Monday, November 30, 2015

Q&A with River of Exploding Durians' director, scriptwriter and editor Edmund Yeo

Durians hanging safely from a tree -- and in 
little danger of exploding -- in Penang, Malaysia

Some years ago, when I was just a novice blogger, I got to know a young fellow blogger -- and fellow film fan -- who went by the moniker of The Great Swifty on the internet.  While taking in a screening of Days of Turquoise Sky by Malaysian filmmaker Woo Ming Jing at the 2008 Hong Kong International Film Festival, I was startled to see my friend's real name appear in the film credits.  But after I saw it, I figured that it'd be only a matter of time before Edmund Yeo directed his own film.

After his River of Exploding Durians (2014) was announced in the line-up of this year's Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, Edmund contacted me and invited me to a screening of his debut directorial offering (which he also scripted and edited).  After the screening, I admitted to him that I hadn't liked the film.  Nice guy that he is, Edmund didn't seem to take offence -- and even kindly agreed to do a Q&A about this ambitious dramatic exploration of various malaises affecting young Malaysians and their nation, parts of which I'm hereby sharing in this blog entry:-  

YTSL: What are the exploding durians in River of Exploding Durians meant to signify?

Edmund Yeo: Ourselves. Durians are so important to us Malaysians. They are the king of fruits. They also are like us: thorny on the outside, and needing a bit of time to get used to! And here we are, flowing on a river, to an unknown future, about to explode. 

The Chinese title of the film, Liu Lian Wang Fan, is also a wordplay: originally it was 流连忘返, which means nostalgia, but I changed the first two words into "durians" 榴梿忘返 -- so they literally become durians floating about, forgetting how to return. It's pretty much our current condition. 

YTSL: What did you want to accomplish with this film, and did you think you were successful in doing so?

Edmund Yeo: Most of my works are generally very personal and somewhat autobiographical. I had a story I wanted to tell, there were situations in the country that I wanted to depict, there were feelings and memories built up within me that I wanted to share. Therefore I ended up making this film. 

The longer I was away from my country during my adult life (two and a half years in Australia, another five years in Tokyo), the more I found myself curious about its history, and the normal everyday things that I have missed out while growing up. Therefore I made this film to remember things from, yes, a particular stage of my life. 

There's also our collective memories from the past few years coming into play here. After all, the backstory is loosely based on real-life events (the Lynas rare earth plant controversy). But instead of making this a film with an environmental message, I wanted to examine how these things impact the people, especially those who are at their crossroads of their lives, those who are on the verge of adulthood. 

What was I when I was about to finish secondary school? Apathetic towards politics, interested only in girls, yet finding myself inspired by certain teachers [YTSL's note: like the film's main male character]. In those days, with our education system, our teachers were like gods. The things they did, especially when it's something beyond just teaching something from textbooks, impacted me deeply. 

As for the second part of the question: I'm not so presumptuous to say that I have accomplished what I wanted to accomplish. In the end, once the film is done, I think I have done the best I could with the resources I had. The rest is up to the audiences. As for myself, once the film is out, I try looking forward to the next one, hoping to make a better work.

YTSL: Who is your target audience for the film? On a related note: has it been (allowed to be) screened in Malaysia?

Edmund Yeo: The film has been screened in Malaysia but I made the film knowing that I wouldn't have much of a chance of getting a wide distribution in the country.  Due to its sensitive content, the depiction of the sociopolitical situation in Malaysia, etc., a few local actresses had to turn down the Teacher Lim role, and I ended up turning to Taiwanese actress Zhu Zhi-Ying to play the role instead. 

So no, in its current form, the film is unlikely to have a wide theatrical release. We had a few mini-screenings organized by some nice folks from an environmental organization recently. Nevertheless, we are still figuring out the best way to distribute this film locally. Perhaps a new cut, or perhaps we'll continue touring on campuses.  

YTSL: The Malaysia depicted in the film feels foreign to me (maybe because of age difference and also because of language).  Are there schools in Malaysia where secondary education is conducted in Mandarin (rather than Bahasa Malaysia/Melayu, like I'm more familiar with)?    

