Hong Kong Noir

Are you the one who loves film noir aesthetics? Urban environment, rain-soaked streets, flickering street lamps, neon signs and traffic lights. Seedy taverns, diners, and run-down buildings, underground brothels and casinos. Overall atmosphere of alienation and hopelessness. Scenes appearing dark, as if lit for night, with many dark shadows… HK Noir

All those aesthetic attributes later became parts of cyberpunk and other dystopian fiction.

Noir movies took place in US cities of 1940s and 1950s, however it is hard to find that noir atmosphere in US cities nowadays. When I think about most noirish city in the world it is probably not NYC or Detroit, but Hong Kong! HK Noir

Hong Kong is a large city, consisting of few islands and Kowloon peninsula.

In my opinion downtown area of Hong Kong island with its monumental architecture resembles dark 1950s movies the most. HK Noir

Des Voeux Road in the Downtown. HK Noir HK Noir

Financial district looks empty and lonely at night. Empty by Asian standards. HK Noir HK Noir

Smaller streets of Sheung Wan district nearby look especially sinister at night. Walking there you feel as a protagonist of some hard-boiled detective or cyberpunk novel. HK Noir

There is some weird dark appeal of small streets neighboring Central–Mid-Levels escalator. HK Noir HK Noir

Waterfront part of financial district looks very modern and thus feels more sci-fi than noir. HK Noir HK Noir

One of largest Apple Stores is nearby. And it looks much more impressive than NYC’s Apple Glass Cube store. HK Noir HK Noir

North Point is another older HK district with a strong noir flavor. It has lots of neon-lighted streets and underground markets. By the way, those markets are legit, just literally placed under ground. HK Noir HK Noir

We’ll discuss North Point next time and now go back to financial district.

There is a ferry terminal on the waterfront here with ferries connecting Hong Kong island to Kowloon peninsula. It was the main route between two most developed parts of the city before building underground car and train tunnels. Nowadays it is more of an entertainment: sailing across Victoria Strait on a tropical night and enjoying most iconic views of neon-lighted Hong Kong skyline on both sides of the strait. HK Noir HK Noir

Tsim Sha Tsui, Kownloon’s southernmost part feels more like an expensive resort with its glamorous hotels and shops. HK Noir

But don’t be fooled by those few hotels. Just a 10 minute walk north will bring you to the “real” Kowloon: chaotic, noisy, sinister and dark… HK Noir

Neon signs density is astonishing here. HK Noir

This is the home of tightly-packed residential areas, where “old” 9-story buildings feel very short, while being surrounded by 40-story ones. HK Noir HK Noir

If you’ve read till here, probably you should visit Hong Kong, or at least watch movies of Hong Kong film directors. You could start with these 5 movies, each of which have Hong Kong vibe and neo-noir attributes:

  1. Accident by Pou-Soi Cheang
  2. Chungking Express by Wong Kar Wai
  3. Infernal Affairs by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
  4. Exiled by Johnnie To
  5. Fallen Angels by Wong Kar Wai

HK Noir