Chinese censorship and the grim future of Hong Kong cinema
Hong Kong has always been a vibrant center for world cinema, with massive production of kung fu films and martial arts productions before the Hong Kong New Wave changed the industry forever. Insensitive to mainland China’s strict censorship laws due to its former status as a British colony, Hong Kong’s film industry has maintained a distant relationship with the Chinese government and has never been subsidized by the government either. As a result, Hong Kong productions were commercial in nature until the more scholarly work of the New Wave.
The Shaw Brothers studio and Bruce Lee were largely responsible for bringing the kung fu genre to Western audiences, but after Lee’s tragic demise in 1973, the genre experienced a sharp drop in quality. New filmmakers stepped in to take charge of the revival of Hong Kong cinema, led by pioneering figures like Tsui Hark and Ann Hui before global icons like Wong Kar-wai turned the New Wave into a cultural phenomenon.
Unlike previous traditions of cinema in Hong Kong, the writers of the New Wave were not only influenced by the commercialism of Hollywood. Their heroes were the experimental geniuses of the French New Wave like Jean-Luc Godard, and they tried to follow in their footsteps by putting forward their own styles. Through the use of new editing techniques, stylized visual narratives, and the significant remoteness of the restrictive studio system, the Hong Kong New Wave has managed to revitalize a completely stagnant industry by reimagining the potential of the film medium itself. .
In recent years, there has been a notable drop again due to Hong Kong’s unstable socio-political climate and its strained ties with mainland China. While there have been commendable explorations of LGBTQ + themes in recent Hong Kong films like Ray Yeung’s Suk suk (2019), most of the projects gravitate again to the realm of stereotypical commercialism. Given the enormous popularity of Netflix thrillers that follow similar patterns, Hong Kong studios regard spinoff romantic dramas and uninspired crime thrillers as the key to success.
Considering that some of the most fiercely original filmmakers in film history came from Hong Kong, this is a tragic state of affairs that is made worse by the new Chinese policy. According to Hong Kong Secretary of Commerce Edward Yau, the new film censorship laws aim to prevent “cases, acts or activities which could endorse, support, glorify, encourage and incite such activities which could endanger the national security ”.
Censorship is the antithesis of art, and the CCP is taking all necessary measures to ensure that the rich history and future potential of Hong Kong’s film industry does not pose a threat to their tyranny. “The amendments this time are simple and straightforward. The goal is to consolidate our legal foundation regarding film censorship work to prevent acts against national security, ”Yau explained. “Administrative decisions would always be subject to the review board, except in cases where such cases involve national security – then we will not apply the power given to the board.”
Thanks to these draconian laws, new projects like the recent documentary on same-sex marriage in Taiwan – Taiwan equals love – was banned by the censorship committee because China considers Taiwan to be an extension of its jurisdiction. This is not an isolated example, with projections for Inside the red brick wall and Where the wind blows canceled alongside other politically conscious films and documentaries. Hong Kong’s historic distance from mainland governance will be further reduced as Hong Kong films will now undergo the same censorship processes as mainland projects.
As if that weren’t enough, the CCP forced the relevant authorities in Hong Kong to search their film archives in order to ban old films considered to be subversive. “Any film intended for public exhibition, past, present and future, will need to get approval,” Yau said in a statement. The intention of the CCP is to nullify the possibility of political awakening through art in the future as well as the systematic erasure of the sacred history of Hong Kong cinema. If “illegal films” are shown, there can be a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a hefty fine of $ 130,000.
If you think this is the extent of cinema’s new dystopian future under the CCP, it isn’t. China is also attacking celebrity culture in the country, trying to rectify the image projected by male stars by calling them a “sissy” and forcing foreign citizens to renounce their citizenship in order to continue working in the country. China. Singer and actress Maria Cordero is about to renounce her Portuguese nationality, saying: “If you really want to work in mainland China, then this is the right thing to do. If you work there, you have to take Chinese citizenship. I have no problem with that… I think they’re all going to do this, one after the other. Unless they decide they don’t want to make that kind of money anymore.
These same pernicious laws have already been used to arrest several pro-democracy activists in the name of national security. With these laws, the CCP has made it clear that it is not interested in the artistic development or intellectual growth of the country’s creative heritage. Instead, China is focusing on building a control regime where industries act as ideological state apparatuses for government with relative ease. For fans who grew up watching deliciously subversive Hong Kong masterpieces, this means nothing less than the definitive death of Hong Kong cinema.