Images of older persons in Hong Kong popular films

  • Nga Man WONG

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Film watching is a popular leisure activity in modern society. Films, as a medium, provide powerful tools to deliver social messages and to create images of particular social groups. The cinematic images portrayed by films toward a particular social group may consequently shape our social perceptions and expectations of that social group. The ways that cinematic images portray older persons are, therefore, a potentially major source for detecting social values and views about them.

As some cinematic images tend to reflect social attitudes and behaviours, the present research aimed at investigating how popular films portray the images of older persons. Focus was on the examination of: 1) the representation of older persons in Hong Kong movies, 2) whether older persons are positively or negatively portrayed in movies, and 3) any changes in the cinematic images of older persons over the last two decades.

The present research examined Hong Kong movies released between 1981 and 2001. The population of the present study is the most popular Hong Kong movies, based on the turnover of the Hong Kong ticket offices. The sampled films were derived from the three highest-turnover movies for each year from 1981 to 2001.

Content analysis was employed in this study to determine the representation and images of older persons in the 63 sampled movies. Generally speaking, older persons were found to be under-represented in the sampled movies relative to their presence in the population. Older persons were portrayed as having white hair, wrinkle skin, and walk independently in terms of physical appearance. Older persons were also portrayed as having generally good health status. However, older persons were portrayed to have a decline in both family status and socio-economic status in the 1990s as compared to that of the 1980s. In terms of occupation, most older persons were portrayed as retired persons in the movies. Apart from these features, the present research also found that there was a gender differences in the portrayal of older persons.

Many older persons were depicted in the movies in the home setting, perhaps reinforcing traditional Asian family values and stereotypes. However, this perhaps underplays older persons’ active roles and contributions in the light of such current concepts as productive and active aging. There is a temporal division in that older persons in many movies of the 1980s were portrayed as more home-based while, in the 1990s, they were becoming more actively involved in external activities.
Date of Award2003
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Sociology and Social Policy
SupervisorDavid Rosser PHILLIPS (Supervisor) & Wing Kin Kenneth LAW (Supervisor)

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