Kung Fu : negotiating nationalism and modernity

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


'Kung fu', as a cultural imaginary consecrated in Hong Kong cinema since the 1970s, was constituted in a flux of nationalism. This paper argues that the kung fu imaginary found in Hong Kong kung fu cinema is imbued with an underlying self-dismantling operation that denies its own effectiveness in modern life, and betrays an 'originary' moment of heterogeneity, an origin of itself as already 'impurely Chinese'. Having been British-colonized, westernized, capitalist-polluted and culturally hybrid, Hong Kong's relation with 'Chineseness' is at best an ambivalent one. This ambivalence embodies a critical significance of Hong Kong as a defusing hybrid other within a dominant centralizing Chinese ideology, which is itself showing signs of falling apart through complex changes imposed by global capital. Hong Kong's kung fu imaginary, which operates in a self-negating mode, is instructive when read as a tactic of intervention at the historical turn from colonial modernity to the city's reluctant return to the fatherland. The kung fu imaginary enacts a continuous unveiling of its own incoherence, and registers Hong Kong's anxious process of self-invention. If Hong Kong's colonial history makes the city a troublesome supplement, then the 'Hong Kong cultural imaginary' will always be latently subversive, taking to task delusive forms of 'unitary national imagination'.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-542
Number of pages28
JournalCultural Studies
Issue number3/4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2001


  • Colonial condition
  • cultural imagination
  • hybrid identity
  • kung fu cinema
  • liminal space
  • male body
  • nationalism
  • self-negation


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