Span: Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 34-35, 1992-93
Edited by Vijay Mishra

These Nations Which Are Not One: History, Identity and Postcoloniality in Recent Hong Kong and Taiwan Cinema

Chris Berry

1. The Postcolonial World, and Welcome To It

Like postmodernity before it, postcoloniality has become such a broad and general term as to be almost meaningless. As a concept, it does not refer only to ex-colonies, whose specific shared experience might rather be characterized as the process of decolonization. Instead, postcoloniality refers to all places that have been affected by a colonial experience from the moment that experience begins, including both the colonizer and the colonized, and whether that experience be of direct occupation or neocolonial economic and/or cultural domination.1

In these circumstances, there is scarcely a space on earth today that does not qualify as postcolonial. However, it is unclear to what extent we have come to cultural grips with this situation. We still speak of the "United Nations," think in terms of "national character" (the Japanese work hard, Australians like a drink, and so on), and cheer our national teams at the Olympics. Certainly, concepts like multiculturalism constitute recognition that change has occurred, but are they just an attempt to inflect the nation, or do they constitute recognition that the postcolonial space is in fact something other than a nation; a new type of space we do not yet have a name for?

In certain corners of Anglo-Saxon academia at least, the denaturalisation and deconstruction of the concept of the nation is well underway. Far and away the major contribution to this process so far has been Benedict Anderson's 1983 book, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Anderson places the nation as one sort of imagined community against two earlier forms: the religious empire and the monarchical or imperial dynasty. Both these latter types of community are marked out from the nation by being vertical and defined by a centre; they are hierarchical, with the apex of these hierarchies in either a sacred city or the site of a throne respectively. Nations, on the other hand, are horizontal and defined by boundaries; they claim a people composed of equal citizens who share a space in which measures such as equality before the law, equal access to universal education, universal suffrage, and so forth are applied to construct homogeneity.2

The postcolonial space could be understood as an emergent fourth type of imagined community. Because it is not unified, it cannot be characterized as either horizontal or vertical. Rather, it is a discordant and dynamic conjuncture, constituted when different cultures (themselves maybe less unifed than we think) with different histories and different trajectories meet, intersect, overlay, fragment and produce hybrid forms within a certain geographic space. What differentiates the postcolonial spaces making up today's international jigsaw puzzle is the specific combination of elements making up each conjuncture and the way they relate and interact. This essay sets to examine the role of the Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinemas in the cultural recognition and construction of their postcolonial identities.

2. Australia's Identity - Again

However, before beginning to examine the cinematic construction of the respective postcolonialities of Hong Kong and Taiwan, I would like to note that I am writing this piece from within Australia, and that that enunciatory position provides a large part of my motivation for this examination. In the minds of most Australians and, I dare say, most Hong Kong Chinese and Taiwanese, Hong Kong and Taiwan may not seem to have much in common with Australia. However, what all three spaces do share is not only the global postcolonial condition, but a highly intense postcolonial condition marked by a remarkably high level of hybridity and cultural marginality. All three spaces have been criss-crossed by many waves of migration, each depositing another layer and spawning new hybrid possibilities. All three spaces are on the very margins of their respective dominant cultural blocks; Taiwan and Hong Kong at the outermost edges of the Chinese formation where it begins to blur into the surrounding world, and Australia at the point where, as Mr Keating rightly reminds us, the West becomes Asia.

In Australia, however, we seem to have strained to mould our postcoloniality to fit the model of the homogenous nation united by a common history, a common ethnic identity and culture, a common language and so forth, with a token nod in the direction of multiculturalism and Aboriginality. This was at its height in the cinema of the post-Whitlam era, when historical films like Picnic at Hanging Rock, Newsfront, The Man From Snowy River, Gallipoli, Breaker Morant and others tested the possibility of the Anglo-Celtic Australian experience as national myth. Since the failure of The Lighthorsemen in 1987, that era seems to have come to and end, but, as far as I can see, nothing that explores the specifity of the contemporary Australian postcolonial experience and, more particularly, its history, seems to have taken its place yet. In Australian cities, Vietnamese bakeries abut Halal butchers, but this is only slowly appearing in a movie industry still dominated by Anglo-Celtic last names from Kennedy-Miller on (up or down?). In 1992, neither the virulent fascist anti-Asian violence of Romper Stomper nor the cliched flamenco stomping in Strictly Ballroom amount to a very satisfactory acknowledgement of our specific hybrid and heterogenous postcoloniality.

