Sunday, November 30, 2008

Celebrity sighting(s) in Hong Kong

Although it may look like, this actually isn't
a scene from Hong Kong's Madame Tussauds! ;)

Recently, I received an e-mail from one of this blog's lurkers asking me, among other things, what the chances are of catching sight of celebrities in Hong Kong. I guess, before anything else, it depends on people's definition of celebrities -- in my case, I'd count character actors and people behind the camera (like film directors, producers, scriptwriters and cinematographers) among them.

If you can recognize them, I'd say that the probability is fairly high -- this not least because Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated parts of the world and many Hong Kong movie people are apt to do things that are regular and normal (yet one might expect their Hollywood equivalents): e.g., take public transport (and I don't just mean taxis either!), shop in malls, eat in the public areas (as opposed to private rooms) of restaurants (and not all of them super-expensive eateries either), attend performing arts events and attend film screenings.

Re that last activity: To be sure, the vast majority of celebrities I've spotted at film screenings have been at movie premieres -- which I have been fortunate to been invited to attend. However, the fact of the matter is that nearly all premiere publicity events I've seen -- like the one for Vincent Chui's Three Narrow Gates yesterday evening which the movie's star, veteran character actor Liu Kai Chi, showed up to help promote -- have been in public space and consequently effectively open to the public.

Also, while I do think it unlikely that you'll find many well known faces in the crowd for regular peak-period screenings at multiplexes, I can vouch for having seen quite a few familiar visages attending such as Hong Kong International Film Festival and other special film programme screenings.

For those fellow fans of Hong Kong cinema who are feeling green with envy though, will hasten to add that celebrity spottings do not occur daily in Hong Kong. At the same time, it's also true enough that it's happened frequently enough that I've stopped keeping the list I thought for a time that it'd be cool to compile and really have lost count of the movie personalities I've had the good fortune to see -- and, in some cases, also speak to -- over here in the Big Lychee... ;)

Getting back to Liu Kai Chi: What a week the man has had! I.e., not only did Three Narrow Gates have its premiere at the Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival yesterday but Lawrence Lau (AKA Lawrence Ah Mon)'s Ballistic and Dante Lam's Beast Stalker, two very watchable movies in which he figures pretty prominently, opened this past Thursday! :b

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Metal (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

I get the feeling that this is one of those Photo Hunts that is going to yield a diverse bunch of photos. This since metal, like plastic, is one of those constituent ingredients that pretty much is everywhere we look in those parts of the world where humans live, work and play.

For my part, rather than go out and take new photos, I delved once again into my now quite sizable photo archive for this week's contributions. More specifically, here are two photos -- one a close-up; another of it silhouetted against a sunny blue sky -- of the world's largest ferris wheel located in the Tempozan District of Osaka, Japan (that also is home to the wonderful Osaka Aquarium). (And should anyone wonder: of course, I went on it and yes, it was indeed a cool ride!). :b

Monday, November 24, 2008

Wan Chai foodie recommendation

Does the sight of this make you hungry
and want to come flying over to Hong Kong? ;b

Say "Wan Chai" to many people outside of Hong Kong and, especially if they're Westerners, odds are that this'll conjure up The World of Suzie Wong for them. Even among many Hong Kong residents, Wan Chai doesn't have the greatest of reputations. (There's a scene in the set-entirely -in-Wan-Chai Crazy 'n the City where Eason Chan's character tells Joey Yung's that, whereas Central represents "heaven", Wan Chai is "hell".)

This is due in large part to their being a number of 'girly' and other sleazy bars in this district of Hong Kong Island. And I'll readily admit that there are parts of it that I don't particularly like to walk around.

However, not least after having worked for more than a year in the area, I have come to discover that Wan Chai has its charms and attractions. E.g., from a culture vulture viewpoint, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Wan Chai is home to the Hong Kong Arts Centre and the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts that is the venue for many performing arts events as well as the alma mater of quite a few movie actors, actresses, etc.

If truth be told, however, what I find myself missing most about Wan Chai now that I no longer work there is the profusion of budget eateries serving some very tasty food at reasonable (by Hong Kong standards) prices. And so much so that I have found myself returning on weekends and even some weekday evenings to dine in the area.

Among the places I have returned to frequent is a modest establishment over on Hennessy Road called Yeung Noodle that, despite its name, actually serves more than one noodle dish. Still, if it only served the one dish I find myself pretty much always ordering when I'm there, I'd definitely be more than satisfied.

