On April 1st, 20 years ago, Leslie Cheung finally said goodbye to this world. Although he is no longer with us, his influence remains. While many of us still miss him dearly, we also look back fondly on the golden age of Hong Kong cinema that he embodied.
From the 1980s to the 1990s, Hong Kong cinema enjoyed a global reach, releasing over 200 films annually and providing work for more than 20,000 professionals in the industry. Hong Kong films not only outperformed Hollywood productions at the local box office, but also influenced Western cinema. Numerous American directors paid tribute to Hong Kong cinema and sought to emulate its style and techniques. During this period, Hong Kong earned the nicknames “Hollywood of the East” and “Star Factory” of Chinese cinema. Leslie Cheung, who has worked with acclaimed directors such as Siu-Tung Ching, Wong Kar-wai, John Woo and Chen Kaige, created cinematic masterpieces such as A Chinese Ghost Story (《倩女幽魂》), Days of Being Wild ( 《阿飞正传》), “A Better Tomorrow” (《英雄本色》) and “Farewell, My Concubine” (《霸王别姬》). Through his magnetic performances, Cheung brought the allure of the East to the world stage and cemented his place in the annals of film history.
Over the course of its 110-year history, Hong Kong’s film industry has undergone significant changes and developed its own unique aesthetic style. Although best known for its entertainment value, Hong Kong cinema has always been closely linked to traditional Chinese culture in many ways. His art draws inspiration from various sources such as poetry, painting, opera and folk music. Take Wong Kar-wai’s films, for example. “In the Mood for Love” (《花样年华》) created a nostalgic and spiritual atmosphere through the use of color and composition. Conversely, “Ashes of Time” (《东邪西毒》) features a yellowish tone that evokes a sense of gloom and melancholy, presenting a lively artistic sensibility and bold outlines akin to Chinese paintings. Such works give the audience the opportunity to develop indescribable emotions. Hong Kong musicians led by James Wong have also contributed to the unique sound of Hong Kong cinema. Her soundtracks are creative, popular, and classic, as exemplified by works like A Sound of Laughter in the Vast Sea (《沧海一声笑》) and A Man Should Stand Strong (《男儿当自强》). Hong Kong cinema has also made significant contributions to the wuxia genre and produced numerous folk music classics.
These films showcased pluralism, tolerance, dignity and apolitism, reflecting Hong Kong’s rich cultural diversity. However, recent films like Revolution of Our Times (《时代革命》) and Blue Island (《忧郁之岛》), which depict Hong Kong’s social unrest, are overly politically charged and have overlooked the once glorious heritage of the Hong Kong native cinemas. These films can create controversy among Hong Kong’s younger generation and they do not promote a healthy and lasting future for Hong Kong films on the international stage. More than 20 years have passed since Hong Kong returned to China, and the film industry has changed a lot in that time. After a challenging period in the 1990s, Hong Kong cinema is now striving for innovation and advancement. The industry is poised to unleash the creative energy that has been pent up for too long.
In 2003, the Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) was signed between mainland China and Hong Kong, opening up new opportunities for filmmakers from both regions, resulting in more Hong Kong directors such as Peter Chan and Hark Tsui starting filming the collaboration between Hong Kong and Mainland filmmakers has produced popular and critically acclaimed films such as 抢抱威虎山, Operation Red Sea Action, Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame” (“Di Renjie: Tongtian Empire”), “Overheard” (“Eavesdropping”), “Storm” (“Anti-Corruption Storm”). These films demonstrated a new Hong Kong film style that fused Eastern and Western storytelling techniques and opened new avenues for Chinese cinema with films such as “Yip Man” (“叶问”), “Bodyguards and Assassins” (“October Siege”), “Operation Red Sea” and ” Leap” (“Chinese Women’s Volleyball”) integrated patriotic and historical themes and broke away from the limitations of similarly themed films.
Today there are over 80,000 movie screens in China, the highest number in the world. China has become the second largest market for films. After the epidemic, the Hong Kong film industry would need investment, markets and creativity if it is to develop and develop further. The huge mainland market provides solid support for the continuous innovation and development of Hong Kong films.
After several years of turmoil and an epidemic, Hong Kong is slowly but surely recovering both in its society and its economy. As we enter this new era, Hong Kong films will continue to depict the history and reality of the city while embracing the culture of China. We believe Hong Kong film professionals will preserve the positive experiences of past Hong Kong films and create new works that reflect the current times. Through these films, the stories of China and Hong Kong are shared with the rest of the world, and we eagerly await the rebirth of the ‘Golden Age’ of Hong Kong cinema under the watchful gaze of Lion Rock.