On February 26 2012, Apple Daily reported that Beijing critic 賈選凝 Jasmine Jia Xuanning won the ADC (Arts Development Council) Critic’s Prize and was awarded $50,000 HKD for a critique which slams Hong Kong local blockbuster, 低俗喜劇 Vulguria, which means “Vulgar Comedy” in Chinese, for cashing in on the vilification of Mainland Chinese. Her award-winning critique theorises that the success of this “cultural trash” is banking on the jealousy of Hongkongers as “Mainland Chinese have transformed from the poor relatives of the past into today gracious masters and bosses”. The fifty-thousand-dollar critique deeply offends Hong Kong netizens, who are also furious that Hong Kong government tramples on Hong Kong local culture. Jia Xuanning is now called the female Kong Qingdong.
Jia, a 24-year-old graduate of Beijing Film Academy and Hong Kong Chinese University School of Journalism and Communication, is found to be a reporter of Wenweipo, an organ of Beijing, and have written an article criticising Apple Daily for abusing press freedom. She also has columns in Mingpao, Hong Kong Economic Journal and Yazhou Zhoukan. Her winning has even turned into a scandal for ADC, since two of the six judges of the competition, 林沛理 Perry Lam, the chairman of the Arts Criticism Group of ADC, and 邱立本 Yau Lop-poon, the chief editor for Yazhou Zhoukan, know her.
The director of Vulgaria, 彭浩翔 Pang Ho-cheung, retaliated by organising two charity screenings of the movie for Hong Kong Mental Health Foundation on March 2nd and 3rd and appearing in the first screening with the male lead, 杜汶澤 Chapman To. The two screenings were sold out instantly.
- The “awarding-winning” critique
- Jia Xuanning and the Chairman of the Arts Criticism Group of ADC, Perry Lam
- Responses to Jia Xuanning’s Critique
Substituting “Localisation” with “Vulgarisation” Surreptitiously
As a prominent figure of the younger generation of Hong Kong directors, Pang Ho-cheung has been seen as the one reviving Hong Kong movies by many fans in recent years. Seemingly, he grasped the formula of this low-budget and high-grossing Hong Kong-style sketch to define “the identity of Hong Kong movies”, which has been nibbling by China-Hong Kong co-production ones. In fact, it is like many other irresponsible cultural products of this city, encouraging Hongkongers to become more anti-intellectual, more careless with vulgarity and even proud of it.
Ever since Love in a Puff, the magic wands of Pang’s box office successes have been the sale and consumption of vulgarity. Majority of the dialogue, which is filled with Cantonese obscenity, gratifies local audiences: Pang surreptitiously substitutes “localisation” with “vulgarisation”, making people feel shameless about bad taste, as this is the “local taste of Hong Kong”. The vileness of Vulgaria as a literary film is that it enhances audiences’ gratification, so much so that vulgarity becomes something to be proud of rather than ashamed of, and it even self-legitimises vulgarity: “Nothing is the most vulgar. There is only more vulgar.”
What is the meaning of this movie? For them (Hong Kong fans), at least there is a local creator who is willing to tailor a movie “just” to please local audiences and target the local movie market. However, this is the most terrifying part – because it is “just” for Hong Kong.
The success of Vulgaria proves that Pang successfully uses cultural rubbish to entertain the public. It also proves that Hong Kong movies and local cultural products have an “unwritten rule”: “vulgarisation” is the mainstream of popular “localisation”.
Narrow-mindedness and Fear Behind “Anti-Mainlandisation”
(*Spoiler: The two mules are the “wives” of the Guangxi gang boss)
The appearance of Vulgaria is very “localised”. However, its conflict of dramaturgy is a “co-production”. The movie is about how Chapman To gets investment from a Mainland Chinese. Exactly because of interest, an actual reason, Hong Kong has become more and more passive in front of China, and its subjectivity has become more and more vague. Mainland Chinese have transformed from the poor relatives of the past into nowadays gracious masters and bosses, and Hongkongers certainly found it hard to swallow.
Vulguria offers Hongkongers a cheap emotional release, using an extremely humiliating way to blacken Mainland Chinese name: the Guangxi gang boss is so barbaric and licentious that he is into bestiality; Hong Kong audiences get high from ridiculing the stupidity and savageness of Mainland Chinese. Basically, the vilification and ridicule are a narrow-minded “mental victory”, trying hard to state that even though Hongkongers accept that they are “vulgar”, they can’t be compared to the anomaly and absurdity of Mainland Chinese at all; the “civilisation” of Hong Kong is tainted by Mainland Chinese “uncouthness”. For instance, on Facebook, news of Mainland Chinese tourists’ children obeying the call of nature on the street is insanely shared. This completely matches with the main theme the movie delivers: Mainland Chinese are “locusts” and savages who can do whatever vulgar things that get one’s hackles up.
