Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 4, September 2000

Pre-Post-1997 Hong Kong Culture in
Clara Law's Autumn Moon

Dir. Clara Law, Autumn Moon (aka Qiuyue)
Cast: Masatoshi Nagase, Pui-Wai Li
Colour, 108 minutes, Cantonese/Japanese/English
Hong Kong, Japan, 1992

Audrey Yue

    Post-Declaration Hong Kong: Migration-as-Transition
  1. Since the founding of the British colony in 1841, Hong Kong has been a product of migration.[2] Hong Kong has been populated through different historical and political periods marked by different waves of migration. It has witnessed a regular movement of people in and out of the territory, primarily from China as well as from various other parts of the world.[3] Writing on the patterns of Hong Kong's post-war migration, Ronald Skeldon argues that the territory is 'essentially a destination of human circulation.'[4] Such inflows and outflows of 'human circulation' have precipitated Elizabeth Sinn's idea of Hong Kong as a place of transit.[5]
  2. This historical specificity of transit is especially pertinent in the consideration of post-Declaration Hong Kong as it prepared itself for its transition from the British colony to Chinese sovereignty. The signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 heralded the beginning of twelve and a half years of transition. It was a tumultuous journey marked by cycles of Sino-British cooperation, suspicion and confrontation. This period saw the reunification of East and West Germany, the disintegration of the USSR, and China remaining the only major Communist regime in the world. Hong Kong became a tentative colony characterised by the triumphs of the drafting of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Basic Law, the ramifications of the Tiananmen Square massacre and the limits of British Citizenship and the Right of Abode.
  3. In this context, it seems appropriate to use the metaphor of migration as a starting point to engage with a culture of transition. Whether as a site of transit or a colony in transition, Hong Kong has always experienced migration as a physical phenomenon, ranging from the historical labour movements of Chinese 'coolie' contracts in the last century to the recent currents of emigration accelerating in the lead-up to 1997. As émigrés leave and re-settle elsewhere, migration also takes on another meaning: migration becomes a process of globalisation whereby people are moved and mixed around the globe.
  4. Emerging from this epoch of globalisation is a (re)construction of human geographies, the social production of place and the changing formation of landscapes where the nexus of 'time' and 'space' are actively embedded in an explicit historical and geographical contextualisation. Edward Soja's development of postmodern geographies emphasises the critical intermingling of the dialectic of space, time and social being to reveal a transformative relation between history, geography and (colonial) modernity.[6] Critical spatialisation remaps the epistemological terrain of historical imagination and opens up a narrative which has instigated the contemporary reassertion of space. Arjun Appardurai's model of global cultural flow attests to the emergence of new cultures of movement characterised by the disjunctive scapes of finance, people, ideology, technology and media.[7] The reaffirmative spatialisation projects evident in the pan Chinese diaspora that are scattered and dispersed in Asia, Canada, the United States and Australia foreground such a global formation produced by dispersion, migration and mobility.[8] Within Hong Kong's transition culture, the reassertion of space highlights the issue of laying claims upon a territory, thereby challenging and questioning the ideas of 'place' and 'home'. Here, the globalisation of migration raises not only the issues of the internationalisation of capital (re)forming the transnational networks of kinship and infrastructure; it also opens up the meaning of 'place' to a terrain of critical spatialisation imbricating new economies and orientations of belongings, communities and cultures.
  5. Hong Kong's transition culture is situated around a pre-post-1997 consciousness, a consciousness contained within a politics of re-turn. Rather than a return to the 'motherland' or a return to the impossibility of roots, a politics of re-turn is illustrated by a turn away from the 'motherland', towards a migratory movement of mobility and transformation. After 150 years of British colonial rule, Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 is situated around the time-space nexus mapped by a movement forward in time and backwards in space: that is, to move forward in time towards 1997 is a re-turn to a questioning of the meaning of 'place'. The re-turn to place is thus a process of deconstruction and reconstitution, opening up and remapping the coordinates of the territory's spatialisation. The location of 'place' is crucial to the narrative of transition because 'place' is imagined when people lay claim to a territory, construct and reconstruct the meaning of 'place'.
  6. Accelerated migration in post-Declaration Hong Kong enables not just this questioning of 'place'; it also unravels the changing relationship between 'places' and 'cultures' as the sites of 'home' and 'host' begin to blur. Migration is a process where people leave one set of social, geographical and historical circumstances and move, or are moved, to another. This journey is a movement linked by 'places'. Located around the sites of departure, arrival and (re)settlement, migration is a journey that questions the meaning of these 'place/s'. As an episteme of dislocation, migration is also a critical position of translation. Rafael Perez-Torres proposes a migratory sensibility that argues towards a bridge between the capacity of theory to travel among disciplines and constituencies and its capacity to have a positive and progressive impact on the constituencies themselves.[9] Lisa Lowe also suggests that the term migration - while evoking a history of actual displacement and economic exploitation - can be a metaphor that moves between fixed cultural sites.[10] Her use of migration articulates a cultural identity for Chinese-Americans, suggesting a culture that is 'nomadic, unsettled, taking place in the travel between cultural sites and in the multivocality of heterogeneous and conflicting positions.'[11] Necessitated by a tactic of critical displacement, Lowe's and Perez-Torres' conceptualisations of migration are clearly distinct from the conventional colonial modernity's understanding of migration-as-leaving-home.[12]
  7. This paper seeks to refine these conceptualisations by highlighting the experience of migration as a process of transition. Migration-as-transition is examined as an intra sensibility produced by rendering the 'place' of migration as a 'place' of position, movement and subjectivity. This paper mobilises Hong Kong émigré feminist filmmaker Clara Law's Autumn Moon (1992) to address and develop migration-as-transition in three ways: (1) The position of geography is examined as a cinematic aesthetic. This aesthetic presents Hong Kong as a heterotopia. (2) The time-space of movement is theorised as a mode of narrative. This narrative uses the tactic of intersection to inscribe post-Declaration Hong Kong's history of transition.(3) The articulation of positionality is exemplified as location occupied by the subject. This articulation inscribes the gendered subjectivities of the migrant and the foreigner. Mediated by displacement, migration-as-transition reorders chronology to map a new topography delineated by the formation of pre-post-1997.

