Friday, May 13, 2016

What I Did on Blog Vacation: Topics Course on Hong Kong Cinema

This semester, I was fortunate enough to offer another special topics course on Hong Kong cinema, and a class roster of first-rate Film and Media Arts seniors and other rabid Asian movie fans encouraged me to take a different approach to covering the material and helping students discover more about my favorite national cinema.  For years, I have been telling my film history students that the appreciation and study of modern Hong Kong movies came not from the academy but from a passionate hive mind of fans, bootleg tape (later DVD) collectors, zine publishers, and, eventually, internet discussion boards, blogs, and podcasts. 

For fifteen weeks beginning in January, we recreated the fan culture of discovering Hong Kong cinema:  There were no quizzes, papers, or exams.  Instead, students read Steven Tao’s indispensable Hong Kong Cinema:  The Extra Dimensions and David Bordwell’s equally magisterial Planet Hong Kong as we moved through a chronological survey of Fragrant Harbor filmmaking (see my earlier blog entry on Love Without End for Amazon listings of these two great books).  In lieu of traditional assignments, each student produced five blog entries on separate films.  By the middle of the semester, each student chose a single film on which their research would be focused for the remainder of our time together.  

Expressive human limbs went every whichaway this semester:
Student reports covered Grace Chang in Mambo Girl (1957, above)
and Anthony Wong in The Untold Story (1993, below)

At this point, their weekly reading was enhanced by outside material on their movie from books, journals, websites, and SMU Hamon Arts Library's singular and extensive holdings of Hong Kong International Film Festival program guides and catalogs.  One of their research reports took the form of an extended blog post, each of which will later be published here as a guest entry.  In addition, I conducted an audio interview with them on their film which will be edited and featured on the first eight episodes of the Crawling Eye podcast, scheduled to launch in later summer.  Also, they prepared an extensive, detailed, and sourced Wikipedia article on their movie which will be submitted and published by the end of the summer.  Finally, each student wrote and recorded an audio commentary on a segment of their film.

This open-ended, research-driven approach to the material succeeded beyond my wildest imagination.  But why take my word for it?  Here is the audio commentary on the beginning of Eric Tsang’s Aces Go Places (1982) from senior SMU Journalism major Julie Hight:

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