Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Floating City (film review)

Even in 2012, there still are denizens of "Asia's World City" 
who live on boats like these and are dependent 
on the sea for their livelihood

Floating City (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2012)
- Yim Ho, director
- Starring Aaron Kwok, Charlie Yeung, Paw Hee Ching, Calvin Cheng, Annie Liu, Josie Ho, Gregory Rivers, etc.

One day before his critically acclaimed 1984 drama, Homecoming, had its first screening as part of the Film Programmes Office's "100 Must See Films" program, Hong Kong New Wave filmmaker Yim Ho's latest film -- and 13th directorial effort to date -- got a general release in Hong Kong cinemas.  Sadly, Floating City doesn't look to have made particularly substantial waves among the Hong Kong film fans.  

Based on works such as Red Dust (which I actually still would rank among my top 10 favorite Hong Kong movies of all time), however, I really do have a lot of time, respect and good feeling for the now 60-year-old filmmaker.  Consequently, I was one of an admitted minority of moviegoers to make a beeline to check out this 2012 drama that's based on and inspired by the true life stories of people who rose from humble beginnings high up the corporate ladder -- with the added twist that they were ethnic Chinese who did managed to do so when Hong Kong was still a British crown colony. 

And while I have to admit to realizing post viewing it that Floating City is not a film that would easily endear itself to many people (for a variety of reasons), it's also true enough that I personally felt touched and moved by its story -- which centers around a man named Bo Wah Chuen (played by a number of different actors -- including as a young man by Calvin Cheng and a more mature adult by Aaron Kwok) who was was conceived as a result of a British sailor's rape of a young Tanka woman, then adopted as a baby and raised as one of their own by (other) Tanka fisherfolk.

As those who know me know full well, the presence of Aaron Kwok in a movie usually would be quite the turn off for me.  For a change, however, I actually didn't think he over-acted at any point in this work.  In addition, I thought the singer-actor displayed a surprising generosity and chemistry in his scenes with such as Charlie Yeung (who played his wife -- and with whom he shared at least one very tender scene that was so very full of love), Paw Hee Ching (who, if truth be told, nearly stole the whole show) and Annie Liu (essaying a role as a confident, cosmopolitan female that required the actress to be comfortable delivering lines both in English and Cantonese).

At the same time though, I have to admit to feeling a bit puzzled by his casting as Bo.  For one thing, Aaron Kwok (rather surprisingly) doesn't seem fluent enough in English to pass for someone whose professional success surely was predicated in no small part on his English proficiency.  For another, even with his hair dyed a shade of red, he just doesn't look "mixed race" (like the role called for) enough to me.

With regards to the issue of "race" (and/or ethnicity): When it's such a dominant theme and factor in the film, surely one also shouldn't push the envelope by casting the Eurasian (in real life) Josie Ho as a Tanka fisherwoman, not least one who morphs in her later years into Paw Hee Ching?!  On a more positive note: I was happy to see that not all white people were tarred with the same brush and depicted as (inevitably) racist beings in Floating City -- with the taipan essayed by Gregory Rivers having been infused with an admirable humanity.  Last but not least, I additionally found myself intrigued by the many almost ethnographic touches in the film's sympathetic depictions of the Tanka, a sea-dwelling people who have too often faced much discrimination by the landlubbers who have long been in the majority here in the Fragrant Harbour.

My rating for the film: 8.5

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

From the South Lantau Country Trail to Pui O (photo-essay)

In many hikes I've been on here in Hong Kong, one or two things about each of them will stand out and stay in the memory.  In the case of the late spring hike that began with my hiking companion and I going along the section of the South Lantau Country Trail west of Pak Kung Au, they were the steep descent down over 250 meters over the last kilometer or so of it and the part of the trail that passed an area where there were so many cicadas making such loud noises that it felt like their incessant humming was causing our ear drums to vibrate really uncomfortably!

I wish I could have recorded those loud cicada sounds -- but you'll just have to take my word for it about them.  Alternatively, here's beginning this photo-essay with one more view of the steep descent -- and a couple close-up shots of at least one of those noisy cicadas that were far easier to hear than actually spot, never mind photograph... ;b

As someone who suffers a bit from acrophobia, 
this steep section of the trail was 
one I had to take my time descending

A close up shot of an insect that's much smaller than one is likely to 
think it is upon hearing the loud sounds it's capable of making!

