This essay will explore Wong Kar-Wai’s relationship with genre within the context of the Hong Kong film industry, along with Wong’s various international influences, in order to argue, Chungking Express was a major turning point in his career in terms of his complex relationship with various elements of film genre.
Contextualising genre within the Hong Kong film industry:
Of all the international film industries across the globe Hong Kong is certainly one that is synonyms with genre cinema. Considering the commercial nature of its film industry, it seems only appropriate that when discussing Hong Kong cinema as a whole, genre seems to be a frequent and integral part of the conversation. The Hong Kong film industry was built to turn a profit and has become the dominant figure in all of East Asian cinema, relying heavily on exporting its films to Mainland China and Taiwan, as well as local box-office sales. Ding-Tzann Lii ...view middle of the document...
Wong himself has argued ‘How do you get overseas sales before shooting even begins? You have to sell relying on either the actors or the genre – anything that is tried and proven’ (Bordwell 2000; 149). By playing off of past successes and following popular trends film producers can minimise the risk of making a financial loss.
The Hong Kong new wave and innovations in genre:
As David Bordwell says, “Hong Kong cinema has been an industry for more than sixty years” (2000:03). Different from some post-war European or the Fifth Generation Chinese cinema, Hong Kong cinema never had any form of state subsidy. As a result, it “cannot therefore reject commercialism. The Hong Kong cinema has to be popular in order to be at all” (Abbas 1997:21). When a new generation of innovative young Hong Kong filmmakers emerged in the 1970s and 1980s, including Stanley Kwan, An Hui, Tsui Hark and Wong Kar-wai, they too had work from within the studio system. This period in Hong Kong cinema became known as the New Wave, yet despite it’s name the Hong Kong New Wave bears an essential difference from the French New Wave, in the sense that it did not present itself as a direct subversion of mainstream film practices. The Hong Kong New Wave directors had to adopt the commercial aspects of the industry, and as an extension the generic conventions that existed within it. As a result in the 1980’s ‘the pressure to produce within the parameter of genre filmmaking in Hong Kong thus explains the New Wave directors’ experiments with popular genres during the decade (1980’s)’ (Yingjin Zhang, p. 250). Perhaps the most experimental of this group of directors is Wong Kar-Wai.
Wong Kar-Wai, As Tears Go By the ‘hero’ story and John Woo:
Wong is known internationally as a director of art cinema. However, genre plays a key role within his body of work. Considering the state of the Hong Kong film industry at the time Wong Kar-Wai emerged as a filmmaker, it is no surprise the importance genre has in his films. Wong himself has stated that when beginning a new project “The only thing that I try to make very clear is the genre I want it to take place in” (Laurent Tirard, p. 197). Yet, his films are never purely generic.