More specifically, here's recommending their dry egg noodles with slices of beef, a smattering of spring onions and a generous sprinkling of shrimp roe that comes with a complimentary bowl of hot, tasty soup. Together with a glass of dark chrysanthemum tea, the damage to one's wallet comes to HK$29 (i.e., around US$3.74). Not bad, eh? Except that my one caveat is that I can foresee those with larger appetites than mine needing at least two of those plates rather than being able to settle for just the one like I'm able to! ;)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Six Hong Kong movies

The past lives on in memories and cultural references

There was a time early on in my 'born-again' Hong Kong movie fan phase when I got to thinking I might never watch a non-Hong Kong movie fan again. Then, just a few years later (and ago), I got to worrying that I was running out of Hong Kong movies to watch...

Still, despite the downturn in film production and the cries about the death of Hong Kong cinema (which have been made for some years now), I've not stopped being a Hong Kong movie fan. Not even after moving to the Fragrant Harbour itself -- a move that, somewhat ironically, does seem to have considerably cooled the cinematic ardor of more than one person I know, including a fair few whose writings had helped me on my way to Hong Kong film fanaticism.

At the same time, as I've mentioned before, it's not like my movie viewing habits have not changed since coming to Hong Kong. Most notably is it being so that I hardly watch any movies (from Hong Kong or elsewhere) on video any more.

One reason for this is that being in Hong Kong makes me want to be out and about in my Movie Mecca a lot, you know? A second, sometimes related reason is that thanks to such as the Hong Kong Film Archive as well as myriad film festivals (among those currently ongoing are the Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival, the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival and the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival), I've got plenty of opportunity to see a diverse selection of films on the big screen.

So it actually was a bit of a shock for me -- who does watch a lot of non- as well as Hong Kong movies these day -- to realize that, as of today, the six films I've most recently seen all happen to be Hong Kong films. (To be sure, others would be more shocked, I think, by the fact that these six films have been seen in a period of just eight days... and it's true that that is way above average for most people as well as for me usually! ;b)

Since that no longer is that usual a thing, I figured that I'd should commemorate this with a blog post about that sextet of movies. So, without further ado:-

Ballistic (2008) -- The third cinematic offering of the year for suddenly prolific director Lawrence Lau (AKA Lawrence Ah Mon), this set-in-Taiwan crime drama-thriller with strong political themes and overtones will get Hong Kong movie buffs with long memories thinking Island of Greed (1997). In this case, however, the new surely triumphs the old in terms of the quality of the filmmaking and acting (by a cast led by Simon Yam who shows how he knows how to act, not just overact like in Johnnie To's Sparrow). And while it's quite obviously the case that certain concessions had to be made in order to try to make the film more commercially appealing, my sense is that certain scenes and messages still can't help but hit home -- especially for those with a familiarity of Taiwanese (presidential) politics.

My rating for the film (on the scale): 8 (And this despite watching the film in unusual surroundings which necessitated that the screening be temporarily halted for a few times.)

Citizen King (2008) -- I have to admit to having wanted to watch this film because of it having some cool faces from the past (notably the great Gordon Liu but also the criminally under-used Farini Cheung). But while they really are fine in it, there's no doubt that the two people who caught my eye the most while taking in this dramedy about a frustrated Hong Kong actor who smells a chance to head to Hollywood and decides to go for it for all it's worth are star and co-director Johnson Lee and Brian Burrell. Shot on what must have been a not at all substantial budget, that which might well be described as a darker version of My Name is Fame (2006) still actually turns out to have quite a bit of substance.

My rating for the film: 7.

Magazine Gap Road (2007/8) -- Watching this Nicholas Chin-directed movie about a woman whose past comes back to haunt her at the Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival made for an interesting experience. Truth is, despite that its Tuesday screening having been its Hong Kong premiere, I've seen it twice before and also did such as read its script (and -- full disclosure -- wrote its publicity copy). Despite not having been directly involved in its making, I still felt I knew quite a bit of the details surrounding the movie, the choices made regarding particular shots, music, etc. All in all, it made for a viewing experience that was quite memorable and, I can but hope, I will be able to repeat in the future.

No rating for this film (Sorry but I really can't give one for this film!)!

July (2004) -- There are people who think that Hong Kong movies and Hong Kongers are never politically-minded. Well, this Tammy Cheung documentary shows how much of a lie/fallacy those assumptions are. A moving record of the massive July 1, 2003 protest march staged against an anti-subversion bill (aka Article 23), some sections of it feels like history, others a still pertinent contemporary rallying call (even though Cheung's avowed style is to be less directly didactic than most other documentary filmmakers). Above it all, I came away with a sense that there really is a distinct Hong Kong people and that many of them are not going to easily become Chung Kwok Yan any time soon.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Eternal Love (1966) -- Like Hong Kong cinema, the death of Cantonese opera has long been heralded but it seems to continue to have its fans. Back in 1966, an attempt was made to popularise and modernise the traditional art form with a film starring some of the biggest teen stars of the day in Connie Chan Po-Chu and Josephine Siao Fong-Fong. The result was a fascinating romantic work that I found watchable (even if rather puzzling in its ultimate treatment of the stories' 'baddies')... even without English subtitles (like was the case with the version of it that I saw)!

