561 Infernal Affairs as Crisis Cinema

Infernal Affairs has been called crisis cinema, or an example of crisis, in the Hong Kong cinema. Let me talk a little bit about what led to this crisis, and why it really reached its peak, in 2002. When we look at the state of Hong Kong film, at that time, we realize that there was a lot going on, that had been going on, really, since the 1990s, up through the handover, and into the early years, of the new millennium. One has to do with the increased competition, from Hollywood. Hollywood really began to take the Asian market more and more seriously, as barriers began to lower, within the region, so that it was increasingly easy for them to export their films, in Asia. Now, one of the consequences of this, was the fact that as multiplexes became more prominent, in Hong Kong, that the older venues, for Hong Kong films, became less important. Television had long, of course, been another factor in limiting the interest of audiences, in going to the cinema, as has been talked about earlier, by my colleagues. But, when we look at 2002, we realise that even more new technologies were taking away from those audiences. DVDs, VCDs, were becoming increasingly important. Also, the internet was beginning to make in-roads into luring people away from movies. Another factor, of course, was the fact that throughout the 90s, and it even continues to this day, triads infiltrate the industry. They skim off money from budgets, they make it often times difficult for people to do their jobs. As a result, the climate of making films, is quite different than it used to be, in the studio days. As taxing as it was to work long hours, with the strict controls of the studios, often times limiting creativity, now, even though those studios no longer have that same kind of pressure, on individual productions, often times the triads have come in, to try to make a quick buck, off the film industry. As a result, film making has been lessened, there are fewer productions than there were previously. The fact that this also has been exacerbated, in the years leading up to the hand over, and immediately after, by the brain drain, lots of film talent, that left Hong Kong, looking for greener pastures elsewhere. Many people, like John Woo, who I've mentioned, in this particular segment, had a career, in Hong Kong, then in Hollywood. Now he's come back, of course, to Hong Kong, and to China, mainly mainland China, to work. But, it's important to keep in mind that the fact that talent is able to move across borders, sometimes is good for them, but, not necessarily good, for the Hong Kong local industry. We also need to keep in mind that there was a severe economic crisis in 1997, and that this fueled the uncertainty of the years immediately after the handover. It did not create a climate, in which people wanted to invest in films. Now, Andrew Lau, and Alan Mak knew this, when they made the film Infernal Affairs. And they knew, also, something that has been pointed out by Stokes and Hoover, in their book, 'City on Fire.' They mention that crisis, this crisis, this sense of crisis cinema, in the post handover years, and the years leading up to the handover, really, also, is a historic conjuncture, where new patterns of language, time and space, place and identity, and, really, meaning, itself, are emerging. Thus, you can see, from this quote, that, indeed, the crisis also gives rise to opportunity. And Lau, and Mak, took advantage of that opportunity. Now, how did they do this? They didn't do it by running away from the crisis, or trying to run away from, you know, what made Hong Kong film, gave it its identity, as a global cinema. Rather, they embraced it. Rather than try to be something different, from Hollywood, they tried to out-Hollywood Hollywood. Rather than trying to run away from the cliches, and the pastiche associated with a global, postmodern aesthetic, they embraced it. Now, how did they do this? They embraced it, by highlighting what they do well. One of these things that they do well, of course, is, star vehicles. And they put prominently, on display, two of the most important male stars, of their generation, Tony Leung, and Andy Lau. They also embraced the fact that the Hong Kong cinema, is a hybrid cinema. So, they embraced all of the references, and all of the different styles, visual, filmic, as well as musical, that are characteristic of, not just Hong Kong, but the region, itself. We see this really prominently displayed, in the scene featuring the stereo store. This features the well-known song, by Tsai Chin, Forgotten Times.