#hong kong


What does East Asian cinema actually mean? This is a question I have been contemplating for some weeks. According to C. J.W.-L. Wee (2012), it wasn’t until the 1980s that the world started to see the emergence of a collective ‘East Asian’ film industry (p197). During this period ‘New East Asia’ as it was known, stipulated a capitalist-driven, modern cultural image showcasing urban settings through cinema. As I was reading this article, I immediately backtracked to all the Asian crime films I had seen and experienced over the course of this investigation. Every single one was set in either a city or a suburb – entirely urban environments. Perhaps this is indicative of the ‘contemporary’ image that East Asian cinema is trying to promote? And that the crime genre is no exception to this form of branding.


east asia

Geographical area of East Asia


It isn’t all sunshine and lollypops. The East Asian film industry is a ‘fractured collective’. It is a loose network of sorts divided at times by a long history of geo-political-cultural tensions. One film which I stumbled across called ‘Full Time Killer’ (2001) seems to embody this phenomenon. In the opening scenes of the film we are introduced to Chin who works in a video store in Hong Kong (remember those). We hear Chin’s inner monologue and how she wrestles with her Asian identity:

“My name is Chin. I’m from Taiwan. I know Japanese. I work at a Japanese video store in Hong Kong. The customers can never figure out where I’m really from…But does it matter?”


It is clear that Chin has difficulty in anchoring herself to a particular Asian nationality. Is she Taiwan because she was born there? Or is she Hong Kong given she is an expat? As I am hearing Chin’s story, I was empathetic toward her confusion. This feeling is linked to my own experiences of attachment to a particular place or lack thereof.  A significant part of my life involved living in three different states – Perth, Queensland and NSW. In a sense I have an attachment to all three places, whilst being known as a ‘New South Welshman’. Territorial boundaries define our racial and cultural identity. When faced with attachment to more than one physical place, how we identify ourselves is even more complicated, as with Chin. I would not have been able to connect with the character of Chin had it not been for autoethnography as a method of research as it “can uncover many different feelings within the writer. It can be joyful, sad, revealing, exciting, and occasionally painful” (Custer, D 2014, p1). Given that Full Time Killer was filmed in Macau, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan it is an attempt to create a cinematic product which transcends the borders between East Asian nationalities. How does one country retain its unique cultural identity, whilst being part of a broader, regional creative industry?


Moses Sye 2009

The broader theme of Full Timer Killer is the ‘good’ hit man versus the really, really bad hit man. It is their nationalities that are quite important. The good hit man named ‘O’ is Japanese, while his enemy Lok Tok-Wah is Chinese. Is this reflecting on the prickly relationship between Japan/East Asia and China? I could be reading too much into this. However, the entire plot development is built around the Chinese hit man versus the Japanese hit man as they battle it out to be the number one assassin. The nature of the plot coupled with the multiple filming locations reinforces this theory.

Custer, D 2014, ‘Autoethnography as a Transformative Research Method’, the Qualitative Report, volume 19, p1-13.

To, J 2001, Full Time Killer, motion picture, Team Work Motion Pictures Ltd.

Wee, C.J.W.L. 2012, ‘Imaging the fractured East Asian modern: commonality and difference in mass-cultural production’, Criticism, volume 54, issue 2, pp197-225.


Over the past week, I have been reflecting upon my topic and how I am going to present this in a digital artefact. After much consideration, I have decided to compare my experiences of crime movies that have been produced by East Asian countries or cities. Given my interest in South Korea, I will focus on this as a site of production, as well as China, Japan, Hong Kong and Macau as an attractive locale for filming. I have observed over the course of my study into this genre (which I have not blogged about as yet) that while there are similarities in regard to cinematic quality, there is a prominent but underlying tension between these sites of production which often go unnoticed. These movies commentate on their country’s difficult geo-political-cultural relationship with China and their struggles to carve out their own individual identities.




So the next obvious question will be how I am going to present my findings from the autoethnographic study? One of my strengths is writing. Now I know what you are going to say; ‘perfect write an essay’. Since I have been given the opportunity to produce a more creative-based project, I have decided on a happy medium between writing and a digital platform – Storify.  Two separate Storify pieces will provide a detailed examination of two broad results from the autoethnographic study; one the complicated definitional boundaries of the ‘crime’ genre and two; the tensions between East Asian countries/cities/states. Storify is a flexible medium because it allows the user to integrate videos, images, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts within a body of text. Hence, it will provide an effective balance of exploring academic concepts through more informal language and engaging media.