Edmund Yeo: Yes, there are schools like Chong Hwa Independent High School (and other Chinese schools) which are not part of the national school system. The actress Daphne Low was actually from Chong Hwa, along with a few of the student extras. 

I can understand why it seemed foreign to you. I guess that's also one of the interesting things (for me anyway) about making this film. I found myself rediscovering the country. I had a Thai cameraman (Kong Pahurak) and sound recordist, so they brought in a fresh perspective when they were shooting with us.

We worked in a very organic, improvised manner; there were many happy accidents (I like to keep my shoots loose and raw instead of being too controlled), many discoveries. For example, I visited Cameron Highlands for the first time. Also, we found out about the 140-year-old parade that appears at the end of the film from a cast member, and deliberately made adjustments so we could shoot during that particular day. In many ways, I realized how foreign Malaysia had been to me too!

YTSL: Where did you shoot your film and what was your reason for picking the particular locations that you did?  (By the way, for the first couple of scenes near the water, I was mesmerized by how choppy the sea was!)

Edmund Yeo: We traveled to various places in Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya, Johor, Cameron Highlands, the seaside area of Kuala Selangor, the town of Sekinchan, we also went to the waterfalls of Ulu Langat. We shot for 15 days, so it was a pretty insane schedule!

Some places, like Sekinchan and Kuala Selangor, were places I was familiar with because I had done some short films and TV series there. Even two of the films by Woo Ming Jin which I produced, were done in these areas too. I like those places because they're so photogenic. And because we have long established relationships with the locals, they gave us access to their houses, factories and boats, etc. It's great working with them. 

The real-life Lynas event happened in Kuantan and I had considered shooting there too. But at the same time, I think my film is more an artistic representation of the issue instead of a factually accurate documentary. Therefore I didn't want to go to the actual place of the event, I wanted to maintain a certain amount of distance to make this film and tell our story. 

YTSL: Those moments in Asian history that the class presentations were on: are they real and if so, how did you find out about them? (Incidentally, these are the parts of the film that I consider the best.)

Edmund Yeo: Yes, they were real. The film has a lot to do with the suppressed and hidden history of the country, but throughout the time that I was developing the script, I also found out that our neighbouring countries had numerous painful, hidden histories of their own that are mostly forgotten, or rather, external factors prevented these issues from being discussed in the open. The Thammasat Massacre, the death of Liliosa Hilao, and the Karayuki-san.

I cannot remember whether these discoveries were made when I was writing River of Exploding Durians, or some other screenplays before that. Nevertheless, I was haunted by the videos and images I saw of those events and people for the longest time. I wanted to preserve this in my own films, because I think cinema's forever and we remember the world through cinema anyway. So that's probably the least I could do: to create more awareness of these things, to be a bit more conscious of things around us -- history's a cycle, I guess.

As previously mentioned, I worked in a very improvised manner.  While I choreographed the presentations and the camera movements, I really allowed the student actors and actresses to do their own thing. They brought a lot of things into these presentations which were beyond my expectations. I am grateful for that. 

YTSL: Be honest now: on a scale of 1 (worst) to 10 (perfect), how would you rate your film?  

Edmund Yeo: Usually I would give myself a 1! But that would diminish the efforts of the rest of the team. 

I put a lot of sweat and blood into my films, and up until its world premiere [at the 2014 Tokyo Film Festival], there was pretty much nothing else in life that would mean more to me than completing the film. After I first saw it on the big screen during the world premiere, I found myself crying (although I was pretending to just wipe sweat off my face 'cos, you know, my actors were sitting next to me)! The crying had nothing to do with the film itself, but more because I was relieved it was finally done and I could move on. It was quite an intense journey that we had taken to get there. 

The film itself, I feel oddly detached towards. I have not seen it in its entirety on the big screen since the world premiere last year. Maybe I got tired of it because I edited it myself too! (laughs) I think once the film is done, it's really out of my hands. However it's received by viewers is up to them. I'm just gonna respect their opinions. I know quite well that with its methodical pacing and unconventional structure, and the uncompromising subject matter, it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea. Just like my previous short films.

