Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Mass Communication and Media Arts
Through a renewed emphasis on individual entrepreneurial freedoms, neoliberalism promises an economy liberated from government regulation in which restraints on capital accumulation are lifted and the subsequent financial benefits trickle down to all segments of society. However benign this rhetoric sounds, neoliberalization has primarily succeeded in securing wealth for capitalist elites through a collusion of state, corporate, and military players and through the manufacturing of dissent through the rhetoric of freedom. Hong Kong is a unique site in which to study the effects of neoliberalism because of its geopolitical position between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the West. As a British colony, Hong Kong was a site of capital extraction by the British Empire as well as a hub for Chinese capitalists and overseas merchants looking to avoid the turmoil on the Chinese mainland. Now, as China's Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong is more susceptible to China's authoritarian brand of neoliberalism, which instead demands consent through manipulation and coercion. The intensification of neoliberalization in Hong Kong following the 1997 transition to the PRC and the East Asian Financial Crisis that same year has been accompanied by an increased burden placed on the city's most vulnerable individuals. Cinema has responded to this intensification with recognition of and response to local and global economic uncertainty as witnessed in the city itself. This study focuses on film narratives and character action within hyper-capitalist urban space to answer the question of how urban cinema contributes to cultural dialogue on the human cost of neoliberalization. Specific areas of film research central to this study include the relationship between the city and cinema and the cinematic qualities of experiencing modern life, contemporary Hong Kong urban cinema, and questions of transnationalism and identity formation in postcolonial Hong Kong. The methodology is a combination of textual analysis and genre theory. The textual analysis is informed not only by historical and cultural details, but also by firsthand observations of Hong Kong, while genre theory is utilized because the selected films are hybridized texts that borrow from different film genres in addressing the impact of neoliberalization from multiple points of view simultaneously. For the purpose of this study, six films, made between 1998 and 2011, were selected that respond to diverse issues currently affecting Hong Kong and its people in the era of global capitalism. The Longest Summer (1998, dir. Fruit Chan) addresses the devaluation of labor and proletarianization. The Way We Are (2008, dir. Ann Hui) problematizes social polarization and the center/periphery disparity that dehumanizes individuals by defining them solely as surplus labor. Election and Election 2 (2005, 2006, dir. Johnnie To) examine the relationship between the PRC's authoritarian neoliberalism and Hong Kong Triad societies. The two additional films respond to the impact of the 2008 Global Economic Recession on an already volatile Hong Kong economy. Dream Home (2010, dir. Pang Ho-Cheung) reveals the absurdities of Hong Kong's cutthroat housing market through graphic violence and a revenge narrative set immediately prior to the 2008 crisis. Finally, Life Without Principle (2011, dir. Johnnie To) reveals the dangers to ordinary citizens of reckless and unchecked financial speculation as it applies to mortgages, loans, and investments. Neoliberalism is the logic of global capital, so although these films are set in and relate to Hong Kong, they have implications for the implementation of neoliberalism everywhere and are thus valuable as cross-cultural dialogue on human livelihood. Specifically, the films reveal a Hong Kong that is oppressive whether it is present in or absent from the frame. Yet, this oppression does not preclude meaningful human action that counters the dehumanization inherent in neoliberalization with narratives of survival and individual reconciliation with the forces of global capital.
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