Law, Cheuk-yiu Clara

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Law, Cheuk-yiu Clara – Critical Biography  Top

Clara Law
Clara Law

Clara Law is a film maker with strong historical and professional ties to Hong Kong. She was born in Macau in 1957 and immigrated to Hong Kong at the age of ten. She spent fifteen years studying and working in the territory, graduating from The University of Hong Kong with a degree in English Literature. In 1978, she began working at Radio Television Hong Kong as a director, assistant producer and scriptwriter of documentaries and dramas. In 1982, Law began her studies in film direction and writing at the National Film and Television School in England. Her thesis piece, They Say The Moon Is Fuller Here (1985), won the Silver Plaque Award at the Chicago Film Festival in 1985. Upon completion of her studies that same year, Law returned to Hong Kong and began work on her first feature film, The Other Half and the Other Half, whilst also continuing to direct for RTHK. The release of this film in 1988 marked the beginning of Law’s most prolific period, and she would go on to release a feature film every year until 1994. Films produced in this period include The Reincarnation of Golden Lotus (1989), Farewell China (1990), Fruit Punch (1991), Autumn Moon (1992), Temptation of a Monk (1993) and Wonton Soup (1994).

Law and her working partner / husband Eddie Fong immigrated to Australia in 1994-95, where they would continue to collaborate on the films Floating Life (1996), The Goddess of 1967 (2000), Like A Dream (2009) and a short film entitled Red Earth (2010). She also produced a documentary about the refugee detention of an Afghan boy in Australia, called Letters to Ali (2004). Her subject material negotiates the transnational spaces between Hong Kong, Australia and other diasporic spaces. Recurrent themes within her work include the incongruity between cultures that manifests in the relationships between characters in her films, as well as in the struggles that each individual experiences during the movement between cultures and locations.

Recurring themes in and about Clara Law’s films

Much of the existing academic scholarship on Law focuses on the themes of transition, exile and diaspora that are infused in her work. Lam Shue Fung points out that the majority of academic work on Law’s films focus on the migration trilogy of Farewell China, Autumn Moon and Floating Life, “because of their international recognition and complex discussion of Hong Kong-China relations” (40). In one example of such scholarship, Gary Lam argues that Law’s work goes beyond the realm of transitioning, as her characters occupy the liminal space. He differentiates between “journey films” and “wander films” and makes the case that Law’s films are the latter, as many of her characters are “ ‘wanderers of post-modernity,’ live in (or more precisely, drift along) post-modern time and space who have no sense of ‘home’” (11).

Clara Law: A transnational / Hong Kong / Australian film maker

Tony Mitchell summarizes scholarship on Clara Law’s films and makes the case that Floating Life, made around the time of her immigration to Australia, marked her transition from being a Hong Kong film maker to a transnational one, and that Letters to Ali “has conclusively identified Law as an Australian rather than a transnational film maker” (106). He does note, however, that Law herself does not find such categorizations particularly meaningful (97). Lai Yung Kwok’s scholarship on Law cites Hamid Naficy’s concept of accented cinema and his point that authorial and autobiographical factors play a part in films by diasporic film makers. Kwok claims that the films are “the individual narratives of the exilic and diasporic film makers, [and] therefore, may project a stronger political act than those of the mainstream that appeal to the mass” (7). Law has expressed dissatisfaction with the mainstream film industry and traditional storytelling mode in interviews,[1] and her auteur films reflect her desire to tell stories differently. Her work has progressively reflected the changes of locale in her life, but this fluctuation is arguably what emphasizes her transnationality as a film maker. Mitchell states that Law and the characters in the film have things in common. It “suggests interesting tensions between Law’s own position as a cosmopolitan film director and the material, psychological and religious dilemmas and conflicts of the characters in the film [Floating Life]” (93). Alessandra Senzani situates the accented cinema of Law in the context of Australian cinema, but also highlights her relationship with Hong Kong cinema and how her “career raises the question of how to define borders between transnational and national cinemas altogether” (141). “[H]er narratives, style, and personal trajectory, departing from the local migration out of Hong Kong, speak to global concerns with issues of dislocation, alienation, migration, and uprootedness” (171-142). Shen Shiao-Ying, too, based her 2011 work on viewing Law’s work as, and juxtaposed to, Australian films, but also emphasizes how Law’s work express a “desire for home, […] the desire for leaving [and] an anxious sense of Chineseness” (364-65). Given Law’s migration to Australia in 1994-95, it is understandable that she is not mentioned in Vivian P.Y. Lee’s book, Hong Kong Cinema Since 1997, but a strong case can be made for emphasizing her continuing significance as a Hong Kong film maker. Her work questions concepts of nation and transnational identity—topics that remain salient in Hong Kong. She is consistently referred to as belonging to the Second Wave of Hong Kong directors, and her contribution to Hong Kong cinema is undeniable. Her removal from Hong Kong raises an important question of outward/inward gaze, and the inherent classification of film makers by national identity. Even as she moves towards greater inclusion of other places outside Hong Kong in her work and life, she remains invested in exploring the liminal spaces between and beyond nations and identities, much in the way that Hong Kong identity remains rooted in liminality.

