Study of popular Hong Kong cinema from 2001 to 2004 as resource for a contextual approach to expressions of Christian faith in the public realm after the reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997
In this thesis I study popular Hong Kong cinema through analysing specific films produced between 2001 and 2004. They are Shaolin Soccer (2001), The Infernal Affairs Trilogy (2002-2003), and Kung Fu Hustle (2004). My aim is to identify insights from these films in order both to interrogate and to inform the public expressions of faith by local Christians in the period after the reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. In this thesis, these expressions of faith are represented by local Christian productions released in cinemas also between 2001 and 2004. Being the first detailed study of Chinese language film in the developing field of theology-religion and film, this thesis serves to extend the geo-cultural scope of this area of research. Throughout this study I adopt a tripolar approach to theology which is simultaneously practical, contextual, and cultural. It starts with practical concerns and aims at informing Christian praxis; it is concerned with local issues and reflects on local practices; it regards the cinema as a cultural text and as resource for local theology. My film analysis draws upon a cultural studies approach which combines textual and contextual studies, and is enriched by extensive references to writings by local critics and audience members. Using this multi-layered approach, I scrutinise the top grossing local film of each year from 2001 to 2004 within its original sociocultural context of production and reception. The same approach is also applied to examine the Christian films. At the heart of this thesis is my analysis of both Christian films and popular films. I demonstrate that the local Christian films exhibit a number of characteristics, which include: other-worldly spirituality; individualistic worldviews that focus on personal fulfilment; exclusive emphasis on marriage and the family; as well as disinterest from the social context and indifference towards the present. My contextual study on the development of Christianity in Hong Kong reveals that these characteristics mirror the popular theologies prevalent in many local Christian communities. In contrast, the popular films are often perceived locally to be implicit representations of circumstances after the reversion of sovereignty, and are thus regarded as stories of Hong Kong people and society. I discuss how these films address important issues which confront the people, take the local cultural-religious traditions seriously, assume the point of view of the marginal, and embrace rather than condemn human weaknesses. As cultural texts, they suggest that the people of Hong Kong are struggling with unresolved identities and anxiety over being marginalised, grappling with the tension of retention versus abandonment of collective memories, and longing for transformation from their perceived perpetual despair. These characteristics, I contend, are manifestations of a collective state of liminality experienced by many people in Hong Kong after 1997. In the conclusion, I propose a contextual approach to public expressions of Christian faith for Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty. My proposed approach involves attentiveness and humility toward local cultural-religious traditions; relocation to the periphery for the assumption of a marginal perspective; identification with and embrace of the liminal condition of the people. Finally, I suggest that the challenge for public expressions of Christian faith in this context is two-fold. First, it is to be able to tell the stories of post-1997 Hong Kong; second, these stories need to be grounded on a sound theology of liminality which embodies and addresses the post-1997 experience in the city. This specific study on Hong Kong cinema also has wider implications for those seeking to express their Christian faith in the public realm, particularly through various popular audiovisual media.