The Life and Times of Stephen Chow
For many Hong Kong and Chinese immigrant children growing up in the 1990s to 2000s, Stephen Chow's comedic films gave many families simple pleasures of laughter during hard times. His childhood and upbringing is relatable for many others. Despite his hardships growing up, he is an exemplary role model for many children to pursue their dreams. Stephen Chow was obsessed with Bruce Lee as a child, and credits Lee as his inspiration. He first wished to become a martial arts expert, but due to the lack of money to pay for lessons during his childhood, he instead decided to become an actor, and then would go on to appear in over fifty films, and direct over ten films.  Throughout this page, exploration of Stephen Chow's success in Hong Kong to overseas will be examined.
As an actor, Stephen Chow first appeared as an extra for Rediffusion Television, and then joined TVB in 1982. His career in film first started in 1988, playing the role of Boy in Parkman Wong’s Final Justice. This film earned him a Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actor. While starring in many films after this debut, he would not reach prominence for his comedy until 1990, when he played the role of Sing in Jeffrey Lau and Corey Yuen’s All for the Winner, a Hong Kong comedy film. He would then go on to direct and play a starring role in his 1999 film, King of Comedy, another Hong Kong comedy film.
His 2001 sports-comedy film Shaolin Soccer won multiple awards and his success grew outside of China and Hong Kong, and his work afterwards, Kung Fu Hustle, launched him into international stardom, with the 2004 action-comedy film grossing over $104 million USD worldwide. Chow's last role in a movie was his 2008 science-fiction film CJ7, and would continue to direct and produce films afterwards. His 2016 romantic-comedy film, The Mermaid, broke numerous of records and grossed over 550 million USD worldwide, and was the highest grossing film in China after 12 days of the film's release. 
Stephen Chow has been in some ongoing legal battle since 2016 with New Culture Media and another in 2020 by his ex-girlfriend Alice Yu for allegedly failing to pay her commission of more than HK$70 million. After taking a brief hiatus since the release of his 2019 film, The New King of Comedy, Chow has signed on to do multiple partnership and collaborative work that is seen to revive his career. More recently, in October 2022, Stephen Chow started his social media presence on Instagram to interact and engage with his fans by starting a hashtag #CreatewithStephen to ask fans for suggestions and seek new talent.
Coming from a broken family and a childhood of hardships, Stephen, like many children, found solace in his admiration for martial arts celebrities like Bruce Lee and Wang Yu; in watching Lee’s Fist of Fury, he found inspiration and motivation to pursue a career in acting. Despite being initially rejected, he successfully became a student of TVB’s Performing Artist Training Program, which led him to his first role and entry point into the entertainment industry as a host of the kids show 430 Space Shuttle along with Tony Leung Chiu-Wai. After 6 years of hosting the show, Chow began landing dramatic roles in films such as Final Justice in 1988. However, his role in the TVB drama series The Final Combat in 1989 and his starring role in All for the Winner in 1990 are commonly seen as his “breakout roles,” which catapulted him into stardom within Hong Kong. All for the Winner specifically solidified his status as a comedy actor, finding his footing in the genre of comedy and incorporating this style of acting into future films in his acting career.
While simultaneously performing his role as a renowned actor, Chow began pursuits in directing, writing, and producing films. Starting in 1994, Stephen Chow began his career as a director, initially directing and writing From Beijing with Love as his first film. While he would direct 2 other films after this, his directing career, along with his acting career, would gain international notoriety in 1999 with the release of King of Comedy; while this film cemented his place as the “king of comedy” films, it was also integral for his career, as it marked a critical transition from his status as a local Hong Kong hero to a worldwide juggernaut in the Hong Kong film industry. The film follows Wan Tin-Sau, a struggling actor attempting to make it big within the film industry. Film critics had associated the film's personality as one of its selling points, as Chow seems to have transposed aspects of his own experience as a struggling actor into the narrative of the movie. From there, he would continue directing, releasing and starring in the lead role of hits such as the sports comedy film Shaolin Soccer in 2001 and Kung Fu Hustle in 2004, both to positive reviews and commercial success at the box offices. His most successful film to date that he had directed was The Mermaid, released back in 2016, breaking innumerable box office records and was the highest-grossest film in China at that time.
