From The Hip

The Dark Knight rises in Hong Kong

Batman may be taking up Causeway Bay's Times Square, but the famous superhero is far from a stranger to the Hong Kong cityscape

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 2:12pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 June, 2014, 3:44pm

Hongkongers passing through Causeway Bay this month may notice that part of Times Square has become a shrine to Batman, in celebration of the iconic character’s 75th anniversary.

This comes only a few months after a massive Spider-Man installation appeared in Tsim Sha Tsui’s Harbour City and Captain America stood near Causeway Bay’s Hysan Place.

In the case of Batman’s exhibition, there are numerous toys on display, two life-sized replicas of the Batmobiles in 1989’s Batman and 2005’s Batman Begins, and even a statue of the Dark Knight perched on the Times Square clock tower.

But while this exhibit may have been set up to commemorate an American DC Comics hero that was first born in the pages of 1939’s Detective Comics #27, several decades of international exposure thanks to movies, television series, video games and oodles of merchandise have helped Batman transcend his born-in-the-US roots.

The character is now one of the most recognisable pop culture icons around the planet, and surprisingly, Batman’s love affair with Hong Kong runs far deeper than his current appearance in Times Square.

Most famously, Batman made a high-profile stop in Hong Kong in 2008’s The Dark Knight, the 18th highest-grossing film of all time. A South China Morning Post article at the time revealed that director Christopher Nolan had specifically chosen the city for its striking looks.

“Hong Kong is really an extraordinary place to take this character out of his ordinary environment,” Nolan said. 

In the movie, Batman (played by Christian Bale) infiltrates the Pearl of the Orient to capture Lau, a corrupt businessman played by Singaporean actor Chin Han.

While the Hong Kong scene only amounts to about ten minutes of footage in the final film, it culminates in an epic finale where Batman leaps from the second tower of the International Finance Centre into the first, crashing into Lau’s headquarters and extracting him before the poor HK police can even figure out what’s going on.

Watch: The Hong Kong scene of The Dark Knight

Interestingly enough, during his extraction, Lau can be heard speaking and shouting in Putonghua rather than Cantonese. While this may simply be because Chin Han’s Putonghua is better than his Cantonese, I’m sure plenty of people perceived the scene as a sly bit of superhero political commentary. Batman bringing a corrupt mainland official to justice, perhaps?

This interpretation - as well as the depiction of Batman forcibly entering and exiting Chinese soil to apprehend a Chinese native - prevented the film from being theatrically released on the mainland. Ironically, there were no such problems in Hong Kong, where the movie topped the box office, making nearly HK$60 million.

This high-profile sequence arguably raised Hong Kong’s international profile, and a number of critics, including renowned American film reviewer Emanuel Levy, highlighted the scene as “visually stunning”.

For true Batman nerds, however, Hong Kong and the Dark Knight have always gone hand-in-hand. On the action figure side of things, Hot Toys, an independent Hong Kong production house, has been producing intricately detailed pop culture collectibles since 2000. Shortly after the release of Batman Begins in 2005, the company’s insanely life-like Batman figurines became a hot collector’s item, racking up prices of up to HK$3,000 on auction websites.

Hot Toys later went on to construct several figures of various characters in the Batman mythos, all of which were used in a six minute stop-motion animated short that hit the web in 2012. Filmed by two Hong Kong directors, Derek Kwok and Henri Wong, Batman: Dark Knightfall went viral on numerous comic book and movie websites during the time of its release, attracting thousands of “likes” on Youtube and other video sharing sites.

Watch: Batman: Dark Knightfall

But feature films and collectibles aside, Batman first originated on the printed page, and in 2003, the character’s relationship with Hong Kong was fully acknowledged in book form when DC Comics collaborated with legendary artist Tony Wong Yuk-long on a graphic novel aptly named Batman: Hong Kong.

Known for his long-running martial arts epics Oriental Heroes and Legend of Emperors, Wong used his dynamic, colourful style to portray Batman in a sweeping, fluid manner that had the hero prancing from the tips of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers and battling triads in its red-light districts. Wong even created a local Hong Kong-based vigilante named Night Dragon for the American superhero to team up with.

Asia’s World City also served as the home base for Black Bat, a Eurasian former assassin who worked as one of Batman’s international contacts in later comic storylines. And most recently, at the start of this month, Hong Kong appeared in the ninth issue of weekly series Batman Eternal, which has the Dark Knight pursuing a criminal who’s fled to Hong Kong and caused a dispute between factions of the local triads and Japanese yakuza. 

So while Spider-Man and Captain America may have been the first to draw local crowds with their large installations, there can be no doubt that from films to action figures to comic books, Hong Kong has been Batman’s playground for a very long time – and frankly, the character’s adventures and dealings in our city have had a surprising degree of frequency unusual for an American icon.

Perhaps that’s why Hong Kong elected to have a 75th Anniversary Batman celebration in Times Square. Out of all the other superheroes to make guest appearances on the city’s streets, Batman probably has the most HK tourist stamps in his passport - and in all likelihood, he'll be back for his 80th anniversary in just a few years.