Intertextuality, Synchronicity and Nostalgia: Trans-cultural Influences of Kubrick’s The Shining on Hong Kong Ghost Horror

Since its 1983 Hong Kong release Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining (1980) has earned its place as a classic influencing the local generic tradition of Hong Kong cinema. [1] With its distinctive, though still popular storytelling style, the film acts like a ‘ghost’ haunting the transcultural and subcultural contexts of Hong Kong’s horror genre.

According to Tim Cahill’s Rolling Stone interview, Kubrick recounted his repeated experience of “being surprised” while reading the novels or other works he chose to adapt, something he sought to similarly convey through acts of a ‘code-breaking’ and cinematic ‘restructuring’. [2] This is also evident in Kubrick’s reply to Gustav Hasford, the author of the book upon which Full Metal Jacket (1987) was based, where the director expressed his disagreement with Hasford’s view on the veracity of the screenplay adaptation process. “You dismiss ‘structure’”, Kubrick told Hasford, “but it is everything in adapting a novel to the screen”. [3] In an earlier letter to Kubrick, Hasford argued, “more than half of the screenplay for which you and Michael [Herr] are the screenwriters of record is word for word out of my book. No matter how you ‘structure’ it, I wrote it”. [4] Nevertheless, the effect of Kubrick ‘defamiliarizing’ taken-for-granted structures in both pre-existing sources and Hollywood conventions, is that the filmmaker’s story-(re)tellings are designed to encourage audiences to draw their own conclusions: “The ideas have to be discovered by the audience, and their thrill in making the discovery makes those ideas all the more powerful”. [5]

From a Russian formalist/neoformalist perspective, it is possible to interpret (adapter/filmmaker) Kubrick’s ‘restructuring’ as his ‘defamiliarisation’ of certain elements of pre-existing texts and popular genres familiar to Western audiences. Though likely unintentional, a transcultural space can be constituted within the process, where ‘the defamiliarised familiar’ is ‘re-familiarised’ in different ways when viewed in different historical and geographic contexts and communities. Seen from this vantage, as a film featuring an open-ended narrative that consciously leaves supernatural/psychological mysteries unexplained, [6] The Shining can be considered an ‘unfamiliar’ adaptation and the restructuring of a ‘familiar’ popular genre, which contributes to its status as an ‘uncanny classic’, [7] and reflected in its recurrent invocation by subsequent filmmakers cross-culturally, such as Takashi Shimizu, [8] Ivan Kavenagh and Guillermo del Toro. [9]

The context of Hong Kong’s horror cinema and its ghost storytellings are considered, on the one hand, as a commercial and popular subgenre that “incorporates popular elements from both Eastern and Western cultures”, yet, on the other hand, as a heterogeneous cinema that has constructed a cross-cultural variation within East Asian ghost storytelling. [10] In this sense, when appropriated into Hong Kong’s cinema culture – both as an unconventional auteur work and as a popular commercial genre product of the West – The Shining operates simultaneously as ‘other’ and a ‘partner’.

Several commentators have examined the influence of The Shining on Western cinema, especially where an auteur-based approach is dominant. For example, Ryan P. Doom finds that the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink (Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, 1991) draws thematic and stylistic inspiration from The Shining, where the “disintegration of an individual” as the film’s key theme and the haunted atmospherics of the Earle Hotel in Barton Fink, resonates with Kubrick’s characterisation of a “blocked writer” and a ghostly hotel. [11] Similarly, in Jason Sperb’s and Walter Metz’s respective discussion of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007) and Robert Eggers’ The Witch (2015), the scholars find parallels with The Shining’s narrative of isolation; plots that are influenced by notions of original, singular authorship. [12]

Similarly, several critics have expounded upon the transcultural and transnational features of Hong Kong ghost horror and Kubrick’s film. Daniel O’Brien, for example, has provided a descriptive survey of a wide range of generic horror influences on Hong Kong cinema during its “Golden Age” of the 1980s, including multiple references to The Shining. [13] In both Wu Hao and Stephen Teo’s work on Hong Kong and Asian film, ‘horror’ is defined as a mixture of transcultural elements, described by Wu and Teo as a “cross-cultural phenomenon”, a combination of “national styles” and “transnational qualities”. [14] Other scholars, such as Ian Hunter and Dale Hudson, adopt postcolonial readings of relevant Hong Kong horror cinema to describe the Jiangshi (literally, ‘stiff corpse’) sub-genre as a localised postcolonial reworking of “the Western myth of the vampire” [15] or a representation of “the ongoing negotiation and contestation within Hong Kong’s ‘crisis bodies’”. [16]

