The Avenue of Stars – another article for Hong Kong Time Out
Okay as promised (and because my blog stats have taken a bit of a dip since my old myspaces blog was deleted – not that they have ever been that high anyway) here is the AoS I penned a couple of months back – took a while to get into print because it got bumped due to the minimum wage stuff.
Anyway, many thanks to Time Out Hong Kong editor Jake Hamilton for letting me write this one, I just provided the words (well, most of them ) but he is the one who comes up with the ideas and the impressive graphics. I should also say a big thanks to Thomas Podvin and Ryan Ra (from hkcinemagic and hkmdb, respectively) for letting me use the various head shots – all of which were taken from their sites (apart from the Roy Chaio one which I’ll explain about further down) and a very big thanks to Mike Leeder. For those who don’t know Mike is the Asian-based editor of Impact Magazine and when he is not making films, acting in them or reviewing them he is casting for them, interviewing famous people for the DVD extras and being a generally nice and helpful person for eejits like me.
Anyway, on we go.
Click on the pictures to get a better view – although I should say this was, of course, the edited version. I wasn’t given a word limit for the main copy so I just went overboard and some of it was dropped for spaces’ sake. Just so you can see what the original looked like, I’ve also copy/pasted it below.
Okay, so I didn’t write the ‘oh dear’ regarding JCVD (because, actually, I quite like him) and the photo of Roy Chiao is NOT Roy Chiao – thanks to a mix up at printing time. The powers that be figured some bloke in Shaolin Monk garb would look close enough (fair enough, most people won’t know, but there are also a whole bunch of people who will know) and of course the impressive graphic that runs along the top of the page is done in the wrong direction, but I guess it had to considering we’re reading from left to right.
The unedited version originally had 40 stars, but some obviously got dropped, space reasons perhaps but also because some of these bio’s start sounding very similar after a while. I also submitted a much bigger list of ‘missing’ stars and have included the full list at the bottom. It was purely a personal choice and I would certainly be interested in hearing about anyone who you also believe deserves their own glitzy paving slab on the AoS.
Do you ever still get the urge to stretch your legs and go for a nice meandering stroll along the TST Waterfront, feeling the sea air brushing your face, gazing at the harbour and one of the world’s most famous cityscapes as the skyscrapers opposite seem almost to rise from the sea in their ever growing quest to reach the clouds?
Before SARS reared its ugly head and chased all the tourists away, just such an experience was still possible. However, in a post-SARs bout of less-than-clear thinking someone thought it would be a good idea to destroy that lovely walk and instead turn it into the obstacle course called the “Avenue of Stars”.
The concept probably looked good on paper (after all, it’s based on the world famous Hollywood Boulevard stars) but in a manner that only the HK powers-that-be seem capable of effecting, the execution of that the great plan was the tourist equivalent of a Kevin Klein handbag: a very cheap low-quality “Made in China” copy masquerading as a “magical tribute to the stars”.
We can’t put our collective fingers on what it is about the ‘Avenue’ that makes us feel this way, other than to say it’s the general impression of complete and utter naffness. It’s the same feeling we get wandering through the Peak Tower complex or contrived Ngong Ping Village – basically it’s tacky dumbed-down tourism at its very worst and it’s definitely not ‘magical’. The once relaxing amble along the sea front has been turned into an energy-charged affair of dodging and weaving through (and often over) the masses of huddled tourists. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the Avenue “is a good walk spoiled”. Take your eyes off the floor at your own peril because if you’re not looking where you are going you could easily trip over a prostrate film fan or perhaps cause injury by treading on their fingers as they attempt to fit their hands into the cemented shape of those of their idol’s.
The whole thing cost HK$40 Million – a figure put up entirely by New World Property – but looking at it you may wonder where all the money went. Aside from the plaques (currently 101 in total consisting of the famous and not so famous in equal measure), some trinket booths and a few shoddy bits of coloured plastic, there doesn’t seem to be much to merit such an expense. It’s quite revealing that the most popular part of the Avenue is the bronze statue of Bruce Lee – a later addition not part of the original design and paid for purely through the worldwide donations of his fans.
