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Hong Kong Movie Industry: “Rouge”, “In the Mood for Love”, “Comrades: Almost a Love Story”
The cinema of Hong Kong is one of the three main branches of the Chinese movie industry. As a British colony, Hong Kong was more politically and economically free and integrated into the outside world than mainland China and Taiwan. Consequently, it allowed the region to become an important center of filmmaking for the countries of Southeast Asia. Despite the fact that in the Western world, Hong Kong is primarily known for its action movies, its directors work in a wide array of genres, including drama and romance. The following work focuses on the analysis of the three melodramas produced in Hong Kong, namely in the terms of the character development.
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“Rouge” by Stanley Kwan
The first of the films is Rouge (1988) directed by Stanley Kwan (Bordwell 46). It focuses on the love story of Chan Chen-Pang, an heir of the wealthy family spending much of his time in the opium dens and Fleur, a high-class courtesan. Their feelings towards each other develop quite rapidly and with a high degree of passion. However, Chan’s family does not approve of his affair, meaning that his relationship with Fleur does not have a development in the future. Nevertheless, the love of the two is so strong that they decide to carry it on to the afterlife. To fulfill their dream of spending eternity together, Chan and Fleur commit suicide, with both of them supposedly going to hell. However, Fleur remains there for fifty years alone, waiting for Chan and keeping the love for him all this time. As he never appears, she returns to the world of the living as a spirit to find him (Rouge).
Re-appearing in Hong Kong that seems alien to her, Fleur manages to find Chan. However, her dreams of eternal love are being smashed as she understands that her lover did not die fifty years ago. As a result, one may assume that in their relationship, only Fleur was sincere to the end, despite being a courtesan. On the other hand, Chan, being a wealthy person, has probably considered the relationship with her a sort of a game that can be ended at any moment. At the same time, such an attitude towards life has ensured his demise. Now an old man, he lives in poverty, forgotten by everyone. Chan recognizes Fleur, begging for her forgiveness to no avail. Anyway, she realizes that he has suffered enough, feeling guilty all these years. Thus, she simply returns a case of rouge Chan gave her in the past before leaving him forever as it remembers the moments spent with him (Rouge).
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It should be noted that in comparison to the two other films that will be analyzed further, Rouge is the most unique and mystical one, being laced with the emotion of the lost dreams. It is possible to assume that Stanley Kwan has decided to incorporate the elements of the old Chinese culture in his work in order to prove that the Hong Kong Cinema is proficient not only in the action movies, which have become its trademark (Bordwell 127). As a result, he gave Rouge – a love drama – the features peculiar only to China to solidify this statement.
“Comrades: Almost a Love Story” by Peter Chan
On the contrary to Rouge, Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996) by Peter Chan is much simpler (Bordwell 99). It seems that the director wanted to picture a story that could have occurred happened to anyone and, therefore, can be easily reflected on by the viewers. The film focuses on the life of the people who have traveled to a big city to pursue their Hong Kong dream. The people are Li Xiao-Jun, a young villager, and Li Qiao, an entrepreneur. They arrive in Hong Kong on the same day and by the same train but meet only a few months later as Li Qiao tries to use a naive provincial who does not understand the lifestyle of a big city for her personal gain. Overwhelmed by the feeling of loneliness from living in the metropolis, they become friends, and eventually lovers. Nevertheless, their romance is not an easy one due to the different life goals of two characters. Li Xiao-Jun wants to bring his bride to the city and live as a family man, while Li Qiao’s ambitions extend much further than her new boyfriend can imagine as she wishes for wealth. Eventually, their Hong Kong dreams are fulfilled, but the old ties are ruined. Thus, the lovers meet one last time before going their separate ways (Comrades: Almost a Love Story).