However, few critics have given due attention to the relationship between The Shining’s textual features and the transcultural contexts of its influence. Although Walter Metz, Stephen Mamber and Catriona McAvoy have offered insight into The Shining’s “intertextual engagement” as essential to what distinguishes the film from conventional genre moviemaking and adaptations, [17] studies of the film’s influence in various contexts often neglect to link analysis to a broader understanding of more culturally diverse appropriations. Hence, this essay explores the previously neglected history of how The Shining has been appropriated by a range of Hong Kong ghost/horror films from 1980s onward. Using a case study approach, I suggest that the manifest transcultural influence throughout the sub-genre’s evolution is closely related to a narrative transition from ‘homecoming/homelessness’ to an ‘uncanny nostalgia’. Such a movement signifies Hong Kong cinema’s endless (self) re-identification with a locality of spatial and temporal heterogeneity, both in aesthetic and cultural terms.

Intertextuality in The Shining and Hong Kong Ghost Horror
In opposition to Hollywood’s frequent genre repurposing, the transcultural revisions of The Shining in disparate ‘national cinemas’, such as Takashi Shimizu’s Reincarnation (2005), appear mostly as intentional auteurist homages or remakes. However, in post-colonial Hong Kong The Shining’s influence is more prominent with seemingly unconscious quotes and pastiches reminiscent of elements in postmodern intertextual cinema. As Esther Cheung and Chu Yiu-wai assert: “In Hong Kong, Hollywood film is more like a model and partner than an ‘other’ to be resisted, deconstructed, and repelled” [18] . Nevertheless Cheung and Yiu-wat only compare other ‘national cinemas’ with Hong Kong cinema as primarily influenced by Hollywood hegemony. While they do not explicitly argue that a self-conscious ‘intertextualization’ of Hollywood’s influence is absent in Hong Kong cinema, they ignore the influence of specific ‘non-conventional’ Hollywood genre films such as The Shining, which arguably operates outside the influence of ‘hegemonic’ generic convention.

These Hong Kong ‘intertextualizations’ of The Shining can be traced as far back as December 1980 when Sammo Hung’s Spooky Encounters (1980) was released deploying the same sections of Béla Bartók’s atmospheric music that Kubrick had adopted for The Shining. While there is no empirical evidence of a ‘direct’ borrowing by Hung, nonetheless, as Daniel O’Brien notes: “Up until the mid-1980s, Hong Kong’s film composers had a habit of ‘quoting’ sections of popular Western movie scores”. [19] Spooky Encounters is widely considered the first film to feature Jiangshi as hopping ghost figures, and, importantly, as one of Hong Kong’s earliest horror-comedies. Hence, Spooky Encounters is not only a precursor to both a local subgenre blending different ghost cultures and other generic elements, but also a precursor to a process of intertextualization and internalization of The Shining within subsequent Hong Kong films.

Although the production team for Spooky Encounters has not explicitly stated they were influenced by Kubrick’s film, its subsequent impact is demonstrable in several Shining-esque elements that feature in other Hong Kong movies. For instance, the ‘haunted house’ sequences in the 1980s action-horror-comedies, Fantasy Mission Force (Yen-Ping Chu, 1983) and The Haunted Cop Shop (Jeffrey Lau, 1987), are reminiscent of the supernatural and/or dreamlike sequences in The Shining, even though the scenes are loosely related, if not unrelated, to their overarching narratives. In Fantasy Mission Force, a commando group sent to rescue four generals kidnapped by the Japanese army during World War II spend the night at an abandoned residence inside a ghost town. The lengthy ‘haunted house’ sequence features a ‘copy’ of The Shining’s Room-237 ‘bathroom scene’, where one of the protagonist-heroes embraces a female ghost who suddenly transforms into a skeleton, leaving behind only a cackling old woman’s head. Similarly, The Haunted Cop Shop makes an obvious reference to The Shining’s ‘Gold Room’ scenes, where ghost-like Japanese soldiers accept drinks from a bartender in direct homage to the Overlook Hotel’s Lloyd (Joe Turkel). As was common in Hong Kong’s low-budget 1980s action movies, in order to add a ‘wow’ factor, cinematic appropriations of seemingly unrelated scenes often function, according to Karen Fang, as a “whimsical and comparatively low-tech play on Hollywood spectacle” rather than serving thematic and narrative purpose. [20] Thus, within the horror genre’s conventional ‘order-disorder-order’ narrative structure [21] , the extradiegetic references to the “enigmatic and chaotic world” [22] of The Shining nevertheless play a role in excessively ‘disordering’ the ‘disorder’ narrative phase. Simultaneously, though probably unintentionally, the Hollywood-style narrative screen logic of cause-and-effect is similarly disrupted.

