I was born in Hong Kong in the 90s but was raised in Canada when my family immigrated in 1999. At home, I spoke Cantonese (poorly), ate Chinese food, and was raised by my Hong Kong parents. But I went to a Canadian public school and spoke English, I played sports with white boys, and loved white gir – American films, I love Hollywood. Culturally speaking, I had one foot in both sides, but being assimilated in Canada I definitely had more weight planted in one foot than the other. When I was a child I didn’t know too much of my birth city. I knew what I saw on the news and what my parents would tell me – but I had never visited Hong Kong from the ages of three to thirteen – the age I first went back. I never really knew what life was like for the day to day citizen. But I had a clue. Growing up in the 2000’s, there was one man in the Hong Kong film industry that is incredibly revered as one of the greatest creative minds in the East. Stephen Chow is that man and everything I learned to love about my supposed home, I learned from him.
Stephen Chow is famous for films such as Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle – two films that are revered in the west and probably the two most famous films to have come out of Hong Kong since the turn of the millennium. He’s the man who is known for repeatedly breaking Hong Kong box office records, records that he himself set in the first place. For those who don’t know, he’s a director/writer/actor/producer who pretty much is at the helm of carrying the Chinese comedic film industry since the mid 1980’s. His films would often utilize slapstick humor, quick and witty one liners and machine gun punchlines, all laced with lewd subtext and pop culture references. The man is rarely ever highbrow but he was always on point. He is also known for films employing the same group of actors over and over again such as Ng Man-Tat (RIP), Vincent Kok, Tats Lau Yee-Tat, and many others. If he had a western counterpart, it would probably be someone like Seth Rogen – right down to the sense of humor and hiring his own friends for all his films.
For myself though, I think what made his films so great was that most of his films in the 90’s were pretty much using the city of Hong Kong as not only a setting but a living backdrop. Most of the protagonists in his films were down trodden and unlucky men, going against a bigger super power. He loved his underdog story. And I feel like Hong Kong for the past 200 years has played that role. Being given to the English as a colony and trade port, Japanese occupation, and now with the CCP tightening its grip- Hong Kong has always seemed to prosper in tight situations as the underdog. It’s a city that has blossomed due to the pressure it’s been put under. How many other cities (in its prime anyway) could boast a GDP equal to or greater than many developed and established countries. How can a few islands off the coast of China impact American and Asian pop culture so greatly. How many cities have truly embraced qualities and values of the east and the west? This is the story arc of every Chow protagonist. No matter how bad it got, no matter how high the stakes – through hard work, good friends, and a positive out look, things will work out.
And I’m not here to say that Stephen Chow is a good person (because the dude doesn’t exactly have the cleanest record) and that his dramatized version of Hong Kong is 1:1 but what I am saying is that he captured the essence of Hong Kong to an international audience better than Wong Kar-Wai or John Woo. Seeing Stephen Chow’s portrayal of the everyman in his films, really gave me the idea in my head of what Hong Kong felt like. His films exhibit the hustle and bustle of the city. His characters talk fast and are witty like the average Hong Konger. They have jobs where they pick up trash off the street and work in fast food. They have big dreams that are overshadowed by the immensity of the city and are often doubted because of their statuses in life. These are characters that were created with the essence of Hong Kong imbued within them.
And when watching his films, you feel like you’re on another planet. His constant one liners and references really let viewers understand that Hong Kong really is its owned contained universe, even if it’s a part of China/Asia – Hong Kong is 1 of 1. His movies will make references to historical Chinese texts, yet also reference Terminator. His movies inform viewers that Hong Kong is a city culturally Asian and Chinese, with influences of the West. Hong Kong is the world’s first ever international city. Hong Kong is Asia’s gateway to the West, with one foot planted on both sides and no one took advantage of that like Stephen Chow.