The Chinese Martial Arts Phenomenon in Hong Kong Society and Film Industry
The main challenge that Hong Kong film industry is facing is based on the stiff competition that is evident between globalization and nationalism. Globalization in the modern era has exposed local initiatives to international competition, which might either strengthen these initiatives or lead to their failure. Better strategies should be deployed for the industry to gain a better stake in the global market. This paper discusses the influence of Hollywood (western film industry) and China’s communist (or patriotism) on the Hong Kong film industry. The discussion reveals the extent of China’s participation in building and developing the Hong Kong film industry in the recent time. Through demonstrating the influence of the Chinese martial arts film, a deeper understanding on the future aspects of Hong Kong movies is revealed.
The Competition between Globalization and Nationalism in the Hong Kong Film Industry
The Hong Kong film industry had been enjoying a golden age for almost two decades. The movie industry was considered to be at its pick in the periods between the 1980’s and 1990’s (Fu & Desser, 2002). Celebrated directors, such as Wong Kar-wai, Mabel Cheun, John Woo, and Run Run Shaw, who were credited as top filmmakers, helped Hong Kong filmmakers garner a global fan base. However, in the recent year, Hong Kong film industry has faced sharp decline as a result of dominance by the Hollywood film industry. The decline has seen reduced number of movie production and consequently the box office earnings sharply falling (Marchetti & Kam, 2007). During the peak era, almost 200 movies were produced locally every year. However, this number reduced greatly to a figure far below 50 movies in the recent times. Such decline is a great cause of worry on the future of the industry considering the rate at which Hollywood film industry is advancing.
The main challenge facing the Hong Kong film industry is stiff competition from the Hollywood movies (Fu & Desser, 2002). Majority of the local audience changed their preference to embrace Hollywood movies. This is because holly wood moviemakers take time to identify what the audience wants to see, unlike Hong Kong movies that are built from the same story. The decline in Hong Kong movie industry began with the proliferation of movies that had similar themes and appeared almost similar in all aspects.
The Chinese culture has unique and rich culture, which is different from the western culture. These differences are evident in the film industry. One unique characteristic that is expected to feature in every Hong Kong action movies is the application of martial arts (Teo, 2009). Unlike in Hollywood where the martial art culture is not known, Hong Kong action movie directors find it easy to incorporate martial art techniques in their actions scenes because the native actor understands the culture better. On the other hand, unlike Hollywood movies, Hong Kong movies are more adventurous and less restrained by conversations.
For a long time, Hong Kong movies were known for martial arts, with heroes, such as Bruce Lee, jet Li, and Jackie Chan, playing a leadership role in making these movies popular in the global market. The greatest tragedy that faced Hong Kong cinema in the early 1990’s was losing vital kingpins, such as Jackie Chan, Jet Li, and Yun Fat Chou to the Hollywood (Fu & Desser, 2002). These were celebrated heroes who would have taken Hong Kong cinema to the next level to compete effectively with the Hollywood movie industry.
The fact that Hollywood moviemakers have also embraced the martial art techniques in their movie is a great blow to Hong Kong film industry (Teo, 2009). Over the past few years, renowned Hong Kong film directors have transformed Hollywood action scenes by introducing martial arts. Yuen Cheung Yan, Yuen Woo Ping, and Corey Yuen are among the Hong Kong movie directors who have worked with Hollywood producer to impose the martial art techniques in the western action movies. Some of the Hollywood movies that have seen a face-lift in the action scenes include Charlie’s Angles, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Kiss of the Dragon, X-Men and The Matrix. Despite the successful production in the Hollywood film industry, movie directors who shifted from Hong Kong film industry have faced great challenge in creating a perfect balance between the two cultures. Majority of these directors have faced challenges in making the American fighter appear to have competence in martial arts while in reality they have little or no knowledge about them (Bordwell, 2006).
However, despite the challenges encountered in the production stage, the inclusion of martial arts has seen Hollywood movies enjoy great audience in China because of suitable mix of the western and Chinese culture. On the other hand, the natives have somewhat lost their interest for their home made stuffs because of proliferation of almost similar productions. For the Hollywood, incorporating the Chinese ‘wu da’ and ‘wu xia’ (old style sword fighting techniques with flying and martial art actions) in the action movies is a great improvement and a bonus. Western audiences are always interested in watching something new and unique (Bordwell, 2006).