The situation is quite different in Hong Kong and Taiwan. For reasons I will discuss later, hybrid postcoloniality and cultural liminality are all over Hong Kong and Taiwan screens, and to a greater degree than ever before. All sorts of films are routinely set abroad, invoke both emmigration and immigration, and mark hybridity with a mix of languages and cultural inputs. Interestingly, where we have strained to fit ourselves into a national model, it seems Hong Kong and Taiwan are using their particular postcolonialities to mark out their identities, not as nations but as postcolonial spaces distinguished by particular configurations of hybridity and difference. In particular, historical films are constructing this as an identity with a history; they are functioning as the foundation myths of these nations which are not one. This situation is not necessarily embraced with joy, but it seems to be a given, and examining how it is being constructed in Hong Kong and Taiwan cinema may not only help us to understand more about those places, but also to focus on Australia today and how we got here.

3. Hong Kong: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Last November, I had the good fortune to sit on the jury for the China Times Express film awards in Taipei.3 We watched (endured?) a good part of 1991's Hong Kong and Taiwan output - seventy-one films in total - over a fortnight. This concentrated dose left me unwilling to accept the free headset for the in-flight movie on the way home. However, it also gave me a new awareness of the overdetermining importance of facing and tackling postcoloniality to both Hong Kong and Taiwan.

To begin with Hong Kong, of the fifty-one 1991 films I saw in Taipei, only one, Chinese Ghost Story III, is set in pre-imperial, culturally more-or-less homogenous China. Even films set entirely in Hong Kong manifest a culture criss-crossed and constructed by over a century of imperialism and international trade, and often a sense of being the underdog, of being pushed and pulled by these enormous external forces. Hong Kong is between a rock and a hard place, the rock being Victoria peak, symbol of British imperialism, and the hard place the People's Republic. Given the political powerlessness of Hong Kong caught between the forces of Chinese socialism, the remnants of British imperialism and international capitalism, this sense of little Hong Kong buffetted about on the seas of international trade and politics is hardly surprising. One response to this is a fantasy of subversion, and this is found particularly in the comedy genre.

Most comedies are set in Hong Kong. Over the last couple of years, Zhou Xingche's infantile antics have made him Hong Kong's highest paid star and his comedies are nearly all set entirely within in Hong Kong. (Although I am aware of the danger of obliterating difference and specificity in constructing cross-cultural comparisons, Zhou could be said to be Hong Kong's answer to Pee-Wee Herman.) The gambling cycle usually features Zhou as the underdog Hong Kong Chinese who does battle with bullying foreign champions in contests where the dominant Western rules of card games are overcome by supernatural skills (teyi gongneng) drawn from Chinese legends. Even in Fight Back to School, which is not a gambling film and where Zhou goes undercover as a high school student, the institution he gleefully undermines is a model British private school called Edinburgh College, a name which invokes the Duke at least as much as the city.

This theme of local subversion of external forces within Hong Kong is powerful, but even more interesting to me is the fact that films set entirely in Hong Kong were a minority in 1991. Thirty-one of the fifty-one Hong Kong films I saw in Taipei were either set entirely outside Hong Kong or featured sequences set overseas. Locations included; Japan (Black Cat, Zodiac Killers, Casino Raiders II, Au Revoir Mon Amour, Gigolo and Whore, Three Stooges in Tokyo); the USA (Alan and Eric, Black Cat, Mutant Ninja Turtles III); Africa (Crazy Safari); Thailand (Dreams of Glory); post-imperial China (Her Fatal Ways II, Once Upon a Time in China, God of Gamblers II: Back to Shanghai, Centre Stage); Europe (Armour of God II, Once a Thief) and the Philippines (Days of Being Wild). What other cinema could compare with this overwhelming awareness of and interest in its intersection with the external world? Given the spatial and historical claustrophobia engendered by living in a crowded city stamped with a 1997 "use by" date, this is hardly surprising.

Many of these films using foreign settings are action thrillers. The notable exceptions are those set in the contemporary People's Republic. These tend to be comedies, signifying to my mind that the People's Republic is a space in which Hong Kong people are, in their social imaginary, dominated. The action thrillers set in other spaces represent a very different response to Hong Kong's postcolonial condition. Rather than the subversion and undermining of domination found in the comedies, many manifest a transnational fantasy. Their heroes are not underdogs fighting back but cosmopolitan champions who triumphantly transcend national and cultural boundaries.

