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Ways of Reading Asian Cultures

Introduction. Both ‘Bollywood’ and Hong Kong cinema can be considered the phenomena of Eastern cinema culture. Obviously, the similarities and differences between them respond to the historical development of the countries. All the historical conditions that made their contribution into two cinema traditions formation are not the issue of this essay. It is helpful, however, to mention what defined the ways of cinema development in India and Hong Kong.

That is why the first paragraphs of my essay tell short history to help to understand the specialties of Bollywood phenomenon and cultural translation of Hong Kong cinema. These paragraphs describe also the genres and special movie features for both traditions, finding out their similarities and differences. The second part of the essay is analyzing the international popularity of Indian and Hong Kong movies based on their special features and historical development. Discovered similarities and differences of Indian and Hong Kong cinema tradition and international popularity are summarized in the conclusion.

Bollywood cinema tradition. Both India and Hong Kong are postcolonial British societies. India proclaimed its independence in 1940th, thus Indian culture saved its national unique. It was reflected in Popular Hindi Cinema, which has become the rich mix of tradition, myth, religion, history and geography specialties, as Raj Kapoor said: mix of “commerce with art”4. It should be specified here, that Bollywood is Hindi Popular Cinema, the name given by Indian English Press to refer the Bombay film Industry (Virdi, J 2003, pp. 20).

It is a little ironic, I think, because Indian cinema Industry has never had and won’t have in the nearest future either wherewithal, or, actually, the reason to compete with American cinema Olympus. In case if foreign investment in Bombay film industry should have place, it would bring also the investor’s movie making traditions and thus would harm the unique Indian national movie. When it comes about the reason to compete, it should be said, that eastern and western movie traditions are so different that the yawing chasm between them for Indian cinema will stay for many years even despite of the recent interaction tendencies.

Bombay movie Industry was considered Indian Hollywood, probably, because of its dominance in the national industry and the output of films in the most wildly understood language – Hindi-Urdu (Ninian, A 2003). There was a 50-year Indian Popular cinema genre tradition. Two genres dominated in Bollywood production: love stories and gangster-action films. The first appealed to the tests of middle and high class Indians (Ninian, A 2003), and therefore have rich decorations, sentimental plots, proclaim pure ideas and high moral, social, and national ideals (Mother India, 1957).

The main characters are either rich people, belonging to upper castes, or poor but very generous heroes. These movies picture the portraits of an ideal woman (later they picture the women’s movement, as in Insaaf ka Tarazu, 1980) and mother (Aradhana, 1960), and male heroes. Action films appeal to the tests of poorer people belonging to the lower castes. They usually have the main male hero who is fighting against the world’s injustice. These movies contain a lot of fight scenes; explore crime and underworld of politics (Virdi, J 2003, pp.

211) (Parinda, 1989), (Satya, 1996). This is the genre, that was characterized by Lalitha Gopalan as movies that “replete with avenging women, gangsters, brutal police force and vigilante closures stage some of the most volatile struggles over representations that shape our public and private fantasies of national, communal, regional and sexual identities. ” (Gopalan L, 1997, pp. 42). Only recently the western cultural, and particularly movie traditions, have their influence on the Popular Hindi Cinema.

It happened because of the world globalization process, deeper interaction between East and West, changing Indian audience values, and thus demands and expectations from cinema plots and genres change (Ninian, A 2003). Responding to the changing tests of both Indian and foreign audience, other genres appeared. These movies are low budget, more realistic, sometimes even songs-less (Kaum, 2000 by Ram Gopal Varma). The genres of the movies are mainly thrillers and horrors, and introduce the concepts, that were previously taboo (for example, raping) ((Ninian, A 2003, pp.

235). Hong Kong cinema tradition. Hong Kong had remained the part of the United Kingdom till 1997. As a consequence, since the very beginning of cinema industry Hong Kong cinema tradition was deeply influenced by both western and Chinese movie tendencies. ‘It initially adopted the classical tradition and many of the generic conventions of Shanghai cinema, and then gradually developed its own model in a relatively free business environment with few political taboos’ (Nowell-Smith, G, 1997, pp. 709).

When it comes about Hong Kong genre development, the great differences from the Hindi Popular movies can be noticed. Being free from the most Indian taboo and censorship (western and influence), these movies came from realistic – at the beginning – to cynical style, containing excessive sex and violence scenes – in the 1970th (Nowell-Smith, G, 1997, 709). We can compare them to Indian, almost innocent movies of those times. One of the earliest genres – marital arts films (Chinese influence) – transformed into kung-fu comedies.

