Figures of hope and the filmic imaginary of Jianghu in contemporary Hong Kong cinema

Ching Kiu, Stephen CHAN

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


Through an extensive allegorical reading of films, this paper attempts to capture a certain cultural form of imagination in Hong Kong during the transitional period leading up to the historical handover of power in 1997. Dwelling on the world of signification conjured up through what I call the jianghu filmic imaginary, the analysis focuses on the ideological and utopian impulses registered in relation to a whole emotional complex of anxiety, bewilderment and despair in the works of some highly creative local filmmakers of the genre: Ching Siu-Tong, Ann Hui, Tsui Hark and Wong Kar-Wai. The study draws theoretically from Castoriadis's notion of the social imaginary and Bloch's aesthetics of hope, to focus on the textual and contextual re-constructions of a number of very unconventional martial arts swordplay (wuxia) films made in Hong Kong in the last two decades: namely, Tsui's Butterfly Murders (1979), Hui's Romance of Book and Sword (1987), Ching/Tsui's Swordsman II (1992), and Wong's Ashes of Time (1994). By identifying the ideological and affective moments in the filmic imaginary, I want to trace what has been left in a ruined culture for utopian longings, and point to the presence/absence of 'hope' as the cultural imagination for an unknown and unknowable future (beyond 1997). It is my contention that an understanding of that peculiar form of popular imaginary at the unusual juncture of Hong Kong's history can begin with a critical attempt to cope with this subtle practice of hope, so as to recognize (or reject) it as mediation in the process of our collective cultural crisis, anticipation and identification.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)486-514
Number of pages29
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2001


  • 1997
  • Anthropology
  • Hong Kong cinema
  • affect
  • allegory
  • filmic imaginary
  • hope
  • jianghu
  • martial hero
  • wuxia films


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