For most of Hong Kong's citizens, looking at videos of real estate in Vancouver and Sydney is a waste of time. They have no access to a "right of abode" anywhere except the place they least want it. But, in some of these fantasies, the powers of the heroes they may identify with take them beyond any concern with citizenship into an almost euphoric transnational command. Once a Thief and Armour of God II are the most obvious examples of this tendency, as Jacky Chan and Chow Yun-fat sweep through Europe seeking hidden treasures and defying death and the law. Big budgets, fast cars, high-tech weapons and hyperbolic fighting skills combine with suave assurance and slick Italian suits to suggest that these are Hong Kong's "masters of the universe," as Tom Wolfe's market dealers refer to themselves in Bonfire of the Vanities.

This positive hybridity can be seen not only in the narratives of the films, but also in their styles. They mix and mismatch styles in a virtuoso display of cinematic literacy. In addition to the confident, big-budget look, Armour of God II continues Jacky Chan's mixing of the old kung-fu genre conventions with Western action films, in this case pastiching Indiana Jones in the search for hidden World War II gold in the North African deserts. Even more daringly, John Woo's Once a Thief revives and expands sixties Euro-American transnational fantasies such as The Man From U.N.C.L.E., the Bond series, even Get Smart, and most particularly How to Steal a Million. The film also replaces the solitary oedipal hero so beloved of twentieth-century Western culture with a brother-and-sister band of robbers more reminiscent of old martial arts tales.

However, these two examples are the most fantastic of the wide range of films that feature the world outside Hong Kong. The closer they get to contemporary reality, the more difficult it becomes to sustain the fantasy of transnationality and the more sombre the films become. In Zodiac Killers and even the comedy Three Stooges in Tokyo, Japan may have started out as a promised land for the protagonists, but it soon becomes yet another distopic space where they are the underdogs fighting to survive in a hostile culture. In the former case, Chinese students get caught up with prostitution and yakuza, and in the latter, a comedy, the heroes' dreams of sexual adventures are humiliatingly frustrated. Similarly, in Days of Being Wild, one of the characters finally gets to go and seek out his mother in the Philippines, but although he makes it to her house, he is unable to effect a reunion, and again the promise of utopia abroad turns sour.

4. Taiwan and the Weather in Manchuria

The particular form that 1991's Hong Kong films give to the postcolonial experience there is one of little Hong Kong versus the rest of the world. Hong Kong characters may take a certain internal cultural hybridity for granted, often turning their command of foreign ways to advantage. However, tensions are manifested primarily in a series of responses to the external world. Most notable among these are fantasies of subversion and transnationality and representations of suffering in hostile environments, both of which assume a modern-day form of the ancient Chinese outlaw legends. In Taiwanese cinema, on the other hand, postcoloniality is posited less as a relation between inside and outside and more as an internal condition; a threatening but simultaneously dynamic fracturing within Taiwanese society.

This is not to say that Taiwanese productions do not feature territories outside Taiwan. However, only one or two such films feature Taiwanese characters outside Taiwan, and the majority simply make no reference to Taiwan at all. For example, among 1991 films, My American Grandson and Pushing Hands both deal with mainland Chinese and American Chinese, and are set in those territories. This appears to be more the result of the woeful economic state of the local industry and an effort to produce for foreign markets and with foreign investment than the result of any internal cultural pressures.

Among the films that are set in Taiwan, however, the major feature that unites them is an acknowledgement of internal difference. As in Hong Kong, this responds to local political and cultural conditions. However, where the Hong Kong cinema constructs its specific postcoloniality against the difference of external forces, Taiwanese cinema suggests the growing awareness of colonial layers on the island as the defining characteristic of its distinct identity.

Taiwan derived its former name, Formosa, from Portuguese explorers, and was a Dutch colony between 1624 and 1662, as well as being subject to waves of migration from Fujian province on the mainland from the sixteenth century on, which began to displace the original population of, as they are now called, "aboriginal" Taiwanese tribes. From 1895 until the end of World War II, it was a Japanese colony subject to an administration that was certainly benign in comparison to Japan's activities in the rest of Asia. Since 1945, it has officially been the "temporary" resting place of the ousted KMT nationalist government from the mainland.4

This complex history has produced a hierarchy of layers, from the surviving Aboriginal population at the bottom up through the longer term Han Chinese migrants to the most recent KMT wave at the top. However, until recently, the Nationalist government has pursued policies which suppressed those differences in the name of not distinguishing Taiwan from the rest of China. In cinema, the use of dialects was discouraged by, for example, excluding films not in standard Mandarin Chinese from consideration in the Golden Horse prizes, Taiwan's equivalent of the Oscars.

