Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lost Landscapes

The Midnight Express snack bar in Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express, where Faye Wong's character worked, is gone. Check out what it's turned into here.

There are many other sights familiar to HK film fans that have disappeared or are fast disappearing, like the breathtaking Kowloon Walled City,which was also in Wong Kar-wai's Days Of Being Wild. The famous teahouse in the gunfight scene in John Woo's Hard Boiled is gone, and so are parts of Tsim Sha Tsui that were in Peter Chan's Comrades: Almost A Love Story. Ringo Lam quickly shot part of Full Alert on Bird Street when he found out it was going to be destroyed. You can read about all of it here.

Johnnie To's Sparrow practically bleeds with nostalgia for the old, romantic side of Hong Kong. Simon Yam's character goes around town with an old camera, capturing faces and places, as if they will all be gone by tomorrow. Which is probably closer to the truth than we think.

I attended a talk with Wim Wenders are a few other filmmakers last year at the Berlinale, and it centred around cities in film. There are certainly places that are instantly recognisable by their landmarks, and the more important landmarks are often preserved for good. But there are also places that have become a part of their inhabitants souls, but do not carry such importance as to be preserved as a national heritage or landmark.

It's a painful reality. Like in Malaysia, for instance, most mainstream film and TV productions are so preoccupied with including shots of the Petronas Twin Towers, as if those are the only landmarks that would imprint an identity on the locale portrayed. But any filmmaker or photographer will tell you that the true face of beauty and the real soul of the city lies in places not commonly seen in our films and productions but have been around long enough and lived in enough to be ingrained into the local consciousness. These are the true places of character, not the concrete-and-steel modernities that sooner or later morph into a single, shiny, indistinguishable mass.

But how many of our filmmakers are actually racing to preserve such places on film? I know of a few filmmakers who look to places like Ipoh and other towns. Most recently, Azhar Ruddin's Punggok Rindukan Bulan (The Longing) was shot in the Bukit Chagar flats in Johor Baru, which was torn down after they finished production there.

We certainly can't stop the force of progress, and we'll surely see more of these kinds of places being demolished. The only way left to preserve them is on film and within our collective film memory.

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