IN ONE OF HIS MANY KUNG FU MOVIES, THE NOW-popular Jet Li challenges a fellow kung fu master to a fight in front of a standing crowd of rowdy men. The two fight on an elaborate stage that looks like a grown-up's jungle gym, made of criss-crossing poles and planks. The objective: knock the opponent off the structure and down to shameful defeat. I don't know what the stakes were in this contest, but it was clear that for each fighter, this was the ultimate test, and losing was not an option. Each time one nearly fell, he saved himself with an agility that would shame a jungle cat. When the fighters (and the director) had exhausted all the possibilities and incredible thrills of the jungle gym set, the fight spilled over into the crowd, upon whose heads Jet Li and his opponent continued their fierce combat, staying above the ground by leaping from one head to the next, defying gravity, eluding the dishonor of defeat.

Through the years, this absurd fight scene has come to represent (for me) all of the reasons why Hong Kong cinema is great. First, it expresses the very purity of Hong Kong entertainment: the primary objective is to dazzle the eye. Also impressive is the premise of the fight: the kung fu masters must not fall to earth; they must stay above the ground, on the surface of the air, skimming along at a dizzying speed. This premise best captures the content (or absence of content) in most movies I have seen coming out of Hong Kong, movies as deep as the celluloid they are photographed on. This amazing lack of depth, the way they never fall into contemplation or slow down (save for a slow-motion shower of dead shells falling from an automatic weapon, or a protracted flying kick by a kung fu master) is what makes this form of cinema the perfect distraction for this sparkling age of late capitalism.

Some erudite critics of Hong Kong cinema (and I am not one of them) will bitch about how we in the West appreciate only the surface; that we, as the Film Comment critic David Chute put it, are "stuck at the level of our dazzled first impressions, where what meets the eye is finally all that we can see." Nothing could be further from the truth! Critics who try to impress upon us that we, in our cultural myopia, miss the "nourishing depth" of Hong Kong action films are cruel madmen. They are trying to make us feel guilty for the hours of pleasure we derive from profit-driven entertainment, bullying us into believing that we have missed some kind of deeper social, political, and intellectual agenda in these films of flying swordsmen, gun-blasting gangsters, witches in the wind, and evil warlords on top of fantastic mountains. Please. The only reason we fail to notice any depth in these films is because there is no depth there to notice.

Take, for example, legendary producer Tsui Hark's new film, A Chinese Ghost Story. This animated version of a famous series of horror films he churned out in the late '80s is a love story--a strange love story about a tax collector, Ning, who one day stumbles into a city of ghosts. While in the city trying to collect debts of the dead, Ning chances to see a beautiful woman, Shine, with whom he instantly falls in love. Many twists and turns later--twists involving vain, cell-phone-wielding ghosts, Tao monk "ghostbusters," and a colossal pop idol called Evil Mountain, who is obsessed with his hair--our two unnatural lovers catch the reincarnation train, to be reborn into a life of Happily Ever After.

As a movie, A Chinese Ghost Story ranks as one of the most manic--and shallow--films I have ever seen. It's like listening to Ol' Dirty Bastard of the Wu Tang Clan: there is not one moment when we are allowed to rest and contemplate. We are thrown into the film like a doll into a tumultuous sea, flung helplessly from plot point to plot point. Even the exquisitely drawn animation--the incredible ghost city scene shames the insect city in A Bug's Life--is blurred by the manic propulsion of the plot. Ultimately, Tsui Hark's frantic and intimidating visual velocity is the triumph of the film. (Hark is often called the Spielberg of Hong Kong, but Spielberg is the weaker of the two very visual filmmakers, as he actually believes his films can have "depth.")

Not long ago, I read that a few Hong Kong directors envy mainland Chinese directors because they get to make those art house films (you know, Raise Another Red Lantern and Green Firecracker, Purple Firecracker), which have all that intelligent "depth." This was a sad thing to hear. Why in the world would anyone yearn to make films with depth? Depth films are death films--fake, phony, and flat. Real films--films that match our age of hypercapitalism--must come not from the mausoleum of state funds, but must be driven by the motor that made our market strike the 10,000 mark, a motor that drives the purity and velocity of full-on entertainment.

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