Crime movies are one of Hong Kong cinema’s most famous exports. This project aims to create the first detailed history of the genre before the release of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986), the film that put Hong Kong action-crime on the global map.
It argues that this period of the city’s film history was defined by “criminal realism”. This concept alludes on the one hand to the extent to which depictions of Hong Kong’s social reality (including crime) were anxiously policed by colonial censors, and on the other hand to the way crime films tended (and still tend) to confound and transgress critical definitions of realism. Drawing on extensive archival research, the book deals with several neglected topics in the study of Hong Kong cinema, including the evolving generic landscape of the crime film prior to the 1980s, the influence of colonial film censorship on the genre, and the prominence and contestation of “realism” in the local history of the crime film.