[2011 Wat Lecture] Literary Adaptation and Cultural Negotiation in Hong Kong Cinema of the 1950s

Contrary to the common belief that Hong Kong cinema excels only in martial arts and gangster genres but has little to do with literature, recent research (Hong Kong Film and Literature Filmography, 1913-2000 [Hong Kong: Centre for Humanities Research, Lingnan University, 2005]) has shown that more than a thousand Hong Kong films have been adapted from literature since the beginning of the film industry (with the 1950s and 1960s as the high points). This talk will examine how Hong Kong culture has evolved since the 1950s, and it will examine how directors and writers drew on traditional and modern Chinese literary works as well as foreign and popular resources to develop alternative Chinese cultures—cultures that would not have been possible to develop in Mainland China.

Hong Kong cinema from the 1950s made adaptations not only from mainstream twentieth-century writers such as Lu Xun, Ba Jin, and Mao Dun but also from unacknowledged writers such as Shen Congwen and Eileen Chang. It continued to adapt from the literary works of Tolstoy, Maupassant, and Dickens when its counterpart in the mainland had ceased to do so. And it continued to adapt from traditional opera and romance (the “Mandarin Duck and Butterfly” stories) when the latter were severely criticized in the north.

This talk focuses in particular on some rarely seen films adapted from Lu Xun, Tolstoy, and traditional opera. Its objectives are to highlight the literary varieties in Hong Kong culture, to clarify its historical links with Chinese and Western cultures, and at the same time to trace the formation of the characteristics that contributed to the development of Hong Kong culture.

The Yip So Man Wat Memorial Lecture is made possible by the generous support of Messrs. Alex and Chi Shum Watt in honor of their mother, the late Mrs. Wat, and her passion for Chinese literature and culture.


Research Seminar: “The Second Writing Career of Eileen Chang”
Monday, October 3, 4-6pm, Room 604 Asian Centre

October Harvest: Chinese and English Poetry Recital
Thursday, October 6, 3-5pm, Dodson Room, Irving K. Barber Learning Centre

Workshop: “Intersecting Critical & Creative Practices in Academia”
Friday, October 7, 3-5:30pm, Room 2200, Harbour Centre, SFU


Leung Ping-kwan teaches literature and film studies at Lingnan University and has published extensively on urban culture and film studies, among which are Hong Kong Culture (1995) and Hong Kong Literature and Cinema (2012). He has published fifteen volumes of poems, a novel, a novella and four collections of short stories, as well as 10 volumes of essays on urban culture. He was awarded Artist of the Year 2011, Writer of the Year 2012, and he is a recipient of an Honorary Doctoral Degree in Literature conferred by the University of Zurich, Switzerland in 2012 for achievements in creative writing, and his contributions to the studies of modern Chinese literature.