Why Hong Kong director Dante Lam’s new movie highlights city’s inane attitude to cycling
Lack of hometown footage - in contrast to other locations in Asia - merely underlines government's boneheaded attitude to cycling in general and the wider benefits of sport
We won’t be adding To The Fore, Hong Kong director Dante Lam’s latest movie, to the extremely short list of great cycling films. Released this week, it revolves around three pro cyclists and features terrific race action scenes on the road and velodrome, but is repeatedly punctured by a Korean-soap-style, at-times-ludicrous plot.
Intrigued by the trailer – what’s this, cycle racing on Hong Kong streets? – we went along to the preview screening intending to pen a scoffing piece along the lines of "the only chance of seeing a bike race through Hong Kong streets is in a movie".
That didn’t pan out: the Hong Kong footage in the trailer is about all Lam was able to grab, evidently shooting the same tiny strip of road in Tamar from as many angles as possible in the hour or two he would have been granted, no doubt at the crack of dawn on a Sunday. But it still speaks to the government’s backward attitudes both to cycling in general and the power of sport for tourism and promotion.
Wu Kin-san, who competed for Hong Kong in the road race at the Beijing Olympics, was a technical expert on the film, training actors Choi Si-won, Eddie Peng and Shawn Dou and advising director Lam on how to shoot the race action.
He confirmed how hard it was to shoot in Hong Kong, in contrast to other locations in Taiwan, mainland China, and Korea. Wu and crew spent weeks shooting thrilling scenes up and down the mountains of Taiwan and through city streets in the likes of Shanghai and Busan, clearly with the full support of local authorities.
The resulting footage could boost cycling dramatically in their respective countries if the film proves popular with fans of Taiwan’s Peng, Korea’s Choi and the mainland’s Dou. There’ll be no such boost for Hong Kong.
Unsurprising, of course. The government seems wilfully dismissive of potential benefits of major sporting events on our streets, kyboshing the Formula E grand prix through Central and annually hampering the Hong Kong Marathon rather than dare inconvenience motorists.
And their inane attitude to cycling, which they pig-ignorantly insist is for recreation only – not transport – was on show again last week when Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee suggested cyclists should head to the mainland to enjoy their hobby.
Meanwhile, an old man had comical criminal charges dropped after having the temerity to repair bicycles for free on a Sha Tin street, a remarkable waste of time even by the high benchmarks set by Hong Kong bureaucracy.
Ip was speaking apropos of the long-under-construction New Territories Cycle Track connecting Yuen Long to Sheung Shui, and news that an 11-kilometre section could cost up to HK$890 million, 66 per cent more than the original estimate, already a bafflingly high figure. (Taiwan, meanwhile, will complete a round-the-island 939km-long cycle track with pit stops every 20km this year.) Should it ever be completed, god forbid you cycle at more than walking pace, and don’t dare leave the track to the Sunday dawdlers and head for nearby roads, or you’ll be breaking the law.
Anyone who’s biked on Hong Kong’s streets will be aware of the murderous attitude of many drivers to cyclists, seemingly insulted by the very presence of pedal-powered transport on ‘their’ roads.
The police launched a couple of super-snappily-titled programmes last month – “Summer Safe Cycling cum Safe Cycling Ambassadors Appointment Ceremony” and the “Safe and Joyful Crossing in Hong Kong Carnival cum Cycling Safety Kick Off Ceremony” to ‘educate’ cyclists. Education-cum-carnivals for drivers would be nice.
Little wonder that Hong Kong cycling coach Shen Jinkang recently bemoaned the lack of young talent coming through to his team. Passionate cyclists almost literally have to risk their lives to train on the road.
Former pro Wu said director Lam – a passionate cycling fan who would train daily with Wu and the actors – has been trying to get To the Fore made since 2000 and the recent success of Hong Kong cycling helped make it possible. Wu said he hoped the film would inspire Hongkongers to take up cycling, but the difficulty they found even to film cycling in the city just underlines the many obstacles in the way.
But wait! A positive postscript. Here comes a pro international race to the streets of Hong Kong. Well, street, to be exact. Well, part of a street. Pro competitors in the criterium of the Hong Kong Tourism Board / Sun Hung Kai Cyclothon on October 10 will steam up and down a 2.3km bit of Salisbury Road 20-25 times. Sigh. It’s a wheel revolution in the right direction, we suppose.