Lust, Caution

HKU on Film

April 04, 2014 / by / 0 Comment

There are moments at HKU, when you’ve been waiting ten minutes for the lifts in KK Leung or when you find yourself scrambling to find the right classroom in Meng Wah, that you’d be forgiven for thinking ours is far from the most picturesque or charming campus on earth.

However, HKU is not without its serene gardens, stunning vistas and magnificent historical buildings. Throughout the years, numerous films, television series and advertisements have used these campus locations as a backdrop for their own romance, drama and adventure – just as we use them for ours.

5. Rouge


Although no filming for Rouge took place at HKU, it earns an honourable mention for being set just across the street in Shek Tong Tsui, where the Cooked Food Centre is a popular dinner option for students at the Jockey Club Student Village and through which anyone living in the Lung Wah Residential Colleges passes on their way to class.

Following a disastrous fire in 1904, Governor Nathan ordered the remaining brothels on Possession Street in Sheung Wan to relocate to Shek Tong Tsui, and thereafter the area became a booming red light district all the way until the government’s ban on prostitution in 1935, later experiencing a brief renaissance in 1941-45 during the Japanese occupation. Rouge tells the story of a sought-after courtesan played by Anita Mui, and her love affair with a well-heeled playboy played by Leslie Cheung. When their affair is exposed and the two realize they can never be together, they agree to both commit suicide and meet again in the afterlife; but after half a century waiting alone in hell, Mui’s character returns to modern Shek Tong Tsui as a ghost to discover what really happened to her lover. For anyone at Lung Wah or Pokfield, it might make that late night stroll home just a little bit spookier (i.e. more interesting).

4. Happy Birthday

If you like drawn-out, weepy love stories (and who doesn’t) then you’re in luck here. Happy Birthday tells the tale of two undergrads – played somewhat unconvincingly by 40-year-old celebrities Louis Koo and René Liu -whose unrequited love spans ten long years of longing glances and anxious waiting around for the eponymous ‘happy birthday’ Koo sends to Liu each year, wherever they may be. After Koo’s character says he’s marrying another and one year fails to send off a ‘happy birthday’, Liu soon discovers the depressing secret that had really been keeping them apart. If you want a lesson in how not to do college dating, look ye no further.

3. Project A Part II

Project A Part II

These days most of us see Jackie Chan as a relic of the past, but long ago, there was a time, believe it or not, when he was dearly beloved by the people of Hong Kong. A gem from this forgotten era in filmmaking, the Project A series stars Jackie as a member of Hong Kong’s Marine Police in the early colonial period, quashing the notorious South China pirates with little more than a rickety bike and a bamboo ladder. In Part II, Jackie is seconded to the police force in where else but HKU’s own hood, Sai Wan – then, as now, a hotbed of sex, drugs and revolution. University Hall makes a cameo appearance as the body double for Government House when Jackie’s put in charge of security at the Governor’s Ball.

2. City of Glass

City of Glass

Mabel Cheung’s City of Glass is unique in this list for not merely using HKU as a stand-in for another location, but indeed centring the plot itself around our alma mater, depicting the decades-long love affair between a Riccian, Raphael, and a Hotungnian, Vivian. After Raphael leaves to study abroad in France, the pair grows estranged and eventually find themselves in seemingly loveless marriages wherein Raphael fathers a son, David, who grows up in New York, and Vivian a daughter, Suzie, who grows up in Hong Kong and follows in her mother’s footsteps to HKU and LHT. However, the flame is rekindled when Raphael and Vivian meet again in Hong Kong and later in London. When the star-crossed lovers die in a car crash on their way to Trafalgar Square as the bells ring out for 1997, David and Suzie, unaware of their parents’ 20 year on-again, off-again love affair, meet in London for the first time to collect their respective parent’s belongings, and back in Hong Kong the pair fall in love as they explore their parent’s old varsity haunts.

The timing of events is far from incidental: the handover looms large over events and frequently serves as a plot devise. Raphael and Vivian are reunited in a Putonghua evening class where the teacher warns them of the dire consequences of failing to assimilate before 1 July, and Vivian explains that all of her old classmates are moving abroad before the pivotal date. As the old Hong Kong begins to disappear beneath their feet, the old LHT complex, too, is set to be demolished to make way for the plain tower block we see today. David and Suzie’s journey is representative of every Hongkongers’ foray into the past, to reflect on what their identity means as they’re about to be swallowed up by a now very alien ‘motherland’. Nostalgia and insecurity feed off of one other, and both are still the order of the day in the Hong Kong of 2014, trapped between an often idealized past and an uncertain, sometimes frightening future over which we feel powerless to affect. In this way, City of Glass is not only an iconic film for our campus, but for the entire city.

1. Lust, Caution

Lust, Caution

Despite the centrality played by HKU in City of Glass - and in spite of being a Riccian myself – the top spot belongs to another. Undoubtedly the most famous and critically acclaimed film to be shot on campus, Lust, Caution is based on the 1979 novella of the same name by Eileen Chang. Directed by Ang Lee and featuring a star-studded cast including Tony Leung and Wang Leehom, the story is based on Eileen’s own marriage to writer-turned-propagandist for the Japanese Hu Lancheng, a traitor both to his own country and, in short time, his loving and unaccountably loyal wife.

In the film, Chia Chi and Kuang Yu Min are young students and amateur dramatists at Hong Kong’s Lingnan University, which was originally founded across the border by American missionaries but relocated to Hong Kong in 1938 following the fall of Canton and subsequent Japanese occupation. Having successfully performed a moving patriotic play on campus, the group of student-actors then turn their hands to real-life resistance, hatching a plot to assassinate an agent of Wang Jingwei’s puppet government dispatched to Hong Kong named Mr Yee. Although their original plan does not come to fruition, three years later they meet again in occupied Shanghai, where Kuang, now an undercover agent of the Chinese Nationalist Party, enlists Chia to embark on a renewed attempt on Yee’s life, who now serves as head of the collaborationist secret police. To this end, Chia becomes Yee’s mistress, but the plan becomes jeopardized by their increasingly passionate physical relationship.

Although Main Building and Loke Yew Hall are depicted as the grounds of Lingnan University, in fact Eileen Chang studied not there but at HKU. She lived in May Hall and studied English literature when she entered on a full scholarship in 1939, but her studies were cut short when Hong Kong fell to the Japanese before she could complete her degree. If there’s one film on this list you have to see, it’s this one – and if you’ve only seen the mainland version with all the juicy bits cut out, go watch the original!


By Ryan Kilpatrick
From Hong Kong
MPhil, Year 1