The “vulgarity” of Hongkongers is using obscenity at most. On the other hand, the vulgarity of Mainland Chinese is no different from animals: the setting of Vulgaria reflects Hongkongers’ anxiety towards China has become distorted. China can be the merciful master, yet, it can’t subdue the heart of Hongkongers; Hongkongers submit themselves to the powerful and prosperous economic aspect of China. Yet, they decided that they are not willing to forgo their remnant sense of superiority in the spiritual aspect. This conflicting relationship makes the psychology of Hongkongers struggles like Chapman To in the film: on the surface, they ingratiate themselves with Mainland Chinese; deep inside of their hearts, they feel “being raped”. They cannot agree with the “low quality” of Mainland Chinese, but they are being assimilated into Mainland Chinese. When Hong Kong is front of China, it feels the loss of dignity and destruction of the bottom line. At this vulnerable moment, the morbid China-Hong Kong relation becomes more and more intense.
Therefore, excelling in the vilification of Mainland Chinese becomes Vulgaria’s congeniality.Peng Ho-cheung has a little bit of cleverness but does not shoulder responsibility. He clearly understands that belittling Mainland Chinese has the effect of “politically correct” in Hong Kong, making Hongkongers “feel good about themselves”. This also displays the most narrow-minded, speculative and hypocritical side of Hong Kong society. Compared Chapman To with Ah Chaan, To does not show moral superiority. And the only difference between them is Ah Chaan has more capital, say and decisiveness.
The Mainland Chinese boss in the movie tailors a Hong Kong R-rated movie according to his own taste: the strangeness about this setting is that the whole movie seems to consume and ridicule the image of Mainland Chinese. However, in fact, according to the plot, the consumption and ridicule are all controlled by Mainland Chinese. Hong Kong thinks that China lacks civilisation. On the other hand, in the eyes of China, how is the image of Hong Kong? Pang Ho-cheung will reply you, “R-rated”.
When an unrefined moneybags wants to invest in a Hong Kong movie, what he can think of is only an R-rated film. Peng Ho-cheung uses this setting to write a chilling footnote for Hong Kong cultural image: “made in Hong Kong” equates to “vulgar” and Hong Kong movies equate to “R-rated”. It is not that the status of Hong Kong is low in China. Instead, it is too inexpensive in the eyes of China. When we calmly rethink the present context of Hong Kong, the whole environment is in fact like this. Mainland Chinese go to Hong Kong to speculate on housing, buy designer label, and watch R-rated movies. Hong Kong can only satisfy their superficial, material and consumption demands. However, the export of local is very pallid. Mainland Chinese want to watch Hong Kong films certainly not because of treasuring humanity value, because what nowadays Hong Kong movies can be proud of is just R-rated, Cantonese obscenity and the freedom to enjoy “vulgarity”.
The character of Chapman To submits to the gang boss. Besides money, it is because of fear. His character precisely reflects the anxiety disorders under China-Hong Kong conflict – Whether for the enthusiasm of anti-Mainlandisatoin or the determination of anti-national education, the fundamental of Hongkongers’s decision is fear. People afraid of being “integrated” and “brainwashed”, just like Chapman To in the movie, who is afraid of being forced to intercourse with a mule, and strongly believe that once “Mainlandised”, what follows will be catastrophic disasters. And Hong Kong government, when facing the pressure of Beijing, just like Chapman To’s character, kowtows, acts cowardly and compromises. The fear of narrow-mindedness and without reflection will only make Hong Kong more uneasy, passive, and insane and is harmful to build new subjectivity.
According to a political reporter (via House News),
Both Perry Lam and Jasmine Jia Xuanning write cultural critiques for Yazhou Zhoukan, whose chief editor is Yau Lop-poon. Basically, the trio know each other. It was Lam who recommended Jia to the weekly… And Lam also uses the pen name “Jim Fei” to write a half-page cultural critique for the cultural page of Hong Kong Economic Journal daily. Coincidentally, Jia also writes for the newspaper. The relationship between Lam and Jia is close. It seems that Lam gives this Beijing lady a lot of guidance and support. Whether the two share the pen name “Jim Fei”, it still awaits investigations… Lam judged the open competition. Yet, he concealed their relationship. This relates to the public interest.
