Female Directors and Womens Cinema in Hong Kong: 1950-1997

Project: Research

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Despite the extensive academic work on Hong Kong (HK) cinema and beyond limited writings ondirectors such as Esther Eng, Cecile Tang, Ann Hui, Mabel Cheung, and Clara Law, there is no rigoroushistorical survey on the trajectories of HK female filmmakers or an encompassing critical analysis oftheir films as an alternative or counter cinema. HK female directors produced a small, yet persistentstream of films that paralleled and interacted with the city’s highly commercial mainstream cinema.This project aims to produce the first major historical overview and, critical analysis on HK femaledirectors and their works released between 1950 and 1997. During this crucial period, the city was amajor center for global filmmaking and HK cinema competed Hollywood cinema in its local and SouthEast Asian markets. The year 1950 marked the beginning point for Chinese language cinema to developin three separate territories—Mainland China, HK and Taiwan. 1997 saw the end of HK’s colonial ruleand created uncertainty within its film industry. Meanwhile, the rise of digital video as an alternativecinematic medium brought new opportunities in an otherwise stagnant industry. In the past decade,with increasing co-productions coming from Mainland China, the creative and cultural edge of HKcinema has come under question. In this sense, studies focusing on HK cinema between 1950 and 1997constitute a much needed effort to understand a historically unique moment, and this study on thelargely unknown thread of women’s cinema will fill in a major research gap.This proposed research follows the Principal Investigator’s (PI’s) current studies on women filmpioneers in HK (1937-49) and builds on her ten years of studying and writing about Chinese womendirectors and their works within the contexts of Chinese film studies, feminist film studies, and thegeneral history of female directors and women’s cinema. The PI is motivated by a paradox regardingHK female directors: they have been steadily producing impressive works that have formed arguablythe longest standing women’s cinema (Chart 1) in any locale since 1937 (—when Esther Eng made herdirectorial debut), yet these directors are understudied as individual film authors and even lesscompared to each other. In contrast, Mainland Chinese women directors are studied both as individualsand in generation lineage.The main objective of this research is to show, through examining around 86 feature films by 12HK female directors (Chart 2), how these directors sustained a cinema of their own. This study will arguethat such a cinema had at least three main achievements. First, it has captured some of the mostmemorable, complicated images of women on screen. Second, it has contested thepatriarchal/mainstream representation of HK’s social, economic, and cultural transformations boththrough realistic social satires and, on occasion, poetic allegories of the city’s historicalfigures/moments, ordinary lives, and gender/family relationships. Third, its portrayal of HK as aspecific historical/cultural space has vigorously incorporated the directors’ diasporic/migrationexperiences, which is a practice shared by nearly all female directors/writers (but only a small numberof male directors) and indeed a remarkable characteristic of HK cinema most forcefully achieved bywomen since the time of early pioneers like Esther Eng and Wan Hoi Ling (1930s-1940s).


Project number9042299
Grant typeGRF
Effective start/end date1/01/1630/12/19

    Research areas

  • Hong Kong cinema,Hong Kong female directors,women's cinema,Hong Kong film history,