My rating for the film: 7

Princess Chang Ping (1975) -- Before all that slow mo 'heroic bloodshed', two-hand gun-action, Mexican stand-offs and increasingly annoying doves, John Woo actually made a Cantonese opera film that centered on a real life female historical personality. Though made later than Eternal Love, that whose cast is comprised of The Young Phoenix Opera troupe actually is more traditionally styled -- especially with regards to it music and musical cues. And while I've read that it has its critics, it clearly also has its fans as can be seen by it being it being the first film I've ever witnessed getting a hearty round of applause at its Hong Kong Film Archive screening yesterday.

My rating for the film: 7.5

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reflection (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

While out hiking in Hong Kong, I've come across some beautiful parts of the territory. One of my favorites is Tai Tam Country Park, a section of Hong Kong Island which feels far removed from the urban jungle, yet actually is close enough for me to get there and back by city bus. In particular, I love the section of the country park where the Tai Tam reservoirs are -- and it is their waters on which one I saw and captured the reflections in this blog post (And if you like what you see in this Photo Hunt entry, do please check out more photos of such over in this earlier blog entry.)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Arts in the Park (photo-essay)

There are people who think that Hong Kong is a cultural desert. To them, I -- who, incidentally, have just returned from watching a wonderful play,
The Will To Build, that was staged in English and Cantonese with Chinese and English surtitles -- say: Either you don't know what you're talking about or you must be a truly demanding bunch of culture vultures. For believe you me when I say that I've been to quite a few theatrical works and classical music concerts as well as film festivals, retrospectives, etc. over here in Asia's World City. Additionally, earlier this month one Sunday, there was the free Arts in the Park (Victoria Park over in Causeway Bay, to be exact!):-

For some reason, Gulliver's Travel was the event's theme
-- hence a large Gulliver (as well as stage performances)

ending up in Victoria Park's Central Lawn

Also on display at the park for a time were
giant puppets that later were involved in a parade

Another colorful art piece on temporary exhibit
that later was a part of the parade

...ditto what amounted to a movable feast ;b

'Gourmet hats' that people learnt to make
at one of the Arts in the Park booths

Is it just me or is that a cone at the base of that item?
Next question: is it me or Hong Kongers
who seem somewhat food obsessed? :D

Part of the crowd -- comprised of old as well as young,
male and female, etc. -- that turned out for the event

A grandmother and grandson
enjoying the show together

Monday, November 17, 2008

HKU, Loke Yew and their links to movies

Glimpses of old and new
at the
university of and in Hong Kong

As some of my friends among this blog's readers know, I've spent more time at institutions of higher learning than is good for me. So much so that in recent years, I've tried to steer clear of such places for the most part. The past three weeks, however, have seen me thrice on the University of Hong Kong's main campus; once for work purposes but twice voluntarily.

On my most recent visit, it was to attend a classical music concert by violinist Yao Jue, pianist Cheng Wai and the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong at Loke Yew Hall inside the university's main building. While I enjoyed the performances on offer that evening, I have to admit that what has lingered with me from that night more than the music is the fact that the occasion provided me with yet more connections and associations of the kind that makes me continue to feel -- the latest cries and laments of the death of Hong Kong cinema notwithstanding -- that I am living in a cinematically rich space.

For one thing, Loke Yew Hall just happens to be named after the husband of Loke Cheng Kim and father of Loke Wan Tho, the co-founders of what would come to be known as Cathay Organisation, the film company that -- for a time -- was the main rival of the Shaw Brothers and produced cinematic gems aplenty, especially in late 1950s to early 1960s heyday.

For another, as a quick glance around the place will easily confirm, atmospheric Loke Yew Hall also happens to be where scenes of Ang Lee's Lust, Caution was filmed! (Remember, after all, that Tang Wei, Wang Leehom and co's Lust, Caution characters were University of Hong Kong students for a time; this in addition to such as Leon Lai and Hsu Chi's characters in HKU alumnus Mabel Cheung's City of Glass...)

