« Coffee Break | Main | Coffee Break »

May 15, 2018

Hong Kong Horror Cinema

hong kong horror cinema.jpg

Edited by Gary Bettinson and Daniel Martin
Edinburgh University Press - 2018

Probably the most helpful part of Hong Kong Horror Cinema is that a couple of the contributors explain how the creatures referred to as vampires, jiangshi, are misnamed in English. Rather than being vampires or zombies as is understood in most western horror films, they might be better named as hopping corpses. Hopping because rigor mortis limits the ability of these living dead to bending the knees a bit and extending their arms outwards.

As for the genre itself, as some of the authors suggest, it may have to go through some twists, turns and transformations in order to survive, much as what had been known as Hong Kong cinema has mostly morphed into a part of mainland China cinema. This change has not always been voluntary, the results of political and commercial forces.

While there is some discussion of older films inspired by folklore and ghost stories, more is devoted to specific films, particularly within the context of what may be implied about the state of Hong Kong at the time of production. Among the films, Fruit Chan's Dumplings and Herman Yau's The Untold Story examine the role of food in Hong Kong as well as anxiety about the impending changeover that took place in 1997. The violent and darkly funny Dream Home is dissected for how it plays with the viewer's sympathy towards actress Josie Ho's portrayal of a serial killer trapped not by the law but by unpredictable economics. Juno Mak's elegiac Rigor Mortis is a revival of sorts of the hopping corpse film made famous by Ricky Lau's Mr. Vampire.

Chapters are devoted to The Bride with White Hair, the two Detective Dee films by Tsui Hark, and the several film versions of the White Snake legend. Perspectives vary regarding pan-Asian horror, be it the portmanteau films such as Three . . . Extremes, or the work of the Pang Brothers, with The Eye, partially filmed in Thailand, starring Malaysian actress Angelica Lee. As part of the look at pan-Asian horror is how, for better or worse, those films have been labeled as part of "Asia Extreme", often consumed by viewers who don't bother to distinguish the cultural differences within these films.

Beyond considerations of genre, Hong Kong Horror Cinema is worth considering for what says about some of the rules of filmmaking imposed by mainland China. Definitely, we will no longer see anything like the spate of idiosyncratic and often deliberately risible films like Human Lanterns or Black Magic as produced by the Shaw Brothers primarily in the 70s and 80s. My own guess is that we may see a meager handful of films with hopping corpses, or a female ghost, but these new films will not be nearly as entertaining.

Mr. Vampire poster

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 15, 2018 10:04 AM