 The same type of insect viewed from a different angle

 View of Tong Fuk village and surrounding area
from the Lantau Trail's flat and easy Section 10 

 Running along a catchwater, this flat and concreted
trail nonetheless isn't without some nice views 

 Something that few people in the buses passing overhead
realize: part of the trail also happens to run under Tung Chung Road
the one roadway that connects north and south Lantau! :b

View near the end of the hike that includes parts of Pui O 
village and the Chi Ma Wan Peninsula's 303 meter high Lo Yan Shan

near our hike's end at Pui O -- and for those who 
didn't realize, yes, this really is Hong Kong :)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Golden hour shots from the Mui Wo to Central ferry

A photo taken from the upper deck of the 6pm 

As the sun moved closer to the horizon, 
the predominant colors got more intense and orange

Imagine a nice breeze blowing to add to
it all making for a fine time of the day :)

On the shuttle bus leaving the office this past Friday, a colleague cum friend and I were talking about our plans for the weekend.  The views from the bus windows revealed beautiful blue skies with big puffy clouds that were mainly white but she mentioned that the weather forecast for the weekend was for thunderstorms -- not something I wanted to hear since I of course was hoping for a non-rainy Sunday to go hiking once more.

On Saturday, the Hong Kong Observatory was indeed on the money with its thunderstorms forecast.  So it was more in hope than anything that I e-mailed my two hiking buddies the suggested hiking itinerary for the next day.  As it turned out though, Mother Nature decided to be kind of us -- for not only did we end up being able to go on a pleasant hike during which not a single drop of rain fell on us but we also got treated on our ferry ride out of Mui Wo (where we ended today's trek) to some beautiful views and sights of sea, sky and a number of Hong Kong's many islands.

The blue skies overhead during the early part of the hike were a welcome sight enough.  The many butterflies and other bugs and critters spotted along the way were often cool enough to merit our stopping and looking (and, when they were nice enough to stay fairly still, photographing).  And the 360 degree vistas to be had from the highest point of today's hike were quite something to behold -- and definitely worth the exertion required to get up to the very top of the hill on what was a pretty humid afternoon.

Still, sights-wise, the icing on the cake has to be the views to be had from the open portion of the upper deck of the ordinary (as opposed to fast) ferry on the way back.  As luck would have it, our slightly under one hour boat ride coincided with what is considered to be "the golden hour" in photography -- for good reason as I trust that you'll agree after viewing the photos at the top of this blog entry that I took during it today. :b    

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Creative and Famous Places (This week's Photo Hunt themes)


While wandering about viewing the many creative works temporarily on view inside one of Hong Kong's more recognizable architectural structures and landmarks, I got to thinking the building itself would be a worthy subject for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts this week -- and proceeded to snap a few shots from inside of one of those famous places whose exterior, like Hong Kong City Hall (my Photo Hunt subject last week), often appears in photographs of the Hong Kong Island skyline.

When looking this morning at the photos I took last week, I decided to go with just one and supplement it with other shots of the exterior to give those of you who aren't familiar with Hong Kong views of the building that got famously blown up in Gen-X Cops and also features pretty prominently in New Police Story -- two films that (coincidentally?) have actor-singer Nicholas Tse in their cast!

For those who are wondering: yes, both those exterior shots were taken from on board the Star Ferry.  And while I realize that it's considered a very touristy thing to do, there really still are times when I'm riding on them that I feel compelled to take out my camera and snap some photos of Hong Kong -- as well as reflect on how privileged I am to be living here in one of the most famous places -- and great cities -- in the world. :) 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The South Lantau Country Trail west of Pak Kung Au (Photo-essay)

The first year that I moved to Hong Kong, a friend I met through Hong Kong movies -- but came to realize is a major hiking enthusiast -- took another friend and me on an enjoyable -- even if longer than we had anticipated -- excursion along the section of the South Lantau Country Trail that lies east of Pak Kung Au.  Indeed, I had such good memories of that trail that a few years later, I decided to take my then regular hiking companion (who's since returned to Canada -- *sob*) along the same scenic trail on her birthday. 

Some months later, we decided to finally check out the part of the same trail that lies west of Pak Kung Au -- and since it's on the shorter side, continue hiking along a portion of Lantau Trail Section 10 and, for good measure, Section 11 too.  The result was another enjoyable hike -- one that offered up some beautiful views and also lots of spottings of cool flora and fauna; at least a couple of photo-essays worth in fact! ;b

Flower or not, I reckon this spiky looking thing
is worth a photo -- and more than just one glance!

