Mong Kok’s Sai Yeung Choi Street - in Andrew So Chun-chau’s ideal Hong Kong - would be transformed into an outdoor theatre. A destination for tourists and locals, who would come to enjoy a diverse range of street performances, and learn about a variety of art forms.
The street would be organised by a licence system, and regulated to give space to each performer while avoiding traffic obstruction. And pesky salespeople peddling mobile phone packages or slimming diet plans would be banished.
It’s a far cry from the current situation in the Kowloon street. So has performed in various places around Hong Kong as Mr Funny for more than eight years. He has been arrested twice. His back is injured from the strain of juggling. But he will not give up until his dream is realised.
So lays out the benefits of street art clearly and succinctly. It is obviously a case he’s made countless times, to Legislative Council officials, political party members and even in court. Street performance attracts tourists, gives artists a much needed platform to showcase their work, and educates the public, he says. “When people see street art they feel happy and relaxed and this brings harmony to society”, he adds.
It’s this feeling of happiness that inspires So in his work. “It’s a two-way street”, he says. He is driven by the joy he sees on the faces of his audience, and their happiness rubs off on him.
So says the government is not doing enough to encourage street performance in Hong Kong. “The government doesn’t see the value and is not putting their weight behind this”, says So. He thinks it’s unfair, that Hong Kong is missing out. “Hong Kong people are international. Many of them have lived or travelled abroad. They’ve seen street performers, they’ve seen it on the internet, but we don’t get this culture here”.
His dedication to the art form has caused him to be arrested twice. “I felt quite sad, unhappy, but this was also an opportunity for me to reveal the injustice of the situation facing street performers”, says So. His first charges, in 2006, were dropped, but four years later he was charged again, and forced to defend himself in court. He spent five long days answering his case. “I couldn’t have done it without the support of my wife”, he says.
The judge finally threw out the charge, ruling that the Basic Law enshrines the right to engage in literary and artistic performances. The victory was a milestone, clearing up a grey area in the law. So and fellow street performers are now confident of their rights when questioned by police officers . So follows developments in the art of street performance around the world, always eager to learn new skills and show them to Hong Kong people. He was the first person to juggle fire in the city, as well as introducing the art of blowing big bubbles, he says.
So said the situation had improved since he started in 2005. People are becoming more receptive to street performers, more interested in understanding their work and more willing to pay money. The government is dragging its feet in recognising the cultural heritage of street performance, he says. But the scene is evolving, slowly and organically, and there should be a time, sometime soon, when Hongkongers will regularly gather to listen, watch and laugh with street performers.