By reproducing aspects of The Shining, filmmakers of the ‘Hong Kong New Wave’ challenged generic conventions and contributed to alternative modes of the ghost genre. [23] A number of key New Wave screen innovators self-consciously embellished their works by appropriating and reworking elements of The Shining in order to distinguish their productions from more common topos, especially the popular ‘hopping Jiangshi vampire vs Taoist’ stereotype/cliché of the time, established with the box-office hit Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau, 1985) and repeated in many subsequent films during the period, such as New Mr. Vampire (Billy Chan, 1987), Mr. Vampire Saga (Ricky Lau, 1988), and The Musical Vampire (Wilson Tong, 1992).

For the New Wave generation of directors who emerged in the 1980s gestures or homages to The Shining are more subtle and appear in a coherent way, embedded within the narrative diegesis, unlike the unrelated digressions in the films mentioned above. Having grown up in Hong Kong but receiving screen production training in the Europe or America, the New Wave filmmakers were more inclined to address realistic and local stories, while simultaneously drawing from identifiable Western influences. Thus New Wave horror films, such as Ronny Yu’s Bless This House (1988) and Dennis Yu’s The Imp (1981), integrate The Shining’s scenes and motifs intertextually to further narratively layer their family-themed ghost stories. Regarded by both Hong Kong filmmakers as an ambiguous and transgressive text, Kubrick’s The Shining is purposefully revisioned to self-consciously explore different modes of juxtaposing representations of the living and the dead on screen.

For example, Bless This House alludes to elements of The Shining, such as the tracking shots of Danny Torrance (Danny Lloyd) on his tricycle. In this local tale many plot similarities are shared, including the conflicts and crises befalling a man and his lower-middle class family after they move into a company-owned dwelling. In this less generic, but more atmospheric narrative, the ‘intertextualization’ of Bless This House shifts its emphasis from knowingly quoting (unrelated) scenes towards the thematic and psychological structure of The Shining. Paralleling the interview scene from Kubrick’s film where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) struggles to articulate his work/family crisis, the protagonist of Bless This House, Bill Cheung (Bill Tung), seizes the opportunity to transcend his depressed social existence when a new job offer includes accommodation at a large, isolated house. In another Kubrickian reference, crossing and blurring the line between present and past, and between supernatural and psychological, director Ronny Yu reuses the bloody wall motif (as a reference to sequences in both The Amityville Horror ( [Stuart Rosenberg, 1979] and The Shining) and the aforementioned the child-on-a-tricycle shot. Yu evokes a sense of the uncanny by further transporting the narrative into the ‘repressed’ history of the haunted domicile (according to the Freudian model), where Bill’s ghostly counterpart, a former resident is revealed to be a crippled and failed Peking Opera singer who has killed his family. The murdered Grady family ghosts, as well as the The Shining’s defamiliarising audiovisual style, are integrated into the film’s retelling of a Hong Kong family horror story. Critics John Charles and Kenneth Brosson, respectively, offered faint parise for the film, noting: “There is nothing particularly original here, but the execution is good and the final product is a worthwhile, if fairly tame, addition to the 1980s horror cycle,” [24] and the “Haunted house tactics sans hopping vampires proves to be the uniqueness of Bless This House.” [25] Thus, as a ‘recycling/adaptation’ of Kubrick’s own parodic revisioning of the horror genre, Bless This House satirises the traditional ‘hopping vampire vs Taoist’ convention, with its depiction of both the ghosts and the Taoist as socio-economically ‘disadvantaged’ citizens within the milieu of Hong Kong’s rapid modernisation.

Recent research into The Shining by Elisa Pezzotta and Graham Allen demonstrates that Kubrick’s “trans-generic” and “non-teleological” approach [26] is supported by Catriona McAvoy’s analysis of newly discovered documents in the Kubrick Archive. McAvoy confirms Kubrick’s use of intertextuality to make The Shining a palimpsest, “opening to multiple readings”. [27] The post-1980s tradition of Hong Kong ghost horror actively embraced The Shining’s genre contexts within their own intertextual foundations to further dislocate and reopen a local genre’s storytelling and re-telling.

Synchronicity from The Shining to Hong Kong Ghost Horror
The Shining’s exemplary commingling of the familiar and unfamiliar plays a role in defamiliarising both the diegesis and the formal structure of this Hong Kong subgenre. To further illuminate how and why this intertextuality activates a dynamic, transcultural and ongoing dialogue between texts it is prudent to explore The Shining’s engagement with the underlying linear/non-linear conception of time within Hong Kong ghost horror, drawing from the key concept of ‘synchronicity’ as a recurring influence.

