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Nguyen, Thi Bach Tuyet 2011190173 CLC 3705-01-00 East Asia Cinema and Cultural Crossing – Final Paper
Rouge, Infernal Affairs And the Moving Identity of Hong Kong
In the book “Hong Kong Cinema: Coloniser, motherland and self”, the author Yingchi Chu describes Hong Kong as “[a] „nation‟ without sovereignty” (98). It is because of the unique and complicating historical experience that Hong Kong people have been going through since its early beginning. From the early time until before 1842, Hong Kong was considered to be a territory of China. In 1842, China officially ceded Hong Kong to the British after the First Opium War due to the rise of British‟s power; and from that moment to 1997, Hong Kong had been remaining as a British‟s colony and experiencing the very distinct cultural development and social changes. The year 1997 marked the most crucial moment for Hong Kong people with the advent of Hong Kong‟s handover to its “motherland” – China (Hong Kong Profile – www.bbc.co.uk). That triangular relationship between British, China and Hong Kong produces some unique characteristics of Hong Kong‟s society such as the sense of historical “dislocations and discontinuities” (Ackbar 81), the sense of ambiguous and uncertain identity. Thus, those characteristics are dominant features in Hong Kong cinema, especially in pre and post-1997 period. Among those films, Rouge directed by Stanley Kwan in 1988 and Infernal Affairs directed by Wai-keung Lau and Alan Mark in 2002 well represent for historical experience and identity issues of Hong Kong people. The analysis of two films shows that through the personal stories of main characters, those two films depict vividly the historical experience of Hong Kong people before and after the turning point in their lives – the handover of Hong Kong to China in
Desser 254). The anxiety over the unpredicted and uncertain future. in 1980s when Hong Kong formed its own international identity as one of the “Four Asian Tigers”. and becoming “an international center for finance and commerce” (254). Therefore. Hong Kong under British colonial rule went through “the turning point of Hong Kong‟s historical development” (Foshek. after Fleur committed suicide and hopelessly waited for her lover for 50 years. Also. Firstly. and was enjoying a high living standard and a robust economic development. and the fear of being handed back to the poor Communist-led China lead to the feeling of hopelessness. he has not appeared yet. The passionate love which is deemed to remain unchanged permanently turns out to be just a normal and changeable thing. from British to Chinese. However.Tuyet 2 1997. Her hopelessness and depression over the changes of love when Fleur goes back to search for her lover after 50 years imply the anxiety and hopelessness of . The love story of Fleur and Twelfth Master was described as a perfect love story in which the two seem to be inseparable. the sense of historical dislocation and discontinues. In contrast to the sluggish economic development and unstable political condition of mainland China. they even promised to committed suicide if they cannot be together. those negative feeling is expressed through the love story of Fleur who died in 1930s and decided to go back to find her lover in 1980s. as well as the fear of being disappeared haunt Hong Kong society. despair and disorientation. transforming from “a fishing village into metropolis” (254). and show how the historical experience changes the way Hong Kong people express their identity. Rouge depicts the historical experience of Hong Kong people before the handover of Hong Kong in 1997. To begin with. ultimately leading to their desperate yearning to their fantastic past as a mean to get rid of reality and to reaffirm their identity. the 1984 Joint Declaration which states that British will hand back Hong Kong to China in 1997 created extreme anxieties among Hong Kong people.
and “lack of faith in progress” (140) of society. As mention above. The confusion projected by the merger of past and present clearly speaks to the feeling of disorientation of Hong Kong people when facing with their dramatic future changes. Experiencing that undesirable feelings. and short-lived romances” (Yau 217) without much emotion. In addition. the past story of Fleur and the story of present couple. Their longing to the past is expressed in the juxtaposition of 1930s-Hong Kong and 1980s-Hong Kong. they do not even have enough time for work. The first scene of Ting and Chu where Chu is in haste to her work so she just quickly gets the present from Ting and runs away clearly portrays the hectic pace of contemporary life. are intermingled. In contrast to the busyness and craziness of contemporary society.Tuyet 3 Hong Kong people with the future of Hong Kong despite the fact that Chinese authorities assured that Hong Kong will remain unchanged in 50 years after the handover. Also. The society of Hong Kong in 1980s is depicted through the life of the present couple who are both so occupied with their works. and the stuffy apartment where the couple have “brief sex. Yuan Ting and Chu. the sense of disorientation is also displayed through the way the past story and present story are narrated. Hong Kong people yearn for their past as a mean of escaping from the awful reality. Fleur‟s decision to give up on her present to go back and search for her lover also illustrates the feeling of frustration. One of the purposes of the juxtaposition is to highlight and emphasize the world of difference between two versions of Hong Kong. Hong Kong in 1930s . the story of Fleur is in the past tense but it is an unfinished story which keeps presenting and haunting the present. the “lack of confidence” (Poshek. The images of the hustle and bustle of daily life are also portrayed through the bar where Chu goes to work. let alone time for pleasure and relax. Desser 140). Secondly. The story of Fleur and the story of the present couple are not presented in linear time from past to present but in the way that the past and the present are intermingled and its boundary is blurred.
