Law Text Culture


Joe Ma’s Lawyer, Lawyer, a film about a lawyer’s attempt to rescue his former servant from a false accusation of murder in the colonial courts of Hong Kong, was released in 1997, the pivotal year of Hong Kong’s retrocession to China and a time when anxieties about the rule of law were very much in the air. A quintessentially ‘Hong Kong’ movie, it casts the comedian Stephen Chau – one of the most iconic figures in Hong Kong cinema – as the lawyer. The film’s box-office success can to a great extent be traced to its clever use of puns and conventions in Cantonese, the dialect spoken in Hong Kong. Moreover, as a film with a specifically legal focus, it resonated with audiences by raising relevant questions about the legal construction of Hong Kong identity, the place of English law in a former colony, and the future of the rule of law in the city after its return to China. This article attempts to establish a dialogue between law and film by arguing that Lawyer Lawyer can be understood as a post-colonial critique of the notion of the rule of law. It will take the work of the English jurist Albert Venn Dicey as its focus, for Dicey’s seminal writings on the English constitution is widely regarded as the key to the popularisation of the term ‘rule of law’ in the common law world. This article therefore builds on the existing literature on ‘law and film’ studies, especially works on the relationship between legal theory and film studies, and extends their frame of analysis to the ways in which the genre of film responds to the dissemination of English constitutional ideas to former colonies in East Asia.