Collage: Jadin Wong to Maggie Cheung:

Hong Kong in Film


In the 1930s, Chinese entertainment was filled with performances of vaudeville and burlesque, jade girls and silent screen stars, pin-ups and flappers, and leading lady Jadin Wong (born ‘Anna Mae’). From tap dancing for pennies and sleeping on park benches after running away from home, to leading “Moon Goddess” at the infamous Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco sharing a stage with Josephine Baker in Paris, this quintessential showgirl blurred cultural boundaries with her daring spirit and unwavering passion.

Jadin’s contemporary, Maggie Cheung is also a master of transformation- the epitome of Hong Kong’s layered narratives. Maggie Cheung captured the minds of the international public as Madame Chan in Wong Kar’s In the Mood for Love. Inspired by the affair in Ingmar Berman’s Touch, the lush romanticism of Hong Kong in the 1960s set the perfect backdrop to the housewife moving through nuances of unrequited love. The heady film is an atmospheric fashion editorial in motion. Her eloquent wardrobe of cheongsams or qipaos nods to Chinese actresses of the 1950s. Balenciaga, Rodarte, and Tom Ford cite the Hong Kong actress as a muse for fashion collections. After a prolific career, she won the Cannes Film Festival Best Actress award for Oliver Assayas’ Clean as a drug addict on a journey of redemption.

Hong Kong is a futuristic city, where east and west blend in postmodern collage. Traditional homes as the foundations for mirrored skyscrapers. Neon illuminating rusting food carts.  The serpentine metropolis of crowded escalators, alleys, and corridors sheds its skin with dizzying speed, charged by a (new-ish) obsession with commerce. pays homage to the city: a slice of 90s Hong Kong life is juxtaposed with influences from 1930s screwball comedy, film noir, French New Wave (particularly Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin Feminin), and action-laden cop thriller chasing gangsters in the dark underbelly of Chungking Mansions.

The Midnight Express, a fast food stall in the pulsating Chungking Mansions, feeds merchants, traders, visitors, and refugees from more than 130 countries. The Cantonese pop star Faye Wong, plays pixie girl- cropped hair, baby doll tees and oversized floral shirts. Faye dreams of wanderlust and romance to Mamas and Papas’ “California Dreamin”. Whimsical trespass into a heartbroken cop’s apartment creates a flourescent narrative. Iconic Brigitte Lin, makes a cameo appearance as a noir femme fatale, a drug smuggler in incognito with red shades and vermillion lips, pursing cigarettes in a Hitchcock-ian blonde wig. With the unscripted loose improvisation of love-sick youth, warped by dreamy time-lapsed swirls and smoke, Chungking Express is archetypal of Hong Kong in the 90’s as Masculin Feminin is to Paris in the 60’s.

Published on

September, 2012