Later on in his career, Stephen Chow would be regarded as a pariah as he allegedly became harder to work with and was described as an “isolated genius” who drives people away, smearing his public image. China Star producer Tiffany Chen Ming-Ying had previously referred to Chow as “unbearable” to work with. Danny Lee Sau-Yin, a co-star of Chow’s in films such as Final Justice in 1988, had commented that Chow “should learn the importance of friendship,” as he had been distancing himself from friends. Lastly, director Manfred Wong Man-Chun also stated that “the Chow Sing-Chi era is over” in response to the dirty image of Chow.
Stephen Chow has spent nearly four decades in the film and entertainment industry, starring, directing, writing, and producing more than 50 films across the span of his career. In bringing his success from Hong Kong, to Mainland China, and to Hollywood, he has made a name for himself internationally and has contributed to the globalization of Hong Kong cinema. Evident from the majority of films he stars in, Stephen Chow’s most prominent genre to partake in is comedy.
As an actor, Stephen Chow’s career first started in 1988, playing the role of Boy in Parkman Wong’s Final Justice. This film earned him a Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actor. While starring in many films after this debut, he would not reach prominence for his comedy until 1990, when he played the role of Sing in Jeffrey Lau and Corey Yuen’s All for the Winner, a Hong Kong comedy film. He would then go on to direct and play a starring role in his 1999 film, King of Comedy, another Hong Kong comedy film. This is when Chow would become synonymous with the term mo lei tau, or nonsense humour that comes out of nowhere. This style of comedy takes the form of high-speed, dexterous, and impossible-to-translate Cantonese verbal humor, mixing absurdist wordplay, nonsensical juxtapositions, and allusive punning to create comedy and memorable wordplay.
Due to the popularity of such a style of comedy, it has become insurmountable to Hong Kong’s popular culture, as phrases have entered the common lexicon. In addition to becoming easily accepted by Hong Kong youth, mo lei tau became well-integrated into the sociopolitical landscape of Hong Kong, during the 1990s. During this time when Hong Kongers had to negotiate their hybrid colonial-Chinese identities, Stephen Chow’s position as an influential Hong Kong personality and his connection to mo lei tau offered models of identification and self-definition. Additionally, viewers turned to this nonsense subculture of film to cope with their discontent.
With this fame, Chow attempted to retool himself in order to appeal to a Mainland China audience, as he and his films have been mainland-izing. His films have been transitioning from a purely Cantonese language to a mix of Cantonese and Mandarin, the settings of his films have been located within Mainland China, and his works have transitioned from parodies of Hong Kong culture to Cantonese historical culture. Despite working around the national tensions to the success of his career, he has avoided criticism for his subtlety in his films, as the cultural work within the film still attempts to please both his Hong Kong and Chinese audience.
Substantive analysis of the celebrity's profession
When he was a young boy, Stephen Chow grew interested in Kung Fu and idolized a variety of martial artists, such as Bruce Lee and Wang Yu. Although he began to learn wing chun, he never became a master. Instead, he pursued acting and started to create parodies as his career grew. After the success of his 2001 sports-comedy film Shaolin Soccer, Chow directed, produced, co-wrote and starred in his 2004 action-comedy film Kung Fu Hustle. Set in Canton, China in the 1940’s, the movie features two wannabe gangsters that desperately want to join the Axe Gang, who stumble upon a rundown neighbourhood slum, where three retired kung fu masters inhabit. The film incorporates a variety of American pop culture references, such as a horror scene similar to The Shining, a dance scene like West Side Story, and even an appearance of the Road Runner, perhaps due to the fact that Shaolin Soccer and Chow’s debut to American audiences were a failure, and he wanted his international audience to connect with his film.
Like many of his films, Kung Fu Hustle features a “loser” main character that works hard and eventually ends up becoming successful and turning into a good person. Yet he is unlike many of his characters, who are often outgoing and larger-than-life, Chow is said to be a lowkey and quiet person who might even come off as shy to many.