    Practiced Place: The Filmmaker, The Film And The Cinema[13]
  8. Winner of the Gold Leopard (Grand Prix) at the 1992 Locarno Film Festival, Best Picture Award at the European Art Theatres Association and the Youth Special Jury Award in Switzerland, Autumn Moon examines the 'place' of contemporary Hong Kong during its period of transition. It traces the brief friendship between a schoolgirl and a tourist as they map their respective journeys of love, childhood and death in a shifting postcolonial and postmodern climate of alienation, nostalgia and belonging.
  9. Autumn Moon is a typical auteur film. The emphasis on the notion of the auteur has its roots in the French film criticism whose theoretical writings in Cahiers du Cinema precipitated the nouvelle vague.[14] In this framework, the value of a film is judged according to the technical competence of the director as the author of the film, and his/her ability to project to the world a vision of cinema that is able to extrapolate what Andrew Sarris calls 'the elan of the soul.'[15] Stanley Kwan, Mabel Cheung, Wong Kar-wai and Clara Law have been hailed as the forerunners of the Hong Kong Second Wave.[16]
  10. Emerging around 1987, the Second Wave inherits from its predecessors like Ann Hui, Tsui Hark and Yim Ho an instructive didacticism which treats social issues such as youth, unemployment and illegal immigration validated in a presentation of a contemporary urban reality through a style which ranges from documentary hand-held camera, untidy framing and loose editing to well constructed, directed and focused television-style realism. The Second Wave, however, also presents a challenge to the New Wave. Similar to Anthony Appiah's epistemological delineation of the 'post' of postcolonial novels, the Second Wave identifies the earlier realist project as part of the tactic of legitimation through the creation of a distinct film form and content capable of revealing the contradictions within Hong Kong society and with isolating the culture's increasingly materialist values, nationalist surges and imperialist alliances. As Appiah states: 'Postcoloniality is after all this: and its post-, like that of postmodernism, is also a post that challenges earlier legitimating narratives.'[17]
  11. The 1997 fate of Hong Kong is a theme that runs through all of Law's work. Narratives which deal with migration, displacement and loss pose as subtle undercurrents which, interrogate the wider metanarratives of patriarchal colonialism, capitalism and communism. They Say The Moon is Fuller Here, Law's graduate student film from the National Film and Television School (UK), deals with the dilemma of being a Chinese woman in a foreign land. The Other Half and The Other Half,

      Figure 1. Clara Law
      the first Hong Kong film to tackle the predicaments of 'the astronaut syndrome', is a comedy which explores the plight of couples separated because of emigration. The Reincarnation of Golden Lotus spans from the Tang dynasty to the Cultural Revolution to present-day Hong Kong, and engages the Buddhist theme of transmigration (samsara) to allude to the haunts of 'ghosts' from the past. Beginning her collaboration with scriptwriter and producer Eddie Fong, Farewell, China, a psychodrama which presents the darker side of New York as it traces the tragedy which befalls a young Chinese woman who emigrates to New York, exposes the unspoken reality of mental illness which afflicts many Chinese students struggling overseas, and ends up, with an amended conclusion, being a demonstration against the Tiananmen

    Square massacre.[18] Temptation of a Monk is a sumptuous period film which employs the practice of masquerade to negotiate the translation of postmodern orientalism in a discourse which problematises Hong Kong's vexed relationship with both China and the West.[19] Won Ton Soup, a contribution to an omnibus film, Erotique, is a short erotica that questions the 'authenticity' of Chinese identity. Floating Life, Law's first Australian produced film, explores the Chinese diaspora in Australia, China, Hong Kong and Germany. With its monotone shades of the glass and concrete colony, Autumn Moon is a light comedy that illuminates the soullessness of Hong Kong captured through the camcorder gaze of the jaded Japanese tourist. Rather than the optimistic euphoria of 'national' solidarity formulated by Ackbar Abbas's 'new Hong Kong cinema',[20] Autumn Moon evokes a pessimistic post-realism that rejects the legitimation tactics of both Empires but marks the beginning of a kind of alterity in the deferent construction and celebration of oneself as an Other. Constituted by migration-as-transition, it highlights the ambivalence of the 'place' of Hong Kong.

    Heterotopic Position: Geography as Cinematic Aesthetic
  12. Through a fusion of distinctive cinematic styles and narrative modes, Autumn Moon captures the ambiguous movement of places in the temporal-spatial destiny of transition. It employs fluid, multiple and open points-of-views, oscillating between the play with different cinematic devices such as voice-overs, documentary style talking heads, flashbacks and montage repetition. With the form of cinematic time either collapsed or extended, the boundaries between fiction and fact, and subject and object, are elided to contest the hegemony of colonial and modern truth, time and history. These are evident in the film's deployments of language, cinematic spaces, diegeses and narrative performance.
  13. Autumn Moon is multilingual, sliding easily from one lexicon to another. The film, a Japanese-Dutch-Hong Kong co-production, is in Cantonese, Japanese and English. English bears the pidgin traces of Japanese; Cantonese is infused with the syntaxes of Mandarin, and in some instances, the dialogue shifts from one language to another in one sentence. This linguistic device reflects not only the ambiguity of origins and belongings (of language and culture); its creolisation is characteristic of the legacy of Hong Kong's postcoloniality. Here, the subversive force of hybridity disarticulates and re-enunciates its symbolic meaning through the destabilisation and carnivalisation of the linguistic domination of 'English' with different semantic and lexical codes. This linguistic device reveals Hong Kong as a paradox of cultural memories caught between the empires of Britain and China. It indicates a hybrid cinema and a place that is global, local, transnational and diasporic.
  14. It begins with diverse snapshots of the 'place' of Hong Kong captured in a cinematic style characteristic of the auteur cinema of Law. The configurations of a postmodern and post-realist Hong Kong are mapped in the opening scene. With a montage comprising ten static, long shots showcasing the sidelined surfaces of the Hong Kong cityscape, Law presents an image of Hong Kong that is at once familiar and strange; instead of the quintessential frenetic shuffle of people sweltering alongside a bustling, tower-scaped skyline, the metropolis is captured from the edges and sides of buildings, highlighting a cybernetic intersection of grids of steel, planes of glass and sheets of mirrors. With its New Age soundtrack and intentional overexposure of light, Autumn Moon's minimalism emotes an alienated space. Hong Kong is a montage of fragments of surfaces: concretised, post-industrial and postmodern. In the harsh tones of white, silver and black around shades of grey and blue, these surfaces are defamiliarised. This post-realist spatial aesthetic highlights a passageway between two frontiers, a space indicative of the in-between site of transition. When accentuated by the depth of field created through the play with light and colour, the fading black grids intersecting the shimmering glass planes create an effect that projects the screen onto a 'third' passageway and opens up a path in-between two imposing paradigms.
  15. Cinematic styles such as syncretic language and post-realist aesthetics express the politics of transition. The emergence of the passageway as a third time-space testifies to the effect of Entstehung, designating the moment of postcolonial emergence within Hong Kong.[21] Such an articulation is situated as an interstitial indeterminate: it jettisons the Abbas-identified Hegelian spaces of appearance and disappearance because it is a disjunctive present that occurs as a border culture of movement. In other words, rather than as an inverted and reversed cultural space, a border culture is constituted in a liminality characterised by transition. Its diegesis articulates this culture as a formation of heterotopia produced by the panic movement of re-turn.

