I grabbed the popcorn and settled down to watch my new favourite American TV series, FlashForward. In a plot nutshell, it's October 6, 2009, and everyone on the planet simultaneously blacks out for two minutes, 17 seconds, during which time they get a glimpse of the future - of April 29, 2010, to be precise (that was once the future, remember?). Totally implausible. Totally addictive.
So when one episode took us to Hong Kong, it was exhilarating to see the city's stunning harbour and skyline. Disbelief, however, quickly replaced my delight when we zoned in on streets teeming with people - people not in designer clothes but, rather, conical hats and Zhongshan suits; people not driving luxury cars but riding rusty bikes. Was that a rickshaw?!! There were more outdated cultural cliches than you could poke a silk bamboo-framed parasol at (yes, these traditional Chinese umbrellas also cropped up.) Had we travelled back in time? No, this was Hong Kong, 2010.
Why does Hong Kong continue to be portrayed in such stereotypes? In the 2009 movies I Come with the Rain and Vengeance it's all drugs and crime, and a scene from the 2011 film Contagion shows a local school set in dense jungle and full of impoverished-looking kids. A quick glance at the global education league tables would inform filmmakers of the city's first-world educational credentials: Hong Kong consistently ranks in the top three while the United States hovers around the mid-20s.
I'd better not get started on Western movie portrayals of Asian characters. That's a whole other rant.