City Weekend

Young Hong Kong filmmaker reveals the city’s hidden soul

Hailed for its stunning visuals, a short video by Sam Robinson focuses on parts of the city that most residents take for granted

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 1:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 December, 2016, 1:01pm

The colourful and showy neon signs hovering above the streets and the most breathtaking panoramic views of the city’s stunning skyline are something most Hongkongers get accustomed to and may take for granted, but not 20-year-old filmmaker Sam Robinson.

Robinson, who has lived here all his life, sees the city from many different perspectives. He looks for what lies hidden through his camera lens to reveal the soul of the city. Through his short film Focus Hong Kong he hopes more people can appreciate the large and heterogeneous collection of underlying messages so that they can better understand the city they live in.

Robinson was working in a restaurant by day when he borrowed some camera lenses from a friend and started chasing the many faces of the city by night.

The idea for the film was prompted by friends abroad who would repeatedly ask him the same question: “What is it like in Hong Kong?”

“From afar, people could only see the skyscrapers and the glitzy malls,” Robinson said. “I wanted to show them what it really is like to walk down the streets at night.”

Starting from scratch with just a bunch of random ideas scribbled down on a notepad, the film has been widely lauded online for taking the viewers through the city’s major districts, branching off from Causeway Bay to the suburbs, from Wan Chai to the New Territories.

Robinson said he wanted to show the two contrasting sides of Hong Kong. “I wanted to show that, in spite of the considerable size of the city, everything feels close.”

The beauty of Hong Kong, he said, is that by taking a short ride it is possible to reach anything: the beach, the hills, the busy financial hub.

“Everything seems to happen so sudden. The heartbeat of the city is its movement, and the people are what make it move.”

The film glimpses at Hongkongers’ lives, offering time and again a chance to wonder about the strangers’ faces appearing onscreen. “Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to get people involved,” Robinson explained. “They would ask me what I was doing. They were quite open to the idea of appearing on camera.”

Talking about the beginning of the production, he revealed that the spontaneity of the project was what he liked the most. “I had no script. As you walk, the city comes to you.”

The short film ends with an aerial drone shot of the entire city from the top of Victoria Peak in what the filmmaker defines as his “favourite spot in Hong Kong”. From that path hidden in the jungle, he could see the whole city, he said. “I could even make out my house in the distance. I had never seen the city like that before.”

When the editing was finished, Robinson said he was shocked – his own work had showed him a face of Hong Kong he had never seen before.

The video has been hailed by the online community for its dazzling visuals and poignant editing technique. “The reaction of the people was surprising. So many people shared and liked it.”

Robinson is now studying cinema in Los Angeles, but he has new projects lined up for when he will be back in Hong Kong this winter.

“I feel like I’ve learnt more about the city while shooting than ever before,” he said. “But there is so much more for me to explore and document.”

In his future projects he plans to branch out from the urban areas to explore the outdoor, wilder and unspoilt side of Hong Kong.

Focus Hong Kong comes in the wake of American filmmaker Brandon Li’s Hong Kong Strong , a seven-minute short film that took the internet by storm last May. The two videos share a common taste for dynamic shots and strive to capture the many faces of the City of Life.