the society of Hong Kong in 1930s is a place of pleasure and fun where all Fleur has to do is worrying about her make-up and enjoying life as a prostitute in a brothel. Rouge displays the negative reaction of Hong Kong society towards the historical change of their territory. through the remembrance of depressing people in 1980s. “all social and racial inequalities are erased”. Up to this point. and most importantly. All taken together. Nonetheless. although China and Hong Kong have distinctly different political systems. Thus.Tuyet 4 is described so peacefully. so beautiful. Hong Kong culture is . two systems” of Chinese authorities. and their idealization of the past as a way to overcome their fear and anxiety. Suddenly. all the hardships people endured during the economic development are being ignored. and the discontent of living as a British colony is vanished. enjoyably and beautifully. 1997 marked the turning point of Hong Kong people when Hong Kong officially returned to its “motherland”. Hong Kong as a colony of British in the past ridiculously becomes so free. In short. As it can be seen on the film. Infernal Affairs continues by illustrating their historical experience in the post-1997 period when Hong Kong officially belonged to China. If Rouge vividly depicts the experience of Hong Kong people in the pre-1997 era. and so desirable. The enjoyable aspect of life is also depicted through the images of people enjoying operas in Cantonese operas house. Hong Kong people in post-1997 period could free themselves from the extreme anxiety over their uncertain future. July 1. of men enjoying their lives in brothel. lives of Hong Kong people have not changed much due to the policy “one country. the new problem posed here for Hong Kong people is that “the absence of the British colonizer after 1997 does not mean the end of British presence in Hong Kong” (Chu 120) because Hong Kong economic and politics still operate in the old British system. the fear and the anxiety in present lead to the idealization of the past as a mean to escape from the painful reality. In contrast to the extreme anxiety if Hong Kong people.
The dilemma makes Hong Kong feel the sense of uncertainty. inconsistency. Similar to Lau. conflicted loyalties” (Marchetti 1) which are all portrayed in the two main characters. when Yan‟s friend asks him “Last time you said you‟re a cop. First. If Lau wants to keep his identity as a real police officer. The dilemma of Yan is that he always yearns to take back his true identity but unable to do so. Hong Kong people have to remember their history as a part of their identity. but past is a crucial factor that creates identity of a person. The conflict between the need to remember one‟s past to define the self and the need to erase one‟s past to form a new identity speaks to the dilemma of Hong Kong society. At the same time. The moment Lau becomes police trainee marks the starting point of his dilemma in his life for he is forever trapped in-between two contrasting worlds – the world of legitimate government and the world of illegitimate underground society.Tuyet 5 deeply influenced by British‟s one. putting them in a dilemma in which they do not know which path they should choose. but an in-between entity…” (Lee 4). whom they can identify themselves with. the unresolved issue for Hong Kong people is that they are “neither completely (comfortably) Chinese nor British. The dilemma is first expressed in the film through the dilemma of characters Lau and Yan. Yan is original a police trainee but goes underground to be member of a gang with his true identity being erased publicly. Hong Kong people‟s nationality is now changed to Chinese but they are unable to identify themselves as Chinese due to the distinct differences resulting from 157 years living under the British colonial rule. the difficulty of remembering the past of Lau perfectly signifies for the dilemma of Hong Kong people. and they also want to forget about it to form a new identity for they are an independent territory that belongs to China now. “moral ambiguity. Also. and he even live under the cover of a police officer. Is it true?” and . he needs to erase his past. Lau is originally a member of a gang but later becomes a police trainee. thus cannot be forgotten and erased so easily. In short.
and even erased. it cannot be sure that whether Lau is in the side of the gang or the police force. His position clearly signifies for the feeling of uncertainty and ambiguity in society where the boundary between the so called legitimacy and illegitimacy is now blurred. and the sense of uncertainty of Lau clearly portrayed the historical experience of Hong Kong society when they are in the state of “in-between entity”. He at first identifies himself as a mole in police force. his act of killing the boss and his attempt to hide his true identity do not mean that he is now clean and straight for the fact that the head police office and the leader of the gang now all died puts Lau in the position in which he could be both the head of police force and the leader of the gang in underground society. . not a member of a gang under the cover of a police trainee. This trend is first portrayed in the character Lau. This detail emphasizes his invisible wish to reject his double identity. the behavior and cognitive inconsistency. calling the boss of the gang father.Tuyet 6 Yan answers “It was true but I‟m not sure now”. Lau tries to transfer to the new identity of a real police officer by denying and trying to forget his identity as mole in police force. Lau speaks to himself that “I do”. motivating them to find a possible solution for their problem by rejecting or forgetting one out of the two entities in order to define the true self. and helping him by disclosing confidential information. keeping in touch with him from the trainee day until when he becomes a highprolife police officer. That unresolved issue remains as a central concern for Hong Kong people. His life as a police officer roots deeply in his unconscious mind to the point that he finally seems to think of himself as a real policeman who can bring himself to kill his boss to protect justice. Throughout the film. The conflict loyalty. Also. In the scene where Yan is expelled from cadet school and the officer asks “Who want to be like him?”. Second. to live as his true self – a member of a gang. His response clearly shows the feeling of uncertainty. the sense of uncertainty and inconsistency is expressed more in the character Lau. However.