What peeves us the most about the “Avenue” is that unless you are a HK film aficionado, most of the names on the floor will mean very little (it’s quite feasible that even an aficionado may be flummoxed by some of the names). In essence, unless you have extensive prior knowledge of these people then your visit to the Avenue can be more miss than hit. Do you want to spend several hours mugging up on little-known Asian film personalities for a ten minute walk along the boulevard?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter so much because you can always spend your time getting your picture taken in front of the various bits and pieces along the way – let’s face it, who needs a world beating harbour vista when you have lots of brightly coloured plastic to stand in front of. Let’s face it, at least Jackie Chan’s Berlin inspired “buddy bears” provide a nice contrast to the ever increasing blanket of smog that descends on us 300 days of the year.
Of course the HK film industry IS world famous and we feel that a fitting tribute is appropriate for our hard–working film industry personalities, but we also feel it should be a tribute that can be enjoyed by everyone and not just the experts. So in the spirit of saving you some time on your holiday and hopefully providing some brief insight into the lesser known names you are treading on, we have put aside our petty irritations to brave the hordes – dodging kneeling tourists, school children conducting English interviews, fake Shaolin monks and men in turbans who think we have lucky faces, to bring you a quick guide to the Avenue of Stars.
[I won't bother repeating all the bio info - most of it stayed intact - apart from some of the more controversial stuff relating to Eric Tsang's bent-copper dad - but here are the 6 people who didn't make the final cut...]
#6. Zhu Shi lin (1899 – 1967)
Zhu was 27 when he was struck by an illness which left him crippled from the waist down, however, this didn’t stop him from becoming a prolific writer and subsequent director in both the Shanghai and Hong Kong film industries – the latter he entered into immediately following the Second World War.
#10. Kwan Tak Hing (1905 – 1996)Anyone who has any knowledge of the kung fu film genre will know of Kwan Tak Hing. He is most famous for his portrayal of the legendary Wong Fei Hung in a huge series of early films that saw him battling, more often than not, Shek Kin (who later played the evil Mr Han opposite Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon). In the 1950s he opened a Chinese herbal shop which he was still running before making a final foray into film in 1994’s “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
#11. Cheung Wood Yau (1910 – 1985)
A Cantonese operatic performer by training, Cheung made the leap into film in 1939 and was a stalwart actor in the 40’s and 50s. One of his stranger roles was starring as the older version of “Frank” the main protagonist in “The Orphans Tragedy”. The character was only supposed to be a twenty something medical graduate but was being played by a 45 year old Cheung!! Huge leaps of faith are often part-and-parcel of watching films of this era.
#13. Tang Wing Cheung (1916 – 1997)
Tang was a famous opera performer who made the switch into the film world when that latter form of entertainment became more popular. It seems quite normal for the early HK film stars to have been featured in hundreds of films throughout their careers and Tang was no exception – studio output rate was often compared to a car production line. Philanthropic in his later life, he was awarded an MBE in 1978.
#32. Miranda Yang (1932 – )Shanghai-born but moved to HK at the age of 15 and attended the famous Mary Knoll Convent School in Kowloon Tong. She was talent-spotted in 1950 whilst visiting the Great Wall studios. She was invited to join the studio and became a professional actor aged of 17.
Miranda was a favourite on the mainland, but after witnessing the chaos caused by the Cultural Revolution she decided to distance herself from the scene. She left HK for a few years and came back to start afresh in the garment industry. She did eventually return to film-making as a producer, one of her productions being the acclaimed “Boat People” directed by Ann Hui (#62).
#94. Lai Pak Hoi (1889 – 1950)We turn back the clock again to find Lai’s star fixed firmly amongst more contemporary stars. He featured alongside his brother, Lai Man Wai (#1) in what is believed to be HK’s first film (1913’s Zhuangzi Tests His Wife).