River of Exploding Durians will always mean something to me because it's my first feature film. After so many years of doing short films and producing feature films by other directors, the feeling of making my first feature is pretty different. I always loved the journey more than the destination itself. The process, for me, was a thorough joy. Now I just want to make my next film and hope it's better. (smiles) 

YTSL: What's next on the horizon for you?

Edmund Yeo: For the past year I was working on a documentary about the 1949 Malayan Thomas Cup team. The Thomas Cup is the biannual "World Cup" of badminton.  Its first edition was held in 1949. A ragtag Malayan team took a one-month boat journey to the United Kingdom to play, and ended up winning the whole thing!

I'm now in Tokyo, preparing for a Japanese short film starring the actress Fujii Mina and the actor Yuki Kubota. It's a love story of perpetual missed chances. I'm shooting that next week, hopefully it'll be fun.

I'm also helping to produce my partner Woo Ming Jin's next film projects. (We both run a production company called Greenlight Pictures, and had been working together since 2007).
I've also been writing the follow up to River of Exploding Durians. It's a story that spans a century, following four generations of a family. I think it'll be set in Japan and Malaysia. Some characters from River of Exploding Durians will appear in it, because we have different stories to tell during different stages of our lives. (smiles once more)


A big thank you to Edmund for answering my questions in such a detailed and interesting way.  I wish him the best in his filmmaking career -- and do hope that I will like his next feature film, and the ones after that. :)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

In praise of Hong Kong's old boulder trackways

A boulder trackway laid out by villagers of yore
and still very much usable today
Far less usable though are the ruined buildings found along 
a section of the Pak Kong to Mui Tsz Lam ancient trail
I hiked with two friends from Tai Shui Tseng, on the outskirts of Sai Kung town, to Tai Shui Hang, on the outskirts of Ma On Shan town, this afternoon.  For much of the hike, we walked along old boulder trackways which connected villages and market towns before the development of Hong Kong's modern road and rail systems.    
The exact age of these ancient trails is not known but the majority, if not all, of them are thought to pre-date the arrival of the British in these parts, not just Hong Kong's 1997 handover by Britain to China.  Often following natural contours and/or stream and water courses, going over passes and along ridgeways, their routes are often scenic and pass by villages, abandoned and/or still in use.
In recent years, some portions of these old boulder trackways -- including sections of the Yuen Tsuen Ancient Trail laid out and used in the olden days by residents of the market towns of Yuen Long and Tsuen Wan, and areas in between -- have been paved over by the authorities.  The main reason for there doing so is because of their fear that these old paths made of carefully arranged boulder and stones are not all that safe or stable because those who laid them out did not use concrete.
Admittedly, there are times when I've worried about slipping and falling on some of the steeper old boulderpaths in areas that get little sunlight because of thick tree cover, whose surfaces are liable to get covered by moss and other fungal growth.  But I've actually tended to find these ancient trails to be in remarkably good condition, and more pleasant to walk on than newer, super concreted paths.

In any case, I often actively look to hike on trails where one can go along these old paths and often feel like one's stepping back in time, particularly when passing old terraced agricultural fields and villages (which, more often or not, have been abandoned).  And I don't think it a coincidence that my friends and I enjoyed the portion of our hike today that took us to Mui Tsz Lam along an old boulder trackway more than the more modern roadway out of that village towards Ma On Shan new town.  