While he gets his audience to relate to the film, it could also be that he used his own past experiences as leverage. Chow grew up in a government housing project following his parent’s divorce in Hong Kong, and Kung Fu Hustle takes place in the Canton region. The main character, Sing, in Kung Fu Hustle is a reflection of a younger version of Stephen Chow; Sing aspired to become a gangster while Chow dreamed of being a martial arts expert.  Although the lives of Sing and Chow don’t go the way they initially wanted to, they find success and happiness with their current career. And Sing could also be a self-insert like character as well, even sharing a similar name as Chow in Cantonese.
Stephen Chow's contributions to the professional field (cinema, film culture, and beyond)
Stephen Chow’s Professional Awards
After the releases of Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle in 2001 and 2004, respectively, Stephen Chow won many prestigious awards. In 2002, Shaolin Soccer won six awards, making it the Hong Kong Film Awards biggest winner of the year. By 2005, Stephen Chow's work on Kung Fu Hustle became a big winner at the Golden Horse awards, which is known to be equivalent to the prestigious American's version of the Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars . As these two films reached international success, it allowed Stephen Chow to win many other awards outside of Hong Kong, as listed below.
|Year||Award Ceremonies||Award||Nominated Work|
|2002||Hong Kong Film Awards||Best Actor||Shaolin Soccer|
|2002||Hong Kong Film Awards||Best Director||Shaolin Soccer|
|2002||Hong Kong Film Awards||Best Picture||Shaolin Soccer|
|2003||Blue Ribbon Awards||Best Foreign Language Film||Shaolin Soccer|
|2005||Boston Society of Film Critics Awards||Best Foreign Language Film||Kung Fu Hustle|
|2005||Florida Film Critics Circle Awards||Best Foreign Language Film||Kung Fu Hustle|
|2005||Golden Horse Awards||Best Director||Kung Fu Hustle|
|2005||Golden Horse Awards||Best Feature Film||Kung Fu Hustle|
|2005||Hong Kong Film Awards||Best Picture||Kung Fu Hustle|
|2005||Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards||Best Foreign Film||Kung Fu Hustle|
|2006||Hundred Flowers Awards||Outstanding Film||Kung Fu Hustle|
|2017||Hong Kong Film Awards||Best Director||The Mermaid|
"Mo Lei Tau" impact in Hong Kong
Stephen Chow's uses "mo lei tau," meaning "nonsense" comedy, which is a type of slapstick humour that was becoming popular in Hong Kong during the late 20th century. This term was coined when Stephen Chow emerged as an actor, making him the figurehead of "mo lei tau" films. This genre heavily impacted Hong Kong's popular culture and was tied to the sociopolitical climate during the 1990s. At the time, Hong Kong was transforming into a densely populated commercial hub and "fuelled by an influx of migrants fleeing the political and economic difficulties on the mainland" . By the early 1970s, Hong Kong was creating its cultural identity through the Cantonese language. Even though English was used in schools, the majority of the public did not use it in their everyday life; therefore, his slang gave many Hong Kong youth a voice.
Since Kung Fu Hustle, Stephen Chow began departing from his "mo lei tau" stylistic films. From his 2013's Journey to The West film, he began incorporating Mandarin into his films that appealed to the enormous mainland audience. More recently, The Mermaid film in 2016 is another example of Stephen Chow leaving this "mo lei tau" humour behind. Stephen Chow did not have a social media presence until recently when he joined Instagram in October 2022. This became a way for him to interact with fans all over the world. He also has been using this platform to recruit Web3 talent, known for blockchain technologies and machine learning, to even asking his fans in an Instagram posting for suggestions of names for his social media community.
"Sing girls" is a nickname dubbed for actresses involved in Stephen Chow's movies because oftentimes the lead roles in his films helped to launch the careers of these young actresses. Rather than paying himself to act, he preferred to cultivate new talents and to give others an opportunity to join the film industry. For example, many of the actresses went on to become Cantopop singers, reality TV stars, and fashion ambassadors. Jelly Lin Yun starred in the 2016 film, The Mermaid, and became the face and first global brand spokesperson for luxury fashion brand Salvatore Ferragamo. Karen Mok starred in multiple films, like box-office hit Shaolin Soccer and The Mermaid led her to become a successful Cantopop singer.