Carl Jung espoused the principle of synchronicity to highlight an atemporal, acausal understanding of the ‘collective unconscious’, as a divergence from the linear logic of the ‘personal unconscious’ promoted by Freudian psychoanalysis. [28]  As far back as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) Kubrick affirmed Jungian paradigms: “That’s why we settled on the black monolith – which is, of course, in itself something of a Jungian archetype,” [29] . More specifically Kubrick’s own annotations on Stephen King’s original novel note “the simultaneity of a hotel plus time layered on itself”. [30]  Nevertheless, a fused/hybrid of Freud and Jung can be broadly considered as informing the context of the filmmaker’s storytelling. In the Freudian sense, The Shining can be interpreted as an allegory of the uncanny, and importantly related to the individual’s temporal experience. As asserted by Freud: “the uncanny is that class of frightening which leads back to what is known and long familiar.” [31] This phenomenon is evident in scenes such as Danny’s vision of the Grady girls chanting “Come and play with us, Danny, forever, and ever, and ever”, Jack’s encounter with the decaying woman’s body crucially recognised by a reflection in a mirror, or the scene where Jack describes the vast, near-empty hotel as paradoxically “homey”. Yet by its atmospheric, nonverbal, archetypal and intertextual narrative, the film moves beyond generic Hollywood horror’s engagement with a Freudian linear logic, thereby presenting the Overlook as a symbol of the collective unconscious (in the Jungian sense) with its spectral, nonlinear temporality.

Jungian synchronicity is strongly aligned with Eastern philosophy, especially the ancient Chinese classic I-Ching, Book of Change, that seeks to transcend premodern to modern linear temporality. The Jungian discourse featured in The Shining’s stylistic narrative echoes the “coincident occurrence of acausal events” [32] , and facilitates the possibility of a cross-cultural influence of the film into Hong Kong genre sensibilities. Furthermore, the potential of ghost storytelling as a generic mode by which to allude to Hong Kong’s past and future draws from the (Freudian) return of the repressed, and from the personal and the collective unconscious.

Another product to emerge from the 1980s Hong Kong comedy-horror wave was Dennis Yu’s 1981 film, The Imp. Widely regarded as an early Hong Kong New Wave horror classic, Yu’s film concludes atemporarily with an open ending via a freeze-frame reminiscent of The Shining’s penultimate image of Jack frozen in the snow. However, in Yu’s movie, the film literally remains motionless – seemingly frozen in time and space – depicting the protagonist trying to kill his newborn baby, believing it possessed by an imp. Embodied in The Imp’s parallels with the satanic pregnancy theme in Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) and The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976), and the Gothic atmosphere in western blockbusters such as The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), Yu’s film resituates these borrowed supernatural tropes in a mixture of an urban working-class setting and Chinese ‘feng-shui’ (literally meaning “wind and water”) geomancy. By combining and integrating the cyclical logic of yin/yang and the linear logic of repression/rebirth, The Imp situates its protagonists as under pressures from both the (colonised) past and the (mainlandised) future, and from ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ their (local) individual psyche. By appropriating certain tropes from The Shining (e.g. the uncertainty of, or crises in, gendered and paternalistic narratives of legitimation), the protagonists/filmmakers attempt to recreate a modern/postmodern self-identity situated between the competing and unresolved discourses of colonialism and nationalism.

Similarly, Ringo Lam’s Victim (1999), is a hybrid crime-horror-thriller film that can be productively interpreted as a retelling of Jack’s encounter with the Overlook in The Shining. Victim situates its haunted hotel, named ‘Mountain View’, in parallel with Hong Kong’s modern urban space which the filmmaker presents as a global, post-industrial milieu. As with anti-hero Jack in The Shining, Manson Ma (Ching Wan Lau) is an unemployed, ‘failed’ engineer and family man. When found by the police inside a deserted (and possibly haunted) hotel, Ma appears either insane or possessed and tries to kill his wife. A series of close-ups of the protagonist repeatedly evokes the often enigmatic ‘Kubrick Stare’, [33] emblematic from Alex in A Clockwork Orange to Jack in The Shining and Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket (1987). Though during its second half, the film appears as a more conventional crime-thriller, by shifting its tone from psychological/supernatural ambiguity to a clarified psychological explanation. As claimed by director Lo Chi-leung both Koma (2004) and Inner Senses (2002) are inspired by The Shining’s psychological perspective. Discussed in more detail below, the post-‘golden age’ Hong Kong horror films influenced by The Shining increasingly shift their focus from the realm of the supernatural towards ‘realistic’ and psychological reworkings of Kubrick’s film. On the one hand, this movement opens up a new way in which the individual and localised psychological disturbances are explored. On the other hand, a paradox and tension is evident within the genre – a dilemma between logical, temporal modernization and self-reidentification with atemporal, supernatural ‘hauntings’.

