Why Christopher Doyle is passionate about his adopted hometown

October 03, 2015 08:06
Cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who was involved in many Wong Kar-wai films, has now come up with a narrative documentary about life in Hong Kong. Photo: HKEJ

Born in Sydney in 1952, Christopher Doyle arrived in Hong Kong during the 1970s. After traveling around the region for a while, he decided to eventually make Hong Kong his home. 

Ask him about the reason why he chose the city, and he says simply that it was Hong Kong that decided to take him, and not the other way round.

Doyle rose to fame as a renowned cinematographer through his frequent cooperation with Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, winning best cinematography awards for "Ashes of Time", "In the Mood for Love" and "2046" at international film festivals.

He says he couldn't help wondering at times why people would describe his works as "poetic", given that he entered the film industry by accident and received no prior training in photography or visual art.

"People said I was good. However, I didn't really think so. I simply take pictures of what I see," Doyle says.

"Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled, Preoccupied, Preposterous" is Doyle’s latest endeavor and an expression of his deep gratitude to the city that made him famous.

The film was identified as a documentary-fiction hybrid that celebrates and focuses on Hong Kong residents in their childhood, youth, and old age in the city.

The second part of the film — Preoccupied — has drawn some criticism, with skeptics labeling it as a piece of self-indulgence as it dwelt on the theme of last year's democracy protests in the city.

Though the umbrella movement has ended, Doyle says he hopes Hongkongers will not forget the underlying message of moving forward the community as a whole.

We were Hongkongers, and we all stayed together -- that's the essence of the movement and the film.

The umbrella movement was dynamic as there were many exciting intellectual exchanges and debates between people, Doyle says, adding that many people discovered the city's creativity only after the movement.

He jokes that his film's title wasn’t quite right and it should have been called "Poetry, Politics, People" instead.

It is no reality show, or a commercial film, but it is just about poetry, politics and people, he says.

Through crowdfunding, Doyle and his team successfully secured more than US$100,000 for filming the complete trilogy.

The cinematographer remarks that people nowadays are generally are forced to choose between "YouTube" and "Harry Potter" type of entertainment as there aren't any "in-between" productions.

"We are searching for this in-between space. And my aim was to do a very personal Hong Kong movie. Hence, the mainland market had to be let go as the content would not be allowed there."

Given the sensitivity of the topic, crowdfunding was the best model to raise the necessary money, Doyle says.

He admits that he has doubts about how the Chinese government would react to this kind of film. But says he can’t be afraid, and that he must speak as he has adopted Hong Kong as his hometown.

Only when Hongkongers stay courageous and persistent will the city be able to have real communication and exchanges with authorities in the future, Doyle points out.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct. 2.

Translation by Darlie Yiu

[Chinese version中文版]

(Cantonese with English subtitles)

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Doyle (center) enjoys spending time with his Hong Kong friends. Photo: HKEJ
Doyle captures on film the Occupy protests last year. The picture inset shows the cinematographer geared up as authorities were attempting to shut down a protest site. Photo: HKEJ
A scene from Doyle’s latest endeavor: "Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled, Preoccupied, Preposterous". Photo: HKEJ

Writer of the Hong Kong Economic Journal