 Mere minutes from Tung Chung Road, the trail looks 
rugged and the surrounding countryside unlike what 
many people would expect to find in "Asia's World City"

A view that takes in part of Tung Chung Road (on the upper 
left  hand corner) along with part of the southern Lantau coast

With just a bit of imagination, doesn't this look like
a collection of alien hands reaching out and upwards? ;b

The view was hazier than I would have liked -- but there's 
enough visible still of the Cheung Sha beaches to realize
how beautiful as well as long they are

It's difficult to see where the sea ends and sky begins, right?

Along the section of the trail that leads pretty
steeply some 250 meters downwards without 
much of a leveling break

With views like these, my hiking companion 
and I just could not stop for a moment or two
to enjoy drinking it in :)

To be continued... :b

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Impressions of Art HK 12

Works by Joan Miro, Roy Lichtenstein and more

Also at Art HK 12 were works -- like Tintin Wulia's Lure --
that effectively forced people to literally change their movements

Other works -- such as Daniel Buren's Photo Souvenir: 
From Three Windows, 5 Colours for 252 Places -- 
at the art fair appeared to invite audience interaction

My favorite "discovery" of Art HK 12: 
the Tale of Two Cities works of Fukuoka-based 
ethnic Indian Thai artist Navin Rawanchaikul

Yesterday and today, I've spent some six hours at Art HK, the Hong Kong international art fair that's grown better as well as bigger by leaps and bounds each year since its founding in 2008 as the Asian art and gallery focused Hong Kong International Art Fair. What with this year's edition featuring displays of works from 266 galleries from 36 international territories (including but by no means restricted to Hong Kong and Mainland China), there's no disputing that it literally was a huge affair -- and even the most cursory view of the art on display should convince people that this art fair is (now) a big (Cultural) deal.

For starters, whereas not so long ago, it was considered a really big deal to see a single work by Pablo Picasso or Damien Hirst at the art fair, visitors to Art HK 12 were able to view several works by major artists -- including, yes, Picasso and Hirst along with the likes of Edgar Degas, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, and Gilbert & George.  And while I spotted just one Ai Weiwei work at the art fair, Cong is a mammoth affair that leaves quite the emotional and political impact -- seeing as it consists on one side of 123 framed letters received by Ai Weiwei Studio from various mainland Chinese government ministries regarding his investigation of the 2008 Sichuan Earthquake and on the other of the name list containing the names of the 5,196 students who died in school buildings that collapsed as a combined result of the earthquake and poor construction methods.

Maybe it's my imagination but my sense, by the way, is that Art HK 12 contained fewer overtly political works than at, say, Art HK 09.  Instead, at the same time as there were a noticeable number of works by big name artists this year, there also looked to be a large number of works that did seem like they would be more at home in private residences rather than public museums, particularly those museological institutions out to make or offer up political(ly charged) statements. 

Put another work: Quite a few works at this year's art fair looked more like decoration than salient pieces of art.  Of course, having said that, it's not impossible -- witness Takashi Murakami, with his smiley flowers -- for works of art to both decoratively appeal and also have a significant artistic (and emotional) impact.  However, as a perusal of many of the works on view at Art HK 12 would have shown, it's really not that easy to simultaneously achieve all this!

And lest it be thought that it's only works by big name artists that stood out and claimed people's attention, here's pointing out that one of the more attention-grabbing works at Art HK 12 was Indonesian artist Tintin Wulia's Lure, an installation work whose components included a number of miniature "passports" laid out in a a winding line and attached to walls as well as on floor space -- the latter of which threatened to be stepped on and otherwise physically wrecked by many a visitor to the Osage Gallery's space at Art HK 12 as well as forced other visitors to literally watch their step and amend their movements within that space! 

While I did stop and spend some time amusedly checking out that creative work -- and even more time watching other people effectively interacting with the fun installation (which also included a claw vending machine with which people could try their luck at procuring one of those miniature "passports"), it was the work of Navin Rawanchaikul on display at Singaporean gallery's Yakuz Fine Art's booth that left the strongest impression on me. 

First time exhibitors at Art HK, Yakuz Fine Art opted to focus on the works of just one artist this year.  Approaching the booth, the first of Navin Rawanchaikul's works that caught my eye and attention was There is No Voice (3). A mixed-media work that looks like a glass cabinet with hundreds of small glass bottles inside, each of them containing a photographic portrait of a different individual, it got me thinking that there were spirits and essence of (deceased) people encased in each and everyone of the small bottles!  