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Charmed by Cheung Chau

A dog frolicks on Cheung Chau's Tung Wan Beach
on a lovely day with such high visibility that one can
clearly see Hong Kong Island in the distance
A view that takes in Cheung Chau's reclining rock
and the concrete path leading to a nearby lookout pavilion
We got to see the setting sun turning the sky beautifully orange and red
Earlier today, I took part in a beach cleanup on Cheung ChauThis wasn't the first time I had taken part in a beach cleanup on what may well be my favorite of Hong Kong's outer islands.  Neither was it the first time I had gone to that which has been nicknamed Dumbbell Island (due to its shape) this week -- for I had taken a cousin of mine who's visiting Hong Kong (from Singapore, where she lives and works) there for a yummy seafood lunch at Hong Kee and bonus island exploration a couple of days ago.
My cousin commented later that she's pretty sure that most Malaysians and Singaporeans who come to Hong Kong for a holiday would ever think of visiting Cheung Chau.  (Instead they tend to stick to the central sections of Hong Kong Island and the Yau Tsim Mong section of the Kowloon Peninsula for their dining as well as shopping "needs".)
I'm sure she agrees that this is a pity since she appeared very much charmed by this island which is home to many interesting temples (including the Pak Tai Temple of Cheung Chau Bun Festival fame), a few nice beaches (not all of them as terribly dirty as poor old Tung Wan Tsai (AKA Coral Beach), which gets more than its rubbish being directed there by the currents) and scenic paths to hike on or stroll along as well as a number of seaside restaurants specializing, not surprisingly, in seafood. 
In the few hours that the two of us were on Cheung Chau that day, I managed to show my cousin quite a bit of the island; what with our venturing as far north as the Pak Tai Temple, as far east as Kwun Yam Beach, and as far south and west as the area near the reclining rock.  Along the way, she got a little bit of culture (via such as the visit to Pak Tai Temple) and a taste of the island's natural attractions (by way of our checking out a couple of its beaches and rock formations).  Oh, and not content with having a big lunch, we also got a stick each of the extra large fish balls that are a Cheung Chau specialty as the last thing we did on our island excursion that day!  
As an added bonus, on the ferry ride out of Cheung Chau that day, we witnessed the setting sun putting on quite the show, turning what had been still blue skies and waters when the boat left the island a glorious blend of yellow, orange and red before it all got dark around the time that we sailed into Victoria Harbour! :)   

Friday, November 27, 2015

Hike sights between Tsuen Kam Au and Ho Pui (Photo-essay)

The hike I went on with two friends one afternoon began at a place (Tsuen Kam Au) which I've been to lots of times already and ended in another section of Hong Kong (Ho Pui) which I've become pretty familiar with.  However, none of us had previously been on much of the trail we went along -- marked on the relevant Hong Kong Countryside Map as a clear line (denoting that it'd be easy walking) but turning out to be steeper and more slippery than I had thought it would be!

Worse, we actually were going downhill on that trail rather than uphill -- and while it does take more energy to go uphill, my experience is that one has to exercise quite a bit more care when going downhill.  As a result, this was one of those hikes where I took way fewer photos than usual. Indeed, it wasn't until we got to Ho Pui Reservoir that I felt able to go into major camera clicking mode, which was just as well since it really was the most photogenic area we passed through during our trek... ;b 

Early on in the hike, we were provided with a reminder of there being 

What appeared to be wild banana trees 
grew on the hillslopes along with other vegetation

This watery section was actually far less scary looking
in real life than it appears in this photo! ;b

As weird as it sounds, it's pretty much guaranteed that
you'll get good views near graves in Hong Kong's country parks!

A number of streams run into the reservoir at Ho Pui

For the most part, the water in the reservoir's fairly calm,
with the breeze causing just small ripples on the surface

 Some vegetation stay green throughout the year but others don't, 
and consequently help make the scenery look more colorful :) 

In addition, there is foliage in Hong Kong that
don't need the fall to come along to be noticeably red! :b

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Martinis and wanders down Memory Lane at Bar Butler

The cocktail that got me hooked on
going to Bar Butler

The cocktail bar's decor and atmosphere has grown 
on me with each visit too :)

Years ago when I lived in Philadelphia, a friend and I had a ritual of going to a neighborhood Japanese restaurant and ordering sushi to eat and vodka martinis to drink.  These days, I much rather drink sake when eating sushi (and/or sashimi).  But martinis have remained my favorite cocktail.

Not surprisingly, then, the very first drink I ordered at Bar Butler was a vodka martini with olives -- and I honestly think that it was the best vodka martini I've ever had in my life.  After I finished the drink and contemplated what to have next, the bartender at this Japanese cocktail bar over on Kowloon-side asked me if I had ever had what he called "the James Bond martini".  Although 007 has been known to drink vodka martinis and gin martinis, the most "James Bond-ian" of martinis appears to be that which contains vodka and gin as well as a French aperitif wine called Lillet.   