Key societal, economic, political, moral, and historical forces that influenced Stephen Chow’s career
From Hong Kong handover to Shaolin Soccer
Prior to the British handover of Hong Kong's sovereignty back to China in 1997, the 1980s of Hong Kong was a period of great wealth and real estate success. It is Hong Kong's success in the real estate business and its foreign investors that enabled Hong Kong to create high budget movies during the British rule . By the 1990s, the economic boom began to plummet as real estate business fell when the investors backed out due to fears of an unstable future economy of Hong Kong. Furthermore, the 1997 handover coincided with the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. During these drastic changes in Hong Kong, Stephen Chow was a popularizing comedic actor and producer that helped Hong Kong during its arguably saddest period. In an interview with Todd Gilchrist, Stephen Chow mentions that it has always been his ambition for Shaolin Soccer to go international, but he could not simply rely on the local market of Hong Kong because it is too small for cinema growth. In 2001, the release of Shaolin Soccer became a hit during its Hong Kong release; therefore, Stephen Chow went on to broaden his work by targeting Kung Fu Hustle to a global audience .
Kung Fu Hustle's impact on Hong Kong's globalization
Seven years after the handover of Hong Kong, Hong Kong desperately looked to return to the international stage after failing to return to its economic boom. With Stephen Chow's creation of Kung Fu Hustle, it is seen to be the start of Hong Kong's acceptance of globalization. A pivotal implementation that symbolizes Stephen Chow's acknowledgement of Hong Kong's need of transitioning from their traditionalist belief to accepting globalization is portrayed when he abstains from the traditional Chinese Wuxia fighting style and uses Western choreography. Furthermore, Stephen Chow did so by portraying the Kung Fu masters living in a run-down tenement housing of Pig Sty Alley. Based on Stephen Chow's own childhood experiences of growing up in a crowded Hong Kong slum neighbourhood, he implemented his experience into Kung Fu Hustle's impoverished Pig Sty Alley. Stephen Chow also targets an international audience by making references to Western movies such as quoting Spider-man's infamous quote "with great power comes great responsibility". Stephen Chow brings in Chinese elements that are accustomed to Western audiences such as the white outfit in the final battle scene. Most importantly, Stephen Chow portrays that his character, Sing, becomes a candy shop owner, indicating that realistically not all Kung Fu masters need to remain heroic at the end, as seen in Jackie Chan and Jet Li's films. Kung Fu Hustle depicts Hong Kong's changing times to a globalized country, and the abandoning of traditional martial arts films to implementing Western references.
Partnership with Netflix
In today's society, the rise of subscription streaming platforms such as Netflix is the main form of entertainment for consumers. In 2018, Stephen Chow signed on to produce an all-Asian cast of the animated version of the infamous Chinese literature "Journey to the West" . Prior to this deal with Netflix, Stephen Chow has previously produced, co-wrote, and co-directed 2013's "Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons," and produced and co-wrote the 2017's sequel "Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back" . Streaming services accelerated to an all time high due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Collaboration with China's Tencent Video
Stepping aside from cinematic productions, Stephen Chow has inked a deal to partner with Tencent to create content for streaming platforms . This deal is seen to be a career revival initiative for Stephen Chow after her various legal battles with former collaborators of New Culture Media and many recent unsuccessful box-office films. For instance, unlike The Mermaid in 2016 that topped the Chinese box office with $529 million, his 2019 film, The New King of Comedy, only earned $97 million, which did not place into the top ten box office of 2019 . In 2018, an online survey noted that 28% of people strongly preferred to watch a movie for the first time in movie theaters, whereas only 15% preferring to stream it. By April to May 2022, another online survey with over two thousand responses showed that 41% of the respondents rarely go to the theatres to see a movie. This could be largely due to streaming services being cost-effective and easily accessible to watch in the comfort of one's home. This growing preference for streaming services is a lucrative strategy for Stephen Chow to make movies accessible to people all over the world.
