“Film and Enigmatization: Nostalgia, Nonsense, and Remembering”

Site info: "Film and Enigmatization: Nostalgia, Nonsense, and Remembering," anthologized in At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World, ed. Esther C.M. Yau, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), 231-50.

Enigmatization and Memory

The ruthlessly beautiful evening skyline during the handover week leading to 1 July 1997 harbored all yearnings to remember – once and for all – the end of the territory’s colonial history, as if those intense, concentrated moments of festivity world allow the people of Hong Kong to let go from the on, finally to free themselves from the burden of coloniality. The neon lights along the shores of the harbor promised a bright, rosy future. The grand ceremonies, headed by the two sovereigns of China and Great Britain, strummed with unprecedentedly dignified civility. And the alternative handover “ceremony” put up by the Democratic Party on the balcony of the Legislative Council invoked the vanishing star of Madonna’s Evita Peron bidding her people, “Don’t cry for me Argentina.” All of these manifest signs played out in the public sphere were to be appropriated as token images by the dominant, global discourse of Hong Kong’s handover. The displacement and replacement of signs have marked the countdown years: the shift from (China’s) takeover to (Hong Kong’s) handover in local press reportage; the final “resurrection” of the bauhinia, the city flower that hand practically symbolized the governor’s residence more than the territory itself, now made the permanent emblem on the SAR (Special Administrative Region) flag; the blue dolphin that replaced the Chinese fishing junk as a symbol of the city’s vitality; the visible presence of festive slogans proclaiming Hong Kong’s “return to its roots”; and the list goes on. At the very moment of the handover, the official rhetoric of Hong Kong’s sovereignty that had developed over the years concluded in a burst of visuality that reasserted a set of common quotables for easy consumption by the international media.
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