Saturday, 30 August 2014

Reflections on James Bond's Hong Kong

Following a recent trip to Hong Kong, guest writer Radley Biddulph reflects on how the former British colony has influenced the world of James Bond, and looks up some of the locations that appeared in the films.

It may come as a surprise to consider that Hong Kong has featured so rarely in the James Bond films. Bond has been to the former British Colony just three times (You Only Live Twice, The Man with the Golden Gun, and Die Another Day) and of these, You Only Live Twice and Die Another Day have seen the most fleeting of visits.

It is particularly surprising given the popularity of cinema in Hong Kong, its history, and the stunning scenery, most notably the skyline and natural harbour. Visit the Victoria Harbour waterfront at Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, for example, and you will come across the Avenue of the Stars, celebrating many great names in Kong Kong cinema, such as Jackie Chan, John Woo, Jet Li, Michelle Yeoh and, of course, Bruce Lee.

While Michelle Yeoh appears in Tomorrow Never Dies - elements of which would not have been out of place in a Hong Kong film - sadly, the Special Administrative Region itself did not feature in the story, causing you to wonder if the producers missed a trick in not devoting more time in Hong Kong.

Of the three films to feature Hong Kong, the region is most prominent in Golden Gun. (While Twice was principally set in Japan, Hong Kong was featured for Bond’s fake death and funeral - although filming actually took place in Gibraltar.)
Star Ferry
Three iconic locations in Golden Gun are the Bottoms Up Club in Tsim Sha Tsui, the wreck of RMS Queen Elizabeth in Victoria Harbour, and the Star Ferry Terminal.  Sadly for film location enthusiasts only the last remains. The Bottoms Up Club moved in 2004, and has now closed for good; while the wreck of RMS Queen Elizabeth was finally dismantled in 1975.  In contrast, with the Star Ferry remaining little changed for decades (many of the ferries date back to the 1950s), the location, visited by Bond, satisfyingly evokes the era of Golden Gun.

One other place that still appears to have little changed – at least from the outside - is the Peninsula Hotel. It was there that Bond meets Scaramanga’s mistress, Andrea Anders, and it was also at the hotel (albeit with a different name) that Bond, in Die Another Day, walked in soaking wet seeking a room following his prisoner exchange and subsequent escape from MI6.  Inside, the foyer as it appears in Die Another Day is less busy than in real life and the soaking wet Bond would probably have had to walk past a queue of tourists patiently waiting for afternoon tea. The Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club also features in the film although when Bond climbs out from Victoria Harbour it is clear that he is on Kowloon, and not Hong Kong Island, where the yacht club is, in fact, situated.

Peninsula Hotel, Hong Kong

I mentioned Bruce Lee earlier and doubtless the boom in martial arts films in the 1970s and of Lee’s own popularity were in part a factor in the producer’s decision to turn to South East Asia.  It is a pity that the martial arts theme was not better used.  While films such as Fist of Fury (1972) and Enter the Dragon (1973) are well-known, it is another of Lee’s films, albeit released after his death, Game of Death (1978) that has elements that would not have been out of place in Golden Gun.

In Game of Death, the Red Pepper Restaurant, located on Causeway Bay, is the scene for some classic martial arts, culminating in Lee’s character, who, on entering a dojo from the restaurant, has to fight a different protagonist on each floor before he locates the crime syndicate boss he is searching. These are familiar elements in Golden Gun, in which Bond takes on martial arts students one-by-one in a dojo, but then this is rather undone by the intervention of Bond’s local contact, Lieutenant Hip and his two nieces, who unconvincingly defeat the entire dojo.

Perhaps this is looking too deeply into the films. The Bond of Roger Moore incorporated popular themes throughout the 70s: the Blaxploitation theme in Live and Let Die, and the space theme in Moonraker are two such examples.  But taking a more serious storyline was not unknown during Moore’s time – For Your Eyes Only is the obvious example – and the tone of the films has become increasingly less light-hearted with all subsequent Bond actors.  Having visited Hong Kong myself earlier this year, it would be good to see Daniel Craig’s Bond going to Hong Kong and to see elements of its history, scenery and culture being incorporated in Bond in a way which celebrates what makes Hong Kong particularly unique, rather than pretending it is somewhere – or something - else.

1 comment:

  1. I as in Hong Kong in the daytime, walking into a big mall near Central, and there was a big band (marching type) playing Bond songs in the lobby. I equate HK a lot with Bond, even playing the iconic theme from YOLT in my head. Of course, when I arrived the first time, in the glittering humid summer night, Bond songs were rifting through my cold, ruthless brain. Taking in the gleaming airport train to Central, and taking a cab that twisted up smartly up to Mid-Levels Bond hotel. My favorite rendition of the Bond Theme is YOLT's garden fight, doong donk! with that cool bass. That was playing in my headream as soon as the taxi darted up to Mid-levels. Fleming would've loved the Star Ferries, one of the most romantic rides and views in the world, it's poignant and ephemeral. "Bond always rode the lower level, because he liked to reflect in the shade. Also most Hong Kongers travel there." Right out of the books, I met a glistening Bond girl outside Sogos, looking perturbed in the neon crowds....... Yes, Bond always loved Hong Kong, a good, tough city, where two spades can equal three fortunes.


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