Reception of the celebrity
Stephen Chow first made his appearance as an extra for Rediffusion Television, and then after graduating high school, he joined TVB in 1982. In 1988, he made his film debut in Final Justice, which landed him the Golden Horse Award for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Horse Awards at the age of 26. He was featured in over 40 films afterwards, and in 1994, he began to direct films, such as From Beijing With Love. In the 1990s, Chow starred in All for the Winner, which then established him as a comedy star. With all of these films that he was featured in or directed, Chow soon began to draw in audiences in all of China, and soon, internationally, with his success with Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Shaolin Soccer grossed over $42 million USD worldwide, while Kung Fu Hustle grossed over $104 million USD.
On social media, such as Tumblr, Twitter and Instagram, Stephen Chow’s fanbase is rather small; he rarely is trending and his official Instagram has only around over 290,000 followers. His works in the early 2000s, however, managed to garner some Western fans, especially with the help of the Western pop culture references and even plot lines or comedy. His films have adapted and changed due to globalization, yet he still retains a lot of Hong Kong and Chinese characteristics. Although Chow is not as well known nowadays among younger people in the West, he is still popular among older and younger generations in Hong Kong and China, with one survey suggesting that Chinese people between ages 18 and 30 were Chow’s most avid followers. One Quora page, asking Chinese audiences about Stephen Chow, has commenters praising his works and even him being their favourite comedian, with some arguing that Chow is the best Chinese comedian.
Over the years, especially the later 2010s, a few scandals arose surrounding Stephen Chow’s name. The most recent scandal took place in August of 2021, where he and the then 17 year old Ukei Cheung, an unsuccessful Miss Hong Kong 2021 contestant. The two were seen on a yacht worth over HK$100 million. However, this scandal was proven to be false, with Chow’s assistant claiming that Chow ignored Cheung because they hardly knew each other. Other scandals before include Stephen Chow owing his ex girlfriend and investor Alice Yu Manfung around HK$47.4 million in 2020 of October. This incident also started back when their 13 year relationship ended with her in 2010, when she sued him for HK$80 million, in which she claimed that he owed her in commission on the expected sale of a luxury home. Another “scandal” features a bunch of Hong Kong celebrities and their negative views of Chow, such as Tiffany Chen, Andy Lau and Johnnie To. A news article recounts what the celebrities have said about Chow and his character, such as calling him a tyrant, selfish, lacking ethics and never considers other people’s feelings. However, this article was in 2014 and nothing else from these celebrities was said about Chow afterwards. All of the recent news seemed to not have garnered that much attention among fans, and only had a few news articles written. Unlike current celebrities and their fans, especially in the West, it seems that there are not many active fans that use social media to express their opinions or reactions about these sorts of scandals or news about Chow.
Critical literature review
Discovering the digital Stephen Chow: The transborder influence of Chow’s films on the Chinese Internet in the 2010s
In this article by Matthew Ming-tak Chew, Chew attempts to uncover and analyze the transborder influence of Stephen Chow's films in China during the 2010s. Chew uncovers how Chow's verbal memes and catchphrases in his films has had a long-lasting influence outside of Hong Kong. Memes have been rapidly rising among social media users since the late 2000s in the West because of social media. Chew mentions that GIF memes in the West usually do not contain the original subtitles from the screenshots and videos being used, but Chow's famous one word 'superb' meme is an example that consisting of both meme-making with its original subtitles and altered and substituted original subtitles versions of this meme. A problem Chew mentions is that many memes are made with films from the early 1990s and mid-1990s, not from Chow's 21st-century films. This is a problem as young meme-users in the 2010s would not self-identify as a fan of Chow's films; therefore, many of the Chow memes are most likely used by middle-aged netizens now.