ADC said that entries did not have participants’ names during the judging, therefore, judges did not know the author of this critique. This is all rubbish. If Lam “encouraged” her to join the competition, how would Judges not know the author of this critique? Besides, the two always work together closely. He is both a teacher and a friend to her.
The same article also mentions the writing style of Perry Lam,
Every critique has its own style. Perry Lam loves adding English in brackets after Chinese words.
…adding English after Chinese words that are not jargon. This is the part that I find Perry Lam repulsive. And I can recognise Lam’s writing style with just one glance.
A writer discovered that Jia uses Lam’s phrases in her award-winning critique.
According to March 2nd Apple Daily,
Joe Chung: There is something fishy about the scandal of ADC Critic’s Prize
…Whether someone has done something for his close female friend out of stupidity, it unavoidably becomes a public concern.
After the revelation of the scandal, ADC released a statement that said participants’ names were blurred on their entries, which were then printed and sent to the panel of judges. Therefore, they did not know identities of participants… As long as judges read the entry beforehand or were noticed that the entry had some labels, then it would be easy to “promote” the entry!
…Jia rarely inserts English in her writings. However, in her award-winning critique, you notice that there are several English words surprisingly, especially the line stating Vulgaria “將 guilty pleasure 變成 guilt-free pleasure” (makes guilty pleasure become guilt-free pleasure). I can’t help associating the line with Lam’s famous writing style, which is always showing off his English vocabulary in his Chinese writings. Speaking of that, the coincidence is just extraordinary. In Lam’s article titled “Hollywood’s Oriental Imagination“, which was published on Jan 29th, 2006 Yazhou Zhoukan, there is exactly a line that says, “性奴役的觀賞性亦由一種『罪疚的快感』（guilty pleasure）變成『無罪快感』（guilt-free pleasure)” (Sexual enslavement viewing also has been transformed from guilty pleasure into guilt-free pleasure)!
Other netizens also found that Jia’s critique contains many echoes of Lam’s 2012 article on Hongkongers’ fear of the Chinese Communist Party, in which he suggests building a “a new subjectivity” through the introduction of national education.
Keywords shared by two essays are grouped together by same square colours.
- 恐懼 Fear (purple)
- 主題性 Subjectivity/主題性日益(變得)模糊 Subjectivity becomes vague (orange)
- 他者 Otherness (red)
- 不安 Restlessness (yellow)
- 建構新主題 Build a new subjectivity (green)
On March 5th Apple Daily, write Joe Chung found more proof that Jia’s critique is in Lam’s writing style.
Every writer has his own signature phrases. I skimmed through several dozens of Southern Metropolis Daily articles which were written by Jia Xuanning personally, and read some Perry Lam’s articles. I found that Jia’s award-winning entry has at least 7 parts which contain wording that is rarely used by Jia and heavy with Perry Lam’s style.
(*Only two parts were picked for illustration)
- 廉價的發洩 a cheap emotional release (red, originally from Lam’s article “Chinese Confidence and Self-Deceiving“)
- 始終意難平 it is hard to swallow after all (blue, originally from Lam’s article “Yasi (Leung Ping Kwan) is the Hong Kong’s World Writer“)
Asia Sentinel’s Alice Poon translated a response written by an inmediahk writer, who refutes Jia’s claims on Hong Kong economic and political aspects.
Dadazim discussed the definition of “vulgar” according to the Chinese government.
People who pay attention to modern Chinese politics won’t be unfamiliar with the word “vulgar”. Several years ago, the Chinese government used the excuse that the cyber-world was infested with “vulgar contents” to clean up the internet. As the old Chinese proverb says, “the mind of the drunken old man is not on wine.” The Chinese governmental definition of “vulgar” is different from others. The world view of the Chinese Communist Party is “drawing the line according to me”. Any idea or value it doesn’t like is “vulgar”.
The real “vulgarity”, which deserves to be judged as “crimes and indecency inducing”, is neither the scene of using poppy candies to perform oral sex nor having intercourse with a mule. Instead, posing challenges to the mainstream value and way of life is the real “vulgarity”. Vulgaria is not really vulgar. It is just a comedy. However, in the eyes of Beijing, shooting a very localised movie is already very “vulgar”. Saying “I’m Hongkonger” is vulgar; Raising the dragon and lion flag is also vulgar; Cantonese is a vulgar language… Hong Kong has “returned” to China, you are still insisting on your own way, aren’t you embracing “vulgarity”, are you?