After I decided to go ahead and try this martini that I have to admit to previously not having heard of before (which goes to show how little I know about James Bond's world), I was presented with a glass of what I came to know is actually called the vesper martini.  Amazingly, it was even better than the best vodka martini I ever had -- and because of that one drink, I've been going to Bar Butler quite a bit more times in the past few months than I'd expect to go to a bar in a part of town (Tsim Sha Tsui) that I don't usually spend that much time in!

Everytime I go to Bar Butler now, I have to start the evening with a vesper martini.  But whereas the first night that I drank there, I had stuck to vodka-based cocktails, I've since expanded the range of cocktails I'm willing to try and happily imbibe; this especially after discovering that Bar Butler also makes cocktails using chartreuse, mezcal and absinthe!

While absinthe is one of those alcoholic beverages that I had long heard of but never tried until recently, I was introduced to mezcal and chartreuse at earlier points in my life -- both of them pretty memorable.  When I lived in Philadelphia some time back, I had a few friends who were Latin American specialists in their field.  At a party one evening, one of them brought a bottle of mezcal with a worm and volcanic ash in it.  Although that would render it undrinkable in the eyes of many, we went ahead and tried it -- and I, for one, found this smokey tasting (even without the volcanic ash!) distilled alcoholic drink to be quite palatable!

Years before I moved to Philadelphia, I went to boarding school on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in England.  One exeat weekend, the family friends I was staying with took me to dinner at the home of a couple who were good friends of theirs.  After we finished our meal, we chatted a bit and had some after dinner drinks.  That was when I was introduced to the 110 proof liqueur made by Carthusian monks since 1737 -- and also heard our female host disclose that she originally hailed from France, was Jewish, and was a concentration camp survivor (with a tattoo on her arm as proof).  

Almost needless to say, I think of her and the occasion that I had my first taste of chartreuse whenever I drink that herbal green drink.  And I think of my closest Latin Americanist friend -- who, incidentally, was the friend I used to go have sushi and vodka martinis with! -- whenever I have some mezcal.   And I love that I've been able to taste those alcoholic beverages again after all these years, in Hong Kong, thanks to Bar Butler. :)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The wonders of nature on view at Kadoorie Farm & Botanical Garden

A sleepy owl spotted one afternoon at the 

Uncaged as well as caged creatures abound at this facility
located on the northern slopes of Tai Mo Shan

So do a variety of flora, including these bleeding heart flowers :)

Some years back, when hiking in Tai Lam Country Park, I spied the distinctively shaped Kwun Yam Shan in the distance and decided that it was one of those Hong Kong hills and mountains that would be too steep for me to climb up.  After consulting an area map, my hiking companion that afternoon pointed out that there were toilets located near the summit of the mountain (that's been variously listed as being 546 and 552 meters high) and remarked that surely that was a sign that Hong Kong's 33rd highest peak wasn't that difficult to ascend!

Consequently, she, another friend and I went about going up to the very top of Kwun Yam Shan one winter day in 2011.  What with the hill being located within the boundaries of the Kadoorie Farm & Botanical Garden, that day also marked my first visit to the fabulous 148-hectare-sized conservation and education center that I tell myself I should visit more often every time I go there.

On that first visit to Kadoorie Farm & Botanical Garden, our main goal was to venture up to Kwun Yam Shan and enjoy the panoramic views from there -- and we did go ahead and do so, and not only from that mountain but also the even higher up, at 602 meters above sea level, Kadoorie Brothers Memorial Pavilion.  But before we did so, we also spent time in the lower area of the facility, where such as a raptor sanctuary and a wildlife pond (which is home to flamingos, turtles and crocodiles) are to be found.  

On my most recent visit to this New Territories locale with a different friend, I didn't trek up to the upper section of Kadoorie Farm & Botanical Garden -- and still easily found enough to keep us occupied for much of the afternoon.  Also, in view of how steep many of the paths on the hillslope facility are, we were glad that we had on our hiking boots, even though we technically did not go hiking that day! 