    1. Figure 2. Autumn Moon
      Autumn Moon explores the transformative processes of transition in the interplay of history, geography, politics, representation and difference. The film begins with a narrative of departure and arrival that opens up the space to articulate the place of Hong Kong and its assertion of belonging. Taking the opening scene where a family emigrates and a tourist arrives as its point of departure, the film narrates the passage of friendship between a schoolgirl, Pui Wah, and a Japanese tourist, Tokio. This passage signals the two

    points-of-view in the film, Pui Wah's and Tokio's, and becomes the site of transition as they negotiate their friendship within a contested zone of intercultures, intergenerations and imaginations.
  16. With two distinct and fluid cinematic motifs, the narrative oscillates between the two subjective points-of-view--the fictional world of Pui Wah, Tokio and their friendship, and the camcorder documentary-style recordings of Tokio's travelogue. These are interjected with montages of the Hong Kong cityscape captured from different aerial views and at various times of the day. Disrupting the conventional classical cinematic narrative with steadicam cinema verite-style frames, Law outlines an ambivalent spatiality which crosses over genres and opens up the heterotopia of Hong Kong as a contestation that is simultaneously mythic and real.[22] Like Foucault's example of the heterotopic mirror as a placeless place which reflects and inverts the space that surrounds it as both real and virtual, Autumn Moon presents a place occupied by a pre-post-1997 Hong Kong that neutralises the set of relations it reflects.[23] From the opening scene with its nondescript surfaces of an alienated postmodern jungle, Hong Kong is set against a placeless juxtaposition which reflects and inverts its multiple relations to all the other places that it is constituted from. These images, like Tokio's pornographic close-ups which defamiliarise the figures of anonymous women, could come from any place and be placed anywhere (in the diegesis and otherwise). Here, the film reflects Hong Kong's absence as the heterotopia without any geographical markers and counteracts the position that it designates. Scene by scene, Autumn Moon maps the cartography of this placeless place: from its opening minimalist aesthetics, the discourses of imagined geographies, diasporic communities, and transnational networks are reflected through a narrative of nostalgia, loss and retrieval. In this way, the narrative passes through the 1997 virtual point which is over there and plots the transition as the other place where Hong Kong is mapped. Like the paper boat floating out into the sea that ends the film, Autumn Moon presents Hong Kong as a floating piece of space.[24] It is a place without a place that exists by itself, but at the same time, akin to Foucault's notion of the ship as heterotopia par excellence, given over to the infinite (global and local) relations that it is constituted and reconstituted from. This is evident in the narrative of friendship as a tactic of intersection. It functions as a movement that intervenes to inscribe Hong Kong's history of transition.