A gendered/feminist discussion on migration and Chinese patriarchy

As a female diasporic film maker, Law’s work highlights the junction between migration and gender. Staci Ford and Gina Marchetti both touch on this perspective. Ford, in writing about Farewell China amongst other films, states that these films “place women’s stories at the center of their […] migration sagas and in doing so give voice to the invisible histories of women in diaspora” (60). She also quotes Marchetti: “Women experience a different type of ‘crossing’ than men. Traditional roles for women dissolve in the diaspora. Families become unhinged, scattered; romantic relationships become more fleeting” (qtd. in Ford 60-61). These themes are reflected in the plots of many of Law’s films produced in the post-1997 period. Lam Shue Fung points out that scholarship about the migration trilogy “tend[s] to focus on the issues of political and cultural identities while gender, which is inseparable from politics, has been overlooked. Among the limited studies on gender issues in Law’s films, woman characters are often the major concern, leaving out issues of masculinities and gender representation of identity politics” (42). Clearly, then, there is a gap in existing scholarship that focuses on examining Law’s work from before and after 1997 through a feminist/gendered and diasporic perspective. Lam discusses in detail Law’s pre-1997 works, Temptation of a Monk and The Reincarnation of Golden Lotus, from a gender perspective, highlighting the normative status of a Chinese patriarchal system and how that functions to shape all discourse on gender order, whilst reinforcing the signifier of Chineseness.[2] The junction of gender and race is also a theme in Law’s work, as highlighted “through a reconfiguration of gender relations applied to a hierarchy of race” between BG and JM in The Goddess of 1967 (Olivia Khoo, qtd. in Mitchell 99). Other feminist themes that Gary Lam touched on include Pui Wai’s sexual arousal brought on by the idea of freedom as a wanderer in Autumn Moon, BG’s ambiguous identity brought on by incest, her abjection and immunity to filth in The Goddess of 1967.

[1] Please refer to the interviews by Elise McCredie, Katherine Millard and Time Out Hong Kong.

[2] Rey Chow, amongst other scholars, have discussed in depth about the concept of Chinese identity as a construct rather than an essence. See Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. Print.

filmoFilmography   Top

Feature Films:

Role Title (English) Title (Chinese) Year
Co-writer with Fong, Ling-ching Eddie
The Unbearable Lightness of Inspector Fan (Trailer) 暴走神探 2015
Co-writer with Fong, Ling-ching Eddie
Like a Dream (Trailer) 如夢 2009
Letters to Ali N/A 2004
Co-writer with Fong, Ling-ching Eddie
The Goddess of 1967 (Trailer) 遇上1967的女神 2000
Co-writer with Fong, Ling-ching Eddie
Floating Life 浮生 1996
Director Wonton Soup in Erotique 雲吞湯 1994
Director Temptation of a Monk 誘僧 1993
Director Autumn Moon 秋月 1992
Director Fruit Punch Yes一族 1991
Director Farewell China 愛在別鄉的季節 1990
Director The Reincarnation of Golden Lotus 潘金蓮之前世今生 1989
Director The Other Half and the Other Half 我愛太空人 1988


Role Title (English) Title (Chinese) Year
Red Earth 赤地 2010
Director They Say The Moon is Fuller Here 外國的月亮圓些? 1985


reviewReviews   Top

The Unbearable Lightness of Inspector Fan (2015):

The Hollywood Reporter – China Box Office: Final ‘Hobbit’ Film Debuts in Top Spot

Like a Dream (2009): 

Film Business Asia – Like a Dream

Love HK Film – Like a Dream

Screen Daily – Like a Dream

Letters to Ali (2004):

At the Movies – Letters to Ali

SafeCom – Letters to Ali with Merlin!

