Hong Kong feels like a movie set because it is

Email|Print| Text size + By Rory Boland
Globe Correspondent / July 15, 2007

HONG KONG -- For a territory of just 7 million people, Hong Kong punches well above its weight on the international film scene. Its stars have become household names and its films cult hits around the world. In its heyday in the 1980s, Hong Kong was second only to the Hollywood machine in churning out productions. It is no surprise, then, that visitors arriving here often experience a heavy bout of déjà vu. Usually they have seen it all before -- on film.

Few cities have been captured on film as often as Hong Kong. Its unique mix of dizzying skyscrapers and unrepentant capitalism, next to tin-roofed markets and unchanging tradition, remains powerfully iconic.

The obvious place to start any tour of the city's movie locations is the Avenue of Stars , Hong Kong's answer to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Alongside the handprints of Hong Kong's great and good, there is a monument to the city's favorite son, Bruce Lee. The martial arts master, who died in 1973 at 32 after putting Hong Kong movies on the map, is still adored here and around the world, and his lifelike statue is where fans come to pay their respects.

Running along the Kowloon waterfront, the avenue is the perfect spot to take in the iconic skyline of Hong Kong Island. Watch for the nightly "Symphony of Lights" show, when the buildings across the harbor fire up their sound and spotlights and dazzle visitors with a mammoth spectacular.

The Bruce Lee trail continues just up the road from the Avenue of Stars, at the Miramar Hotel . It was here that a former James Bond, George Lazenby , and Hong Kong producer Raymond Chow were waiting to dine with Lee when the kung-fu star was discovered dead in his Hong Kong mansion. Locations from Lee's films are citywide, with the bustling Aberdeen market from the opening of "Enter the Dragon " becoming a pilgrimage hot spot.

Set in Hong Kong's prime tourist belt, filled with bargain seekers trawling for discounted electronics, the Miramar was also home to Chow Yun-Fat before he hit the big screen. The "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" star first flexed his muscles lugging suitcases around the hotel as its resident bellboy. Chow aficionados can also take a ferry out to Lamma Island to see where he grew up.

A few doors down from the Miramar, yet a world away from the pristine shopping malls and gleaming hotels, are the infamous Chungking Mansions, featured in "Chungking Express," by award-winning director Wong Kar Wai. Chungking's tattered interior, warren like corridors, and ramshackle shops made the perfect setting for Wong's brooding cult classic.

Inhabited by Hong Kong's rainbow of immigrants, the mansions have cleaned up their act considerably since Wong took his cameras inside, yet the chaotic market atmosphere and grit-and-grime interior remain. The mansions were voted Time magazine's "Best Example of Globalization in Action" and are the perfect place to enjoy some of the best Indian food outside Mumbai, as well as a slightly less clean-cut slice of Hong Kong.

If Chungking is Hong Kong's offbeat zone, Central, on Hong Kong Island, is its essence . Streets banked by skyscrapers are home to high-flying bankers and international playboys and have proved fertile ground for filmmakers.

You can hitch a lift to Central on a green Star Ferry, the service that has carried passengers between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island since the 1870s. One of the ferry's famous passengers was William Holden, in the 1960 tearjerker "The World of Suzie Wong ." The Bond movie "Die Another Day" had a fearless Pierce Brosnan plunge into the murky waters of Victoria Harbor on his way to the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.

Central has provided the backdrop for a raft of international blockbusters. In "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, " Angelina Jolie careered off the top of Hong Kong's tallest skyscraper, 2 International Finance Centre or IFC2, while action man Wesley Snipes performed the same feat, a little less elegantly, in "The Art of War."

One of Central's main attractions is Lan Kwai Fong, a den of streets buzzing with restaurants and bars. Alan Mak and Andy Lau's award-winning "Infernal Affairs," adapted by Martin Scorsese into "The Departed," set one of its deadliest shootouts on the area's Pottinger Street . The colonial police station carved into the end of the street has also been the backdrop to several gun battles.

Although celluloid Hong Kong might be full of do-or-die fights, the only battles you are likely to see in the city are for a table at one of the many prestigious restaurants, some in Lan Kwai Fong.

Also on the island waterfront is Wan Chai, Hong Kong's home of hedonism. Wan Chai has had a reputation for naughtiness since before the Vietnam War, when its women of the night entertained US soldiers on leave. Wan Chai's reputation inspired the Suzie Wong novel and film. Several scenes in the Jackie Chan comedy "Rush Hour 2" were filmed along the strip of clubs and bars on Lockhart Road.

If you want a martini shaken, not stirred, head for the Bottoms Up Club, where Roger Moore made an appearance in another Bond film, "The Man With the Golden Gun ." The club was originally in Tsim Sha Tsui, but moved across the harbor, keeping the shady design and even shadier clientele that are seen in the movie.

Rory Boland, a freelance writer in Warsaw, can be reached at

If You Go

What to do

Avenue of Stars
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
Tsim Sha Tsui
Hong Kong's version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame features the Bruce Lee statue and unbeatable views of the skyline.

Chungking Mansions
36-44 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Great food and an offbeat slice of the territory.

Bottom s Up Club
37-39 Lockhart Road, Wan Chai
As seedy in real life as on film.

Where to stay

Mandarin Oriental
5 Connaught Road, Central
011-852-2522-0111; 866-526-6567 (toll-free from US)
The recently renovated Mandarin sets Hong Kong's high standards and is considered by some to be the best hotel in the world. Doubles $500.

Lan Kwai Fong Hotel
3 Kau U Fong, Central
Newly opened boutique hotel boasting a central location, award-winning design, and stellar service. Compact doubles from $250.

Miramar Hotel
118-130 Nathan Road
Tsim Sha Tsui
Larger- than- average rooms and fair prices inside Chow Yun-Fat's former workplace. Spacious doubles for $175.

Where to eat

37-43 Pottinger St., Central
Modern Asian food inside a sleek wooden interior, $10-$15.

Yung Kee
32-40 Wellington St., Central
A Hong Kong institution serving Cantonese classics and famed for its roast goose and barbecued duck, $10-$12.

1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui
Italian and Japanese food and a chic interior. The food is worth the price to enjoy the unbeatable views over the harbor, $20-$25.

For those interested in learning more about Hong Kong Films and movies shot in the city.

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