Chew later argues that as those memes were created in the 2000s, younger generations can continue to create new memes with Chow's films from the 2010s. An example of this is the 2017 popular meme with Chow and Elvis Tsui in the film Hail the Judge. This meme shows Tsui saying "I want them all" to Chow's bribing offer and leaving Chow with no share. By 2018, fans created a new round of meme making, turning screenshots of Tsui's character into "Chinese Santa". Furthermore, Sina Weibo and comic artist made Tsui's character into a series of official stickers of Weibo. Another source of digital influence Chow's films impacted the internet in the 2010s is the growing popularity of web novels. Chew argues that Chow's films helped to frame conflicts in Chinese web novels' narratives and created a "...rise of comical style action-oriented novels in the 2010s." Overall, Chew shows that parts of Hong Kong popular culture can become well-received outside of Hong Kong, and Chow's films continue to exert culture influences in the digital media.
Kung Fu Hustle: Transnational production and the global Chinese-language film
In this article, Klein states that scholars have been focusing their research on mapping the global flows of culture. Klein argues that Kung Fu Hustle embodies a complex model of how the global flow today works in multiple directions. For instance, this movie can be seen to flow out of Hollywood in the form of capital, mode of production, and stylistic conventions, into Hong Kong. The reverse is then flown out of Hong Kong, in the form of Stephen Chow's star persona and comic sensibility, into the United States. Finally, regional flows occur by flowing out of Hong Kong in the form of its film workers and expertise and flows into China.
The Chinese film industry attempts to enlarge and protect itself from foreign competition by collaborating with and learning from both Hong Kong and global competitors of Hollywood. Sony's participation in the film was a way to search for a profitable investment. When Chow completed the movie, Sony took full control of the picture, giving it a truly global release in over 40 countries. This film allowed many to see that Western studios later attempted to push "...deeper into the Chinese film markets with their English-language blockbusters...". Klein concludes that Kung Fu Hustle allows us to see a clear distinction between 'Hollywood films' and 'Chinese cinema' that is becoming harder to make in terms of production, style, and market performance.
Rethinking the Cultural Relations between Hong Kong and China: An Analysis of the Chinese Reception of Stephen Chow’s Films
Matthew Ming-Tak Chew’s article attempts to analyze the reception to Stephen Chow’s films in Mainland China. Since the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, which determined that Hong Kong would rejoin China in 1997 from British colonial rule, relations between Hong Kong and China have been filled with tension. In order to analyze such receptions to Chow’s films, Chew carried out three specific analyses. The first analysis establishes that the Chinese reception of Chow’s films has been exceptionally positive and well-received. Both mainstream critics and Chinese intellectuals had assessed his films very positively, with one comment branding Chow as the “Chinese Charlie Chaplin.” The second and third analysis recognizes that Chinese intellectual, scholarly, and popular audience reception of Chow’s films stress their counter-hegemonic characteristics. All consumers from China, despite positively critiquing Chow’s films, acknowledge that the films can act as critiques of the hegemonic power that China has historically held over Hong Kong. While it can be presumed that Chow’s films would be hegemonically suppressed and/or appropriated by the Chinese state and audiences, they hold resilience and establish the power of Hong Kong culture, being positively accepted by the majority of media consumers in China. This level of acceptance gives way to bottom-up route in which a re-imagining of social dynamics and relations can be counter-hegemonic, transformative, and mutually enriching.
Under the Sea, Under the Censors: The Mainland Success of Stephen Chow
In a 2016 article, “Under the Sea, Under the Censors: The Mainland Success of Stephen Chow” written by Shelly Kraicer, the author analyzes the phenomenal success of Stephen Chow’s 2016 romantic-comedy-fantasy film The Mermaid, and explains how so via the relationship between Hong Kong and Mainland China. The author claims that Stephen Chow is Hong Kong and China’s most successful and popular filmmaker, in the sense that he has retooled himself for the Mainland Chinese film market. Due to the Joint Declaration, the Tiananmen Square crisis, and Hong Kong’s “return to the motherland” in 1997, many Hong Kongers struggled with their identities, especially with the Chinese government insisting that the identities of people in Hong Kong were exclusively Chinese. Hong Kong celebrities such as Stephen Chow and Jackie Chan were forced to rebrand and reinvent themselves to appeal to the Chinese Mainland film market.
