Monday, May 11, 2015

The Neon World - Chungking Express and Nathan Road

 Portland Street in Mong Kok © Wikipedia Commons

Get on a double-deck bus along Nathan Road and take the seat from the first roll upstairs, you will then feel like you own the whole world. Yes, sounds cliche-ish, because I am a big fan of 'Chungking Express', or more particularly speaking, the colours shown there really got me.

For me, the scene of Hong Kong filling up with neon signs at night means more than a cliche photo one can find on a postcard. That ambient light matters in creating the whole Hong Kong night scene.

I was given a 'Chungking Express' VCD from a teacher in my first year of secondary school, that was also the year I started to learn about video shooting and editing... That film means everything about cinematography to the teenage me. Those Chungking Mansion and neon signage scenes have been left in my mind ever since then. And its companion piece, 'Fallen Angels', also had me at first sight. 

Christopher Doyle: Filming in the Neon World

Christopher Doyle, the cinematographer of 'Chungking Express', talked about the relationship between neon lights and his filming works for a M+ video. A truly amazing piece to have his thoughts about the street scenes in 80s/90s Hong Kong shared.

Neon Starry Night on Nathan Road

'八珍甜醋' signage shot in Oct 2014, just a couple of street corners away from Nathan Road, where the 'Occupy Mong Kok' happened during umbrella movement

Just like another other big cities on this planet, Hong Kong is suffering from light pollution. I can so tell that lying on Nathan Road and staring at the sky from there in midnight would not give you any starry night view, because, I tried. But I've got some unique experience in viewing all those neon signs, Nathan Road and my city.

When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

The lyric simply summed up my thought. Imagine walking along Nathan Road in midnight, the environment is pretty much dead silent when compares to its daytime, then you will find the colourful ambient light from surrounding neon signs the warmest colour you've ever seen.

Another cliche time. The City Never Sleeps.

Neon Sign Making: Just Another Vanishing Art

The ultimate neon signage scene is one of Hong Kong's signatures, and unfortunately, this craftsmanship is now considered as a vanishing art. Sign makers and calligraphers shared their insights of this dying industry. A beautiful but sad piece to watch.

**Graphic Design Geek Moment** I feel like I am going to write another blog piece about the Chinese calligraphy methods and types used for neon signage design.

Check Out the NEONSIGNS.HK by Mobile M+ for more amazing neon light artworks. You can even contribute the location of neon sign onto their interactive map. And yay, the part for Nathan Road is basically filled up with loads of contributions.


  1. Thanx for this blog, somewhat reinforces my love to Hong Kong that i am starting to forget somehow lately.

    Chungking Express has to be one of my favorite movies ever, out of hundreds other favorites it's like in top three. Recently been watching all of these documentaries you've posted here, and it's quite a pity HK loses it's neon signs! During my trips to Hong Kong i've visited many HK-movie locations, including Kar-wai film locations; the most fascinating were probably from Chungking Express. The part Chungking represents Kowloon and TST, and part Express represents HK island. Needless to say for few days i had to book a room in Chungking Mansions, every time i traveled to HK. What kind of a nerd crosses 8000 km to just stand at Conduit Rd. in awe? X) I was born thousands of km from Hong Kong but i think i know it's geography just because of cultural exports from 80s-90s Hong Kong film and music industry :) Next trip to Hong Kong first things first, take a taxi from Mongkok to TST in the night and then over to HK island to have a midnight snack under Midlevels escalator in some greasy kebab joint. Guess where these exotic cliche ideas are coming from... right, from WKW's Hong Kong.

    Some movies portray urban romanticism better than others, some are masterpieces. Also, some cities are made to be admired. Fantastic short blog Rita, i'm off to watch some olf HK movie i guess, greetings from a russian who lives in Finland.

    p.s. Chris Doyle is adorable film hooligan :)

    1. It is just great to hear from another Chungking Express fans!!! And yes, Wong's movies can really bring in romantic reinterpretation of Hong Kong to audiences.


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