All this has occurred despite the fact that for the long-term Chinese locals, who constitute some seventy per cent of the population, a Fujian-derived dialect known as Minnanhua is dominant. To this day, visitors to the island will see the "national" TV news and weather spoken in Mandarin and covering the entire mainland as well as the island. It is mildly amusing to witness weather forecasters warning the residents of tropical Taiwan that tomorrow it will snow in Manchuria. Nanjing on the mainland is referred to throughout these bulletins as the capital, while Taipei is officially the temporary capital and Minnanhua news is "local news" relegated to a secondary channel.

Lately, however, KMT control has been relaxed since the dropping of martial law in 1987, and the internal diversity and divisions that result from Taiwan's complex and particular postcoloniality have come to the fore. Apart from the political divisions over whether Taiwan should declare itself independent, this tendency has also taken over the local cinema.

Internal hybridity signified by linguistic diversity seems to have become accepted as an everyday part of the mainstream Taiwanese cinema. In sharp contrast to the old days of Mandarin hegemony, in Rouge, 1991's big melodrama, which centres on the relationship between a mother, daughter and granddaughter, the mother often uses her original Shanghai dialect in a naturalistic manner with her daughter. In the children's film Wawa, the little girl the film centres around is from "the mountains," signifying that she is Aboriginal. She is accompanied in her adventures in Taipei by a pet pig whose Aboriginal name cannot be rendered in the Chinese language subtitles on the film in Chinese characters but only in a phonetic transcription mode used for distinctively aboriginal terms.

5. History Films: Postcolonial Foundation Myths?

However, although postcoloniality is as ubiquitous in today's Taiwanese cinema as it is in Hong Kong's, the history of its appearance differentiates the two as much as the specific characteristics of the postcoloniality signified. In Hong Kong, until recently, postcoloniality has not been tied into the investigation of the past in any consistent way. In Taiwan, in contrast, it was the investigation of the island's post-1945 history that paved the way for the proliferation of postcolonial representations in the cinema.

This investigation of modern Taiwan's history dates back to the emergence of the so-called Taiwanese New Wave of younger directors at the start of the 1980s. The best known of these directors abroad are Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien. They and their contemporaries represent the first generation brought up in post-1945 Taiwan, with no direct remembered experience of either the period of Japanese colonization or the mainland. Together with the writers of the so-called "nativist" (xiangtu) literary school, their work often tends to an examination of the period of their youth and the various internal commmunal tensions that played across it together with the impact of foreign colonization and neo-colonization. During the 1980s, the films of the Taiwanese New Wave, such as Taipei Story, My Summer at Grandpa's, Sandwich Man, A Time to Live and a Time to Die, and Dust in the Wind appealed to intellectuals and the art-house crowd and did well at foreign festivals, but had only a limited impact on the commercial cinema and broader popular culture of Taiwan. Hou Hsiao-Hsien's City of Sadness changed all that in 1989. By breaking the taboo on the February 28 1947 massacre in which the KMT quelled an uprising by local Taiwanese at the cost of between 15,000 and 25,000 lives, it attracted an enormous audience, and, despite being a "difficult" film, became both a box-office hit and one of the most talked about films of the year.

City of Sadness also signified the particular hybridity of Taiwan through its unprecedented use of language, deploying Minnanhua for the locals, Mandarin for representatives of the new government, Shanghai dialect for gangster elements newly arrived from the mainland, and a smattering of Japanese to signify the impact of long colonization by Tokyo. Set in the days between the end of World War II and the massacre, the film also confronts the hybridity of the times, and does not essentialize the different communities. For example, a Japanese friend of the central family first appears in the film speaking Mandarin to introduce some of his Han Chinese friends to one of the brothers in the family. A brother and sister are local Chinese Taiwanese, but their Chinese names are pronounced according to the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters. Not surprisingly in the face of this hubbub, the main character is mute. Both this and the return to the appalling event City of Sadness centres on can be seen as part of an investigation of what it means to be Taiwanese today; an attempt to write a distinctively postcolonial Taiwanese history or foundation myth that marks not the emergence of an homogenous entity, but the point at which the dynamic conjuncture of disjunctive elements composing modern-day Taiwan began to emerge.

