’s work. i think his work as an actor and filmmaker in the past, what, 20 years is worth a serious look into.

    tbh there’s also some very obvious examples like bruce lee, john woo, ringo lam, even jackie chan etc. i mean there are books on them but i doubt much on them as filmmakers i.e academic study.

    *i know it’s typical and trust me i wanted to do something else (like pang ho cheung’s stuff) but it was the most mainstream, therefore most accessible in terms of literary.

  5. V Says:

    I would like to see a book on Running on Karma.

    anotherlonelyday’s suggestion of a study of Stephen Chow’s work sounds great.

  6. monkeytailor Says:

    Great blog. I wasn’t aware of these books prior to reading your post. Now I have copies of Durian, Durian, and Centre Stage on order.

  7. Mick Says:

    Running on Karma was actually the first film that came to mind (I guess it’s still like a recovering sore that’s begging to itched at length….)

    I’m currently progressing slowly through Rey Chow’s Sentimental Fabulations which does have a decent chapter on Comrades, Almost a Love Story.

    I would love to see a book attempt to broadly map HK’s use of humor and melodrama; the mixture of these two elements make HK films my favorite form of pure cinema entertainment (not that they can’t appeal to more intellectual sensibilities as well).

    Specific films I’d currently want to read more about include Ann Hui’s July Rhapsody and WKW’s Fallen Angels. I’m sure in a month’s time (and ten movies later) this will change.

    Thanks for alerting me to the existence of this critical series!

  8. Sanney Leung Says:

    Nice post!

    I think a book on THE WAY WE ARE would be a fabulous read. Especially if it ties in the movie with Hong Kong and Hong Kong culture.

    I like where you head is at with the notion of writing a book on a movie like MY NAME IS 18. Something off track and not from the usual suspects like Wong Kar-Wai or Johnnie To. If I had the time and someone offered me some money, I’d do a book on a movie like ON FIRE.

    LoveHKFilm review link:

    I think it’d be very instructive of the way HK cinema worked during the boom years. You’ve got a really bad movie combining commercial elements like the “It Girl” (Francoise Yip), the up-and-comer (Louis Koo) and the recognizable guy (Ng Man-Tat from the Stephen Chow movies). Then you’ve got other interesting elements like misogyny, fan worship, off screen shenanigans and so on. I think it’d be an interesting film to delve into despite the fact that only twelve other people besides me will remember it.

  9. Timo Says:

    I’d like to highlight Stephen Teo’s fantastic book on Johnnie To, “Director in Action - Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film”, published by HKU Press as well. It does a great job at putting his work into the greater context of the HK film industry, and also comes with an excellent, lengthy interview with the man himself.

    It’d be awesome if someone did a book-length study on (the phenomenon of) CAT III films.

  10. Sanjuro Says:

    Here’s a couple more that I didn’t include in the original post:

    He’s a Woman, She’s a Man:

    John Woo’s A Bullet in the Head:

  11. Sanjuro Says:


    A team effort would definitely be helpful, especially on these long-running HK film series. A collaborative effort on something thing like Young and Dangerous would be great, because each person could spotlight an individual film and offer their own take. And as it’s not a so-called “serious film,” it would be a lot more fun.

    Once I finish my QEs and have completed/gotten really far with my dissertation, I’d definitely love to take a crack at at least one Hong Kong movie.

  12. Gabriel Says:

    I would love to see a book on “Hard-Boiled”. However, I hope it doesn’t dwell too much on hot-air thoughts on themes, myths etc as the commentary track on the bootlegged Criterion DVD did. That track consisted of “commentary” by a couple of American “experts” & was extremely tedious & pretentious. John Woo did some bits & pieces here & there in the track, & was much more down-to-earth & focussed on the film’s action itself. The other two guys just went waffling on about stuff not directly related to what was on the screen at the time. Maybe what I’d like is a “Making Of” book on “Hard-Boiled” with interviews of the lead actors.

  13. langong Says:

    re: Would my head be filled with ideas that would contradict or destroy my preconceived triumphs of my beloved film? like this intro to Wing Chun.

    Focusing on the more egalitarian gender imaginary in Daoist and Buddhist thought, the author argues against Freudian and Lacanian frameworks regarding sexual difference as the basis of signification in favor of Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts of ‘deterritorialization’ and ‘becoming’ through which the author tracks the narratological process of cinematic storytelling and the emergence of (female) subject positions in Wing Chun.”

    I kid :) can’t wait for your book

  14. Wandering Blade Says:

    Konnichi Wa Sanjuro San

    Kudos for you recomending this books, it is a great collection, I have the Ashes of Time, Happy Together, A Better Tomorrow and Zu, ones I bought most of them from the broadway cinematheque, I have just browsed trough them but they are quite good, highly recomended.

    About writing this kind of books, oh, that would be amazing, I did my college dissertation on Wong Kar Wai, and I actually contacted the editor of HK University Press in 2006 (can´t remember his name tough, sorry) and he told me they where open to proposals for books, and if I could write a proposal for a book with an original angle on WKW, I could submit it and they would consider it.

    Unfortunatly after reading all I could about WKW, and writing my dissertation I felt I didn´t have anything original to say at the time.

    But maybe one day, I would write about HK cinema not necesarily on WKW.

    And if the people are interested, probably they are still open for it.

    All the best

  15. Sanjuro Says:

    The font on the blog is finally fixed!

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