Hong Kong Skyline 2009



But what is auto-ethnography and how does it tie in with my research? Autoethnography is a research method where “the author is both informant and investigator… the autoethnography is not simple personal narrative” (Cunningham, J.S. 2005, p-2), but rather connecting personal experiences with wider cultural implications. This method has allowed me to connect my own experiences of watching these movies with academic literature in order to better understand East Asian cinema. For example; as raised previously I have discovered that many of these films have an underlying resentment toward China. I would not have been able to discover this if not for autoethnography, if not for directly experiencing it. I was then able to connect this ‘experience’ with an industry report which seems to mirror this observation; “government shake-ups and new policies – such as the Chief Executive elections and the recent National Education curriculum, which is designed to encourage understanding and patriotism for China – are fiercely opposed when perceived as moves by the Chinese Communist Party to assert their influence on Hong Kong” (Ma, K 2012, p3).

So now I continue on my quest to better understanding Asian crime cinema through the use of autoethnography.




Cunningham, J.S. & Jones, M 2005, ‘Autoethnography: A tool for practice and education’, CHINZ ’05 Proceedings of the 6th ACM SIGCHI New Zealand chapter’s international conference on Computer-human interaction: making CHI natural conference proceeding, New York, July, viewed 10 September 2014, http://goo.gl/AOhB75

Ma, K 2012, ‘The Asian screen: the state of China and Hong Kong’s film industry and the emergence of Transmedia’, Hexagon Concepts, October, viewed 10 September 2014, http://www.scribd.com/doc/109335662/The-Asian-Screen-1-Hong-Kong-China


When I needed to find an Asian celebrity, I went to my best friend – Google. You would be surprised how many search results come up when you type in the words ‘Asian’, ‘celebrity’ and ‘cop movies’. I stumbled across a male actor I had seen before. Meet Andy Lau. Famous for being a ‘jack of all trades and master of many’ – an actor, producer, director, Cantopop singer, songwriter…well you get the point. I first met Mr Lau just last week…not literally of course. I first saw him briefly in the ten minute clip of Infernal Affairs (which I discussed in last week’s post). Given that I only saw him for a few moments as the start of the film is an eight minute flashback, my impressions of him were…let’s just say they were pretty limited. So I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to not only watch some more Infernal Affairs to see how good of a baddie he really is, but to do some research into this very intriguing celebrity.

The next 10 minute segment of Infernal Affairs definitely broadened my understanding of Lau as an actor. As I was watching the drama unfold, I had come to an interesting paradox. As much as I hated Inspector Ming for how corrupt and evil he was, at the same time I loved his character – Ming is the perfect villain because everyone loves to hate him. At one point in my viewing time I became quite annoyed when Inspector Ming who’s so desperate to ensure that no one finds out he is a bent cop, he walks into the interrogation room and fools the criminal into believing that he is his attorney so he can shut him up. The scene is quite something.




Andy Lau being at the 29th Hong Kong International Film Festival (2005).


But celebrities in Asia have become much more than just your garden variety actor or singer. They are product endorsers, advertisers, marketers…they provide 24/7 commentary on the latest products to hit the shelves. Andy Lau is no exception to this branding movement.  The ‘Andy Lau brand’ very much mimics the cop and criminal characters he plays in his movies – charismatic, likeable and cool. It doesn’t matter if he plays a good guy or a bad guy, his appeal reaches far and wide both in Hong Kong and outside of it – women want him and men want to be like him.

