Popular Film Genres, Cultural Translation and Guilty Pleasures: Studies in Hitman and Undercover Films (funded by National Science Council).

Project: Research project

Project Details


This is a two-year project on gangster and crime films, focusing on hitman films and undercover films respectively. The main object of enquiry is Asian films, particularly Hong Kong productions, with an emphasis on cross-cultural contacts and generic exchange. The hitman and the undercover agent are two of the most marginal figures in the gangster and crime genre. As members of the gang world, they are feared and despised by the public and may try to hide their true identities in front of ordinary people. They may be harassed and even harmed by the police owing to their gangster identity; inside the underworld, they may as well be betrayed and prosecuted by fellow gangsters. In short, they find themselves at the interstice between the society of law and the land ruled by gangsters, where they are like walking on a tightrope and may fall at any moment. The goal of my project is two-folded. I begin with the basic work of finding out the generic features of the two “sub-genres” in terms of form (iconography, plot structure, etc) and content (usual themes and motifs). Then I will explore the deeper aesthetic significance and social meanings of each. * The first year: hitman films 1) Dress code, weaponry and masculinities -- Discuss how the dress code and the mastery of weapons and skills of killing help construct the hitman’s masculinity. Investigate the relation between such iconographic features as the shots showing the “caressing” of guns and murders scenes and the hitman’s professionalism which entails some sort of asceticism. 2) The spectator’s guilty pleasures and ethical concerns – Discuss what other forms of pleasure such films offer, in addition to the sadistic pleasure of identifying with the merciless killings. 3) Generic exchange and cultural translation – Discuss how in the wake of cross-cultural generic exchange, new meanings are born in new local contexts. * The second year: undercover films 1) Define the generic feature of Hong Kong undercover films, exploring their relations with Hollywood crime films and looking for incidences of cultural translation. 2) Discuss the conflict between the police work ethic and the gangster in regard to the undercover agent’s identity crisis. Explore various forms of viewer’s pleasures in undercover films.

Funding Source: Non-HK - Others^^
Effective start/end date01/08/0831/07/10


  • popular film genres, the lone hitman, the undercover agent, crime film, visual pleasures, cinematic style


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