THE movie Philadelphia is all about emotion, and its Hong Kong premiere proved the point. Tears flowed, hearts ached and there was even a touch of disappointment.

That, however, was more to do with the poor turn-out for a $1,800 a head charity screening for AIDS Concern which little more than half-filled the Convention Centre. Even with the lure of a lucky draw, with a prize of an air ticket to Philadelphia, few chose to join the minor-league singers and local television personalities at the screening.

What was lacking was the A-list of local socialites. Perhaps they feel they have lost their anchor with the departure of stellar social figure Becky Purves, now Lady Purves, or maybe they simply didn't want to miss their supper. AIDS may be a blue-riband charity cause elsewhere around the world, but here it struggled.

Nevertheless, the film kept most people's attention fixed to the screen, other than Cecil Chao, who discreetly left halfway through, although wife Terri stayed to the end. Sister Maureen McGinlay said she had been in tears after 10 minutes.

Not a drop was shed by AIDS Concern's Mike Sinclair, the first Hong Kong resident to admit he was HIV positive, who had seen the film at a private showing. Mr Sinclair was less than enthusiastic about Philadelphia, although another AIDS sufferer, Joe Silk, was crying by the closing scenes.

Mr Sinclair was initially critical of Hanks, speculating that a lesser-known actor would not have had his audience recalling his other roles in films like Big and Sleepless In Seattle as they watched him face the ravages of AIDS. He also took exception to the regular chronological updates that punctuate the film, saying they had little to do with his experiences of the progress of AIDS on a human being.


Hanks' character Andy Beckett is portrayed as being the much-loved son and brother of a large, prosperous and loving all-American family complete with the white clapperboard house, fireplace and throughly understanding and sympathetic parents; a situation that Mr Sinclair regarded as almost impossibly idealised. He also noted that in contrast the partners in Beckett's legal firm who sack him are one-dimensional, malign homophobes who of course are destined to lose the legal case against them.

But Mr Sinclair felt that one scene did strike home, when Hanks translates the libretto of Maria Callas singing an aria that celebrates life and the regret that it is passing. The camera closes in on Hanks's face as he circulates around his living room with a plasma bottle attached to his arm on a portable stand. 'It shows how much there is to live for and how emotional you can get when you know that you may not be able to experience it much longer,' Mr Sinclair said.

Sister Maureen, who is AIDS Concern's hotline counsellor, described Philadelphia as well produced and well presented.

'It was quite sad for us in some ways because it showed what some of our clients have gone through,' she said. 'Some found it a little difficult to watch because they had lost friends. But many found it a good movie. They said they were afraid it would be Hollywood-ised it but it wasn't. They did it in a factual way - almost documentary.' Although she admitted she still associated Hanks with Big, Sister Maureen said the film's real focus lay in getting key messages across to the general public.


'I think there is one part of the film that's important in the way it challenged our approach to gay people,' she said.

'It articulated what we say. The stereotyping that we have and the things we say to friends and relatives [a scene in which Denzel Washington, Hanks' homophobic lawyer speculates on gay sexual habits] was very powerful. It challenges the way we see the gay community.' By the end of the premiere, the auditorium was filled with the sound of weeping, yet Sister Maureen chose instead to talk in terms of hope.


'It's emotional obviously as you look at someone who's life is ending and who has had to go through additional suffering. It is sad because it brought back memories of many of our clients who died. But it was positive in that it showed there are people who will and do care for them, that not all people are like those lawyers.'