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Hong Kong Experience: Johnnie To's Cinema and the Phenomenology of the Senses

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...By examining the cinema of Hong Kong’s commercial crime film director Johnnie To, this dissertation explains how film aesthetics offers a profound understanding of the geopolitical status of the city. In particular, this study concerns, in To’s aesthetic practice, the shift from the modern man’s ocular-phono-logocentric perception to a postmodern type of film viewing experience, which is not only ocular-phonic, but also corporeal. Using To’s post-1997 cinema as a frame of reference, this study observes that in order for Hong Kong’s film audience to comprehend the city, besides using only what the camera or the characters see or hear, they have begun to use what the characters appear to feel with their skin and internal organs. These transitions from sight and sound to haptic perceptions are signs of the skin and inner body taking over as the dominant layers of onscreen perception and cultural memory in post-1997 Hong Kong. This study brings to awareness a historical shift around 1997 in Hong Kong’s crime films from the ocular-phonic perceptual tradition to a corporeal aesthetic, what I call the “haptic turn” of the cinema. This suggests a sensory-visceral-affective film viewing experience that symptomatically informs some unsolvable dilemmas under Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” geopolitical framework.

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This item is under embargo until June 15, 2028.