The Construction of the ‘Western Other’ in Hong Kong Post-colonial Cinema
Hong Kong has always remained a very unique city, one which is said to have ‘a Western past, an Eastern future’. Since its colonisation by the British in the 1860s, it has maintained to a very large extent its Chinese identity and its connection to its Motherland, while at the same time, has frequent contact with the Western world, politically, economically, and culturally. Hong Kong’s unique position has made the city a vibrant international metropolis that acts as a bridge between East and West. Yet after it was returned to China in 1997, this former British colony has been constantly reassessing its British past, struggling to find its new position and redefining its identity.
The quest for identity quickly finds its place in the construction of the notion of ‘Hong Kong-ness’ in films. The local cinema has remained as a powerful cultural institution, both reflecting and intervening in the discourses of alterities and selfhood. It is therefore not surprising that in local films, the cinematic representations of Hong Kong have been seen as inextricably interwoven with the triangular relationship between the British coloniser, the Chinese motherland, and Hong Kong itself. Since its inception in the 1910s, the Hong Kong film industry has enjoyed much independence from colonial control, yet simultaneously much association with Western culture. Many films openly deal with the theme of ‘East meets West’ in which ‘Hong Kongese’ identity is often expressed in "transnational settings" against the existence of a Western Other, in particular through the portrayal of Westerners visiting Asia, and vice versa. After the handover, "Hong Kong" as a geopolitical entity and a national identity has become the subject of representation in more films than ever before. In the midst of a struggle for a new self, Hong Kong cinema has certainly emerged as the ideal cultural space in which the notions of Hong Kong nationhood, identity, and alterities are defined, explored and articulated.
This paper deals with the construction of the ‘Western Other’ in Hong Kong post-colonial cinema by exploring the representation of the Western world in two recent commercial films which deal with the theme of ‘East meets West’: Qian Ji Bian (Dante Lam & Donnie Yen, 2003) and The Touch (Peter Pau, 2002). My focus will be the interactions between Chinese and Western characters as presented by the films’ plot, editing, and mise-en-scene. I will argue that while both films begin by establishing clear binary oppositional codes between the Chinese world and the West, they quickly enter a process of negotiation and renegotiation about the relationship with the Western world, and gradually engage in a pursuit for a compromise. Finally, both films end with a celebration of a reconciliation with the West.
The themes of cultural representations between East and West in post-colonial studies have been most...