Lo Chi-leung has explained this dynamic stating he intended to create a mundane, everyday space in Inner Senses as haunted by ambiguous ghosts (hallucinatory or real), by using Kubrick’s naturalistic lighting method, instead of employing stereotypical “dark settings … green lighting.” [34] Hence, Lo’s film follows a Freudian logic in its first half, through the use of realistic settings, where the visions of dead people encountered by the young, lonely and independent, workaholic protagonists may or may not be ‘real’. However, this uncanniness is contrasted in the second half when the narrative foregrounds supernatural elements (such as close-ups of the ghost), rather than psychological disturbances. This ghostly presence is soon manifest in an excessive otherworldly visual style, highlighted by the abrupt and obvious replication of the clichéd female phantom from The Ring (Hideo Nakata, 1998). However, director Lo refuted the idea that the non-local, supernatural and non-naturalistic elements were a clear external cultural reference, claiming, “[i]t never occurred to me if they were Japanese or foreign ghosts” [35] . This ‘unexpected’ self-contradiction, is reflected in the ambivalences between the supernatural aspect of Hong Kong horror and the naturalistic aspect of The Shining, and also between a translocal ghost culture and its contemporary re-localization. Thus the contradiction can be understood as a symptom of a ghost/thriller ‘genre anxiety’ [36] , as well as an attempt to negotiate between the nationalization/globalization discourses and the atemporal/acausal hauntings within the cinema.

From a Homecoming to an Uncanny Nostalgia
As indicated by Ackbar Abbas, “the supernatural ghost figure is one of the most popular genres used to represent the complexities of Hong Kong’s cultural space.” [37] Within the genre the figuration of the ghost is appropriated to represent an intertextual entity moving across conventional temporal logics. The appropriations of The Shining in Hong Kong ghost cinema has sustained a creative dialogue demonstrating that both the film and the sub-genre cannot be pigeon-holed into a binary framework of ‘uncanny/nostalgic’ representations of the ‘psychological/supernatural’ genre tradition. The influence of The Shining in this context is beyond the mere transplanting of a foreign Other into an evolving Hong Kong sub-genre, but also from rethinking a past Other. Hence, the intertextual renderings of The Shining have enabled a renegotiation in the local story-retellings, emphasising ‘Homecoming’ and ‘Nostalgia’ as recurring sub-themes.

The 1980s ‘golden age’ Hong Kong ghost horror films, Bless This House and The Haunted Cop Shop, conjure the Overlook Hotel in their narratives from either a ‘family’ or a ‘national’ perspective. Both movies conclude with a ‘homecoming’ to the ‘yang’ space, after pushing the ghosts back to the ‘yin’ space, thanks to Taoists playing mediating roles. The haunted abode in Bless This House and the possessed clubhouse in The Haunted Cop Shop, reference the Overlook and its Gold Room. As indicated above, the location of the former film is haunted by a previously murdered family, and in the latter by a group of World War II Japanese-occupation ghost soldiers. The ghosts are culturally depicted as returning from a ‘yin’ space and they seek to obstruct the ‘homecoming’ of the tenant family in both Bless This House and city residents and policemen in The Haunted Cop Shop. The logic of problematic ‘happy endings’ in these films implies that the ghostly hauntings recall traumatic events from the past and the estrangement of local/modern/national identity, something under considerable debate at the time, alongside the indigenization of Hong Kong culture in the 1970s and 1980s.

In Victim and Inner Senses, two later, post-‘golden age’ Hong Kong horror films, the ‘homecoming’ narrative is instead revised to engender a ‘homeless’ nostalgia, one that embraces the psychological, non-supernatural aspects of The Shining. Both films try to re-establish a connection between the past and the present (and thereby reimagine a new, local cinema) through their emphasis on isolation and realism. But, as reflected by the jarring plot twists and inconsistent visual style of both films, the natural/supernatural discord highlights Hong Kong cinema’s difficulty in successfully incorporating the contemporary and chaotic past into a linear, temporal nostalgia. As a symptom of global/local identity anxiety, or of the ‘midlife crisis’ in post-1997 Hong Kong cinema [38] , Victim and Inner Senses can be understood as domestic recastings of Jack Torrance’s ‘homeless’ story. This interpretation further demonstrates the dilemma faced by the screen protagonists – and the films themselves – namely, how to reimagine their ‘homecoming’ (as both characters and as a Hong Kong subgenre) while co-existing with the ambiguous (psychological/supernatural) hauntings of past Others.