Kraicer claims that Chow has been ‘mainand-izing’. For example, Chow’s films have changed from Cantonese (Shaolin Soccer), to a mix of Cantonese and Mandarin (Kung Fu Hustle), and Mandarin in the mainland with a Cantonese dub released in Hong Kong and North America (CJ7), and then just Mandarin (Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons). As well, the locations of these films also have changed, from Shaolin Soccer taking place in Hong Kong, Kung Fu Hustle taking place in a fictional southern Canton region, to Journey of the West taking place in a mythical Chinese mainland, featuring both elements of the mainland and Hong Kong culture.
Kraicer suggests that in Chow’s movie The Mermaid, Chow is able to blend together the Mainland China setting and characters, as well as his own distinct style of producing and directing. The Mermaid also focuses on the combination/hybrid of the fish people that live in harmony, but are then under the threat of Chinese exploiter-billionaires that want to gain control of their home. The author explains that Mainland China and Hong Kong’s relationship doesn’t have to be explicitly addressed in a critical way by any Chinese film, to the point where it needs a censor approval. Chow’s The Mermaid does this in a subtle way, hiding a controversial political-social allegory that hides under the cover of another political-social but more acceptable environmental parable. The Mermaid suggests that it is possible that China could accommodate and even celebrate troublesome contradictions and unresolved differences.
Hong Kong cinema since 1997: troughs and peaks
Through his article, Andy Willis attempts to impart a comprehensive overview of the key peaks and troughs within Hong Kong cinema since 1997. While he does examine these ups and downs through two high-profile directors, our focus will be on Stephen Chow. In the 1990s, Hong Kong saw many of its creatives attracted away from Hong Kong to work in the US film and television industries, causing a drought of entertainment. Prior to this, Chow had made a name for himself as an actor, with his slap-stick comedy style already gaining traction early into his career as a television host for 430 Space Shuttle. Willis’s main argument he makes throughout the article is that Chow was one of the two Hong Kong directors post-1997 that had revitalized Hong Kong cinema, despite film critics and general audiences believing that the death of the film industry in Hong Kong was impending. He continues by arguing that Chow achieved this by revealing and appeasing a domestic and international appetite for the consumption of Hong Kong goods; through the release of films such as Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle, Chow was able to successfully cement his place in the industry as the talent look for from Hong Kong.
How accurate is Chow's influence between Hong Kong and China being measured?
As Chew tries to uncover Stephen Chow's films influence on the internet based on catchphrases, memes, and web novels, there are inaccuracies due to the inabilities to accurately measure Chow's films influence because there are many other platforms that aside from Weibo that uses and creates GIFs. Majority of the online catchphrases were invented in China and remain unknown to Hong Kong citizens. As memes and GIFs are open for the public, users are able to use Chow related memes and GIFs even without being a fan. Internet only became popular in China in the early 2000s, and Chew notes that the memes were originally created in the 2000s. As Chew makes assumptions of who is using these memes, particularly assuming most of the memes were used by middle-aged netizens, there is no accurate quantitative data to conclusively assess this portion. Chew's failure to mention how internet censorship could play a role in the inaccurate measurement of the use of internet. Two decades ago, China's start to the digital age was slow, as not many had access to computers to access the internet.
Stephen Chow's comedic films from the early 2000s, such as Kung Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer, still remain memorable for many generations, from Chinese immigrants to people who grew up in Hong Kong or Mainland China. However, although he has won the hearts of many of his fans and many well deserved awards, his name has also been in the spotlight for a few scandals and news articles; from Hong Kong celebrities voicing their negative opinions about him and his personality, to his separation with his ex girlfriend Alice Yu Manfung and owing her money, and his recent appearance on a yacht with the then 17 year old former Miss Hong Kong 2021 Contestant Ukei Cheung.
Yet unlike many other Chinese celebrities, Stephen Chow's handwork earned him the title of "King of Comedy." His movies provided many others an opportunity into stardom, but more importantly, his "mo lei tau" comedy films allowed Hong Kong netizens a brief sense of happiness and comfort after the Hong Kong handover left many feeling uncertain with their cultural identity. Chow manages to incorporate his own past experiences and even current problems into his films, making it relatable to his audience while also offering his own opinions in a subtle and clever way.
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