As before, the fauna found at this conservation and education center left me enthralled.  It's not every day, after all, that one gets to behold the live sight of a leopard cat and barking deer, even though they are indeed native to Hong Kong!  And although I have spotted kites in the wild, it's not usually up close -- so there is a thrill to being able to do so with those magnificent birds, related predators, and owls that I know are wild but also think are so cute that, when they stay still, could easily be mistaken for huggable plushies!  

In addition, the flora on view are often beautiful and interesting too.  More than once, I found myself saying to my friend that if a child drew a picture of this flower and that leaf in an art class, I could imagine him/her being told by the teacher that what they had drawn was not realistic because it was too unusual or unlikely looking!  Put another way: a visit to Kadoorie Farm & Botanical Garden will get one marvelling at the wonders of nature, and exulting over how incredibly creative Mother Nature can be. :)

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A rare Tsing Yi hike (Photo-essay)

Tsing Yi is a Hong Kong island which I pass over far more often than I visit; this not least because the MTR's Airport Express as well as Tung Chung lines go through it.  In fact, I could count on the fingers of one hand how many times I've actually been to Tsing Yi -- and on my first visit there, more than two years after moving to Hong Kong, I actually didn't venture outdoors even for a minute as I had gone there to hang out with Hello Kitty and co at the temporary Sanrio Village that had been installed in an area mall!  

Even after hearing of the existence of the Tsing Yi Nature Trails, I didn't think much about doing any hiking on the island since that official trail is just 4 kilometers long.  But one weekend after recovering from a cold, and my hiking buddy from problems with his knees, he and I figured we could go there for what would be a fairly easy excursion, even after we tacked on a stroll along the waterfront promenade from the MTR station to the official trailhead at Cheung Shue Tau... ;)

A view of Tsuen Wan (including its Nina and Teddy Towers)
from Tsing Yi's waterfront promenade
Signage that's more artistic than usual? ;b
This short hike gives a bit of a workout
since there are many stairs to climb along it!
One of the three pavilions in the area marks the 
northwestern end point of the trails

Not the usual sight one expects to see (or photo one expects
to take) while hiking on a designated nature trail ;)
Some day, I'll go back there to get a better view of
the Tsing Ma Bridge than we got that hazy afternoon :S
As things stood, conditions that afternoon made one of the oil depots 
on the island appear more visually attractive that day!
 Still, lest there be any doubt, there were indeed some
interesting natural sights (such as those thin-trunked trees)
on view in Tsing Yi that afternoon ;b

Monday, November 23, 2015

She Remembers, He Forgets -- and we dream? (Film review)

The iconic geological formation known as Lion Rock
is visible in the background of more than one scene in

She Remembers, He Forgets (Hong Kong, 2015)
- Adam Wong, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Saville Chan)
- Starring: Miriam Yeung, Jan Lam, Cecilio So, Ng Siu Hin, Neo Yau

Although I've checked out my share of Hong Kong movies in the past few months (especially if one includes Hong Kong-mainland China co-productions like Mabel Cheung's A Tale of Three Cities, Johnnie To's Office and John Woo's The Crossing II), it wasn't until I viewed this latest offering from Adam Wong (The Way We Dance) that I got to remembering how it feels to love a new Hong Kong film I just saw.

She Remembers, He Forgets opens with panoramic views of Hong Kong shot from above that are so breathtakingly beautiful that the viewer might find it difficult to take in the credits appearing atop of them.  Pretty much from the get go then, the signs are there that the makers of this film have a love for their native territory; this even when there are those who maintain that "Hong Kong is not a place for dreamers" and others want to leave the Fragrant Harbour, believing that better futures are to be had elsewhere in the world.

Part of this sentimental dramatic offering takes place in the present day, with the focus in those scenes being on a not particularly happily married middle-aged couple.  Travel agent Gigi (Miriam Yeung) has not gone on a holiday with her designer husband, Shing Wah (Jan Lamb), for five years now.  This wouldn't matter so much if they didn't spend so little time together at home that Gigi seems to talk more to her pet cockatoo than her spouse and often doesn't know what the latter is up to, and even where in mainland China he's been for business.

