Hong Kong was an important arena for the development of Chinese wuxia films. The genre has undergone many changes since the 1940s, with various sub-genres developed, leaving long lasting impact on Chinese language cinema. In the early 1950s, many wuxia films inherited characteristics of those made in Shanghai, but productions were also rooted in Cantonese culture, some about kung fu masters of the Southern School. Five Great Heroes from Shaolin (1951) is a good example of how a swordplay film blends different conventions of Chinese language films. Half a century later, the swordplay genre was rejuvenated with special effects and computer graphics in Tsui Hark's The Legend of Zu (2001). The film, using computer graphics to create the spectacular landscape of an imaginary world filled with elements of Chinese culture, demonstrates ambitions in widening the horizons of the Chinese wuxia genre.
Re-inventing Kung Fu Legends
Since the late 1940s, Southern Shaolin legends and Lingnan boxers hold an important place in Chinese wuxia films, largely thanks to cinematic contributions of Fong Sai-yuk and Wong Fei-hung series. In the beginning, most of these films were autobiographical. Martial arts practitioners at the time were often featured or starred to give credibility to the production. One example is The White Crane Hero (1956), a film dedicated to master of the White Crane sect Chu Tsi-yiu. The film had the backing of the White Crane sect and it reflected the spirit of the time, though it did not develop into a series. Also settled in Hong Kong during that time was Ip Man (1893-1972), master of Wing Chun, a school that had become household name today while Ip's legendary life had inspired a number of popular films and reinvigorated interests in Hong Kong's wuxia heritage.
Showing the Master-Pupil Bond
The bond between the master and his apprentices is a major theme in kung fu films. Traditional values that were losing significance in modern society were being revived and celebrated. The Wong Fei-hung series was marked by a reverence for the master, often animated with humour and warmth. Master Wong's disciple Leung Foon, a popular figure with the audience and beloved for his upright character and straightforward personality, is the central character in at least four films made in the 1950s. In Champion Lion Dancer Leung Foon's Big Fight at Tiger Valley (1958), Leung the disciple has graduated to being a master, finding himself in the shoes of Master Wong, dealing with troubles caused by immature disciples and eventually combatting brutes who trigger the trouble. The recent production Gallants (2010) creatively references 1970s wuxia films, its story spanning across three generations: a laid-back master, a senior disciple going through mid-life crisis, and an ambitious youthful newcomer. Set against the backdrop of a capitalistic metropolis, the story is at once a homage to the former glories of wuxia films and an update of the martial arts spirit.
The Trajectories of Cantonese Opera Films (I)
The cross-media integration of Cantonese cinema and Cantonese opera has a long history. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Cantonese opera films, totaling over 1,000 titles, accounted for almost one third of all Cantonese films. The two forms of art influenced each other, with actors starring in productions of both, yielding notable results in both artistic and commercial terms. Law Tung Conquers the North (1957), a prime example of the luogu (gong-and-drum) film, is a costume drama with actors performing in Cantonese opera conventions, while also featuring elements of modern romantic comedies. Hu-Du-Men (1996), on the other hand, examines the role of regional opera culture in an urban setting. The film combines the traditional and the modern, with the narrative traversing onstage and off, following an opera actress' struggles in contemporary society.
The Trajectories of Cantonese Opera Films（II）
The Cantonese opera cinema of Hong Kong is a phenomena among Chinese opera films, its popularity translating into a prolific genre, making room for a number of outstanding works and impressive talents. The opera Zhuang Zi Tests His Wife, based on a well-known folk tale, was once banned in some areas for its supernatural and erotic elements. But it was made into a film in Hong Kong. Butterfly Dream (1956) retains the opera's plot and sensational elements while adding to the story components of traditional morality commonly celebrated in Cantonese cinema. Librettist Nam Hoi Sap-sam Long, whose life is chronicled in The Mad Phoenix (1997), was a renowned playwright in the 1930s and 1940s. The film is in turn adapted from a popular play, product of the 1990s nostalgia wave. The story harks back to the war years and the post-war era, tracing the writer's rise to opera renown, his jump from stage to screen and his descent to mental illness and a state of down and out. His story may be tragic but his faithfulness to artistic sanctity of Cantonese opera and his dedication to artistic excellence pursuit take on special resonance today.
War and Changes in Revolutionary Operas
More and more Hong Kong filmmakers began directing ‘main melody' productions in the mainland of China since the 2000s, a continuation of the ongoing interactions between the cinemas of Hong Kong and the mainland of China. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the leftist camp of the Hong Kong film industry began making films with ideological inclinations while also trying to appeal to local audiences. Later in the 1960s, they ventured into emulating China's revolutionary films in both style and content, one example being Operation Child Hunt (1967). Fast forward to 2014, director Tsui Hark's The Taking of Tiger Mountain is an adaptation of a novel on the fight against bandits during the Civil War, expanding the scope of ‘main melody' films with Hong Kong's genre film impulses.