And as if to truly make me feel like I'm living in a giant movie set, on the bus back to my apartment that evening, as we passed by the street that I lived until just a few months, I saw a film crew filming at the convenience store at the corner. Yes, really, just like that... and as such, gives this movie geek still more occasions and reasons to feel that she ought to pinch herself in order to believe that she really is living over here in Hong Kong. ;b

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ruin(ed) (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

As regular visitors to this blog know, I fairly regularly feel compelled to venture out into the Hong Kong countryside to be among greenery. And while there are times when it actually is possible to feel like one has gotten away from civilization, there are other occasions when some of the interesting sights spotted along a hike are actually human creations; albeit some that have been abandoned and left to go to ruin over time.

More specifically, more than than once now, I've come across ruined as well as abandoned houses in parts of Hong Kong that people look to have decided are just too remote to dwell any more. In one particular case, way out in Northeast Hong Kong, my hiking companions and I even came across whole abandoned villages!

As I think you'll be able to see from the two photos in this entry, these abandoned houses are in various states of disrepair. Indeed, for every one of them that looks really ruined, there are quite a few more that look like they actually still could be 'saved' if people chose to do so. Except this being in Hong Kong (where the new tends to get valued far more than the old), most people opt not to, preferring to let nature and time take their course and do what they will with them...

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pottinger Peak Country Trail hike (Photo-essay)

A friend living outside of Hong Kong recently e-mailed me to ask whether one can hike in Hong Kong all year round. The answer is a qualified yes; with the caveat that in the summer months, it really can feel too hot and humid to hike in comfort. So much so that in such as the month of June this year, I only ventured out on to hike on the easy (1.9km) Pottinger Peak Country Trail one public holiday Monday in large part because it had rained the day before -- a development which brought with it the promise of (relatively) clearer air and attendant great views that would make the hiking feel really worth while...

Early on in the hike, however, it was sights close to us
that captured the attention and interest
of my hiking companions and myself

Hardly the biggest waterfall in the world,
or even Hong Kong for that matter,
but pretty all the same!

Butterflies are terribly difficult to take photos of
so I was happy this one decided to
pause temporarily on the ground for me to snap!

Looking south from Pottinger Peak down to Shek O

It might look like a resort but it's actually
Cape Collinson Correctional Institution!
(As a friend has observed: many of Hong Kong's prisons
sure are in really beautiful locations!)

So colorful they surely must be poisonous! :b

One of those views that can be gasp inducing --
and trust me when I tell you that
it's even more beautiful in real life! :)

...and again -- this time looking north across
the harbour over to the New Territories

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Moved to tears

A couple of years, I looked on somewhat bemusedly as well as amusedly as a couple of my friends of mine had tears running down their faces at a Tsai Chin concert that I enjoyed immensely yet seemingly not on the same level and way as them. So I can only imagine how they'd react upon hearing that yesterday at the Yo-Yo Ma and HKCO (i.e., Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra) concert, the Chinese-American cellist's sublime music-making literally moved me to tears.

(And I also can only imagine how they -- at least one of whom I know to have an even greater love of classical music than me -- would have reacted to being at what is only the second concert I've been to in Hong Kong in which people gave the performers standing ovations. This, more than incidentally, on top of it being one which had ended up including three encore performances.)

The thing is -- usually, it's 'only' movies that can make me cry. And, in fact, in the past month, I've viewed a couple of movies that caused me to tear up quite a bit. After viewing the paean to motherhood that is Jacob Cheung's Ticket (2008), my eyes were wet with tears. So much so that I felt compelled to explain to a couple of friends I encountered a few minutes after the screening that that's why I may have looked funny (rather than because something bad had happened in my life recently)!

Nonetheless, my reaction to Ticket was mild in comparison to the Japanese tearjerkers supreme that are Always: Sunset on Third Street (2005) and its sequel, Always: Sunset on Third Street 2 (2007). In all honesty, I found myself weeping so hard when viewing the latter that I actually experienced difficulty breathing and, at the end of the screening, bolted to the toilet to throw water on and thoroughly wash my face! And often, these weren't even tears of sadness but of other emotions, including joy!!

Returning to music, in particular that produced by Yo-Yo Ma and his cello though: Since coming to Hong Kong, I've had the privilege of attending concerts featuring other famed musicians like violinists Midori Goto and her younger brother Ryu (the latter of whose concert I must confess to having enjoyed more than his considerably more celebrated older sister), cellist Trey Lee and pianist Joanna MacGregor (the last of whom was the first musician I saw earn a standing ovation in Hong Kong). But while I found myself admiring the others' virtuosity, with Ma, I really found myself feeling deeply moved by the sounds that he produced from his cello.