Improvements needed for the Avenue of StarsAccording to the official website, the AoS is one of the hottest tourist spots in Hong Kong, so we guess it is here to stay, but surely we can improve the overall experience a bit for those of us who are actually interested in these people? Here are a few of our recommendations.
- Biographical detail of the people featured on the floor. The official website has a useful breakdown of the various personalities, but why does this information have to be physically separate from the Avenue? Install some display boards along the avenue (like the current ones that have historical information) so we can read who these people were and the films they were involved with. Perhaps even some video displays that can show excerpts of the various people being talked about, and some clips from their films.
- How about some pictures of the people featured. Many non-film experts may recognise a face even if they don’t recognise the name of that person. The picture could accompany the biographical information.
- Get rid of the multi-coloured plastic stuff or at least tone it down a bit. Not everyone who visits the Avenue is obsessed with getting their photos taken in front of this stuff.
- Fix the spelling mistakes. We found two obvious errors (there could be more). Chang Cheh (#41) – is remembered as Chang Chen. His Chinese character name is correct but this guy is known around the world by the anglicised version so at least get it right so prevent confusion. An even worse error is Patsy Ka Ling Ho’s name (#82). She is, rather unfortunately, remembered as Pasty.. In HK we are used to the odd ridiculous (and often amusing) mix-up of letters, but in a place where someone is being remembered ‘in tribute’ it’s a bit of an insult.
- Clean the place up a bit. One end of the avenue is serving as a storage area for the broken down plastic booths (are they awaiting refurbishment or recycling?). It’s a complete eyesore. These things are hard enough to look at when they are brand new let alone when they are old and bashed-up. Get rid of them.
- How about the plaques themselves, most of them have been on the floor since the avenue’s inception and have had untold numbers of feet and hands all over them. They’re looking a bit worse for wear and need a bit of a buff – especially to get rid of old chewing gum. Sir Run Run’s plaque already looks almost as old as he is.
- What happened to Gong Li? She is supposed to be #100 but the space is just a blank plaque.
- Get a few more well-known names on there (see side bar two for our recommendations).
Who should be on there but isn’t.
It’s the Hong Kong Film Awards Association Ltd that decides who goes on the Avenue, but what criteria goes into the decision process? Who knows, but we think there are some glowing emissions. Here’s just a small selection of who we think needs some greater recognition.
- Gordon Liu – aka Lau Kar Fai is probably one of the most recognised HK film stars of the last 30 years – mainly thanks to his shiny bald head and starring roles in various classic kung fu films (of the Shaw Brothers Shaolin kind) that made it onto the international market. His iconic status in HK cinema was recognised by Quentin Tarantino, himself a HK film aficionado, by giving Gordon cameo roles in Kill Bill 1 & 2. Incidentally, he is also the adopted brother of Lau Kar Leung (see plaque #78) and plays a mean guitar.
- Wang Jan Lee – okay granted, he’s Korean and not Chinese but we are not aware of any explicit racial criteria for being on the Avenue and Wang was one of THE coolest baddies from the 70’s and 80s kung fu films. Thanks to his awesome kicking abilities and made-for-bad-guy-roles snarl, he starred in a multitude of pictures including two of Jackie Chan’s early breakthroughs: Snake in the Eagles Shadow and Drunken Master. After making his mark in the industry Wang returned to Korea in the late 1980′s and to this day continues to teach Taekwondo as well as being the CEO of a Korean bodyguard company.
- Lydia Shum – how can one of HK’s most loveable and recognisable faces be left off the Avenue? Lydia sadly passed away in 2008 but had starred in a multitude of films since the early 60’s. Her large figure earned her the nickname of Fei Fei and in a very HK-style (read: politically incorrect) publicity stunt was the first person to travel through the newly opened cross-harbour tunnel sitting in the front of a vintage car. The inference being that if big Lydia could make it in a vastly undersized and underpowered car, then it must be safe!