Less immediately eye-catching -- yet turned out to leave quite the impact on me -- was a long letter written by the artist to, I'm assuming, his wife -- which lyrically laid out why he was in Hong Kong at the time (February of this year) and what he had been going out doing: namely, researching and working on the Hong Kong section of his A Tale of Two Cities presentation that includes two large acrylic on canvas panoramic group portraits of members of Hong Kong and Chiang Mai (his home city)'s small traders that had pride of place in the booth. 

The son of a small trader himself, Navin Rawanchaikul's works focusing on what Hong Kongers would refer to as "small potatoes" (i.e., the hoi polloi) come across as imbued with care and love.  And while he is a foreigner in Hong Kong and can feel a foreigner in his native land on account of not being ethnic Thai, there is no doubting the respect as well as affection for his subjects that comes through in the artist's evocative works, and -- this is why I felt so touched -- that this all sincerely comes from the heart. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Magical and City Hall (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

What do the three photos above have in common and to do with this week's themes for  Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts?  Really, truly, the answer does involve City Hall and the magical!  (But, yes, I think this requires some explanation.  So please read on...)

Before anything else, here's pointing out that Hong Kong does indeed have a City Hall (along with several town halls -- the latter in New Territories locales like Tsuen Wan, Shatin and Tuen Mun).  Also that between 1869 and 1933, there existed a City Hall building which looked very impressive indeed  But first in 1933 and then again 1947, sections of it were demolished to make way for bank buildings.  

The "new" Hong Kong City Hall buildings (that consist of the unimaginatively named High Block and Low Block) that came into being in 1962 were built in the International Style that I frankly don't find all that appealing.  Indeed, so physically unappealing do I find the exterior of the current Hong Kong City Hall that I've taken very few photos in which it is the subject in focus.

At the same time, their central location means that the City Hall buildings do almost invariably appear in many of the photos I've taken of the impressive -- and often magical looking even? -- northern Hong Kong Island skyline from the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront area down at the southern edge of the Kowloon Peninsula or a Star Ferry ride across Victoria Harbour.  

And while I'm not a fan of Hong Kong City Hall's exterior, I must say that I do go to that facility quite often to take in performing arts productions and -- during the Hong Kong International Film Festival -- film screenings.  Among the more magical performances I've been treated to at City Hall over the years have been a City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong concert with the amazing percussionist, Dame Evelyn Glennie, as the featured soloist, a Hong Kong Sinfonietta concert headlined by the incredible violinist Ning Feng, and a super energetic and energizing performance by South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo (complete with their trademark kicking moves!).  Oh, and yes, the Big Band Fests that the Saturday Night Jazz Orchestra (pictured above) have performed at have been pretty fun affairs too! :b

*N.B. I've linked to Youtube video clips of Evelyn Glennie and Ning Feng performances.  Especially if you're a music fan, do please check them out! :)

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

On Sai Kung East Country Park's Luk Wu Plateau (Photo-essay)

It may be only 4.7 kilometers in length but as the Agricultural, Fisheries and Conservation Department's hiking website notes, the Luk Wu Country Trail is a route for fit and experienced hikers.  One reason, as at least one person who checked out my previous photo-essay of my hike along that trail observed, is that quite a significant portion of it involves an uphill trek.

And I have to say that one section of the trail in particular may have the steepest incline I've ever been one -- one whose steps were less horizontal than they were sloped.  All in all, it was quite the effort to stand still and go along them, so I ended up not being able to take too many photos when I was on that particular portion of the trail -- alas!  Still, I trust that the photos I took during other parts of the hike will help compensate for their absence... 

  The kind of ruins I usually like to explore

...but after spotting the lengthy piece of dried, shedded snake skin
on the grounds of that ruin, my hiking companion and I decided 
against stepping into and spending much time within that space!

Look closely at the hill in the photo and you'll be able to
make out the outlines of the steep trail that we went up
a few minutes further into that day's hike!

Near the foot of the hill, my hiking companion and I
had to sidestep a wild/feral dog that had decided
to lie down and rest on one of the steps :O

It did feel good to be able to look back at that point and 
see how much of the trail we already had hiked that afternoon :)
Up on Luk Wu Plateau, there are 360 degree views 
of nature and, also, a campsite (complete with 
barbecue area) and toilet facilities!