and the defining qualities of a modern life. or throw-away society. this trend is also expressed through the yearnings of Yan to get his identity back as a real policeman. This move is the result of the shift of Hong Kong territory from the status of a British‟s colony to the status of a Special Administration Religion of China. Those issues can be seen very clearly throughout the film. motherland and self” that “cultural identity is not something which already exists or has been fixed. Second. although the identity of Hong Kong people before and after the year 1997 shares some common characteristics such as uncertainty and elusiveness due to the unique historical experience in a triangular relation with China and British. As Yingchi Chu points out in her book “Hong Kong Cinema: Coloniser. and the defining qualities of postmodernity” (required reading). the analysis on how history and identity of Hong Kong society are represented on Rouge and Infernal Affairs shows a remarkable change in the way Hong Kong people express their identity. Also. Rouge shows how Hong Kong people try to cling to the identity of a British colony when facing with . Infernal Affairs also portrays Hong Kong society in postmodernity period with issues such as “consumerism. Finally. or the scene when Lau and his wife moving to a new apartment which is full of modern furniture present for the image of a consumerism.…. I have no choice before but now I want to turn over a new leaf”. For example. Beside the historical experience of Hong Kong people in post-1997 era. it can be seen that the police office and all people are equipped with high communication technology and cell phones. throughout the film. It is something that is always in process” (93). the scene where Lau uses credit card to purchase goods. not an underground cop any more. and begging Yan “Give me a chance. the identity of Hong Kong people changes from British-bias identity in pre-1997 era to Chinesebias identity in post-1997 era. new technologies of communication.Tuyet 7 killing all people who are aware of his identity.
both Lau and Yan strive to be “legitimate”. the desire to keep and strengthen their British colonial identity. but those two films also show the change in the way Hong Kong people present themselves.is a British colony and this colony is described as an enjoyable and free land. This social chaos and the trend of longing to the past are well represented in Rouge. Infernal Affairs displays a strong wish of Hong Kong people to form a new identity by either erasing. Hong Kong people were frightened to the great extent by the Joint Declaration between British and China.Tuyet 8 the thread of the handover in 1997. Their strong desire implies that Hong Kong people are not only seeking for a new identity. clearing. Infernal Affairs completes Rouge by . not only do Rouge and Infernal Affairs well represent characteristics of the identity of Hong Kong people. The “legitimate identity” indicates Chinese identity since Hong Kong is now an official territory of China. but also longing for a “legitimate identity”. an authentic self. both Rouge and Infernal Affairs are successful in describing the historical experience of Hong Kong people before and after 1997. The most important thing is that being a member of a gang or an underground cop. and they response by clinging to their fantastic past. The past of Hong Kong – the 1930s Hong Kong. In contrast to the desire to preserve the past. to keep British identity. is imagined as a comfortable “home” for Hong Kong people. and Yan when he insists on taking back his true identity as a policeman. Before 1997 when still being a colony of British. This wish is presented in character Lau when he struggles to reject and forget his past as a member of a gang to form a new stable identity as a police officer. In other word. The inclination to identify the self with British is well illustrated by the process of idealizing the past which was discussed above. from being a colony of British to being a territory of China. In conclusion. The yearning to the past and idealizing it indicate the invisible desire to remain the same as a British colony. and forgetting the past or searching for the authentic self.
Most importantly. those two films show how the uncertain and elusive identity of Hong Kong shifts from British-bias to Chinese-bias identity.Tuyet 9 displaying how Hong Kong people try to change their identity to adjust themselves to their new status as a Special Administration Religion of China. .
2003. 2002. Hong Kong Cinema Since 1997: The Post-Nostalgic Imagination. Esther C. . Arts. Desser David.” BBC News. Poshek Pu. Abbas. Web. At Full Speed: Hong Kong cinema in a borderless world. United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan. Identity. Vivian P. 2002. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs – The Trilogy. Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance. Print. London: University of Minnesota Press. Yingchi. Print. Marchetti. motherland and self. Print. 2012.Y. Print. London: University of Minnesota Press. 2001. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Yau. Gina. 2007.M. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. Lee. Print. 2009. 15 Feb.Tuyet 10 Work cited Chu. The Cinema of Hong Kong: History. London: RoutledgeCurzon. 10 June 2012 Ackbar. Print. “Hong Kong Profile. Hong Kong Cinema: Coloniser.
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