Today, two years later, the impact of City of Sadness continues to be felt in Taiwanese cinema in most remarkable ways. As well as the general impact on the commerical cinema that I have already noted, other New Wave films continue to disrupt the KMT myth of internal homogeneity and non-difference from China by investigating the tensions of the past and the present. Most notable among these are Edward Yang's A Brighter Summer Day and Huang Mingchuan's Man From Island West, the first released last year, and the latter the year before.

Where Hou's City of Sadness took the sufferings of the local Taiwanese in the face of the arrival of the KMT as its main focus, A Brighter Summer Day shifts to the difficulties faced by ordinary refugees from the mainland in the fifties and the sixties. On one level, the film constructs the hybridity of local and U.S. culture, invoking Jimmy Dean rebel movies by focussing on gangs of teenagers and a particularly notorious murder case that resulted from their activities, as well as using U.S. fifties music (the export title is drawn from an Elvis song).

However, A Brighter Summer Day's cool style and distant observation, as well as its large cast and complex multiple plot lines are more in the mode we have come to expect from Yang's previous films, such as The Terrorizer. The result is not a picture of troubled alienation in the midst of affluence found in the U.S. juvenile deliquent films. Rather, it is an alienation that results from dislocation and political repression. For example, the father of one the main figures in the film is called in for questioning by the KMT when his links with the mainland put him under suspicion of inappropriate political activities, and tanks roll by in the night on military manouevres, presumably in preparation for the long-foreshadowed return to the mainland. Again, linguistic diversity marks hybridity within Chinese culture.

In the case of Man From Island West, the representation of Taiwanese hybridity is spread out further. This is the first film to try to represent the brutalisation of Taiwan's Aboriginal population from their point of view, even though the director is Han Chinese. Highly symbolic, it follows a man from Taipei who crashes his car onto a beach in an Aboriginal community. His encounters with local youth reveal deep alienation and a desire to escape to the big city on their part. However, as the mystery of his identity is unravelled as he gradually overcomes the amnesia brought on by the accident and re-discovers his personal history, we discover that he too rejected his Aboriginality many years ago, but that now he feels a sense of guilt and betrayal.

Again, the film is structured by linguistic diversity, using a mix of Aboriginal language, Mandarin and Minnanhua according to the particular situation. Most interestingly, the local Aboriginal language is studded with adopted Japanese terms, themselves a mark of resistance to the Han Chinese.

Where the investigation of recent history by an art cinema has paved the path towards a broader cinematic recognition and construction of Taiwan's particular postcoloniality, the same cannot be said of Hong Kong. In the relentless commercial cinema of the territory, there has been little space for the equivalent generation of Hong Kong directors to explore the past in an art cinema, despite the notable exceptions of a few directors such as Ann Hui and Allen Fong, some of whose early 1980s films, such as Father and Son, did explore this avenue. Rather, it is within the commercial cinema itself that, despite its usual relentless concentration on the present or the mythical past of martial arts films, attention has turned to Hong Kong's recent history. Although individual films may be found in various genres (for example, Ann Hui's 1989 very personal memoir of the early 1970s, Song of the Exile), the emergence of a cycle of biographical films set in the sixties seems most significant to me.

Two 1991 films, Lee Rock and To Be Number One seem to be the most important initiators of this cycle, but they have been followed by various semi-fictional and fictional biographies of tycoons, gangsters, corrupt policemen and so forth from the past. In both Lee Rock and To Be Number One, the heroes (or anti-heroes) of these films about corruption in the police force and gansterism based on true historical events are migrants from the mainland. They use networks of homeboys from their original cities to claw their way up in a culture of violence and bribery that thrives under the blind portrait of Queen Elizabeth II on Lee Rock's police station wall. This scenario itself is archetypically hybrid, simultaneously invoking American mafia films like Goodfellas and ancient Chinese outlaw legends like The Water Margin. It also suggests the beginnings of a representation of the origins of modern Hong Kong as a place with an identity of its own. However, like the Taiwanese films I have also discussed here, these are not myths of the foundation of a homogenous national space, but the tracing of a distinctly Hong Kong history that depends on the postcolonial experience and the very particular absence of homogeneity and autonomy to mark out the territory from other spaces, including mainland China.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the genre chosen for this work in Hong Kong cinema is one in which characters are defined according to the relation to that abstract principle, the law. From the very beginning, Hong Kong's history as a colonial space has derived from the disputes that occurred when two very different legal systems, that of Britain and that of Qing dynasty China, each with their own histories and ordering principles, met and clashed on the coast of China in the early nineteenth century as the British upheld free trade as a universal right. Within Hong Kong, the differing expectations and ideas around the law continue to generate and symbolize the tensions between the different communities within the territory and the transactions and interpenetrations between them.

