Hong Kong has the world’s third biggest film industry after Hollywood and Bollywood, but its output is far superior. I visited the former British colony to see what inspired some of my favourite films…
Martin Scorsese’s The Departed may have picked up an Oscar for Best Picture in 2007, but the film is a dumbed-down version of Hong Kong’s triads v cops thriller Infernal Affairs. Much of the action takes place on the rooftops of Hong Kong Island’s skyscrapers, with dizzying views of Kowloon across the harbour. I couldn’t find a skyscraper willing to let me on to the roof, but Hong Kong’s second tallest building has an observation deck open to the public. With 88 storeys, 2 ifc has an amazing 62 elevators, and if you leave your passport at reception you will be allowed entry to the viewing gallery on the 55th floor – just be prepared for some serious ear-popping on the way back down.
The characters in Infernal Affairs are dressed immaculately in stylish suits and carry the latest in mobile phone technology. It’s tempting to stock up on über-cool clobber and return to the UK with a customs-defying suitcase full of suits, shirts and gadgets after hitting the hundreds of tailors and electronics shops in Nathan Road. Hong Kong is one of the most technologically advanced places on earth, with the whole city being WiFi enabled, and mobiles will work anywhere – up a mountain or on the underground, there will always be maximum signal coverage.
With his trademark urban thrillers full of quirky characters and innovative storylines backed by brilliant soundtracks, Hong Kong film director Wong Kar Wai is the man Quentin Tarantino has desperately tried to emulate throughout his career. His pièce de resistance, Chungking Express, follows the lives of working-class locals, with many scenes filmed on the “Central – Mid-Levels Escalator”. This is the longest escalator in the world at 800 metres, and links the residential area of the Mid-Levels, located halfway up a mountain, with the shops and offices at sea level. Running downhill in the mornings and uphill from 10am until midnight, a ride on the escalator is a must for any fan of people-watching as it passes inches away from flats, restaurants and bars. I tried in vain to spot some of the flats featured in the film, but enjoyed peering into living room, kitchen and bedroom windows on my journey.
The most successful Hong Kong film domestically is Shaolin Soccer. It’s possibly the best film about a kung fu master, a tramp and a pork bun maker forming a football team ever made. Catching a HKFA 1st division match is almost as funny as the film itself. I was lucky enough to see South China play the excellently named, but abysmal Wofoo Tai Po. This was comedy football at its best – at one point a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-style tackle pole-axed Wofoo’s centre-forward, so the physio ran on with a tool-box, while there were enough open goal misses to make Emile Heskey blush.
No review of Hong Kong films is complete without mentioning the legendary Bruce Lee, immortalised with a statue on Victoria Harbour and a waxwork effigy at Madame Tussaud’s at The Peak – you’ll have to wait in line if you want your photo taken with the great man.
There are more classic films I didn’t get chance to look into, so a sequel to my magical mystery tour will be shot soon, when the studio budget allows.