PLANET HONG KONG by David Bordwell


Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment
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One of our most inventive film scholars, Bordwell (Film Studies/Univ. of Wisconsin) takes on one of the most overthetop cinemas.

For 20 years, the Hong Kong film industry was one of the world's most commercially successful and prolific. Recently Western critics have begun to recognize it as possessing a level of creativity almost equal to its financial success—despite its deep roots in genre traditions aimed at a mass audience. Bordwell examines how these elements interact in Hong Kong films to produce an art that is at the same time both popular and significant. He outlines the history, economics, and production techniques of the Hong Kong studios, particularly focussing on the genres that are most closely associated with their success (the kungfu film, the swordplay epic, the gangster film, and the urban comedy). These historical chapters alternate with analyses of specific directors, with particular attention paid not only to such wellknown filmmakers as John Woo and Wong KarWai but also to some figures worthy of greater attention in the West (such as King Hu). Bordwell is clearly enchanted by the sheer physicality of Hong Kong film: its remarkable ability to convey ``filmic emotion at its most sheerly physical'' through a combination of razorsharp editing styles, incredibly precise staging of action sequences, and the sheer virtuosity of performers like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. By rooting his analyses detailed readings of the film texts, he is able to convey—as much as mere words can—how this audaciously visceral cinema works. Ironically, Bordwell's decision to join the growing throng of authors with books on Hong Kong film comes at a time when the handover of the former British colony to the China, coupled with the economic shakeouts in East Asia, may well have doomed the island's film industry.

Bordwell is not well known outside academic film circles, but he should be; perhaps this volume will give him the exposure he deserves.

Pub Date: May 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-674-00213-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Harvard Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2000