Dot 2 Dot is a director's love letter to Hong Kong
Amos Why's new movie is a personal tribute to all the things that make Hong Kong special
The way that the writer-director-producer of Dot 2 Dot sees it, Hong Kong has long had an international dimension.
"Even as a child, I knew that my hometown was an international city," says 43-year-old Amos Why (whose real name is Amos Wong Ho-yin).
"So I was amazed when Tung Chee-hwa, as our then-chief executive, said he wanted Hong Kong to be an international city. What the f***? We already were an international city for at least two decades before."
A paean to his beloved city that makes use of many details related to its cultural heritage and local history, Why's film is about a man who, upon returning to his birthplace after emigrating to Canada as a child, finds that the Hong Kong he knew has disappeared. In a bid to explore the transformed city, he creates cryptic dotted diagrams on the walls of every MTR station.
The marks are spotted by a mainland newcomer, who decides to explore her new home by figuring out the dots.
When Why and his then-writing partner and Academy for Performing Arts classmate Taney Chan Tak-chung first came up with this idea in the late 1990s, they had envisioned their female protagonist as a Japanese woman.
"We were crazy about Japanese TV dramas at the time," Why says. "We both liked Japanese director Shunji Iwai - of Swallowtail Butterfly and Love Letter - very much. So it was very logical for us to decide the girl should be from Japan."
But when Why decided in 2012 to dust off his script and seek funding to make the film, he wound up creating a mainland character instead.
One reason is that the producer, his wife Teresa Kwong Pui-sin, thought casting a Japanese actress would be "too much of a typical Hong Kong male fantasy". He began mulling the potential of a Korean actress to be in tune with the "Korean wave" phenomenon, but realised the financial and logistical hurdles were too great.
So, for the sake of convenience, he went with the mainland option.
Why had hoped to interest a high-profile mainland actress in the role of Jilin-born Xia Xue, but she turned down his project and he eventually cast Meng Tingyi.
While he acknowledges the political baggage - especially lately - that comes with the choice of using a mainland actress as the lead in a local film, he believes it ultimately adds to the story.
"I think there are two layers to the relationship between Hong Kong and China," he explains. "One layer is political, relating to the Chinese government. But there's a another layer that deals with daily life - tourists, of course, but also people who come to Hong Kong to work, people who come to Hong Kong to study, or for shopping.
"For me, at this [second] level, I don't care where you come from as long as you respect Hong Kong's customs and are interested in exploring Hong Kong's culture and way of life."
The filmmaker's vision of inclusiveness is reflected in the world of Dot 2 Dot - where there exist non-Chinese people who can understand Cantonese, and where mainlanders feel a cultural connection to Hong Kong.
Born and bred in Hong Kong, Why finds it strange that local television shows often do not reflect the city's ethnic diversity.
"You just see 'local people'," he says. "But in real life, when you walk on the streets of Hong Kong, you see many different ethnicities. I want my film to reflect that."
Something else that Why wants to do with his film is to get people thinking about the issue of urban development. Many of the views expressed by the male protagonist are Why's own, which has some observers wondering if the character, Chung Suet (played by Moses Chan Ho), is based on the director.
Why rejects this suggestion: "That character emigrated to Canada with his family around the early '80s. I never emigrated to other countries. I never studied abroad," he says. "Our personalities are totally different: he's quiet, I'm more talkative. We are different people."
However, two story elements were drawn from his personal history, Why says.
"The first pertains to the Blue House, which now houses the Wan Chai Livelihood Museum. That space before the mid-1970s was a Chinese winery," he says. "In the film, it is identified as having belonged to the male character's grandfather. In real life, it belonged to my grandfather."
The second relates to a disaster involving the Daimaru Department Store that used to be located in Causeway Bay, one that took the life of Chung's aunt in the film.
"The gas explosion in 1972 took two victims. One was a fireman and the other was a Daimaru employee - my aunt," he says.
Daimaru Department Store's presence in Dot 2 Dot also shows the multicultural elements of Hong Kong's history. Causeway Bay has long been associated with Japanese department stores, and while only Sogo remains today, Daimaru's name and memory lives on - in the form of a listed stop for some of the red mini buses running through the area.
Dot 2 Dot opens on October 30