An Eastern Saga: A Film Man's Memoir of a Lost Asia by Marvin Farkas Make-Do Publishing HK$165 Veteran news cameraman Marvin Farkas is somewhat of a legend in Hong Kong, where he first arrived in its harbour on April 16, 1954. The then 27-year-old was one of just four civilian passengers on the Eastern Saga. This cargo ship was the beginning of the author's life in Hong Kong and its rather poetic name lends itself fittingly to the title of his memoir. An Eastern Saga is a slight - but charming - read. At its heart is a coming-of-age story: Farkas arrives in the British colony as a young Jew from the Bronx, leaving behind an overbearing father and a dead-end job in the family business. In Hong Kong - with no qualifications, his funds running low, and an expensive board and keep at the colonial Foreign Correspondent's Club (FCC) - he finds himself in a local newspaper newsroom in Wan Chai, performing the pitifully paid job of sub-editor for the Hong Kong Tiger Standard. But a turn of luck opens up the world of film: armed with his camera, determination, and some charisma Farkas becomes a cameraman and winds up shooting news reels ranging from an expose of Hong Kong's opium dens to the Vietnam war and the rapid decolonisation of Asia. Farkas has lived in Hong Kong for more than half a century now (go into the FCC and you'll probably find him there), but An Eastern Saga covers just the 1950s and 60s. The author reads like a relic of another era: this is a man who gets caught up in a murder case on The Peak one foggy night, whose boyhood friend is Truman Capote (a 'pretty little guy with a peaches-and-cream complexion'), and who beds women with cavalier abandonment. Farkas is an entertaining companion. Girls have 'drop-dead figures', sex is a 'roll in the hay', and a lawyer friend and his team are 'legal eagles'. It is unashamedly cliched. But it's also fun and Farkas' forceful personality makes his cheeky tone seem endearing rather than detracting. What makes An Eastern Saga so readable is its familiarity with a lost era. Hong Kong swarms with sedans and rickshaws, while old Chinese customs are particularly absorbing. In a Cantonese wedding an elderly man is presented with a roast suckling pig. Its mouth - stuffed with a bloody handkerchief - symbolises his young wife's virginity. In another scene Farkas visits a notorious opium breeding ground in the Walled City in Kowloon where the bad and lost lament and fester. While there he sees a woman sitting on the steps of a tenement sticking a needle into live ducks and channelling their blood into a bucket 'like a voodoo ritual'. In moments like this Farkas possesses a filmmaker's eye - even his characters appear to hail from a black-and-white movie. Ted, an expat friend from Japan, is a 'blond, Teutonic type' who wears a 'white turtleneck sweater and slacks so painstakingly pressed that he insisted on standing up all night so as not to spoil the crease'. Two-Gun Cohen - Sun Yat-sen's former bodyguard - sports a felt hat with the brim turned down, a monocle and a black lacquer cane as if he's just sauntered off a gangster film set. Sexual adventures are also seen through a tinted lens and are reminiscent of a certain James Bond. (On one occasion Farkas beds both an overbearing Russian matriarch and her ballet dancer stepdaughter in a vodka-swilling threesome.) More remarkable than these personal anecdotes are depictions of places such as the Queen Bee Dance Hall in Japan. Here, more than 1,000 hostesses work in a building the size of a football pitch - they line the walls with numbers attached to their chairs. While some customers use binoculars to make their choice, Farkas and his friends dance to a 32-piece orchestra and attempt to snag a hostess for free. For all this, An Eastern Saga often falls short. Farkas travels across Asia filming political leaders from Zhou Enlai to Pakistani leader Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. His resulting tales offer an insight into the haphazard world of foreign correspondents, but the anecdotes of political leaders and powerful men are insubstantial, while, in the afterword, Farkas admits that 50 years after many of these events happened he cannot quite remember some of the dialogue. Maybe it doesn't matter. An Eastern Saga never pretends to be great literature - or a comprehensive history of the past - and it isn't. But as a rattling good yarn about a cameraman trying to get the story in the golden days of journalism it's hard not to get caught up in its enthusiasm.