    Tactical Movement: Friendship as Intersection and Transition
  17. The friendship between Tokio and Pui Wah foregrounds Hong Kong's heterotopic spatial ambiguity because it is through the passage of friendship that the imagination of Hong Kong is derailed and translated. From the customs of origami to the origins of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival to the discourses on love, food and sex, Pui Wah and Tokio map a double pre-post movement of nostalgia and loss, a movement that is at once inside and outside, and forward and backward. Through their interaction with each other, the place of the authenticity of cultures is represented and reproduced in such a way that the spaces of nostalgia and loss are, like the spaces constituting heterotopia, no longer anything but transition points in their movements.[25] For instance, according to Tokio, origami has its essence in Japan; for Pui Wah, it is just a craft she has learnt from television. Here, Pui Wah's reproduction of the paper cranes denies the essentialism of Tokio's longing for the representation of an authenticity that is already lost through the speed and space of technology. Tokio's search for an 'original' time is jettisoned through Pui Wah's intervention which not only displaces the history that constitutes it; their friendship translates the discursive space of origami as a double movement that is simultaneously inside and outside, and forward and backward in such a way that Tokio's nostalgia in this instance emerges as a place where Pui Wah's desires are mapped. From the postmodern screen of the television set, the paper cranes make prior an anteriority which gives the transition point in its movement an ambivalent spatiality, a spatiality which is global and specific. Here, the point of transition configures the discursive space of the friendship as a point in its movement.
  18. One poignant point in such a movement is highlighted in the post-realist scene at the MacDonald's restaurant. During their second meeting at Victoria Harbour, Tokio, on a tourist mission in search of authentic Chinese food, urges Pui Wah to take him to her favourite restaurant which serves 'traditional' food not catalogued in where-to-eat travel guidebooks. She obliges and takes him to MacDonald's where she feasts on French fries and hamburgers whilst he looks on and laments the loss of 'tradition'. With a mid-shot of both of them sitting at a table in an empty restaurant over which towers the ubiquitous 'MacDonald's' sign, the static camera reflects the hyperbolic presence of this particular place in a highly stylised framing which immediately counterposes the contradictory relations it presents. For Tokio, MacDonald's is just a global sign of American imperialism: from Toronto to Singapore to Taipei to London, it is, as his travels have attested to, the same all over the world. For Pui Wah, this particular MacDonald's is different. In the quintessential little corner set aside for children's parties is the place of an adolescent's cultural memory of belonging and loss. As the venue of her first ten birthday parties with all her friends and her family members, as a sanctuary where she and her friends sought refuge from sadness and sorrow, and as the point where she begins her friendship with Tokio, this is the location for the memories of friendship, bonding and family union. Here, her longing maps a pre-post-1997 nostalgia, a nostalgia located by the spatial-temporal ambivalence which makes present the absence of the place as both real and mythic: in its emptiness and stillness, the mise-en-scene disassembles the set of relations it reflects through a post-realist aesthetics and politics that is locally specific. In this scene, the place of MacDonald's, as the site that constitutes the friendship, serves as a point of intersection and transition. As a place that demythologises Tokio's search for the imaginary and authentic traditional 'Chinese' culture, and a place where Pui Wah can localise, domesticate and indigenise, it functions as a shared discursive space for Pui Wah and Tokio's friendship. In Pui Wah's pre-post-1997 memories, MacDonald's is like Hong Kong: transnational and diasporic. From the 'nowhere and everywhere' global sign of the big 'M' lies the floating place of a heterotopic Hong Kong where imagined geographies are demystified and transnational cultures are negotiated.
  19. Throughout the film, the discourse of friendship traces the places of nostalgia and loss in such a heterotopic way that the spaces that are mapped are inextricably tied to a point in the movement towards the place of 1997. From the intergenerational and intercultural discourses on food, sex and love, the film culminates in the final scene where the Mid-Autumn Moon festival is being celebrated. Like the Bon festival in Japan, this event remembers and welcomes the spirits of the dead. Here, the film's epithet becomes clear: with a full moon signifying (family) union, the film's postcolonial interpolations produce pre-post-1997 as a sensibility that reminisces, embraces and questions its reunion with China, the (social, political and cultural) effects and values of which are entirely incommensurable with the historical traditions of the past and the perceived cultures of the present. Indeed, the film reveals its own paradoxical place at the end with Pui Wah's voice-over: 'When will the spring flower and the autumn moon fade? How much of the past do we know? At my home last night, the East wind blew....' Underlying Autumn Moon's threads of nostalgia and alienation is the fading memory of a place that is already reunited, lost and forgotten; this is the place of a home that is simultaneously imaginary and real, past and future. Integral to this incommensurability are the positionalities of the transition subjects such as the migrant and the foreigner.

    Subject: The Migrant And The Foreigner
  20. The migrant and the foreigner cross over the borders and delineate the uncanny shapings of the confluence between home and host, inside and outside, strange and familiar, and same and other. These figures deploy gender as a site for ontological displacement. The migrant is usually contained under the sign of 'woman' as she carries with her the privatised burden of maintaining the 'home' culture in a host country. Pui Wah and Grandma highlight this site as an everyday space of domestic transformation. Grandma carries the pre-modern traditions of the original culture (China) into a modernised Hong Kong. Through the trope of migration-as-transition, she reconfigures her status as that which signifies cultural maintenance into one of cultural adaptation. Pui Wah further negotiates this by bringing tradition into postmodernity. Her interactions with Tokio subvert her normative gendered and youth status. The foreigner-as-tourist is usually publicly anthropologised by cultural tourism as a figure of active incorporation. Although Tokio symbolises the modern male gaze who incorporates (food and women), Tokio's emasculated misogyny presents this space not as appropriation but expropriation. As resistant figures of the pre-post-1997 sensibility, they plot the time and space of distance and proximity, and are central to Hong Kong's difference and identity.

