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Screen Practices in Colonial Hong Kong: A History of Film Exhibition and Reception from 1897 to 1925 殖民地香港的映演實踐:電影放映與接收史(1897-1925)

This project will present a history of screen practices in colonial Hong Kong, analyzing the modes of film exhibition and reception from 1897 to 1925. The year 1897 is the advent of film screenings, while 1925 represents the maturity of movie exhibition as an industrial practice.

This application continues the 2013-14 GRF project “Early Hong Kong Cinema in English language Documents” that aimed to uncover primary source materials on film marketing, promotion, exhibition and reception published in Hong Kong English press. We fulfilled the objective of the project by reading and collecting film coverage in The China Mail (1896-1925) and South China Morning Post (1903-1925). We confirmed that English-language newspapers covered substantial film news; we also discovered a rich history of screen practices in the first three decades of its introduction to Hong Kong audiences.

By “screen practices,” we mean two things. First we treat projection of motion pictures as an entertainment event, a technological display, a public assembly, a business, and an emerging part of social and cultural life. Second, screen practices indicate the cultivation of a film industry before production entered the picture. We use screen practices to explore the formation of early film industry by identifying screening routines and patterns of business transactions. We indicate "practice" to highlight the repetition of such screen activities in achieving some form of proficiency, and recognition. A history of screen practices thus reveals the multiplicity and heterogeneity of early Hong Kong film culture, covering the apparatus, built environment, distribution and exhibition, censorship, and reception of cinema as a key part of public life in colonial Hong Kong.

Two major tasks are envisioned. First, we aim to present an open access database to serve as an essential resource for research on Hong Kong film history from its beginning to the mid 1920s. We have collected more than 25,000 items of new materials, covering movie theatres, distribution companies and circuits, film advertisements, and film reviews. These primary materials will help construct a history of early screen practices. Second, we will prepare three articles on screen practices of Hong Kong from 1897 to 1920s. The large trove of data collected and the articles published will reshape our understanding of early Hong Kong film history and beyond.


Early Hong Kong Cinema in English-language Documents: 1897-1925 英文報紙中的早期香港電影:1897-1925

This project will research early film scenes in Hong Kong by reading and collecting film coverage in the major English-language newspapers (The China Mail, South China Morning Post, and Hong Kong Telegraph) in the territory between 1897 (the initial film exhibitions) and 1925 (when the Hongkong/ Canton general strike broke out).

This continues the 2010 GRF project “Chinese Film Industry Beyond Shanghai, 1900-1950” that uncovered primary source materials on film marketing, promotion, exhibition and reception in regional Chinese cities. In Hong Kong, one of the four cities surveyed, we found that English-language newspapers covered more film news than the Chinese press, both in quantity and quality. Furthermore, through the English-language materials, we discovered a number of errors in the standard history of Hong Kong film. These findings show the importance of reading English-language newspapers to survey a wider terrain of Hong Kong’s early cinema. Hence, we request a grant to research film coverage in English-language newspapers.

We plan to collect and catalogue four sets of primary materials from local archives and libraries on: 1) distribution companies and their circuits, 2) movie theatres, 3) film advertisements, and 4) film reviews. These materials will provide a deeper knowledge of early film industry practices (distribution, marketing and exhibition) and reception that are currently missing in the standard literature. The English-language news investigated will supplement, modify and adjust the existing understanding of early Hong Kong film history.

We will share our findings with the scholarly community by building an English database of film news, advertisements and reviews. The collected materials will be catalogued by the following indices: press, date of publication, personnel, company, film title, exhibition venue, tagline, keywords, synopsis, duration and size of advertisements. The database will serve as an essential reference for future research on Hong Kong film history. Further dissemination is planned by means of two to three peer-reviewed publications.