More recently, The Shining’s influence is still evident in Juno Mak’s Rigor Mortis (2013), a Jiangshi ghost horror. Mak is considered amongst the ‘SAR New Wave’, a phrase commonly used to refer to a group of directors who moved into filmmaking, or gained critical attention, after Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China in 1997. In a direct citation of and homage to The Shining’s Grady girls, Mak revisits Kubrick’s 1980 film via this local genre, with the sudden appearances of demonic twin sisters in a hallway and in a mirror, who haunt a quintessential Hong Kong public housing estate. [39] As recounted in flashback, the girls were tragically killed at the estate inside their tutor’s apartment and these twin spectres occupy a generically significant role, as with Kubrick’s The Shining, as unfamiliar Others interceding from the outside/past world.

Rigor Mortis also used CGI effects to evoke a Kubrickian atmosphere in another defamiliarising genre strategy. The main protagonist, a washed-up actor (played by a former real life Jiangshi film actor), appears as an inactive, passive observer. Just like Jack in The Shining and Dr Harford (Tom Cruise) in Eyes Wide Shut (1999), he wonders fugue-like in an ambiguous, dream-like space, confused by the ghostly visions he encounters. Importantly, the protagonist’s fictional and real experience in both the diegetic and extradiegetic worlds can be read as a nostalgic tribute to the ‘golden age’ of Jiangshi horror. [40] Yet these same depictions of an uncanny re-encounter with the chaos extant within the genre’s tradition, especially the character’s encounters of the twin ghosts co-existing with living beings and Jiangshi ghosts, can be seen as disrupting generic and cultural distinctions between the supernatural/psychological and Eastern/Western. On a transcultural level, for both the protagonist and audience, a succession of uncanny experiences are evoked by the twin ghosts. Not only can the twin girls be recognised as the ‘Hun’ (spiritual soul) in Chinese folklore, they are also strongly reminiscent of the iconic ghost figure (white dress and long dark hair) from The Ring. As director Mak explained, the film is “a story about middle-aged people dealing with ageing”. [41] Within the post-‘golden age’ context of Hong Kong cinema, Rigor Mortis makes an attempt to transcend the dilemma between a fear of, and a longing for, a (trans-)local genre’s return. Seen from a post-Jungian perspective, [42] through its reuse of Kubrick’s horror aesthetic to retain the ambiguity and openness of the genre, the film not only re-emphasises the synchronicity of Hong Kong ghost horror that blurs globalised genre distinctions, it also pays homage to the transcultural interactions actively contributing to the genre’s evolution.

