In the past decade, many Americans, whether or not they share a Chinese heritage, have become used to Hong Kong films, stars, directors and even choreography in the mainstream multiplex. Yet, this newfound globalization, whether embodied in Jackie Chan blockbusters, Wong Kar-Wai success in art cinema, or pirate VCDs, is also a phase in a much longer process through which Hong Kong cinema has embodied the complexities of cosmopolitan Hong Kong and its international connections.
Early Hong Kong cinema, for example, drew on American expertise but also was aware of audiences in San Francisco and New York as well as on the mainland. In the 1930s, Hong Kong became a refuge for Shanghainese filmmakers, who would renew its cinema, while continuing to be a media node for Chinese in Nanyang. After World War II, as Mandarin and Cantonese languages, themes and styles competed in Hong Kong, international markets and international connections changed Hong Kong cinemas once again. Later, popular genres like kung fu and more artistic pieces would find devoted audiences worldwide, in cult cinema and film festivals, even before a new fusion cinema emerged in Hollywood.
While Hong Kong cinema has always been transnational, it also reminds us how complex Hong Kong transnationalism is. The same product may be produced in different languages, adapted to different audiences, read for different meanings and even shared in different spaces or through distinct technologies within the diverse populations of New York, Paris, Dar Es Salaam, Kathmandu or Hong Kong itself. Thus, Hong Kong cinema tells stories of presence and power, local identity and global relations, as well as white-haired ghosts, opera singers, clowning romances and the everyday life of this global city.