Jackie Chan achieved stardom in Yeun’s phenomenally successful Drunken Moster (Zui quati. 1978) (Nowell-Smith, G, 1997, pp. 709). These movies continuously improved to Hollywood and Japanese standards, which began to attract international attention. In 1980th, a new era of Hong Kong movie, cinema ‘established its identity and announced the coming of age of the indigenous culture using the best traditions of western and eastern movie characters (Nowell-Smith, G, 1997, 709). Thus, Hong Kong cinema is a kind of hybrid that combines the features of opposite cultures and develops its own style.

In this meaning Hong Kong cinema can also be called a unique phenomenon; but while the Indian uniqueness lies in its national identity, the specific of Hong Kong cinema is in the osmosis of western and eastern traditions. One of the outstanding features of Bollywood production is its popularity beyond the national boundaries. Considering the national specific of Hindi cinema, it can really seem a strange occurrence, that 65 per cent of total industry revenues brings the foreign audience. Indian movies are being exported to more then one hundred countries.

(Ninian, A 2003). But it is strange only at the first sight. Being the mirror of national Indian ideals, the movies attract millions of native Indians who live abroad. At the same time the movies represent the unusual exotic eastern world, play out the understanding of caste, class, community, gender, and sexuality in specific historical and social way. From this point of view the movies are interesting to western audience. Thus, we can say, that Hindi movies can find the place on both eastern and western markets. Hong Kong cultural transition.

The close familiarity of western audience with Hong Kong cinema began in 1970th with Bruce Lee’s marital arts films (Srinivas, SV 2003, pp. 40). Since that time marital arts and kung-fu comedies are the synonyms of Hong Kong movies. The movies that are exported and worldly known are high technical (and therefore expensive), and are the works of the star-directors: Jackie Chan, Tsui Hark, and John Woo (Nowell-Smith, G, 1997pp, 711). Such kind of movies can compete with western, Japanese, South Korea cinema production.

The recent triumphal movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (Ang Lee, 2000) – is an excellent combination of western finance abilities and eastern cultural traditions. In addition to this, to be released in other eastern countries, Hong Kong movies must be cheap and spectaculars. Thus: “the popularity of Hong Kong films in India rests on cheaply made, badly produced marital arts and action movies ” (Srinivas, SV 2003, pp. 40). In the same article it is said that there are the features Hong Kong movie should have to be successful on the Indian market: cheapness, or some selected stars presence, or being the big budget film.

A few words about audience expectance should be said here. This term was used by Srinivas in order to explain the reasons of popularity of Hong Kong cinema production in India: ’…you know what you will see even before you see it…By acknowledging your foreknowledge, the narrative recognizes your expectations of the film…Hong Kong films that are popular in India too eminently fit this description. ’(Srinivas, SV 2003, pp. 46-47). I think this idea may be used also for the explanation of expectations either from Indian films abroad, or from Hong Kong films outside India.

Indian and Hong Kong movies have already become special genres, and the audience expects the traditional features from them. Personally if I want to see something naive, something very kind and light and at the same time very different from everyday reality, I watch Indian movie. I think, the Hong Kong cinema has also established as eastern fights, and rich stunts and special features (high-budget movies). Conclusion. The main differences between the Indian and Hong Kong cinema traditions are the consequences of historical development.

Indian movies are more nationally unique, has “eastern character”, traditional genres and features, which, however, were influenced slightly by recent westernization of audience’s tests. On the contrary, Hong Kong movies were formed under both western and eastern influences. They became now also a unique cinema phenomenon, but this uniqueness is a product of special combination of western technical possibilities, eastern historical spirit and marital arts. These features now specify Indian and Hong Kong production on the international market and are expected.


Gopalan, L, 1997, Avenging women in Indian Cinema, Screen, Vol. 38, 1997, pp. 42. 2. Ninian, A 2003, Bollywood, Contemporary Review, Vol. 283, pp. 235. 3. Nowell-Smith, G, 1997. The Oxford History of World Cinema, Oxford University Press. 4. Pankaj Mishra’s, 1999. “A Spirit of Their Own,” New York Review of Books May 20 (1999): 47–53. 5. Srinivas, SV 2003, ‘Hong Kong Action Film in the Indian B circuit’, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 40-62. 6. Virdi, J 2003, The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian popular films as social history, New Brunswick, NJ. , Rutgers University Press.

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