[1] An early version of this essay was delivered at the Stanley Kubrick: A Retrospective conference at De Montfort University in May 2016. Thank you very much to the participants and audience at the conference, for their questions and feedback. I would also like to thank staff at the Stanley Kubrick Archive for their assistance and special thanks to Dr Michael Williams (University of Southampton) and Dr Kevin Donnelly (University of Southampton) for reading earlier drafts and offering helpful comments. Thanks as well to two anonymous referees for their suggestions. Also, my heartfelt thanks go to Associate Professor Mick Broderick (Murdoch University) for his invaluable assistance and support throughout the revision process.
[2] Tim Cahill, “Stanley Kubrick: The Rolling Stone Interview” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene D. Phillips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), pp. 189-203.
[3] Letter, Stanley Kubrick to Gustav Hasford, Jun-Jul 1985, box 1, SK/16/1/2/4, Stanley Kubrick Archive, University Archives and Special Collections. London: University of the Arts.
[4] Letter, Gustav Hasford to Stanley Kubrick, Jun-Jul 1985, Stanley Kubrick Archive.
[5] Stanley Kubrick, “Words and Movies”, Sight & Sound 31, 30/1 (winter 1960): 14, available at:
[6] As Kubrick suggests in his notes on Stephen King’s novel The Shining, “The story both suggests that jack is crazy, and that there are unexplainable and terrifying things going on. Neither view really hurts the other. One does not have time to decide, and the conflicting theories only serve to intrigue us.” See Stanley Kubrick, “Annotated text from Stephen King’s novel ‘The Shining’”, 27 Feb 1977-12 Apr 1977. Stanley Kubrick Archive, SK/15/1/3, Archives & Special Collections, London College of Communication, London.
[7] In his essay “The Uncanny”, Sigmund Freud argues that the sense of uncanny develops from a coincidence of heimlich (familiar) and unheimlich (unfamiliar). As a source of inspiration for The Shining, and indicated in some interviews, Kubrick relates this concept with his self-conscious rethinking of the horror genre: “About the only law that I think relates to the genre is that you should not try to explain, to find neat explanations for what happens, and that the object of the thing is to produce a sense of the uncanny. Freud on his essay on the uncanny wrote that the sense of the uncanny is the only emotion which is more powerfully expressed in art than in life, which I found very illuminating”. See Alison Castle, ed., The Stanley Kubrick Archives, (Los Angeles: Taschen, 2005), p. 462.
[8] Andrew Heskins, “Takashi Shimizu Exclusive Interview”, EasternKicks, February 8, 2011,
[9] Ashley Burns and Chloe Schildhause,“Horror Filmmakers Discuss the Legacy and Influence of The Shining”, UPROXX, May 1, 2016,
[10] Dale Hudson, “Modernity As Crisis; Goeng Si And Vampires In Hong Kong Cinema” in Draculas, Vampires, and Other Undead Forms: Essays on Gender, Race and Culture, ed. John Edgar Browning and Caroline Joan (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2009), p. 208.
[11] Ryan P. Doom, The Brothers Coen: Unique Characters of Violence (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2009), p. 46.
[12] See Jason Sperb, Blossoms and Blood: Postmodern Media Culture and the Films of Paul Thomas Anderson (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013); Walter Metz, “New Englanders, Out of Their Minds,”Film Criticism 40, no. 1 (2016), pp. 1-3.
[13] See Daniel O’Brien, Spooky Encounters: A Gwailo’s Guide to Hong Kong Horror (Manchester: Headpress, 2003).
[14] See Wu Hao, Folklore of Hong Kong Cinema (Hong Kong: Ciwenhua, 1993); Stephen Teo, The Asian Cinema Experience: Styles, Space, Theory (Abingdon, Oxon, New York: Routledge, 2013).
[15] Ian Hunter, “The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires,” Post-colonial Studies 3, no. 1 (2000), p. 83.
[16] Dale Hudson, “Modernity as Crisis: Goeng Si and Vampires in Hong Kong Cinema” in Draculas, Vampires, and Other Undead Forms: Essays on Gender, Race and Culture, ed. John Edgar Browning, Caroline Joan (Kay) Picart (Lanham, Md,: Scarecrow Press, 2009), p. 222.
[17] See Walter Metz, “Toward a Post-structural Influence in Film-Genre Study: Intertextuality and The Shining,” Film Criticism 22, no. 1 (Fall 1997), pp. 38-61; Stephen Mamber, “Parody, Intertextuality, Signature: Kubrick, DePalma, and Scorsese,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 12 (1990), pp. 29-35; Catriona McAvoy, “The Uncanny, The Gothic and The Loner: Intertextuality in the Adaptation Process of The Shining,” Adaptationn 8, no. 3 (2015), pp. 345-360.
[18] Esther M. K. Cheung and Chu Yiu-wai, “Introduction: Between Home and World” in Between Home and World: A Reader in Hong Kong Cinema, ed. Esther M. K. Cheung and Chu Yiu-wai (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. xxiv.
[19] Daniel O’Brien, Spooky Encounters: A Gwailo’s Guide to Hong Kong Horror (Manchester: Headpress, 2003), p. 26.
[20] Karen Fang, Arresting Cinema: Surveillance in Hong Kong Film (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2017), p. 25.
[21] Andrew Tudor, Monsters and Mad Scientists: A Cultural History of the Horror Movie (Oxford: Blackwells, 1989), p. 19.
[22] Elisa Pezzotta, Stanley Kubrick: Adapting the Sublime (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013), p. 84.
[23] As Law Kar explains the term ‘New Wave’ in its 1980s Hong Kong context refers to a modernisation of film language, urban sensibility and new genres (and generic mixes) by young filmmakers who returned from overseas studies. The films “differed from the era’s dominant kungfu and comedy genres, used techniques that demonstrated their directors’ understanding of well-known contemporary Western and Japanese films.” See Law Kar, “Overview of Hong Kong’s New Wave Cinema” in At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World, ed. Ching-Mei Esther Yau (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), pp. 31-52.
