The New Hollywood - The End of an Era By the late 1970’s, the film industry had undergone a renaissance. The New Hollywood movement made it so the directors were the “auteurs” of their films, and artistic freedom reigned over modern movies. Unfortunately, all great things must come to an end, and the demise of The New Hollywood movement was on the horizon.
I first saw Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan in the early 2000s; it was a VHS copy playing on a big old JVC television that had a similar depth to a Toyota Aygo. I have since seen Saving Private Ryan a large number of times, but my reaction to its first 25 minutes remains unchanged, a reaction of shock, recoil and deep admiration for the people who executed this excellent, transformative piece of filmmaking. My knowledge of WW2 was minimal at this time, but I roughly knew the basics.
If you look at the films of Hong Kong before and after 1997, there is a striking difference. The action films leading up the nineties were fast-paced, tough, gritty with an edgy quality that paralleled Hollywood's assembly line modeled studio era. The years surrounding the handover of Hong Kong to mainland China around 1997 proved to be an uncertain time for Hong Kong's bustling film industry.
There's no arguing that if you have even a mild interest in film, you've likely heard of Stanley Kubrick. You've probably even seen at least one of his films, or, barring that, maybe some of the more famous clips (especially if you're a film student). So my approach to this “Beginner’s Guide” is to recommend that you forget all that.
The 1980's through the years leading up the handover in 1997 were paramount in Hong Kong's long-running series of action films. They have yielded some of the best titles to have emerged from the crown colony as it was in this era. The very words "Hong Kong" at this point in time stirs up images of hit men wielding two handguns, flying swordsmen, and an endless array of bright neon lights.
One of the more curious cultural changes in the post-war era was the cinematic climate that permeated in the United Kingdom in the years following WWII. These movies vary from paranoid thrillers, atomic-age science fiction and docudrama's that veer on a level of horror due their level of accuracy regarding the terrifying nature of nuclear war. The feature films that came out in this period are terrifying on varying levels; one of those being the self-reflective element that is so common in movies and that reflection was cast by the looming possibility of WWIII.
My visit to Auschwitz was more uncanny than overwhelming As a child my eyes used to always glaze over when my father watched what he gleefully called 'boring black and white documentaries', it was all he ever put on the television. Despite this, I still had an interest in World War 2, it was the most pivotal moment of the 20th century and so many films have been influenced by the event, however the Vietnam War films of the 70's and 80's garnered most of my attention in my early teens. By my late teens however, I found my once average interest burgeoning to the point where I was the one incessantly watching the boring black and white documentaries.
The Hong Kong New Wave of the late 1970's had diverted, and the benefit of this diversion was the short-lived, but prolific Cinema City in 1980. Founded by comedians Alan Mak and Wong Jin, Cinema City would be the jumping point for some of Hong Kong's most prestigious directors. John Woo, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark, Eric Tsang, Ronny Yu, and Johnnie To found their way into the film business through Cinema City; these filmmakers would make some of the most innovative and energetic films ever.
This article is part of a series on the history of Hong Kong action cinema - find the other parts here. The 1960's and 70's are probably the most pivotal time regarding the growth of Hong Kong action films. The Martial Arts craze would take shape as the Shaw Brothers become the foremost authority regarding the kung-fu craze that would follow in the wake of their massive quantity of quality movies.