Cosmopolitanism from Below: Union Film’s Adaptation of World Classics

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Cosmopolitanism promises to go beyond national thinking and tradition-bound parochialism by reemphasizing the interconnectedness of individuals, communities, and cultures. This article probes the politics of adaptation of the left-leaning Cantonese Union Film Enterprise (Zhonglian 中聯, 1952–1967) in colonial Hong Kong, and scrutinizes how it embraced world literary classics to enhance the prestige of Cantonese films. It focuses on three 1955 adaptations: An Orphan's Tragedy (Guxing xuelei 孤星血淚; from Great Expectations), Anna (Chuncan mengduan 春殘夢斷; from Anna Karenina), and Eternal Love (Tianchang dijiu 天長地久; from Sister Carrie). The founding of Union was a conscientious response of Cantonese film workers to the call of the Cantonese Film Clean-up Campaign (Yueyu dianying qingjie yundong 粵語電影清潔運動) in the 1940s, launched by leftist filmmakers from Shanghai (Cai Chusheng 蔡楚生, Situ Huimin 司徒慧敏) and supported by Cantonese film leaders Ng Cho-fan 吳楚帆 and Lo Duen 盧敦. The study interrogates the predicaments and vicissitudes of Union's cosmopolitan stances as it wrestled with the cultural politics of Chinese cinema during the Cold War. It elucidates the ethnically rooted and culturally cosmopolitan Cantonese progressive cinema. The social realism represented by Union is not local or passé. The Union artists envisioned from below a humane and cosmopolitan community inhabited by workers and intellectuals, locals and diasporic Chinese subjects, which connects people beyond their parochialism and nationhood.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)623–648
Number of pages26
JournalPositions: Asia Critique
Issue number3
Early online date1 May 2023
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

User-Defined Keywords

  • adaptation
  • Cantonese cinema
  • cosmopolitanism
  • literary classics
  • melodrama


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