This theme of branding is apparent on Twitter. After a search of Andy Lau, I discovered a Twitter handle devoted entirely to his film career which has been created by fans for fans. There are several tweets posted in the last few weeks encouraging people to watch Lau’s latest cop movie Blind Detective. This is clearly an example of ‘consumer-generated advertising’ – “when consumers create brand-focused messages with the intention of informing, persuading, or reminding others” (Jin Annie Seung-A; Phua, J 2014, p183). As I have come to understand through my experiences of Twitter, “the more followers one garners on Twitter, the greater perceived social influence one has” (Jin Annie Seung-A; Phua, J 2014, p182), which is certainly the case here given the account’s number of followers.


andy lau twitter

Fan Twitter handle of Andy Lau

fan twitter feed

Fan Twitter handle of Andy Lau


Chung, J 2011, ‘Infernal Affairs Part 2 of 10’, 17 April, viewed 24 August 2014,  www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP5CnQ5Z6x0&list=PL1E837A6680BF14D1&index=2

Jin Annie Seung-A; Phua, J 2014 ‘Following celebrities’ tweets about brands: the impact of twitter-based electronic word-of-mouth on consumers’ source credibility perception, buying intention, and social identification with celebrities’, Journal of Advertising, volume 43, issue 2, pp181-195.

Yeung, P 2007, ‘Andy Lau being at the 29th Hong Kong International Film Festival’, Wikipedia, 8 November, viewed 19 August, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Lau#mediaviewer/File:AndyLau2005_2.jpg

Wah Tak Lau, A, Twitter account, https://twitter.com/AndyLauTakWah


As I am searching through YouTube looking for a free clip of Infernal Affairs (hoping that the piracy police don’t get me) the task of finding one with English subtitles is to my surprise a little harder than first thought. After a couple of minutes, I do manage to find what I am looking for. A minute or so into the first scene, I am already making comparison to its American cousin – The Departed, released four years later in time for Martin Scorsese to snatch up an Oscar before anyone noticed the resemblance. Before you raise your fists and shout ‘American imperialism’, let me tell you that the case of Infernal Affairs and The Departed is a little more complicated than just America ripping off ‘Asian’ content.


As I am watching, the expression “art imitates art” ticks over in my mind. There really isn’t an ‘original’ idea. Aside from the fact that The Departed is actually a legitimate remake, a case could be made that Infernal Affairs isn’t really that original either. The premise of the film – a cop goes undercover while a criminal pretends to be a cop is really nothing new. Such themes have been the subject of many other ‘gangster’ films. To make things even more complicated, the directors of Infernal Affairs have teamed up with Martin Scorsese in an Asian-American co-production – ‘Revenge of the Green Dragons’ (Grettel, O 2014, p1).  Clearly, there is a symbiotic relationship between Asian and ‘western’ production houses where material is constantly being ‘borrowed’ and ‘reused’.






But what exactly makes Infernal Affairs Asian? According to Teo (2013), a film could be considered ‘Asian’ on the basis that we “recognise the presence of Asians, the geophysical locations of Asian cities, its countryside, plains, jungles and deserts” (p219). In the case of Infernal Affairs, the fact that it references Mahayana Buddhism – a dominant religion in Hong Kong, filmed on location in Hong Kong and that it was produced entirely by an Asian production house – ‘Media Asia Films’, one could argue that these elements constitute the film as being  exclusively ‘Asian’.

After watching the film, I found two scenes which contained elements that cannot be anchored to a particular nationality or culture. The first; after Triad boss Hon Sam finishes his speech, he gives each of his apprentices some unknown drink and says ‘bottoms up’ before consuming its contents. It is a universal expression – no matter what language it is communicated in people understand its meaning. Second; good cop (Chan Wing Yan) is asked by a detective “what do you think of me?”. Chan Wing Yan replies “sorry, I’m not sure sir. But I know you’re in a hurry today, coz your socks don’t match”. The detective looks down at his shoes clearly annoyed, while his colleague; a police recruitment officer laughs. After Chan Wing Yan leaves the room, the recruitment officer says; “you owe me $500…I told you he would make the best undercover cop”. For whatever reason I found this to be amusing, indicating that despite perceived  language and cultural barriers, I understood the nuisances between certain characters because of their transnational quality. One solid conclusion that we can draw from both films is that; they are caught up in a rich tapestry of cultural exchanges and interconnectedness.


Teo, S 2013, The Asian cinema experience: styles, spaces, theory, Routledge, New York, viewed 12 August 2014, Summons.

Grettel, O 2014, ‘Martin Scorsese-backed Green Dragons to get VOD-first release’, LA Times, 13 August, viewed 25 August 2014, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/movies/moviesnow/la-et-mn-martin-scorsese-revenge-of-the-green-dragons-release-date-20140813-story.html