A high school reunion dinner gets Gigi thinking back to those days at school when she (played as a teenager by Cecilia So), the more fun-loving Shing Wah (played as a teenager by Neo Yau) and another student, the brainy Bok Man (Ng Siu Hin), were well nigh inseparable.  Inevitably, she gets to wondering what became of Bok Man, who had aspired to become an airline pilot, and whom both she and Shing Wah lost contact with years ago -- and whether she had made the right choice of man to live her life with.    

Considering what a superstar she actually is and how much of an entertainment industry veteran he is, Miriam Yeung and Jan Lamb are utterly convincing as an everyday Hong Kong couple, with unfulfilled (in Gigi's case) and seemingly plain forgotten (in Shing Wah's case) dreams and ambitions.  But She Remembers, He Forgets soars less because of their performances but due to the younger trio of Cecilia So, Neo Yau and Ng Siu Hin -- the latter two of whom were making their feature film debuts in this movie -- having so very ably shouldered the responsibility of being the heart and soul of this admirably sincere offering.

Put another way: the main events in She Remembers, He Forgets are those set in the past and give a good sense of what it was like to grow up in the last few years before Hong Kong was handed back to China.  Beautifully shot in such a way that even those who didn't live in Hong Kong in 1992 will be swept by a wave of nostalgia, the scenes depicting the adolescent Gigi, Shing Wah and Bok Man's schooldays are filled with lots of interesting details, and imaginative inventions credited to the two boys.

But while there's much to look back with fondness, it also can be painful to see what was thought possible then but has turned out to not be, both personally but also politically.  I'd wager that the more you love Hong Kong, the more She Remembers, He Forgets will come across as a bittersweet work, albeit one whose makers remain hopeful that some childhood dreams can be rekindled in adulthood even while others have to be left as memories of what could and might have been. 

My rating for this film: 8.0

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Hong Kong Island hike with plenty of sea views

There were lots of people out in the water at Big Wave Bay
this unseasonably hot November afternoon!
Over at Tai Tau Chau, a woman and her two dogs enjoyed
the sea breeze and the sight of a boat sailing in the blue sea
This afternoon, a friend and I set off on a hike from Siu Sai Wan.  The original plan was to ascend from sea level there all the way up to 312-meter-high Pottinger Peak.  But after we got up to a view compass about 100 meters below the top of the hill that provided us with panoramic views of the sea, we decided to get closer to the water and proceeded to make our way to a couple of seaside locales over on the southeastern end of Hong Kong Island.

First up, down on the other side of Pottinger Peak, was Big Wave Bay.  Long before we got close to sea level, we could already see that there were lots of surfers and swimmers in the bay's waters as well as lots of sunbathers frolicking and sunning themselves on its sandy beach.  Close to the site at Big Wave Bay where prehistoric rock carvings can be found, we also got to noticing a few paragliders floating in the sky post their having jumped off Dragon's Back!      
At Big Wave Bay, we saw the temperature being posted as being 27 degrees Celsius (80.6 degrees Fahrenheit) but honestly felt like it was even hotter than that!  Rather than call it a day as far as our hike was concerned however, we pressed on -- this time along a paved road to Shek O, then across a bridge over to the nearby island of Tai Tau Chau, where we spotted still more paragliders making their way down to Shek O's Rocky Bay Beach from Dragon's Back
Most of the time at Tai Tau Chau, however, our eyes were focused on the beautiful blue sea (and the bigger waves that splashed around the water's edge than over at Big Wave Bay), and also Tai Tau Chau's rugged and interestingly shaped rocks.  And while it was the surfers' antics that made for enthralling watching over at Big Wave Bay, over in this area, it was sailing boats and other watercraft passing seemingly tranquilly by that tended to catch the eye.
Unlike a previous occasion when I visited the area, the waters off Big Wave Bay actually didn't look polluted this afternoon.  Still, I was content not to venture into the water but, rather, just enjoy views of it, preferably from higher land.  If nothing else, today confirmed that I really do prefer the hills to the sea -- but definitely do appreciate views of the sea while out hiking. :) 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Surprises abound at King Yin Lei, the Chinese Renaissance style mansion in the Mid-Levels

