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Orientalism & Occidentalism in Chungking Express

Orientalism & Occidentalism in Chungking Express

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Published by Enjiao Chen

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Published by: Enjiao Chen on Jul 12, 2012
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07/12/2012

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Using analytical tools provided by Stuart Hall in
Representations
 
and/or Dai Jinhua’s idea about
Orientalism and Occidentalism, give examples of how concepts of East, West, or the absence of ormerging of such identifications are expressed in
Chungking Express
.
When viewing Chungking Express, it’s important to consider Hong Kong as a character in itself, though
the question would be then of what representation? The characters in this film seem to have no pasts,their lives marked by seemingly random and arbitrary encounters
 –
how then do we start talking aboutOrientalist/Occidental representations with such diffusions of identity? Indeed, if we look at Hong Kongas characterized by Asian affiliations at home and Western in its consumption culture, juxtaposedagainst its immigrants-based and background as a cultural melting pot, there appears a suspension of identities
 –
when the choice is of two polarities
 –
East or West. In the broadest sense, there is thus anabsence of Eastern/Western identity.But it
’s also possible to view the characterization of Hong Kong as a merging of these disparate identities
as well. In the words of Wong himself, the 2 main spaces of shooting in the movie served as"microcosms of Hong Kong"
 –
crowded, urban, at the palimpsestic intersection of the global and thelocal. The movie shares an Orientalist stereotype of South Asians, most exemplified in its treatment of Indians and the Pilipino seductress. In adopting this colonial gaze through unstable camera movementsand moments punctuated by disruptions to our conventional habits of experiencing cinema time, Wongappears to be mediating the Hong Kong anxiety about the 1997 handover. As a country that experiencesBritish colonialism, US cultural hegemony and a then soon-handover to
Chinese “authoritarian” rule,
Hong Kong appears to succumb to Orientalist persuasions to establish its own cultural identity (99%Chinese) vis-à-vis a one-dimensional representation of other Asian ethnicities. This is one way the movieestablishes a uniquely Hong Kong identity by stereotyping what it is not in contrast to other Asians. Andanother way the movie identities as non-Western was established by the different attitudes towards
 
love and sex in its male characters
 –
the manipulative Western drug dealer and the two Chinese cops.While the latter two appears very vulnerable and lovesick, the former was seen to be involved in two-
timing and subsequently suffers a violent death; while Wong’s film noir treatment and lack of emotional
distance with the Western male results in a certain nonchalance about the murder being committed.
The more pressing concern I was made to feel is one of, what happens when the cop and the “blonde”
meet? How would their encounter be liked? What would happen?When we draw paral
lels between such questions on the viewers’ minds and the May 1
st
expiry date that
appeared in various forms of canned food, we are reminded of the arbitrary nature of Hong Kong’s 1997handover, the “murder” or end of its British affiliations as a result (
symbolized by the death of the
Western male) and questions of who are we really and what’s going to happen next arises naturally in
the context of a Hong Kong identity coming to grips with itself.It is possible to say Hong Kong is postculture in that state of suspension and meeting together of different cultures, as marked in the film by instabilities and paradoxes of time. The things most distinctlyChinese in the movie appears to be some of the food items consumed, and the outward appearance of the actors and actresses involved. In this regard I am reminded of my personal encounters with Koreanpopular culture
 –
manufactured with Western MTV tools and sounds composed by Europeansongwriters (to take SNSD as an example)
 –
the only things distinctly Korean about such culturalproducts appeared to be the ethnicities of the singers and the language in which the songs were sang in.Seen against a backdrop of increasing globalization and continual exchange between different cultures,that there continues to be a missing Oriental culture in and of itself, seen as an ongoing discourseamong the various narratives that are native to its heritage and history, appears to point at a very realdanger of cultural homogenization which would essentially render Orientalist and Occidentalperspectives obsolete. As goods become a medium through which loss and alienation are affected and

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