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Anticipating action: The evolving grammar of action and montage in Hong Kong cinema

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In his formalist reading, David Bordwell (2001: 73, 80) uses the term ‘pause-burst-pause’ pattern to refer to the ‘cinematic expressivity’ of Hong Kong action cinema. Although the ‘pause-burst-pause’ paradigm locates stasis and action that lie at the heart of the performance and cinematic representation of physical action, the ‘pause-burst-pause’ punctuation undergoes aesthetic transformation in the digital age. Through a comparative analysis of five representative films from the 1960s to the millennium, this article explores Hong Kong action cinema’s historical evolution from the display of physical combat (swordplay, kung fu and gunplay) to intense psychological mind game and heightened aestheticization in four stylistic turns – fantastic, realist, formalist and digital. Wong Kar-wai’s Yi dai zong shi/The Grandmaster (2013), following the box office success of transnational Chinese martial arts cinemas, serves as a prime example of the digital turn as postcolonial Hong Kong action cinema positions and articulates itself to an increasingly international film scene. Taking Lisa Purse’s (2005: 152) notion of ‘hypermediacy’ as a springboard, I argue that the combined use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) and aestheticized slow motion in The Grandmaster represents a new appreciation of slowness and softness, reinventing corporeal authenticity that the action genre is premised on.
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Keywords: Hong Kong cinema; Wong Kar-wai; action; kung fu; montage; wuxia

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Richmond

Publication date: September 1, 2015

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  • The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture is the first academic peer-reviewed journal for scholars, teachers, and students from around the world who have an active and passionate interest in the Popular Culture of East Asia. The journal is devoted to all aspects of popular culture in East Asia and the interplay between East Asia and the wider world. With the growth in popularity of Asian visual products in the Western world and the increasing strength of the Asian markets, this publication fulfills the need for an international journal that allows Western and Asian film, media, literary, music, fashion, digital media, television, art and cultural scholars alike to engage in discussion. In the last few decades there has been a huge rise in the interest in East Asian popular culture. The East Asian Journal of Popular Culture will be engaging directly with that trend. From film to music; art to translation and fashion to tourism, this journal will offer a forum where multidisciplinary work can come together in new and exciting ways.
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