Cinematography in Motherhood: a Hong Kong film adaptation of Ghosts


  • Kwok-kan Tam Open University of Hong Kong



Ghosts, Motherhood, film adaptation, Hong Kong, Ibsenism, New Confucianism


This is a study of a Hong Kong Chinese film adaptation of Ghosts made in 1960. It deals with processes of cross-cultural and cross-media adaptation, and probes issues of how stage techniques are turned into cinematographic devices. Ibsen’s plays, except Ghosts, have been adapted numerous times for the Chinese stage and screen in Hong Kong and China. Unlike in China, the reception of Ibsen in Hong Kong is not meant for political purposes. In most Hong Kong adaptations, Ibsen is valued for the purpose of theatrical experimentation. Among the stage adaptations, A Doll’s House and The Master Builder are the most popular. However, there was a film adaptation of Ghosts in 1960, which has never been discussed in Ibsen scholarship. In this adaptation, Director Tso Kea borrowed the plot from Ghosts and made a perfect Chinese melodrama film highlighting the Chinese emotions and relations in a wealthy family that undergoes a crisis. In traditional Chinese drama, there is the lack of psychological rendering in characterization and characters act according to moral considerations. In Tso Kea’s film, the portrayal of the mother provides a new sense of characterization by combining Mrs Alving with the traditional Chinese mother figure. The borrowing from Ibsen makes it possible for the Chinese film to create a character with emotional and psychological complexities. Images from the film are selected as illustration in the article.

Author Biography

Kwok-kan Tam, Open University of Hong Kong

Kwok-kan Tam is Chair Professor and Dean of Arts and Social Sciences at the Open University of Hong Kong. He received his PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has published extensively on Ibsen, Gao Xingjian, drama, film, gender in literature, postcolonial literature, and New Englishes. <>.




How to Cite

Tam, Kwok-kan. 2015. “Cinematography in Motherhood: a Hong Kong film adaptation of Ghosts”. Nordlit, no. 34 (February):393–402.