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However, this meeting has a strong impact on the simple-minded, somewhat nave Li Xiao-Jun. On the contrary to Li Qiao, he is not an opportunist and, thus, cannot forget about his tender feelings. As a result, he becomes burdened by the sense of guilt, which eventually forces him to shatter his Hong Kong dream by confessing to his wife about his previous love affair. Unable to stay with her, he leaves Hong Kong and becomes a cook in the United States. Li Qiao, together with her partner, also departs there, though not on her own accord but rather due to the problems with authorities. After almost ten years, Li Xiao-Jun and Li Qiao encounter each other again as the two lonely people in a big city. However, this time, the bonds and dreams that used to tie them are gone (Comrades: Almost a Love Story), meaning that they still have a chance for happiness.
“In the Mood for Love” by Wong Kar-wai
The final film, In the Mood for Love (2000) by Wong Kar-wai is created in the genre of art-house (Bordwell 220). It focuses on the story of Chow Mo-wan, a journalist, and Su Li-Zhen, a secretary, who enter the two adjacent rooms in the apartment house on the same day. Both of them have spouses that are often delayed at work. In spite of the good-natured landlady and friendly neighbors, Chow and Su often feel bored staying alone in their rooms. As a result, they become good friends, sharing their doubts about the fidelity of their spouses with each other. To deal with boredom, Chou offers Su to restore what is occurring between their spouses and their lovers in the form of play. Gradually, the boundary between the act and real romance begins to disappear as the viewer observes Chow and Su becoming immersed in the game they have created. However, as the heroes are becoming closer, they try to convince each other that they will not experience the same outcomes compared to their spouses (In the Mood for Love). In other words, Chow and Su try to suppress their feelings, fearing that they will lose control over themselves. Thus, the daily routine takes its place in their lives, ultimately separating them. Chow has to travel to the region of Southeast Asia, but shortly before the end of the film, he returns to Hong Kong, the place where he met Su. After realizing that the time he spent with her is in the past and cannot be returned, he goes to Angkor Wat, Cambodia, to leave his secret, which is the love for Su, there forever (In the Mood for Love).
In the Mood for Love features the unusual artistic technique: the apparent repetition of similar scenes and passages that look like the same scene but are, in fact, a collage of numerous meetings of the main characters (In the Mood for Love). As a result, the viewer is under the impression that the two main characters repeat the same actions every day for a very long time, thus, deepening the feeling that they are engaged in a play, as well as in the routine of their lives.
It is interesting to note that despite the different scripts, timelines, and directors, all of the reviewed films have something in common, namely the loneliness as an important part of their plots. In the case of Rouge, it is the loneliness of a betrayed woman, while the other two movies focus on the so-called loneliness in a crowd. Moreover, it is one of the primary driving forces that stimulate the development of the main characters. In particular, it makes Fleur return to the world of the living and serves as a stimulus for the relationships between Li Xiao-Jun and Li Qiao, as well as Chow and Su. Additionally, in all of the three films, there are signs of simultaneity. In Rouge, the lovers are to commit suicide together, in Comrades: Almost a Love Story, the heroes arrive in Hong Kong on the same day and by the same train, and In the Mood for Love revolves around the people that settle in the apartment house simultaneously. Thus, one may assume that it symbolizes the unseen, fateful connection between the characters that cannot be lost even after many years. In turn, it also affects their development, making them refuse from their dreams or be overwhelmed with guilt and sadness.
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In conclusion, it is possible to say that despite being primarily known for its action movies, Hong Kong Cinema is also proficient in the other genres, including melodramas and love stories. At the same time, they are rather unique, incorporating the elements of mysticism and symbolism, which results in a contrast with their simple characters who live ordinary lives, while still being able to dream. At the same time, their dreams are not easy to fulfill as the heroes have to struggle to achieve happiness, though it is not possible sometimes. Such an atmosphere of pain and sorrow, in combination with the unusual artistic techniques and directorial decisions, slowly absorbs the viewers, making them empathize with the heroes and not letting them stop watching the film until the very end.
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