Last month, I came across Daniel Thomas' great blog “Hong Kong On Film,” which is all about filming locations, locations and locations of various Hong Kong films. He has a “Help Me!!!” page where he lists screen captures from various films for which he cannot figure out actual locations. Out of curiosity, I tried and managed to find some of the places listed on the page, and the process was so much fun!
One of the films in question was “School on Fire (學校風雲),” a 1988 release directed by Ringo Lam (林嶺東). One of its filming locations I figured out was the junction of Portland Street (砵蘭街) and Prince Edward Road West (太子道西). Wah Lok (華樂) restaurant, where Roy Cheung (張耀揚)’s character Brother Smart (瀟洒哥) frequented, and the nearby brothel where poor Fennie Yuen (袁潔瑩)’s character Chu Yuen-Fong (朱婉芳) was forced to work, were aptly situated on Portland Street, Hong Kong’s infamous red light district. Ringo Lam is well known for his realistic approach to film making, and I suppose it is reflected on this selection of location as well. (On this film, you can see the windows of the brothel are coated with paint. I don’t know if the work was done for the film or an actual brothel was used…could be the latter…)
Anyhow, Google Street Map, the wonderful tool I used (and Daniel uses) to locate the location, shows that the street looks very different in September 2009. Although you can tell it’s the same building, Wah Lok restaurant is replaced by Sun Wah (新華) restaurant, which, according to an online source, has also closed down since.
As I watched my “School On Fire” DVD over and over to figure out this particular location, its image was stuck in my brain cells. During a recent trip to Hong Kong, I was in the neighbourhood, and I had to pay a visit to see what the place looked like in April 2012. Sure enough, Sun Wah restaurant was gone and replaced by a couple of currency exchange shops for mainland tourists, and sadly, the next-door building, where the brothel was housed, has been demolished. Completely gone. This part of Portland Street didn’t look like a red light district anymore; it was full of mainlanders and tour coaches were parked here and there.
I was well aware of Hong Kong’s “scrap and build” tendency (the same applies to many other Asian cities including Tokyo), but to see the empty space (demolished site) with my own eyes was rather shocking. This experience of fixed point observation made me realise the importance of capturing and remembering the forever changing streets of Hong Kong.
Though I visit the city (or a “Special Administrative Region” of China) a couple of times each year and love strolling around its streets, I was never the type to take out time to visit my favourite movies’ filming locations (except that I enjoy a cup of milk tea at the famous China Cafe / 中國冰室 in Mong Kok from time to time). However, I always loved checking out those locations on books and other people’s blogs, and I would like to thank Daniel Thomas for providing me with a new insight into Hong Kong.
“電影現場之旅 (港島篇)” and “電影朝聖 / Film Pilgrimage” are the two books I can also recommend, though both are published only in the Chinese language.