Film industry should be a star of the Hong Kong story

Peter Kammerer says a promenade featuring celebrities' handprints and the odd tribute to notable artists do not do justice to the industry's reach

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 July, 2013, 3:42am

If, as a child, I had been asked what Hong Kong was famous for, I would have responded without hesitation: "toys". Spontaneity isn't so easy all these years later and there's a temptation to resort to the un-exportable, "harbour views" and "skyscrapers". But with thought and perspective, the reaction is "movies". Which then leads to the question: why is there no museum dedicated to celebrating what the world knows us best for?

It's been a matter of curiosity to me since being asked a few years ago by an American tourist couple where the Bruce Lee museum was located.

I had to bring them down to earth by saying that all Hong Kong has to show for its most famous son beyond his movie output and a martial arts form he invented is a bronze statue on the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui. The 440-metre harbourside promenade on which it stands, marked by inscriptions and plaques, some bearing handprints and signatures, is the lone monument to our famed century-old film industry. On a typically humid summer's day, the rain pounding down and pollution hanging heavily, there's no less desirable place.

The plaques - some just bearing a name - tell us little about the celebrities. There are no video clips or stills, costumes and set props, or more than the vaguest of biographies. A photo can be snapped beside Lee's larger-than-life figure, but there's not much pleasure to be had staring down at director John Woo Yu-sen's handprint. The film industry has been immensely creative and given endless pleasure to people the world over, yet the art, passion and skill of those productions is missing in this barren place.

The list of those worthy of permanent exhibition space is long. Among picks beyond Lee and Woo are Linda Lin Dai, Maggie Cheung Man-yuk, Wong Kar-wai and Tony Leung Chiu-wai. Special mention goes to Chow Yun-fat, seen recently in Central by a friend. There is no more approachable celebrity: my friend asked for a photo and the star of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon went one better, holding her camera with an outstretched arm and taking a cheek-to-cheek shot.

The film industry has given endless pleasure to people the world over

From time to time, the Heritage Museum at Sha Tin and the Hong Kong Film Archive in Sai Wan Ho make amends with a temporary display dedicated to a particular artist. The 40th anniversary of Lee's death on Saturday kick-started a year of remembrance with the launching of an exhibition at the museum and a trail marking landmarks in his life. But although the star was important to the action film genre and gaining Hong Kong cinema a wider audience, he is just one part of a diverse industry. A paved walkway, no matter how nice the views from it, and a one-off show don't do justice to what has been created.

A dedicated museum would, though - and what better place than the West Kowloon Cultural District? Alas, there is no such provision in the stage one plans, despite the minimum HK$21.6 billion price tag. The closest we would get could be an exhibition or two in M+, the visual culture museum, although its acquisition policy of having a "more recent and more global concept of art" does not auger well for representation of locally made films. So low a priority for an art form that has been so influential and given so much to so many is, to put it bluntly, criminal.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post