Senses of Cinema – The Empty Space in Letters to Ali (Clara Law, 2004)

The Age – Letters to Ali

The Sydney Morning Herald – Letters To Ali

The Goddess of 1967 (2000):

CitCity – The Goddess of 1967 

DVD Talk – Goddess of 1967

Honeythatsok – Review: The Goddess of 1967 (2000)

Senses of Cinema – Materialism and Spiritualism in The Goddess of 1967

So Good Review – The Goddess Of 1967 (2000)

The Digital Fix – The Goddess of 1967

Urban Cinefile – GODDESS OF 1967

Floating Life (1996):

Australian Screen – Floating Life (1996)

Chinese Cinemas – Floating Life

Intersections – Floating Life – [Fu sheng]

Senses of Cinema – Floating Life: The Heaviness of Moving


Hong Kong Cinemagic – From the Chinese Diaspora to a Global Dream – A Discussion with Filmmakers Clara Law and Eddie Fong

Local Noise – Migration, Memory, and Hong Kong: as a ’space of tansit’ in Clara Law’s “Autumn Moon”

Real Time Arts – Clara Law: An Impression of Permanence

Senses of cinema – Clara Law

Time Out Hong Kong – Interview: Clara Law

linkLinks   Top

Hong Kong Cinemagic – CLARA LAW CHEUK YU

Hong Kong Movie Database – Clara Law Cheuk-Yiu

IMDB – Clara Law

biblioBibliography   Top

  1. Armatage, Kay and Qin Xiqing. “Clara Law Cheuk-yiu’s Transcultural Cinema.” 
  2. Ford, Staci. “Hong Kong Film Goes To America.” Hong Kong Film, Hollywood and the New Global Cinema. Ed. Gina Marchetti and Tan See Kam. London: Routledge, 2007. 50-62. Print.
  3. Fore, Steve. “Tales of Recombinant Femininity: The Reincarnation of Golden Lotus, the Chin P’ing Mei, and the Politics of Melodrama in Hong Kong.” Journal of Film and Video4 (1993): 57–70.
  4. Fore, Steve. “Time-Traveling under An Autumn Moon.” Post Script3 (Summer 1998): 34–46.
  5. Fung, Lam Shue. “(Un)making Chineseness Gender and Cultural Politics In Clara Law’s films.” MPhil thesis. The University of Hong Kong, 2006. Web. <>
  6. Kwok, Lai Yung. “The Politics of Memory: In Search of Imaginary Homes in Films by Clara Law and Ann Hui.” MPhil thesis, The University of Hong Kong, 2003. Web. <>
  7. Lam, Chung-keung Gary. “Disjunction of History, Memory, and Identity: The Narrative of Wanderings in Clara Law.” MA thesis, The University of Hong Kong, 2002. Web <>
  8. Li, Dian. “Clara Law.” Senses of Cinema28 (October 2003).
  9. Li, Dian. “Between Memory and Forgetting: Clara Law’s Vision of the Transnational Self in Autumn Moon.” Asian Cinema1 (Spring 2004): 57–72.
  10. Li, Dian. “Clara Law’s Construction of Postmodern Nature in the Film The Goddess of 1967.” Sungkyun Journal of East Asian Studies2 (2007): 125–138.
  11. Marchetti, Gina. “The Gender of GenerAsian X in Clara Law’s Migration Trilogy.” In Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: Gender in Film at the End of the Twentieth-Century. Edited by Murray Pomerance, 71–90. Albany: State University of New York, 2001.
  12. Marchetti, Gina. “Clara Law’s Red Earth: The Hong Kong International Film Festival and the Cultural Politics of the Sponsored Short.” Chinese Film Festivals: Sites of Translation. Eds. Chris Berry and Luke Robinson.  NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017. 259-277. Print.
  13. Marchetti, Gina. “Clara Law, Asia, and World Cinema: Letters to Ali (2004).” The Palgrave Handbook of Asian Cinema. Eds. Magnan-Park, Aaron Han Joon, Gina Marchetti and See Kam Tan. New York and London: Palgrave Macmillian, 2018, 689-708.
  14. Mitchell, Tony. “Clara Law’s Floating Life and Hong Kong–Australian ‘Flexible Citizenship.’” Ethnic and Racial Studies2 (March 2003): 278–300.
  15. Mitchell, Tony. “Hong Kong-Australian Imaginaries: Three Australian films by Clara Law.” Hong Kong Film, Hollywood and the New Global Cinema. Ed. Gina Marchetti and Tan See Kam. London: Routledge, 2007. 91-106. Print.
  16. Senzani, Alessandra. “Women, film, and oceans A/part: the critical humor of Tracey Moffatt, Monica Pellizzari, and Clara Law.” Diss. Florida Atlantic University, 2008. Web. <>
  17. Shen Shiao-Ying. “Filming One’s Way Home: Clara Law’s Letters to Oz.” Chinese Women’s Cinema: Transnational Contexts, ed. Wang, Lingzhen. New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Print.
  18. Yue, Audrey. “Migration-as-Transition: Pre-Post-1997 Hong Kong Culture in Clara Law’s Autumn Moon.” Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context4 (September 2000).

(Last update: 14 April, 2019)