New film brings back Sars memories

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am


The portrayal of Hong Kong as a disease-stricken city in a star-studded Hollywood blockbuster movie which opens in the city this week may get the cash rolling in at the box office, but how it will promote 'Asia's World City' is debatable.

Contagion, directed by Steven Soderbergh, stars Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Marion Cotillard, as well as Hong Kong actors Chui Tien-yau and Josie Ho Chiu-yee, daughter of casino mogul Stanley Ho Hung-sun.

The story follows the rapid progress of a lethal airborne virus that kills within days. It begins with Paltrow's business executive getting the virus in a Macau casino along with others sharing a gambling table. She then takes it back to the US. Two days later she's dead and soon others exhibit the same symptoms and die suddenly.

Before long the virus has swept the world and thousands die. As the disease originated in Macau and Hong Kong, where it is now rife, a World Health Organisation worker (Cotillard) is sent to investigate but gets stonewalled by unhelpful Hong Kong health officials and ends up being abducted by a local man desperate to find an antidote for the virus that has spread to his family.

Spreading Across The Territory is the film title's direct translation from English to Chinese, one that underplays the controversial subject matter. For apart from reviving painful memories of the 2003 Sars outbreak - the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus killed 299 people in the city, emptied hotels and shops, saw millions don surgical masks and others flee abroad in panic - it hardly depicts Hong Kong as an attractive destination for travellers.

A number of Discovery Channel documentaries also bear an uncanny similarity to the premise of the film.

The Film Services Office (FSO) of CreateHK is the designated government office that facilitates location filming in Hong Kong. They worked closely with Soderbergh on the project, researching information about the public health system in Hong Kong and liaising with various government departments and public bodies on locations for the filming.

'According to the filming plan, Contagion is not a documentary on Sars but a fictional story about the spread of a virus across the globe, Hong Kong being one of the international cities affected by the virus,' an FSO spokesman said.

'The US crew conducted months of preparation work in ensuring that the filming of infection control scenes were professionally treated and they had the support and help of various public and private health professionals in Hong Kong and the US.

'Being a free city, we do not consider it necessary to vet the content of the film before providing film facilitation services as long as the filming is conducted properly and legally here in Hong Kong.'

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the movie team consulted the Centre for Health Protection on technical information last year during production of the film.

'However, we are not involved in the actual shooting of the film, nor do we know anything about its story,' the spokesman said.