    The Migrant's Swansong
  21. Both the female protagonists Pui Wah and Grandma signify the trope of the migrant. They narrate the cycles of (re)inscription and re-turn simultaneously linked by the sites of departure, arrival and resettlement. The site of departure is thematically explored by the temporal-spatial destinies of childhood and death. Childhood and death signify an end of a beginning and the beginning of an end. Pui Wai is an adolescent, brimming with hope, love and life. Like many of her friends who have already left, she is awaiting emigration to Canada. Her voiceover introduces the film with a narrative of departure. Caught between the cinematic frames of her bedroom door as she watches her parents and her brother wheeling suitcases down the corridor, and the performative voice of her Cantonese-accented English as she articulates her fears of her soon-to-be new home, Canada, this narrative constitutes her subjectivity and produces Grandma's story. Grandma is eighty years old and frail. She cooks, prays and watches reruns of Cantonese opera on late night television. Grandma's narrative is also a narrative of departure. Her swansong becomes a form of self-epiphaneous elegy, arriving in the form of a static-ridden home video camera talking head. Clearly, these are the moments of departure within a cyclical journey of life and death. Pui Wah's voiceover signifies a rite of passage from childhood innocence to adolescent mistrust, while Grandma's reflection is a preparation for a life after death. Like 'autumn' as the axis of transition between two temporalities and two polarities, both passages are journeys of transitions also shared by the film's metaphoric inference to Hong Kong.
  22. These moments are positioned within a pre-post-1997 consciousness, a belated consciousness that is both retrospective and forward-looking. Like the visual image that is always belated after the fact, both Pui Wah and Grandma's reflections are melancholic mournings for a place that is already lost. Film theorists like Bazin and Deleuze have theorised about the relationship between the film image and the notion of time, linking the image with death, because it is only through cinematic motion and narrative that the image takes on its life as artificial time.[26] This is an aberrant movement; the image is one that 'has been', and precisely because it is one that 'has been' and is 'dead', it must also concurrently be, as a living present on the screen, alive-after-death. In this sense, the migrants' reflections, like Rey Chow's notion of the primitive, is a 'pre' that comes in the present time of 'post'.[27]
  23. For example, Grandma's narrative can be argued as both life and death, a 'pre' that comes in the time of 'post'. On one level in the narrative, she is classified as already 'dead'. In order that the family's application for residence to Canada be made more acceptable, her son has decided that she should be marked as 'dead' because they cannot take her along. In the spatial destiny of the departure, Grandma is, as Pui Wah explains to Tokio, dead. Apparently this must make the application more desirable in the 'host' country because sickly old migrants are deemed to be a burden to the 'host' economy. Here, her narrative is already 'dead', given a 'life' only on screen. Grandma's presence is a proxy; hers is a discourse that emerges from the antagonism between her image and her sign, standing in for the sites of loss and retrieval. Through Pui Wah's recollections, Grandma's possessions, the ones that are either boxed up or thrown out when she moved in with her son and his family, are reinscribed in a postcolonial historicity that is both performative and pedagogical. The only Chinese painting that she is allowed to keep in the modern apartment speaks not only of the pain of the terminal loss of culture through the anterior space of (previous) migration and (present) colonisation, but precisely because at the same time that it is, this is a loss inextricably tied to a posterior time of (Hong Kong's) return and (the family's) departure. Grandma, her culture and possessions, like her cats that are permanently locked in her dark bedroom under her bed (because her cat-allergic daughter-in-law does not allow them in the house), does not figure in the family's emigration plans. The image of the 'dead' Grandma becomes the proxy for the sign of loss.
  24. Through the presence of her life on screen, the narrative of her death introduces an alterity into the present, a present that is already historical, accumulative and belated. This is evident in another instance when Pui Wah and Tokio open the fridge in the kitchen and discovers the secrets of Grandma's cooking. Looking in amazement at the contents as the camera delivers a slow pan of its display, dried dates, preserved oysters, pickled vegetables, dehydrated fungus in between bottles of soy, beans and paste become an ethnography of a museum (or the pages of a Chinese cookbook). Tokio pronounces this showcase, the contents of which must be over 1000 years old, as Grandma's entire life. Entombed in a fridge, she is frozen, reified and fetishised.
  25. Here, the 'place' of migration is transformed into a time of collecting the memories of the past in a pre-post-1997 retrieval of the present. Like grandma's narrative of departure, Pui Wah's reflections are also simultaneously retrospective and forward-looking, past and future, presence and proxy. As the film progresses, Pui Wah's nostalgia emerges as an intervention of the ambivalence underpinning the postcolonial perplexity of living across different cultures, spaces and times. Her childhood reminiscences constitute cultural objects such as Chinese poetry and calligraphy into the items that produce the criteria for the belonging of location, identity and childhood. Her voice-over oscillates from the presence of a 'here' in Hong Kong, a 'home' that evokes the comforting, groggy and funny feeling associated with the home-sickness of Grandma's medicinal herbal brew, to a vision of an alienated 'there' in Canada, a strange lonely place with a house by the sea, very few friends and a foreign husband. Like the task her mother has set upon her before she left--because of the lack of Cantonese language programs in Canada, Pui Wah is to record as much Cantonese dialect television as possible so that they could bring the tapes over with them when they leave--, Pui Wah has become, in her own words, a recording machine, with the ability to rewind, fast-forward, pause and repeat. Her narrative reflects the editing sequence of a montage. It is a movement of transformation, a journey of recollection and forecast, repeating again and again, returning each time to another place of departure, a place that is always configuring and changing.
  26. This journey is evident in the way her schoolgirl crush transforms the infatuation subtext from permanent devotion to a transient memory of contingency and forgetting. The geography of childhood that focuses on the experiences of boundaries (marking the pure from the defiled, desire from fear, and excitement from anxiety) in shaping its relationship to the place of belonging functions in the film as a place for the conditions of attachment, dwelling and living in the journey of becoming. Although Pui Wah's infatuation has reached her temporal destiny during their overnight stay at Lantau Island, the discursive space of an adolescent's disappointment emerges as a belated narration, constituted in the intersection of friendship ethnographised by Tokio's voice-over in the last scene.