[24] John Charles, The Hong Kong Filmography, 1977-1997: A Reference Guide to 1,100 Films Produced by British Hong Kong Studios (Jefferson: McFarland, 2000), p. 92.
[25] Kenneth Brorsson, “Bless This House (1988)”, So Good Reviews,
[26] See Elisa Pezzotta, Stanley Kubrick: Adapting the Sublime (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013); Graham Allen, “The Unempty Wasps’ Nest: Kubrick’s The Shining, Adaptation, Chance, Interpretation”, Adaptation 8, no. 3 (2015), pp. 361-371.
[27] Catriona McAvoy, “The Uncanny, The Gothic and The Loner: Intertextuality in the Adaptation Process of The Shining”, Adaptation 8, no. 3 (2015), p. 359.
[28] According to Jung, synchronicity can be understood as an “acausal connecting (togetherness) principle,” “meaningful coincidence”, and “acausal parallelism”, which competes with Freud’s conception of ‘uncanny’ in trying to explain the same psychological phenomena. See C. G. Jung, Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle (New York: Routledge, 2013), pp. 84-115. As Jungian scholar Yuasa Yasuo explains, “Freud conceives of the unconscious as storage of past experiences closely related to the individual’s (or individual body’s) life experience (personal unconscious). In contrast, Jung thought that beneath the personal unconscious is the region of the transpersonal collective unconscious […] the domain where it functions has no temporal and spatial limitations”. See Yuasa Yasuo (trans. Shigenori Nagatomo and Monte S. Hull), The Body, Self-Cultivation, and Ki-Energy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1993), pp. 171.
[29] Joseph Gelmis, “The Film Director as Superstar: Stanley Kubrick” in Stanley Kubrick: Interviews, ed. Gene D. Philips (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001), p. 93.
[30] Stanley Kubrick, “Incomplete Annotated Text from Stephen King’s Novel ‘The Shining’”, August 26, 1977. Stanley Kubrick Archive, SK/15/1/2, Box SK/15/1_1, Archives & Special Collections, London College of Communication, London.
[31] Sigmund Freud, “The Uncanny” in Fantastic Literature: A Critical Reader, ed. David Sandner (London: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004), p. 76.
[32] Robert Aziz, C. G. Jung’s Psychology of Religion and Synchronicity (Albany: State University of New York, 1990), p. 74.
[33] As described by Patrick Weidinger: “The Kubrick Stare, sometimes referred to as the Kubrick Glare, is a common camera shot of an actor in most of Stanley Kubrick’s films. The Kubrick Glare has been called the ‘heavy-browed look of insanity’.” Patrick Weidinger, “Top 10 Kubrick Stares”, Listverse, Similarly, while discussing Jack’s “Kubrick Stare” in The Shining, Elisa Pezzotta points out in Stanley Kubrick: Adapting the Sublime (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2013) that “[h]is Kubrickian stare let the audience wonder whether he is crazy or possessed by the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel”, p. 168.
[34] Anon. “Inner Senses—The Fear of Being Alone at Night: An Interview with Law Chi-Leung”, City Entertainment Magazine, April 1, 2002, .
[35] Bono Lee, “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter: Lo Chi-Leung’s Inner Senses” in Hong Kong Panorama 2001-2002, ed. Bono Lee (Hong Kong: Hong Kong Arts Development Council, 2002), p. 82.
[36] At a symposium organised by the Hong Kong Film Critics Association to explain the film’s ‘inconsistency’, where its ‘no-ghost’ hypothesis is contradicted by the ghost figure that appears in the second half, director Lo and critic Deng Tu agreed that the inconsistency has much to do with a ‘genre anxiety’ common among Hong Kong filmmakers. Lo commented, “I had not meant to make a ghost film, what I planned was to emphasise the natural light when the ghostly vision appears, but I failed. The biggest problem with the second half however is that I did not treat it like a thriller film […] In Hong Kong, directors and producers tend not to believe that it is possible to make a pure thriller”. Deng asserted “in Hong Kong, the boundary between horror and thriller has always been unclear, most people conceive of the ghost genre as the thriller”. For details, see “CIA (Critic, Industry, Audience) Symposium – Inner Senses,” Hong Kong Film Critics Society, May 1, 2002,
[37] Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and The Politics of Disappearance (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1997), p. 42.
[38] For an explanation of the “aging anxiety” in Hong Kong cinema in recent decades, see Mirana May Szeto and Yun-chung Chen, “Neoliberalization and Mainlandization”, in A Companion to Hong Kong Cinema, eds. Esther M. K. Cheung, Gina Marchetti and Esther C. M. Yau (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015).
[39] After Rigor Mortis screened at the Venice Film Festival, when asked about the resemblances to The Shining, director Juno Mak expressed his admiration for Kubrick and the film: “The Shining is an immortal masterpiece in my mind, and Kubrick is one of my favourite directors”. See TUNGSTAR, “The Venice Premiere of Rigor Mortis”, Sina Entertainment, September 6, 2013, .
[40] Rigor Mortis stars Chin Siu-Ho, who was one of main stars of the Mr. Vampire (Ricky Lau, 1985-1992) franchise released during the Jiangshi ghost cinematic boom in the 1980s.
[41] Anon. “Interview: Juno Mak”, Time Out Hong Kong Film, October 5, 2013,
[42] As film scholar Greg Singh explains, “a robust post-Jungian account of film and its popular consumption needs to be grounded in the historical circumstance, social ontology and embodied experience of film and its forms.” See Greg Singh, Film After Jung: Post-Jungian Approaches to Film Theory (East Sussex: Routledge, 2009), p. 14.

About the Author

Yeqi Zhu

About the Author

Yeqi Zhu

Yeqi Zhu is a PhD candidate in Comparative Literature in the School of Liberal Arts at Nanjing University. She was also a recent visiting student in the Film department at University of Southampton.View all posts by Yeqi Zhu →