 Despite the facilities installed there, I got the feeling that
not many people visit this remote part of Hong Kong -- and 
I'd include those charged with maintaining the country trails!

If so, it's a real pity as this really is a pretty pleasant
part of the Big Lychee -- albeit one whose pleasantness
stems in part from one feeling like one is far away from 
the madding crowd and close to nature when there... :)

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Common but still pretty photogenic :)

A moth so colorful it's easy to mistake for a butterfly!

Easy to spot, they like to congregate and
also are very good at staying still for photos! ;b

In contrast, tiger beetles seem to hardly ever stay still -- 
so I'm really happy I managed to get this photo of one today :)

Now that it's close to mid May, the temperatures have gone up considerably here in Hong Kong -- with one day already having had a maximum temperature of 33 degrees Celsius.  In addition, the humidity levels have gone up quite a bit this month -- and the air this afternoon was particularly thick with moisture, seeing that there were thunderstorms at around 9am this morning. 

By around 10.30am though, the skies had cleared enough that two friends and I decided to go ahead and go out hiking on the Sai Kung Peninsula this afternoon.  And while the 9 kilometer trail we elected to go on was easier than the ones we go on in cooler and drier weather, it still did yield some pretty vistas -- and a number of cool insect spottings.  (Incidentally, early on our hike, we also rather incongruously came across couples in bride gowns and formal suits out in Sai Kung East Country Park having their wedding pictures taken by professional photographers -- including on actual hiking trails as well as a country road!)

Re the insects: we saw quite a variety this afternoon but members abounded of two species in particular.  The first of these were fluttery creatures so colorful and beauty I had assumed were butterflies -- but, thanks to the powers of Google and Hong Kong Outdoors' Martin Williams, I now know they actually are orange magpie mothsA familiar sight on many a hike I've gone on in Hong Kong, I've especially noticed their presence on recent treks on Lantau Island as well as in the Sai Kung Peninsula.

The second of these is one of those species of insects that it took me a while to notice but after I did so, felt like they were everywhere in the Hong Kong countryside!  Previously identified on this very blog as a tiger beetle by Phil of Hidden Hong Kong (and Macau), I've able to more precisely identify the colorful species commonly seen in Hong Kong as the Japanese tiger beetle (aka Cicindela japonica) -- with the wonders of internet (re)search further yielding the information that they belong to an order of beetles that are the fastest land running animals on earth!

In light of this piece of information, I truly am delighted that I managed to get as good a Japanese tiger beetle photo as I did today (see above, please!).  An additional note for those who have not seen these creatures in the flesh: they can appear to fly as well as run very fast!  And yes, I really do they are pretty as well as fascinating to observe in action!! :b 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Scoop and Children (This week's Photo Hunt themes)

"You little monkeys!"  That's something I remember an obviously frustrated Convent school teacher of mine regularly shouting at the children she was charged with teaching Catechism class to.  But after observing the behavior of the Hong Kong monkeys whose range includes Shing Mun, Kam Shan and Lion Rock Country Parks, I wish I could reach back across the years and tell that older woman, "News flash (or scoop?): Actually, I really don't see that we children had all that much in common with those (other) primates!"  

For one thing, no way were we as maternal as many a female monkey (such as the mother in the photo the top of this week's entry for Sandi's and Gattina's Photo Hunts) can be.  For another, I reckon that we human children were a good deal noisier -- individually as well as in when together in a large group -- than the monkeys I've come across while out hiking here in the Big Lychee!

On the subject of large groups: the monkey population here in "Asia's World City" is so substantial that there really are parts of Hong Kong where there are more monkeys than humans.  On a personal note, I have to admit to not feeling all that comfortable when on sections of hiking trails where my party (which usually comprises just two or three humans) is outnumbered by monkeys whose "turf" we are passing through.  Also, I really hate that there are people here in Hong Kong who still don't seem to realize -- or plain ignore the fact -- that they are doing more harm than good by feeding the monkeys -- and that it actually is against the law to do so

Indeed, I wish the authorities would seriously clamp down on those lawbreakers, especially those who drive up in their cars and dump out food from there to attract whole hordes of monkeys -- seemingly just for fun. For, frankly, I find them more of a menace to society at large than even the monkeys that they've thereby effectively encouraged to aggressively approach humans with the expectation that they'll be fed by them -- and I sincerely do hope that the children of the human lawbreakers won't grow up and do the same as their parents who aren't setting them good examples at all when it comes to this particular issue.