    Tokio's Ethnography
  27. The figure of Tokio as a tourist enables the narrative to further interrogate the meaning of the 'place' of Hong Kong. Like most tourists, Tokio travels to Hong Kong to shop, eat and sightsee. Barry Curtis and Claire Pajaczkowska identify these three moments of shopping, eating and sightseeing as the paradigms of tourism because they are 'transactions of incorporation, in which the tourist negotiates a highly formalised relationship or participation in, and distance from, the environment.'[28] Shopping enables the tourist to interact and participate in the local culture because spending money and acquisition allay the anxieties of one's marginalisation. Sightseeing, photographs and postcards enable the tourist to view a reality that remains external in its place because they free one from having to be transformed by the encounter. Eating is a way of negotiating the otherness of a different culture that cannot be overcome by language. These paradigms incorporate fragments of the other because the self is transformed through the experience of alterity presented by the dialectic of difference. As a tourist and a foreigner unable to speak Cantonese, Tokio becomes the mediator of distance and proximity, marking the boundaries which define the binary axes of 'strange' and 'familiar', 'friend' and 'foe', and 'inside' and 'outside', and questioning the boundaries of self and the other. His ethnography maps the postcolonial memories that set the place of belonging in the film.
  28. Through Tokio's temporary displacement and exile as a foreign visitor, the narrative expropriates his role as an ethnographer recollecting the memories of a place that is rapidly transforming. In this sense, Tokio's arrival in the narrative allows for the consolidation of the place of belonging in the film. As a tourist, his is a time-out vacation time, away from a place where he lives and works. His travel is a movement forward in space but backwards in time. For him, Hong Kong allows the option for an encounter with the other that is exotic and traditional. He is preoccupied with the culture's authenticity and originality, suggesting nostalgia for earlier times (evident also in his melancholic recollection about his own childhood and adolescence). Because he searches in Hong Kong for an 'elsewhere' that is obsolete at home in Japan, his is a journey of outrunning the time of modernity.
  29. His travelogue, with the cinema verite-like frames from his camcorder and his own voice-over in Japanese, can be argued as standing in as a narrative on its own. Rather than tracing a genealogy of nostalgia through the memories of his own childhood, Tokio's nostalgia is expropriated as a way of reading the past into the present. Tokio's self-reflexivity articulates a postmodern nostalgia that maps not just his experiences of alienation and loss; in experiencing (and literally recording) the past, it functions as a postcolonial ethnography of the history of a pre-post-1997 Hong Kong. For example, through his gastronomic quest, grandma's eulogy is archived and the secrets of her cooking preserved. Through his shopping accounts, Hong Kong is measured and negotiated. Through his friendship with Pui Wah, the authenticity of 'Chinese' culture is de-essentialised, hybridised and translated. Here, his nostalgic point-of-view is a movement that is both backward and forward; it narrates and records the wider metanarratives of a past that is already imaginary and a present that is already belated, and screens the ethnology of a place that is simultaneously mythical and real.
  30. This is evident in the editing and diegetic technique that manipulates Tokio's point-of-view and his travelogue as a data space for storage and retrieval in such a way that, rather than appropriating the spectacle of the other, expropriates a genre of writing, a narrative framework and a methodology which presents a perspective that is situationally embedded; in other words, rather than the fixed gaze of the flaneur as a postmodern ethnographer, Tokio's gaze is positioned.[29] The editing and diegetic sequences of Tokio's travelogue enable the film's two different visual motifs to come together to perform as a pre-post-1997 ethnography of the place of his visit. As the film progresses, the editing sequence makes clear that the montage of the trademark stills of the surfaces of the towering cityscape, with its static and grainy cinematography, are actually steadicam images from his video camera. In an early scene where he is shown panning around with his camcorder, the montage shifts from an image of him standing in the foreground with the camcorder in his hand focusing on the buildings around him, to the shots of the buildings around him. Similarly, in another scene in his bedroom where he is filming his new purchases, the montage also moves along, from a shot with him holding the camcorder pointing in the direction of the window to a medium close-up of the building outside his window. In both instances, Tokio's point-of-view becomes expropriated when these images, as stills, are transformed and interjected as the film's tactic of transition from one scene to another. Emerging in the beginning as the film's opening images, these images are then carried forward (in the narrative) in a heterotopic movement that passes by and passes through Tokio. Articulating his postmodern malaise of alienation and distanciation, these images perform as the horizons of a place that is rapidly transforming. Expropriated, these surfaces accentuate the film's narrative of loss in such a way that this discursive space of emptiness paradoxically makes present the contemporaneous writing of an absent History that is currently historical. Tokio becomes, in a sense, an ethnographer of Hong Kong's history.
  31. Tokio's marginality, displaced further through the hypertextual virtuality of Tokio as Grandpa, introduces an alterity into the present that makes possible a discourse, which reveals the incommensurabilities of Hong Kong's time in transition. In the scene accompanied by Pui Wah's nostalgic voice-over of her grandfather, Tokio hypertextualises the role of Grandpa and momentarily maps the fragments of Grandpa's history. Here, from an image of Tokio looking at the framed photograph of grandpa by the dresser, the camera pans by across a 555 cigarette can to the mirror alongside it. The next image is of Tokio's reflection in the mirror, with him wearing grandpa's suit. From the virtual point of the mirror, this image of Tokio makes real the spaces that surround grandpa (the remembering of the discursive place of his 555 cigarette can, the photo and his suit) and his imaginary (the forgetting of the discursive place of his 555 cigarette can, the photo and his suit) since in order to pass through it, it has to get to the virtual point which is over there. Pui Wah's memories of the past are carried forward through Tokio's double mask because Pui Wah's narration is a retrospective voice-over that confers an anteriority on the present image of Tokio-as-grandpa. Consequently, Tokio's doubleness takes on a virtuality which is hypertexted because Tokio functions as a link which makes possible the contemporaneous writing of grandpa's (his)story in the place of Pui Wah's nostalgic narration. Tokio's travelogue negotiates past and present in a movement that takes the past forward into a historical present. His ethnography clearly functions as a mediator in the narrative of transition.
  32. Tokio's foreigness maps an alterity of Hong Kong because 'the foreigner lives within us; he is the hidden face of our identity' and 'by recognizing him within ourselves, we are spared detesting him in himself.'[30] The foreigner underscores the limits of nation-states because s/he stands as a scar between the citizen and the non-citizen.[31] Such a figure is especially pertinent when considering the place of Hong Kong within the narrative of transition, and Tokio's place in Autumn Moon. The foreigner is the one who does not belong to the group and can only be defined in negativity:

      (T)he foreigner is the other of the family, the clan, the tribe. At first, he blends with the enemy. External to my religion, too, he could have been the heathen, the heretic. Not having made an oath of fealty to my lord, he was born on another land, foreign to the kingdom or the empire.[32]

    These remarks carry forth the conditions that plot the pre-post-1997 alterity of Hong Kong-in-transition: Hong Kong is a foreigner as well as its own foreigner. Its capitalist cosmopolitanism for example, as exemplified in Autumn Moon, is foreign to a mostly homogeneous, post-socialist China. In the context of reunification with the motherland, it is clearly an other of the family, a part of but not quite because it is both culturally remote and physically close. Because the foreigner has fled from an origin--family, blood and roots, Hong Kong, as a prosperous capitalist British (post)colony, is also its own melancholic betrayer. Its Chinese origins haunt it, but it is the place of an elsewhere that its hopes and struggles are set. In this sense, Tokio's foreigner-status allows the narrative of nostalgia to plot the detour of the place of elsewhere versus the origin, and the place of nowhere versus the roots:

      Not belonging to any place, any time, any love. A lost origin, the impossibility to take root, a rummaging memory, the present in abeyance. The space of the foreigner is a moving train, a plane in flight, the very transition that precludes stopping.[33]