- Lam Ching Ying – Lam got a kick start in the business co-starring alongside Bruce Lee in both the Bog Boss and Enter The Dragon, in the litter he was Shek Kin’s stunt double as well as appearing as an extra in the tournament scenes. Lee had promised to take him back to the US along with his other trusty stunt team when the plan was aborted due to Lee’s premature death. Lam later went on to enjoy his own stardom and he starred in many a horror comedy playing the trusty Taoist shaman defeating zombies in films such as Mr Vampire and all it’s sequels. Sadly Lam passed away in 1997 from cancer, his death a shock to many close friends because he had kept his illness largely secret.
- Fu Sheng – one of the Shaw’s golden stars during the 70s and 80s before his untimely death in a car crash on Clearwater Bay road in 1984. Fu Sheng was living in Bruce Lee’s old home at 41 Cumberland Road at the time of his death which fuelled local superstitious beliefs about how the house’s bad ‘fung shui’ lead to both Lee’s and Fu Sheng’s premature deaths. Hmm, for a place that has operated fairly successfully for the last 20 years as a Love hotel, we reckon the fung shui can’t be that bad.
- Yuen Wah – If you have seen Enter the Dragon or Kung Fu Hustle then you would have already seen Yuen Wah in action. In Enter the Dragon, besides playing a small role as a tournament fighter he also stunt doubled for Bruce Lee during the acrobatic moves (yes, the guy who did the back flick kick was actually Yuen Wah , not Bruce) and he is more recognisable as the bendy elastic bodied landlord of the tenement block in Kung Fu hustle. Fellow opera school student to Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung, Yuen has been in the business for many years but for some reason has never had the international fame of his fellow class mates.
- Lo Lieh – just a few months before Bruce Lee burst onto the scene in the Big Boss, Lo Lieh had already staked his claim by being in one of the first internationally released HK films: King Boxer (aka Five Fingers Of Death). Unfortunately for Lo it came at a time when Bruce Lee had also just been launched on the scene and the fights in King Boxer very much pale in comparison to Lee’s far more explosive style.
- Charles Wang – Wang was one of the main movers and shakers in the industry thanks to his company – Salon Films, set up by his father – having the Panavision license for Asia. This meant that Salon films became one of the largest suppliers of filming equipment to the industry in Hong Kong (and around Asia) for all manner of film: Govt videos, documentaries, commercials, mini series and major feature films. One of the first international films Salon provided equipment for was “The World of Suzie Wong” (1960) starring William Holden. Wang passed away in 2007 so wouldn’t it be nice if one of the major behind-the-scenes personalities from the last 50 years was also remembered on the Avenue?
- Kara Hui Ying Hung – From very humble beginnings living in a shanty town in Tiu Keng Leng) and working in nightclubs, Hui was discovered by Lau Kar Leung (#78) and cast in several of his films dating from the mid-70’s. She was the very first recipient of the Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress Award in 1982. She won it again last year (2010) for her performance in “At The End of Daybreak” and looks barely a day older than she did for her first win. Surely that deserves her own star?
Anyway, there you go, but notice the bit about Gong Li? I mentioned this in part 4 as well but a couple of weeks after this article was published (April 27th) a rather strange article appeared in the SCMP which seemed to have been provoked by my article.
Someone at the SCMP obviously thought it was a good idea to approach the management of AoS and ask them about the Gong Li issue. I find it funny that they should feel the need to respond at all, after all the article was really intended to be a bit tongue-in-cheek, but there you go. Here is the article below so you can make up your own mind.
Anyway, that is my last ever post on the Avenue of Stars. I hated the place to begin with and after all these months – despite it being a personal education on the HK film industry (sadly, not an education available to anyone who actually walks along it, you have to go home and dig a lot deeper) I am absolutely sick to death of the place
Well, the floor is now open to you film fans to tell me who you think should be in there. Would love to hear some more suggestions.