How accent reveals identity politics in Hong Kong cinema – Gladys Mac
In the Anglophone media, the incorporation of accents is an essential element to defining a time period, an ethnicity, a culture, or any other type of identity. While it may be difficult to imagine a James Bond with a non-British accent, it would be ridiculous if Queen Elizabeth II did not have a British accent in The Crown. Yet in the Sinophone world, accents are a much more complicated issue, making sound the most revolutionary technological change in Chinese cinematic history.
It is well known that there are numerous Chinese dialects, each region with a specific accent. For those who are overseas, these accents not only take on a dialectal flavor, but are also influenced by the local languages in which they speak. Dubbing over actors was a solution for the accent or dialect issue in the 1960s and 70s for cinema produced in Hong Kong and Taiwan, and is still the main solution for mainland Chinese films and television series today. For those productions that chose not to dub over their actors, such as Ang Li’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), the audio aspect of the film can turn out to be very distracting to an audience who understands Mandarin – forcefully directing their attention to the accented speeches of Michelle Yeoh of Malaysia and Chow Yun-fat of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong films and series that were exported to Southeast Asia used to be dubbed over in the local language, the practice of dubbing over accents for the local audience has fallen out of practice.