    Conclusion: Pre-Post-1997 Hong Kong (Cinema) Culture
  33. Migration-as-transition is characterised by the position of heterotopia, the movement of intersection and the subjectivities of the migrant and the foreigner. In the consideration of Hong Kong, migration-as-transition evokes a pre-post-1997 sensibility that constitutes the post-Declaration cinema and its narratives. As a form of belated panic consciousness articulating the 'pre' in the time of 'post', pre-post-1997 configures as the third time-space of transition--a place of postcolonial translation, intervention and reformulation. This culture expresses an intra sensibility that simultaneously embraces, disavows and questions its return to the 'motherland', whilst (re)situating the mobility of a hybrid cinema and a place that is global, local and diasporic. Clearly Autumn Moon's expression of migration-as-transition functions as a cultural model for understanding the mediation of displacement, the disruption of ontologies and the constitution of transnational disaporic identity. The travel of post-Declaration Hong Kong cinema to Hollywood in recent years attests to such an emergence.


    Frontispiece Image Autumn Moon from Internet Movie Database

    Figure 1. Photo of Clara Law is from Immerse Sound(e)scapes

    Figure 2. Autumn Moon from Verleih

    [1] This paper is part of a larger doctoral project on Hong Kong cinema. The theorisation of Hong Kong cinema in this project suggests that Hong Kong is a culture of mobility. See Audrey Yue, 'Pre-Post-1997: Postcolonial Hong Kong Cinema 1984-1997.' Ph.D. Thesis, Australia: La Trobe University, 1999.

    [2] Ronald Skeldon. 'Emigration From Hong Kong, 1945-1994: The Demographic Lead-up to 1997,' in Emigration From Hong Kong, ed. Ronald Skeldon, Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press, 1995, p. 51.

    [3] For statistics on the different waves of Hong Kong's emigration, see Skeldon, Emigration From Hong Kong, especially the chapters by Elizabeth Sinn. 'Emigration from Hong Kong before 1941: General Trends,' pp. 11-35 and Ronald Skeldon. 'Emigration from Hong Kong, 1945-1994: The Demographic Lead-up to 1997,' pp. 51-79.

    [4] Skeldon. 'Emigration from Hong Kong,' p. 51.

    [5] Sinn. 'Emigration in Hong Kong Before 1941,' p. 35.

    [6] Edward Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory, London: Verso, 1989; Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1996.

    [7] Arjun Appadurai, 'Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy.' Public Culture 2, 2 (spring 1990): 1-24.

    [8] The list of relevant writings is too large to cite here. Examples from America include Harry Kitano and Roger Daniels, Asian Americans: Emerging Minorities, 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1995; David Leiwei Li, Imagining the Nation: Asian American Literature and Cultural Consent, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999; Sheng-mei Ma, Immigrant Subjectivities in Asian American and Asian Diaspora Literatures, Albany: SUNY Press, 1998. For an example on the Chinese diaspora in Australia, see Audrey Yue and Gay Hawkins, 'Going South,' New Formations 40 (2000): 49-63.

    [9] Rafael Perez-Torres, 'Nomads and Migrants: Negotiating a Multicultural Postmodernism,' Cultural Critique 26 (winter 1993-4):,161-89.

    [10] Lisa Lowe, 'Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity: Marking Asian American Differences,' Diaspora 1, 1 (1990): 24-44.

    [11] Lowe, 'Heterogeneity, Hybridity, Multiplicity,' p. 39. The notion of critical travel in this paper has benefitted from the works of travel theorists. See James Clifford and Vivek Dhareshwar, (eds) Traveling Theories, Traveling Theorists, Santa Cruz, California: Group for the Critical Study of Colonial Discourse and the Center for Cultural Studies U.C.S.C., 1989; James Clifford, Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997; Edward Said, 'Travelling Theory,' in The World, the Text, and the Critic, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1983, pp. 226-47; Edward Said, 'Movements and Migrations.' Culture and Imperialism, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993, pp. 326-36; Janet Wolff, 'On The Road Again: Metaphors of Travel in Cultural Criticism,' Cultural Studies 7, 2 (1993): 224-39; Iain Chambers, Border Dialogues: Journeys in Postmodernity, London: Routledge, 1990; Iain Chambers, Migrancy, Culture, Identity, London: Routledge, 1990; Mary Louise Pratt. Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation, London: Routledge, 1992.

    [12] Here, I am referring to migration as a characteristic feature of colonisation where the metaphor of leaving home fragments and positions the migrant in a marginal representational relationship to a hegemonic centre. The delineation of sociological and cultural diasporas is a methodological example that highlights migration-as-transition and migration-as-leaving-home. Migration-as-transition inflects Stuart Hall's critical understanding of cultural diaspora as a question of negotiating home and host identity. This inflection departs from the classical typologies of diaspora as the dispersions of, for example, slavery, religion and labour. These typologies classify fractured groups into minority positions against a dominant host centre. For a delineation of these epistemes, see Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas, London: UCL Press, 1997; Stuart Hall, 'Cultural Identity and Diaspora,' in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990, pp. 222-37.

    [13] The term 'practiced place' is derived from Michel de Certeau's theorisation of space as a practiced place negotiated by the intersections between people, networks and objects in everyday life. See Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

    [14] The term, 'auteur theory', is an abbreviation of la politique des auteurs by Andrew Sarris in the article, 'Notes on The Auteur Theory in 1962,' in Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, ed. Gerald Mast and Marshall Cohen, New York: Oxford University Press, 1979, pp. 650-65. In la politique des auteurs or the auteur theory, a loose attitudinal operation of semantic, stylistic and thematic motifs are applied as critical modes of decipherment

    [15] Sarris, in the article 'Notes on The Auteur Theory in 1962,' p. 663.

    [16] Audrey Yue, 'An Interview with Clara Law,' Asia Television, Melbourne Community Television Channel 31: Melbourne, 18 October 1994.

    [17] Anthony Appiah, 'Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?' Critical Inquiry 17 (winter 1991): 353.