To concentrate on one film as an example, the story of To Be Number One starts and ends, perhaps significantly, in a jail cell. Cripple Ho, the lead character, is initially shown as an old man, presumably reflecting on the chain of events that got him into this place. A series of titles superimposed on documentary stills explain the impact of the famines of the early 1960s in the mainland and the flood of refugees to Hong Kong, thus setting up one important external tension in the definition of Hong Kong, namely its relations to the People's Republic. Cripple Ho now appears in a jail cell again, but this time in the 1960s. He has been arrested within days of fleeing to Hong Kong, and is being detained at Her Majesty's pleasure. However, the Chinese police officer in charge lets him off when he discovers that they both come from the same place in the mainland, Shatow. Here, the British theory (and, one suspects, little more than theory) of the law as a set of inflexible written codes runs up against the older Chinese practice of the law as a demonstration of hierarchical power applied differently according to the social status of the criminal and the nature of his or her relation to the enforcing official.5

The torn loyalties of this particular police officer become one of the subplots running through To Be Number One, as does the ongoing tension between the willingness of the police to engage in person to person negotiations with Cripple Ho as a way of maintaining social order or at least making crime orderly and limited in return for pay-offs, and the growing determination of the Hong Kong government to enforce the written law and root out what it sees as "corruption." The establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption by the then Governor, Sir Murray MacLehose, in 1974, is structured in the film as the event that finally brings about Cripple Ho's downfall. His inability to perceive the seriousness (or maybe even the existence) of this concept of the law that is so different from that applied in the mainland where he grew up is signified by his belief that when the police finally arrive to arrest him all they really want is more money.

In a sense, then, Cripple Ho's downfall stems from his failure to comprehend that the full complexity of Hong Kong's postcolonial hybridity goes beyond the international language of cold, hard cash. On a cultural level, although he and his followers continue to pray for success on the jobs to traditional gods at traditional altars, the cash they get from their jobs enables them to live that hybridity to the full. They soon acquire all the trappings of movie mafia kings. This appears most memorably in a scene set on a yacht. In a pair of boxer-style swimming shorts and dark glasses, Cripple Ho's expanding girth is emphasized by a shot taken from below, as is the fat cigar sticking out of his mouth. In the background, the English-language lyrics of a pop song blares from a transistor radio. By the end of the film, he is ensconced in a mansion, and conducts his affairs from a boardroom complete with a portrait of the "managing director" himself, chandeliers, and Louis-the-something-or-other ornate chairs and couches.

In conclusion, the films I have discussed here suggest a growing willingness to acknowledge internal heterogeneity in Taiwanese cinema at the same time as Hong Kong cinema looks outwards to a sort of transnational hybridity. Writing from Australia, a space at least as hybrid as either Taiwan or Hong Kong, I cannot help but admire this. I do not wish to pretend that this acknowledgement and investigation of their particular postcolonial conditions signifies some sort of state of happy coexistence in either space. Far from it. As I hope my description has indicated, it is more likely that these things are so ubiquitous in Hong Kong and Taiwanese cinema because they are symptoms of enormous unresolved anxieties.

The same anxieties run through our society here in Australia, too. In comparison, however, we have barely begun to face up to, let alone investigate, our own particular postcolonial condition. However, I hope that looking at these films from Hong Kong and Taiwan may help us to focus on our own situation, and to realize that they are not part of totally other cultures ("East is East and West is West") but ones which we share more than just geographical space and trade in common with.


1 Bill Ashcroft, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in Post-Colonial Literature (London: Routledge, 1989), p.2.

2 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, (London: Verso, 1983).

3 I would like to express my gratitude to the China Times Express and particularly Chiao Hsiung-Ping and Huang Wu-Lan and their colleagues there. Without their invitation and their hard work in organizing the screenings for the awards, I would not be writing this article.

4 Simon Long, Taiwan: China's Last Frontier (London: Macmillan, 1991), pp.1-33.

5 Interestingly, at least one discussion of the law and the ICAC from a very British perspective indicates an awareness that the British have good historical reasons for understanding the "corruption" as an accepted part of the traditional Chinese legal system. See Nigel Cameron, An Illustrated History of Hong Kong, (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp.306-319.

New: 16 April, 1996 | Now: 12 April, 2015