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Dying to belong

May 12, 2009

From Dying to Belong: Gangster Movies in Hollywood and Hong Kong by Martha Nochimson, p. 104/105:

“In sum, the protagonist of the Hong Kong ganster film is a `fiddler on the roof´of sorts, managing to maintain a solid, ethical stance in a teetering, hollow materialist world. His/her relationship to law is especially complex. One may say that the Hong Kong gangster hero finds a balance in the modern world either despite or because of his/her deviance from civil law. Marginality denudes the Hollywood gangster protagonist of his identity, but frees the Hong Kong gangster movie protagonist from the shifts of the materialist ideal of wealth.

The Triad hero wants a place in the new land to which his family has immigrated, but cannot imagine a place that is secure with out the plattform of the Triad values that for centuries, as presented in these films have opposed the excesses of the usurpers of civilian authority. He knows or quickly learns the part he must perform, walking into the mouth of the materialist cannon: sometimes with lonely philosophical beauty, sometimes as the vanguard of a supportive community united around the principles of the Tao, sometimes with doomed angst, and sometimes with unintellectualized but iron discipline. The Hong Kong gangster protagonist discovers in the process just how tough he is as a servant of a history and a code of honor immeasurably larger than himself; in doing so he takes the measure of this materialist society and finds it ´not so tough´.  Nevertheless, the extreme violence with which the Hong Kong gangster protagonist is involved and the extreme fortitude that he/she must demonstrate, both significantly beyond the scope of ordinary people, complexly qualify the optimism of the Hong Kong gangster genre…”

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