History in the Making: Allegory, history, fiction and Chow Yun-fat in the 1980s Hong Kong films Hong Kong 1941 (Dir. Po Chieh-leong) and Love in a Fallen City (Dir. Ann Hui)
The two films to be presented in this paper were produced in the 1980s at the height of Hong Kong’s popularity as an Asian film hub, although they both reflect an unfamiliar side of the city’s cultural ethos. Their historical concerns with the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong between December 1941 and August 1945 mask the underlying allegorical subtext. The latter is connected with the Joint Declaration between Britain, the occupying colonial power and communist China, to whose sovereignty Hong Kong was now destined to revert in 1997. My paper will discuss the subtle intertextual mosaic of the film’s treatment of these previously repressed subjects and explore its allegorical treatment of Hong Kong’s ambivalent feelings of assertive pride in economic progress and anxiety about occupation by the colonizer (Britain), the would-be colonizer (Japan) and the future master (China). History is very much in the making as this pair of films reflects.
Recent historical studies of the Japanese occupation and of Hong Kong’s modern history will be referred to in order to elaborate and explain the fictional treatment of the period depicted in both films. For example, the Repulse Bay Hotel set recreated especially for Love in a Fallen City made architectural history as a permanent, retro-style architectural feature of the contemporary city based on a film set reconstruction. After the film was completed a copy of the part of the demolished hotel that had been used for the purposes of the shooting was incorporated into the design of the new Repulse Bay Hotel The intersection of history, fiction (Chan Koon-Chung’s screenplay/ story for Hong Kong 1941 and Eileen Chang’s celebrated novella Love in a Fallen Cityprovide the fictional sources) and socio-political allegory is not uncommon in Hong Kong cinema. To what extent the films’ respective subtexts invoke a patriotic discourse or something darker is very much germane to the scope of present discussion.