Advisors' Words

The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directorsis a serious undertaking that demands a sense of mission. I must thank the members of the editorial board for all the hard work they did! For not only are there many Hong Kong directors who belong to many different eras and had made a large number of films that involve an assortment of dialects (Cantonese, Mandarin, Teochew, Amoy), there are also numerous aliases and pseudonyms adopted by these filmmakers. In addition, the industry has never attempted any sort of organized effort in compiling such information. Hence one can imagine the difficulty of this project. It is a joyous occasion now the job is finally complete.

Before 1997, Hong Kong was a “borrowed place” on “borrowed time.” The British colonial government’s attitude towards the Hong Kong film industry was mostly indifferent—as long as films did not disparage the image of Great Britain and its citizens while avoiding topics considered amoral or depraved, there was no governmental intervention. With that said, there was never any kind of substantial support and it would be more accurate to say that filmmakers had to fend for themselves for the most part. Due to changes in China’s political situation, many of its film workers (including producers, actors, cinematographers, screenwriters and directors) relocated to Hong Kong and gave rise to a film industry boom on this little island. That was a time when filmmakers were flexing their creative muscles. Though there were inevitably crudely made films aptly labeled “seven-day-productions,” there was no shortage of gems. Many directors of that period are my respected idols.

With the collapse of Cantonese cinema, Hong Kong was dominated by two big studios. As I recalled, local directors had become a rare breed. After Cathay stopped production and Shaw Brothers became dominant, even assistant directors were hired hands from Taiwan. The opportunities for aspiring Hong Kong directors were few and far between as studios would rather employ Japanese and Korean directors. But the tide turned eventually. The mode of independent productions emerged in Hong Kong. A new generation of filmmakers was nurtured by television and advancements in technology (such as the small-sized ARRI camera and the so-called “atomic lamps”) broke the traditional confines of filmmaking and led to the second coming of Hong Kong cinema.

Creative freedom unhindered by prohibitions and wild, blistering imagination characterized Hong Kong cinema. Wuxia Swordsplay films, action movies, romances, kung fu comedies, police dramas, horror flicks, erotica — the variety is rich and plentiful. Each genre has had classics of its own. Hong Kong cinema even began to garner international acclaim. What a prosperous time!

With the return of Hong Kong’s sovereignty to China, much in Hong Kong remained the same. Yet the film industry had lost its shine and started to hit a slump. The Mainland and Hong Kong Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement (CEPA) put the industry on life support for ten years. As the Chinese film industry started to reform, the Mainland market is now enjoying a promising future as Hong Kong languishes in an impasse. In spite of the unfavorable circumstances threatening Hong Kong cinema, the government has chosen to ignore the situation. The shrinking output of our film industry and the ever-decreasing budgets left the industry without worthy successors. The thought of it is unbearably despairing!

On the occasion of the publication of The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directors, reading carefully the great many names of our forbearers, images of the once robust and thriving Hong Kong cinema seemed to reappear in front of my eyes. Is our industry going to meet its downfall in the hands of our generation?

I hope that my fellow film workers will work diligently together, fight for our opportunities and adapt to the changing times. Then perhaps we will lead Hong Kong cinema to its third golden age. That is my wish.

Ng See-yuen

Hong Kong's cinematic legacy is over 100 years old. Beginning with the Lai brothers at the dawn of Hong Kong film history, thousands of film directors must have worked in the industry over the years, and living directors alone must number in the hundreds. It is regrettable that until now, there has never been a compendium of Hong Kong film directors with basic biographies, and people looking for information have had to rely on disparate sources. We understand that this is a task that needs to be done, and it is appropriate that the Hong Kong Film Directors' Guild has taken on the responsibility. I know that different volumes in the series will be produced, featuring directors from different eras, which will be a very good thing indeed.

After years of planning and writing, the first book in The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directorsseries is soon to be published. I am looking forward to holding this new work in my hands. The editors asked me to write a few hundred words, perhaps as blessing, congratulation or perhaps the reflections of an editorial advisor? As for the latter, I had no real contribution since I did not actually take part in the editorial work, nor have I looked at the book in detail so I cannot comment much. However, judging from the samples provided, the descriptions of directors are concise and well-written, and not only provide biographical information, but also critical overview. Most importantly, thanks to the connections of the Directors' Guild, director's words are included for many entries.

I congratulate and thank the working team on the birth of their first-born "baby", and hope you will work hard to give the "children" of this book series the chance to see life!

Law Kar

The importance of reference volumes like The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directors goes without saying. Yet such an endeavor is taken only today and not in the Golden Era of the 1980s and 1990s tells a lot about the attitude of the Hong Kong film industry and the government towards film.

Regardless, finishing the book is a good thing. I am an advisor to the guide but really had not fulfilled my duties, haven’t attended any editorial meetings. But the editors and translators of this volume are among the best and I feel that advisors do not need to be too worried. A good finished product is expected.

In addition to director biographies and filmographies, this guide also includes directors’ statements, which is indeed a magical touch, bringing about nice surprises. It is also an indication that much of the content had been examined by the directors themselves, providing more assurance to accuracy.

Hopefully this is only a beginning, that filmmakers of different positions would gradually produce “ultimate guides” of their own.