The Cause of Transformation in the Genre of Chinese Martial Arts
Contemporary Hong Kong films provide an entrance whereby it is possible to view all dynamics of social change within China (Badley, Palmer & Schneider, 2006). As the Hong Kong movie industry seek to gain popularity in the global arena, it has no option but to use techniques from the established Hollywood film industry in the efforts to regain the lost glory. Global economic dynamics have fueled significant migration of resources and labor to and from Hong Kong, building a new platform of globally connected production (Johann, 2003). Considering the history of the Hong Kong film industry from the early 1980’s, it is possible to ascertain that the industry has undergone significant transformation that has made it become more globally connected than before. However, there are notable challenges that the industry has faced over the year, which have affected the growth and developmental pattern in regards to production, exhibiting, and distribution. These include notable events, such as the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, the Tian’anmen protest in 1989, the changeover of sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997, and the most recent Asian financial crisis (Zhuo, 2008). Drastic shifts in Hong Kong’s social, economical, political, and cultural status have significantly affected the film industry.
Proliferation of similar stories in the Hong Kong movies industry has seen it lose great number of audience in China and the global arena (Marchetti & Kam, 2007). Many Hong Kong action movies have diverse styles in the martial arts. Repetitions, such as different schools of kung fu competing against one another, such that the students will always be attracted to the school that wins in every competition, is a cheap creation that can no longer attract movie maniacs. Another common element is the fact that majority of the main actors either rely on secret scroll or book, or learn better fighting techniques from old wise masters. Revenge is a common theme in almost every Hong Kong action movies. This kind of repetition should be erased and creative ideas embraced to reduce monotony.
The main reason Hollywood has enjoyed commercial triumph in the global arena is because of the focus it has created in developing unique and well-baked product. Movie producers in Hollywood pay key attention to vital packaging and distribution strategies, pouring massive amount to creation, and promotion of these movies (Trumpbour, 2007). For example, one of the famous holly wood movies, Avatar, was budgeted at a production cost of $237 million and promotion cost of $150 million. Some considered such torrents of money spent in the production and promotion of one movie as a ‘suicide mission’. Such financial investment in the movie industry is a key strategy to penetrate the global market (Bude & Dürrschmidt, 2010). However, the objectives of the movie producers were achieve, having the movie gain acceptance in almost all parts of the world and realizing $2.7 billion. Taking such aggressive approach can be risky but tactical and groundbreaking, approach that can end decades of unsuccessful bids. Though there have been several attempts in the Hong Kong movie industry, such as the promotion of All the Wrong Clue, where a huge amount was spent to promote the movie, more investment is still needed to bring a complete paradigm shift.
New breeds of filmmakers, who appear to be relatively independent, have started making changes in the film industry considering audience demands (Zhuo, 2008). The new wave is expected to move the Hong Kong movie industry to global niche markets, through cross-cultural consideration in the production and innovative means. Embracing the new technology is no longer an option but the ultimate way to match the competitive end. The Hollywood, being mightier than Hong Kong film industry, in terms of innovation and technology, maimed the Hong Kong industry by dominating domestic box office, addicting regional audience who were once loyal to Hong Kong films, and taking away vital talents, including Jet Lee, Jackie Chan, and John Woo. The rise of video piracy, which seems uncontrollable in the main land, interference of the triads among other challenges struck more blows to the booming industry (Zhuo, 2008). However, in the recent times, changes have been embraced by the Hong Kong filmmakers to make the movie more interesting. Improvements in the action genre can be seen through guns blazing, high voltage actions, and technologically controlled actions.
Despite much efforts meant to revive the industry, there is uncertainty in the future of the Hong Kong film industry. The future of Hong Kong movies mainly depends on its ability to accommodate necessary changes that the audience demands, and preserve vital native traditions that are unique and different from the western film industries. The use of real cultural gestures that might be unfamiliar to majority of the western moviemakers is a great opportunity that the film industry in Hong Kong can use to ascend back to glory. Creativity and innovation should be encouraged to create unique movie stories that have defied the normal trend. Since majority of the Holly wood actors are straggling to learn and understand martial arts techniques, the Hong Kong filmmakers should materialize martial arts as their strength to compete effectively with the Hollywood. Therefore, by embracing western technology, the Hong Kong film industry can be better than Hollywood.
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