    [18] Appiah, 'Is the Post- in Postmodernism the Post- in Postcolonial?' p. 353.

    [19] See Audrey Yue, 'Postmodern Orientalism: Clara Law's Temptation of a Monk,' FilmNews 25, 2 (April 1995): 6-7.

    [20] Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and The Politics of Disappearance, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, 16-47.

    [21] Homi Bhabha, 'The Third Space,' in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990, 207-21.

    [22] In 'Of Other Spaces,' Foucault outlines the space that we live in, 'the space that claws and knaws at us', as heterogeneous and comprising multiple (and sometimes contradictory) interrelations with each other. Michel Foucault, 'Of Other Spaces,' Diacritics 16:1 (spring 1986): 23. Citing various sites and forms which change over the course of history, he locates the examples of the cinema, cafe, cemetery, fairground, prison, brothel and colony as constituting the 'real' space of heterotopia, as opposed to the 'unreal' space of utopia. On Foucault's extrapolations on space and time, see 'Questions on Geography,' Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, ed. Colin Gordon, trans. Leo Marshall, John Mepham and Kate Soper, New York: Pantheon Books, 1980, pp. 63-77; and 'Space, Knowledge and Power,' The Foucault Reader, ed. Paul Rabinow. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984, pp. 239-56. A few characteristics of the heterotopia can be appropriated for the example of the place of the colony of Hong Kong. Like the 'no-where' place of the mirror and the boat, Foucault's heterotopia is 'capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces ... that are in themselves incompatible' and functions 'in relation to all the space that remains' in such a way as to 'neutralise, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror or reflect' (pp. 25, 27, 24). In such a space, the place is 'no longer anything but a point in its movement' (p. 12). In the introduction to The Order of Things, Foucault describes heterotopias as 'disturbing ... because they make it impossible to name this and that ... because they destroy "syntax" in advance, and not only the syntax with which we construct sentences but also that less apparent syntax which causes words and things ... to "hold together".' Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of The Human Sciences, London: Routledge, 1970, p. xviii. The heterotopia is a space of Otherness constituted in its relation to other sites. It is an in-between space that orders the social space of modernity. See Kevin Hetherington, The Badlands of Modernity: Heterotopia and Social Ordering, London: Routledge, 1997. Examined from this perspective, Foucault's heterotopia can be argued as an alternate space of ordering that comes about as a result of the tension between ideas of freedom and modes of control and discipline.

    [23] Foucault, 'Of Other Spaces,' p. 24.

    [24] Paul Gilroy formulates 'the Black Atlantic' as a global diasporic space by arguing that the image of the ship, as 'a living, micro-cultural, micro-political system in motion,' is an important symbol for reconstituting identity and citizenship. In The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double-Consciousness, London: Verso, 1993, p. 4, Gilroy's image of the ship as 'the middle passage' resonates with the formulation of heterotopia and transition.

    [25] Foucault, 'Of Other Spaces,' p. 23.

    [26] See for example, Andre Bazin, What is Cinema? trans. Hugh I. Gray, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976; Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, London: The Athlone Press, 1986; Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam, London: The Athlone Press, 1989.

    [27] Chow argues that the primitive native is not an image that comes as resistance 'after' or truth 'before'. It is not the native's reflection that produces the image; rather, it is the self-reflection of the coloniser that comes 'after' that produces the native as the image that comes 'before'. See Writing Diaspora: Tactics of Intervention in Contemporary Cultural Studies, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993; Primitive Passions: Visuality, Sexuality, Ethnography and Contemporary Chinese Cinema, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

    [28] Barry Curtis and Claire Pajaczkowska,'"Getting there": travel, time and narrative,' in Travellers' Tales: Narratives of Home and Displacement, ed. George Robertson et al, London: Routledge, 1994, p. 207.

    [29] Peter McLaren argues that the postmodern ethnographer, when enabled by Benjamin's modern spectacle of flaneur, possesses the agency of self-reflexivity. See Walter Benjamin, 'The Flaneur,' Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism, trans. Harry Zohn, London: Verso, 1983, pp. 35-66; Peter McLaren, 'The Ethnographer As Postmodern Flaneur: Critical Reflexivity And Posthybridity As Narrative Engagement,' in Representation and the Text: Re-Framing the Narrative Voice, ed. William G. Tierney and Yvonne S. Lincoln, New York: SUNY Press, 1997, pp. 143-77. While these concepts are appropriate to critically negotiate the spectacle of Tokio's gaze, this paper agrees with Meaghan Morris and Vanessa Schwartz that such a gaze is limited in its fixity. See Meaghan Morris, 'Things to do With Shopping Centers,' in The Cultural Studies Reader, ed. Simon During, London: Routledge, 1993, pp. 295-319; Vanessa R. Schwartz, 'Cinema Spectatorship Before the Apparatus: The Public Taste for Reality in Fin-de-Siecle Paris,' in Viewing Positions: Ways of Seeing, ed. Linda Williams, New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1995, pp. 87-113. Both Morris and Schwartz prefer the critical mobility of the flanerie as a position of gender and class. Although it is possible to suggest that Tokio's position resonates with the mobile gaze of the flanerie, the use of the term 'position' here to invoke the politics of position is a more effective way to open up the discursive frame of Hong Kong's location. In other words, the emphasis here is on the cultural articulation networked by the circuit of the gaze rather than the event of the spectacle surveyed by the mobility of gaze.

    [30] Julia Kristeva, Strangers to Ourselves, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press, 1991, p. 1. Kristeva examines the history of foreigner/stranger in Europe in the context of the Enlightenment's disintegration of religious ties and the subsequent emergence of the modern nation-state, and argues that the foreigner has limited rights compared to the citizen and is a 'symptom' of one's difficulty of living as an other and with others (p. 103).

    [31] Kristeva. Strangers to Ourselves, p. 98.

    [32] Kristeva. Strangers to Ourselves, p. 95.

    [33] Kristeva. Strangers to Ourselves, p. 8-9.


This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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