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Contemporary Pan-Chinese Cinematic Urbanism in Taiwan and Hong Kong


After World War II, Chinese films shot in Taiwan and Hong Kong began to play a significant role constructing and disseminating images of Chinese culture and its urban environments to pan-Chinese regions of the world and beyond. To comprehend the relationship between those Chinese films and their urban settings, particularly in Taipei and Hong Kong, numerous scholars in the field of Chinese cinematic urbanism engaged in analyses of the highly aestheticized spatial representations in the films, as well as on the cultural negotiation of Chineseness within a context of political tension, and the issues arising from the rapid capitalization of Chinese cities. However, from the 1990s, the global popularity of Hollywood movies threatened the film industry both in Taiwan and Hong Kong. Concurrently, Mainland China rose in stature to supplant Taiwan and Hong Kong as the seat of political, economic, and cultural “Chineseness”. To respond to these changes, film industry executives in Taiwan and Hong Kong began to seek new ways to survive, sparking a process in which the relationship between cities and the film industries grew more complex. Numerous cinematic ventures were created to intentionally address considerations of film tourism, urban marketing, intervention in the urban process, and the formation of localism.

In 2008, for example, a popular Taiwanese movie Cape No. 7 induced a fever of domestic tourism, drawing numerous visitors to its shooting locales. As a result of this phenomenon, local governments, in particular those of two major cities, Taipei and Kaohsiung, recognized the potential for a new type of relationship between the film industry, cities’ imaginaries, and the promotion of cities as tourist destinations. They began to sponsor films that highlighted the appeal of special urban attractions in their cities—films intended to foster tourist activity and advertise a specially crafted urban imaginary. Meanwhile, film executives and the government in Hong Kong collaborated to produce a novel nostalgic film genre intended to foster the formation of localism toward Hong Kong. In these films, a specific historical architecture or neighborhood was chosen as the setting for films that evoked the Hong Kong spirit and collective memories of Hong Kong people, distinguishing this city’s imaginary from the otherwise dominant image of Mainland Chinese cities. The films then attracted local audiences to visit the filmic locales, an experience which further developed the domestic audiences’ local identity. In all of these cases, the distinctive imaginary of each city was developed and distributed, and a new relationship between cities and cinema emerged, one with a powerful influence on the film industries, the development of physical urban environments, and the negotiations between Chineseness and local identities in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

This dissertation research offers an in-depth examination of this historical movement from the late 2000s to the present, though archival research, film analysis, and participatory observation, exploring the ways in which linchpin cities in Taiwan and Hong Kong, through cinematic production and representation, induced tourism and pursued alternative models for pan-Chinese urban development, in the process further constructing their local identities. Particularly, three cities—Kaohsiung, Taipei, and Hong Kong—and several specific movies that have had crucial effects on each city’s urban imaginary and physical environment will be addressed. In the case of Kaohsiung, I examine the municipal government’s initiation of the policy of film sponsorship through assisting a TV series, Black & White, and its sequel films. Black and White was used to publicize the municipal government’s political achievements and transform Kaohsiung’s urban imaginary from a postindustrial port city to a global harbor city with Taiwanese cultural distinctions, which further established Kaohsiung as a potential locus for the film industry. Following the achievement of Kaohsiung, the Taipei municipal government first established a similar policy of film sponsorship and later became the most important supporter for the present redevelopment of the Taiwanese film industry through quickly adjusting its film policies to suit the filmmakers’ demands.

Furthermore, in Dadaocheng, a specific district of Taipei, these circumstances led to the transformation of a preserved historical district with a long and diverse political and cultural legacy into a popular tourist attraction as well as a popular filming location, as cinematic representations of Dadaocheng resulted in interventions in its spatial preservation and economic redevelopment process. Tracing both the failures and successes of cinematic interventions in Dadaocheng, this research attempts to capture the complicated dynamics among different agents—government bureaucrats, city planners, filmmakers, and existing urban communities—whose negotiations have had a vital impact in shaping contemporary cinematic urbanism and localism in Taiwan. In the meantime, as Taiwan’s political, economic, and cultural counterpart, Hong Kong offers the comparison case that completes the discourse. The research of cinematic intervention in Hong Kong examines the effects of a government-sponsored nostalgic film, Echoes of the Rainbow, recalling the collective memory of developing Hong Kong in the 1970s. This movie was successfully deployed to halt an urban renewal project and persuade the government to preserve and renovate its main shooting location, a historical neighborhood in Central Hong Kong.

Building upon previous studies that provided the theoretical foundation for cinematic urbanism studies, this dissertation examines the novel phenomenon of contemporary pan-Chinese cinematic urbanism in Taiwan and Hong Kong to illustrate its agency in urban processes.

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