Li Cheuk-to

When I worked at the Hong Kong Film Archive’s research department, I constantly felt a sense of anxiety at the large amount of work that needs to be done and the paucity of resources. I had always wanted to do a compilation of local film professionals, but I had not yet got around to it by the time I left the Film Archive. The publishing of a bilingual The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directors 1979 – 2013by the Hong Kong Film Directors' Guild is therefore a supremely meaningful event. Judging from the entries and index, this publication uses a local perspective as its starting point, yet also takes into account the needs of international readers as well as those in the Chinese diaspora. This is a realization of Hong Kong’s cultural vision. I hope in the future, other professional guilds within the film industry will also publish their own compendium.

While working at the Film Archive, we had repeated discussions on how English names of local Chinese people should be represented. A researcher who wrote in English solemnly requested that we use the pinyin system, asserting that this was the international norm in academia. The Film Archive eventually decided that, as much as possible, transliteration of local pronunciation would be used, supplemented by Putonghua pinyin. Sometimes taking a stance is necessary, and I thank The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directorsfor doing so.

Wong Ain-ling

According to statistics, 745 films were produced in China last year (2012). That’s an astonishing figure. Mainland directors can seldom made more than one film a year. For China to have over 700 films completed, more than 700 directors were needed. Yet, did China really have so many directors?

It was said that in the hundred years of Hong Kong film, the number of directors reached above 1,000. For a small harbour city to have over a thousand directors is nothing less than astonishing, although many directors were not entirely of Hong Kong. Some of them came south around 1940, returning north after leaving behind a few works. Some came from Japan or Korea and directed films here. No matter where you're from, as long as you have the ability, you can take up a megaphone here and yell: "Action!" Hong Kong has always been a city of open arms.

An open city always fosters glorious scenes of rich, divergent creativity. This is obvious. Yet, an open city indeed allowed a large number of directors to leave their footprints. Even if some are not so deep or defined, prints were left behind. I believe The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directorsis making the best record of the directors who had, or will continue to have, left footprints in this city.

Reeve Wong

The Hong Kong Film Archive is an organization that collects and preserves film material, but the Archive cannot rely only on its resources to accumulate material, nor can it complete the research of all the material. The effort by members of our society and by organizations can often reach where the Archive cannot. The Hong Kong Film Directors’ Guild’s compilation of The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directorsis a testimony to the above statement. This guide will certainly make use of previously published information but, more importantly, this volume comprises of precious information collected through the Directors’ Guild’s network of connections, including statements made by directors to the Guild. This is precious first-hand information that would be very useful. I believe this guide will not only be a basic reference for understanding Hong Kong directors but also a necessary foundation for research on Hong Kong film.

Po Fung

Cinephiles regard film as a director’s art form, and being a director is the ultimate dream of many industry practitioners.

Hong Kong is just a small place, but at its height, it was ranked as the world’s third largest film production centre. At that time, there was a shortage of talents both in front of and behind the camera, and many multi-talented and multi-tasking individuals have had to fill more than one role. Numerous actors, scriptwriters, cinematographers, action choreographers, editors, film scorers and even investors joined the ranks of directors. Many of these films turned out to be quite good, which goes to show that heroes often come from humble origins. Among Hong Kong directors there are many hidden talents, each with unique abilities.

I have conducted research on Hong Kong films in Mainland China, and one of the most irritating aspects about such research is the lack of indexed information. Even though the Hong Kong Film Archive has made some efforts in organizing such material, the number of film professionals in Hong Kong is simply too big, and it is easy to overlook certain areas.

I am therefore very pleased that the Hong Kong Film Directors’ Guild is publishing The Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Film Directorsseries, and it is appropriate that this professional organization has undertaken such a specialist task. I am honored to have offered my services to this worthy project as a gesture of appreciation to the Hong Kong film industry.

Wei Junzi

A guide to Hong Kong filmmakers working since 1979 is a wonderful step to help make this important cinema better known to the world. Hong Kong has produced some of the world’s best filmmakers. The old guard of the 1960s-1970s, such as Chang Cheh, King Hu, and Lau Kar-leung, was followed by a remarkable array of talents, from Tsui Hark and Ann Hui to Wong Kar-wai and Johnnie To Kei-fung.

For me, these major creators show two things. First, they indicate the power of popular cinema. Like Hollywood, the Hong Kong industry was first and foremost a business. It took as its task pure entertainment. Yet also like Hollywood, it was able to please crowds while still exploring film artistry. Michael Hui discovered new forms of comedy, while martial-arts filmmakers as diverse as Corey Yuen and Jackie Chan fashioned unique styles of cutting and image composition. Wong Kar-wai took conventions of drama and romance and gave them a lyrical force in Days of Being Wild and Chungking Express. The rich tradition of the urban crime movie was revitalized by John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To. Hong Kong cinema shows that a great deal of artistic expression can be achieved within the framework of popular genres.

Secondly, Hong Kong directors have achieved international impact. Their formal and stylistic innovations and their purity of emotional expression were immediately appreciated by audiences in the west—proving, I think, that cinema can be a sort of universal language, understood by people in a wide range of circumstances. From the 1980s to the present, Hong Kong cinema has been a global cinema, at once influenced by other countries and highly influential on them. A robust popular cinema doesn’t stop at national boundaries: it can reach around the world.

Hong Kong cinema is now a global force, and this book will help ∂us better understand it.

David Bordwell