I finally visited King Yin Lei earlier today :) 

Color and decorative features abound at King Yin Lei

Ornate decoration on the ceiling of one of its rooms

Did you know that there's a swimming pool
within the grounds of King Yin Lei? :O

Pretty much every time I take a bus up to Victoria Gap or Wan Chai Gap (almost invariably for a hike), I make sure to look out for the distinctive mansion known as King Yin Lei.  Built in what's known as the Chinese Renaissance style (like St Mary's Church in Causeway Bay) in 1937 and originally given the name Hei Lo, it was designed by a British architect (A. R. Fenton-Rayen) and became one of the first residences in the Mid-Levels to be home to an ethnic Chinese family (with a woman named Li Po Lun as its owner).

In September 2007, there was much public outcry when it looked like King Yin Lei was going to be demolished so the land it was on would be redeveloped.  By the Hong Kong government stepped in to prevent this happening, windows and doors had been smashed, the roof had been stripped of its glazed tiles and quite a bit of other destruction had been wreaked on the building.  Belatedly declared a monument in July 2008, restoration work on the mansion commenced in September of that year and finally completed in December 2010.  

A few years ago, King Yin Lei began being open to the public -- but only on a few designated days in the year.  A few weeks ago, I finally got a ticket for one of its Public Open Days and earlier today, paid my first ever visit to this mansion that's a prime example of Hong Kong-style "East meets West" architecture.

As I walked through King Yin Lei's main gate, almost the first thing that caught my eye was a swimming pool -- which I previously had no idea it had, since it's not visible from the bus!  Also not visible from the bus was King Yin Lei's subsidiary buildings, including a small pavilion and a subsidiary building whose ceiling decoration reminded both a friend I was with and myself of the Long Corridor of Beijing's UNESCO World Heritage-listed Summer Palace

The surprises continued after I entered King Yin Lei's main building.  Among the features that stood out as unusual was the modest size of the master bedroom (especially in the context of the large size of the mansion as a whole), the one bathroom we got to see having a disarmingly pink and lavender color scheme, and the antiseptic looking kitchen being placed on the middle floor of the building rather than the ground floor, as would seem more normal!

I'd love to have gotten explanations of what was behind those architectural decisions -- and whether what we saw conformed to the original interior arrangement of the mansion.  Sadly, although there were designated docents about, all of the queries -- including how many rooms were on the upper-most floor of the building that's completely off limits to the public --  that I and my friends asked got nothing more than "I don't know" responses.  And although there were a number of information panels in a few of the rooms of the main building and also what was King Yin Lei's garage, there was much less information about the history of the mansion and the people who had lived in it than there was about the restoration work that had been undertaken.    

Upon entering the grounds of King Yin Lei this afternoon, I had been given an information pamphlet and four souvenir postcards.  While I think this a nice gesture, I really would have welcomed getting more information about the place, particularly that which would have helped me to better imagine what life was like there when it was an actual residence.  

As it is, I have to just speculate as to whether the kitchen was located so close to the master bedroom because a head of one of the families that lived there had been an invalid for at least some of his or her years and thus bed-ridden.  I'd also like to know the story behind why there's a religious altar placed on a wall in the garage and another placed in a prominent in one of the central ground floor rooms of the mansion -- neither of them being the usual places to find religious altars in a Hong Kong home.  Heck, I wish I knew why the decision was made to have King Yin Lei built in the Chinese Renaissance rather than a more conventional Western or Chinese style.

Put another way: My visit to King Yin Lei made me more interested and curious about the place and its owners, particularly the original one who had commissioned its construction.  And I hope that now that the mansion's been physically restored and it's been made open -- on selected days -- to the public, efforts can be made to inform people more about this heritage site, and in an interesting way that makes history come alive.