Hong Kong Women Filmmakers


What does this website do?

This website compiles information on the careers of Hong Kong women filmmakers from the 1997 handover to the present. It aims to document the contribution women filmmakers have made to Hong Kong film culture during this time and situate their work against the backdrop of recent Hong Kong history and politics. The post-1997 era has been an enormously productive period for women media artists working in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), and they shine as major figures in local, regional, and global motion picture culture. Taking the change in sovereignty as a starting point, this website compiles information on key films by established and emerging women directors, producers, and scriptwriters in order to explore the role played by these women in highlighting specific issues involving gender, sexuality, politics, and aesthetics.

Site Navigation and Description 

This website lists the biographies and related information of the filmmakers alphabetically by surname. Each filmmaker’s critical biography contains a brief description of her work and career development within the Hong Kong film scene. An in-depth filmography and external links to reviews and interviews are included where possible. A bibliography of references and further academic reading pertaining to the filmmaker is located at the bottom of each biography.

Subject and Style in the Work by Hong Kong Women Filmmakers 

A perusal of titles by women directors since 1997 shows that they tend to be attracted to specific subjects and aesthetic forms; notably, women’s roles in the Chinese family, working women, women’s position in public life and politics, domestic violence, female sex workers, consumerism, women’s sexuality, lesbianism, romance and female desire. The filmmakers have been very sensitive to women outside of Hong Kong, and many have chosen to look at women in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), or within the Chinese diaspora as well. In addition, they have been quite adventurous in their use of film form – adopting and transforming observational/direct cinema techniques, counter-cinema, and complex “puzzle” narratives. Taking up perspectives often marginalized within the industry, it seems that Hong Kong women filmmakers have been inclined to explore aspects of film language that would go beyond the “male gaze.”

Aims of this Website

The aim of this website involves directing research in the field of Hong Kong cinema toward greater appreciation of the role women filmmakers have historically played in the colony, as well as the impact they have had on the cinema of the HKSAR. This project does this by looking at the recent contributions Hong Kong women have made to the development of film culture in the territory. It covers work by noted Hong Kong women filmmakers, including Ann Hui, Mabel Cheung, Clara Law, Tammy Cheung, Carol Lai, Barbara Wong, Yau Ching, Mak Yan Yan, Ivy Ho, Tsang Tsui Shan, Louisa Wei, Angie Chen, Heiward Mak, and Emily Tang, among others.

By looking at recent work by established as well as emerging directors, the hope is to promote widespread interest in how Hong Kong women filmmakers contribute to local cinema as well as global film culture. As women filmmakers turn their cameras to issues involving women’s changing role in the family, the marketplace, the labor force, and the Chinese diaspora, this study turns with them to highlight issues that are of particular concern to women inside and outside of Hong Kong. Women filmmakers are sensitive to questions of gender, and have displayed a particularly acute understanding of the shifting nature of identity as Hong Kong has changed sovereignty, as the global economy has transformed class alignments and labor roles, and as culture has become more global – multi-ethnic, multi-national, and multi-lingual. They are cognizant of working in an environment characterized by temporal dislocations – “post” modern, “post” Fordist, “post” feminist, “post” Handover, “post” colonial – and they approach their subject matter with that in mind. While some filmmakers may be exhausted by working in the aftermath of all these supposedly “terminal” moments, Hong Kong women rise from the ashes with insistent visions, novel techniques, and enormous creative energy. They have been leaders in the innovative use of the medium to explore subjectivity, memory, narrative form, character psychology, and domestic space, and this website highlights connections between the personal, the political, and the aesthetic in fresh ways.

Hong Kong Women’s Perspectives

This website opens up critical floodgates so that a new wave of scholarship on women in Hong Kong film can flow more freely within film criticism dominated by attention to male directors and, often, male-defined perspectives. It takes the gender (female) and location (Hong Kong) of its filmmakers as a starting point without making claims for any essential gender, ethnic, or national identity that can be teased out of any specific film. Rather, the lived, gendered, embodied experiences of these filmmakers appear to be linked to what can be perceived on screen. While male filmmakers also deal with women’s lives, this specific body of films by women directors highlights Hong Kong women in ways that other screen representations neglect. These films take up issues common in Hong Kong film culture – including domestic violence, prostitution, and romantic coupling. However, they do so from a different angle, with attention to considerations downplayed by other filmmakers.

There has been considerable debate in literary and cultural studies about female authorship, gendered vision, and feminine writing, and it remains moot whether there is any distinguishing characteristic of women’s art. However, a case can still be made for grouping the work of women filmmakers together for analysis. Women operate as a visible minority within the industry. They tend to be more self-conscious about their choice of subject matter and approach because they have been marginalized – and may be seen by some as the representative or “token” voice of women in film circles. Like women who have emerged in traditionally male-dominated professions in the past, they serve as more than just another pair of hands in the production of a film. They gravitate toward or are hired to deal with particular themes, characters, or plotlines. Filmmakers work with material they know, and women directors intimately “know” the challenges women face in public and private life. Hong Kong women directors, not surprisingly, have made an enormous contribution to the aspect of film culture that deals with gender, sexuality, the family, and questions of changing identities. Auteur theory claims that films can (or, should) be interpreted as extensions of their creators, and Hong Kong women filmmakers do, indeed, seem to put their lives, concerns, and vision on the screen.

Film, Gender and Identity Politics in Postcolonial Hong Kong

The biographies on this website place these women’s films in the context of their earlier work, Hong Kong film history, as well as within the context of scholarship on women filmmakers worldwide. Despite the sustained critique of “identity” politics and poststructuralist suspicions of essentialism, what Gayatri Spivak has called “strategic essentialisms” continue to be important to women – particularly postcolonial women – in their encounters with institutions (like the film industry) that have traditionally excluded them. This website operates in that spirit by highlighting these women’s strategic evocation of women’s issues as a way of expanding film art and culture beyond the male domain. The works by Hong Kong women filmmakers examined here do not seem to be in search of any “essential” identity but they do take up women’s lives, desires, and perspectives in significant ways. Men move to the margins and women take up the camera, center stage, looming large in the frame.

Gender, of course, is less an “essence” and more of a position (within a social structure) and a process of “becoming” (as Simone de Beauvoir points out) in existential terms. As women filmmakers position themselves within Hong Kong in a process of transformation from colony to SAR, their contribution to a film culture situated between the local and the global becomes more salient. Hong Kong women filmmakers are “made,” not “born” in relation to what it means to be “female” in the hybrid, mutable, post-colonial space of Hong Kong. As feminism shapes current discourses involving gender difference and sexuality, women filmmakers position themselves as political agents involved in the ideological work of transforming screen depictions of women. Hong Kong women filmmakers engage with these issues within a specific location – a British former colony, a PRC possession, a semi-autonomous SAR, an ethnically, linguistically, and culturally Chinese city with a cosmopolitan flair, but also a multicultural meeting place of various races, ethnicities, and regional forms of Chinese identities and dialect groups, the quintessential “world city” where China “meets the West.” This is also the place where Chinese/Confucian attitudes toward women, the family and sexuality rub up against not only Euro-American Christianity but the legacy of Islam, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism brought in through ties to the British Empire and its colonies in South and Southeast Asia. Gender places these film artists on another edge – in the minority as women filmmakers but at the forefront as both within and outside the mainstream with a perspective on being from Hong Kong, on being Chinese, but also being on the edge as a woman. Although any given film could be made by a male or female director, taking this group of films made by women in a particular place at a particular moment in history may open up valuable insights into the general concerns of female directors.

(6 March 2015)