So much so that even though this weekend also has included a near-miraculous Arsenal victory over Manchester United and a wonderful hike on Lantau Island in ideal conditions as far as temperature and air quality goes, it's the concert that I consider to be its highlight. And yes, if there should be any doubt, I do consider this to be very high praise indeed!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Together (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

This week's Photo Hunt theme is one that has various meanings; and I believe that a fair few are represented in these three photos taken of Shau Kei Wan's Tam Kung's Birthday Parade this past May. For one thing, it is an annual event and festive occasion that brings people together to showcase their group and community pride as well as just be plain happy together. Then there's it being so that the parade involves getting people to work together (i.e., combine to work with each other and at the same time in organized groups) to perform feats like getting 'lions' and 'dragons' up in the air, moving a giant unicorn's head along a parade route or displaying colorful banners and large flags with pride.

(And for those who love seeing images like this blog entry's, over here and here are Tam Kung festival photo-essays by me for you to check out! :b)

Friday, November 7, 2008

Victoria Harbour views (photo-essay)

I've been in Hong Kong for over one and a half years but there remain many a time that I find myself scarcely believing that I'm actually here, never mind living and working in the Big Lychee. Among those moments which seem special to me (yet are thoroughly normal to many native Hong Kongers) are those when I find myself on a ferry on Victoria Harbour or even just plain near that body of water that I admittedly wish were cleaner, yet is one that's part of some beautiful as well as interesting vistas, be they viewed from Hong Kong Island-side, Kowloon-side or from a ferry crossing the harbor...

Classic if not for the lack of bright sunshine?
View across Victoria Harbour
to Central from Tsim Sha Tsui

View from aboard a Star Ferry of another Star Ferry
along with Tsim Sha Tsui landmarks like the
Former Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower
and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Another view from a Star Ferry:
This time one that includes the Hong Kong Island
entrance into
the Cross-Harbour Tunnel

View from Tsim Sha Tsui East which takes in
part of the Avenue of the Stars
harbor-side promenade as well as Central

For Hong Kong movie fans (especially of Needing You...),'
this Tsim Sha Tsui pier isn't just a regular cruise ship pier...

Now for something different:
View of the greener eastern section of the same harbor

from the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence
(go here to see more pictures from the same place)

View from further east and still higher ground
(and yes, it took a hike to get to this spot!)

View of Hong Kong at night
(from close to where the top most photo was taken!)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Hong Kong Rocks

It may not be shaped like a dragon but
Lion Rock still may well be Hong Kong's
most emblematic rock structure

As the proverbial 'they' say, time flies when you're having fun. And indeed, it's a bit of a shock to realize that it's been more than three months since I stopped writing (and editing) for bc magazine. And even more of a surprise to discover that the latest issue of the magazine has a piece written by me more than three months ago now as its cover feature article...

In any event, Hong Kong Rocks is the article's title but while I do continue to believe that Hong Kong does rock, actually the article really is about rocks in Hong Kong! And lest anyone wonder, of course I put in a mention of Lion Rock in the piece. Also, the famous Joseph Koo-James Wong song, the English translation of whose evocative lyrics can be found here (courtesy of the Lion Rock Spirit blog); excerpts of which include the following lines:-

Happiness is a certainty in life,
though there are times of tears,
Ever since we met beneath this Lion Rock,
there are more smiles more than sighs.

There are unavoidable obstacles in life,
Though journeys are without their woes & worries,
let's make this journey together
since we live beneath this Lion Rock...

...we shall find common ground
amidst adversities hand in hand,
Because together,
we are writing HK's success
amongst hardship with our hard work...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Blue (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

I'll not lie: When reading the theme for this week's Photo Hunt, I found myself wondering whether I could just point you to my Blue Skies in Hong Kong photo-essay that I put up just a little more than a month and be done with it! But, then, I figured that would be depriving me of the pleasure of going through my photo archive and hunting for some more photos with nice splashes of blue in them to put up this week.

While doing precisely that, I came across the third photo in this entry (with -- I think you'll easily agree -- its beautiful blue sky over Clear Water Bay); whereupon I must admit to thinking that, really, I might as well stop right there. But after some thought, I also decided to put up the first two photos even if they pale -- or, at least, seem less outright blue -- in comparison.

The thing with the first photo is that I really like that it shows how, what with the sea being blue as well as the sky, there are times and places (e.g., one afternoon while hiking out in eastern Hong Kong Island) where it's hard to figure where the sea ends, sky begins and horizon is! As for the second photo: some might describe the flower's color as more violet than blue but, all the same, what I like about it is that it's closer to blue -- my favorite color -- than the 'usual' (for flowers anyways) red, pink or yellow! :)