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Posts tagged “entertainment

REVERIE OF CHUNGKING EXPRESS: LAN KWAI FONG (蘭桂坊), Central (中環), Hong Kong

Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), a “L” shaped lane and its surrounding area is one of the designated places in Hong Kong for clubbing, partying and celebrating major festivals such as the New Year’s countdown. [Staff setting up festival decorations in LKF, late December, 2004]
For many decades Lan Kwai Fong was seen as the backwaters of Central, the main business district in Hong Kong. The opening of the first disco on LKF in 1978 has completely changed the fate of the sloped alleyway. [Near junction of LKF and D’Aguilar Street, 2004]

Midnight Express, a former snack bar in one of Hong Kong’s most vibrant and eccentric nightlife area Lan Kwai Fong (蘭桂坊), was one of the primary filming locations of Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express (重慶森林). In the film, Faye (Faye Wong) works at the snack bar while policeman 633 (Tony Leung) regularly comes to order takeout for his girlfriend. Behind the snack bar counter, Faye often dreams about the American West Coast, dances in the deafening music of California Dreamin’, and watches the revelry of Lan Kwai Fong’s party crowds. Standing behind the street-facing snack counter, Faye might have seen the partying individuals as empty and lonely, drinking, dancing and spending money as if there is no tomorrow. Chungking Express is just one of many films and TV dramas that picks Lan Kwai Fong (LKF), Hong Kong designated hub for partying, drinking and clubbing, to tell their urban tales. These stories have contributed to the myth making of LKF’s wild parties and charismatic lifestyle of the city’s high earners, expatriates and socialites. Since opening the first disco in 1978, the cool partying retreat was soon developed into a popular entertainment hub, and then becoming the city’s prime tourist attraction, the evolution of LKF reflects Hong Kong’s fast changing subcultures and economic circumstances in the past four decades.

Yet, LKF is not always about the glitter and glamour. A hundred years ago, LKF was home to brothels, marriage arrangers, and hawkers, and continued to be a back alley in the shadow of Central until the late 1970’s. It all began in 1978, when Gordon Huthart, son of the director of Lane Crawford luxury department store, collaborated with Andrew Bull, the legendary DJ who came to the city in 1974, brought the culture of Saturday Night Fever to Hong Kong by opening Disco Disco in LKF. Before Disco Disco, most nightlife in the city were associated with five star hotels. Disco Disco was the avant-garde venue that opened up a new era of subculture that welcomed all cool people in the city, be it queer or straight, rich or poor, to present their stylish outfits, glamorous persona and real character on the dance floor. Disco Disco was the pioneer in Hong Kong to break the social norms, and soon became one of the most phenomenal disco in Asia. International celebrities like Andy Warhol, Madonna, Sex Pistol, Rod Steward, Sean Penn, Sylvestor Stallone, etc. who happened to be a visitor of Hong Kong, would come for a drink and rubbed shoulders with the local socialites and celebrities. Despite shutting its doors permanently in 1986, Disco Disco has undoubtedly established the mythical foundation of LKF.

In 1983, the former Club 97 and Allan Zeman’s California Restaurant opened in LKF, and soon developed LKF into a prime nightlife destination, and a special venue for wild parties and celebrations for the New Year, Christmas, Halloween and Valentine’s Day. The sloped lane of LKF and the adjacent D’Aguilar Street (德己立街) were proved too small for the overwhelming crowds in 1993’s New Year’s Day, when a stampede accident killing 21 and injuring 62 shocked the whole city. Since then, stringent crowd control measures have been introduced by the police in LKF at every major festivals. Despite the tragic incident, nightlife continue to flourish in LKF and remain popular among expatriates, high earners, and tourists. Under the business vision of Allan Zeman, the biggest landlord in the area, LWF has become a unique business model that can be exported to other cities in China and Thailand. Today, a little more than a year since the first case of Covid 19 appeared in Hong Kong, LKF is facing its biggest challenge since 1978. Long periods of compulsory closure have shattered the entertainment businesses. From the coolest clubbing venue to a business formula that can be appropriated elsewhere in Asia, and from the designated party floor to one of the biggest business victims in times of the pandemic, LWF has seen its ups and downs. How may the partying ground adjust to the new order of post-pandemic Hong Kong is yet to be seen.

After 27 years, Midnight Express, the snack bar appeared in Chungking Express, has been converted into a 7/11 convenient store. [Lan Kwai Fong, 2021]
In times of the pandemic, the florists on LKF are relatively less affected by the government’s restrictions. [Junction of LKF and D’Aguilar Street, 2021]
Jewish Canadian businessman Allan Zeman has replaced his legendary California Restaurant (also a filming location of Chungking Express) with the mixed use California Tower [Junction of LKF and D’Aguilar Street, 2021]
According to their website, the 26 storey California Tower is home to some of the city’s finest restaurants, bars, clubs, lifestyle, fitness and creative commerce. [Junction of LKF and D’Aguilar Street, 2021]
In times of the pandemic, the legendary nightlife lane of LKF has become a shadow of its past. [LKF, 2021]
Whether the shuttered nightclubs and bars would reopen their doors after the government restrictions have been lifted is yet to be seen. [D’Aguilar Street, 2021]
LKF tried their best to convince the government that they would ensure their customers to keep social distancing and mask wearing, but that didn’t prevent the government to temporarily shutter all the bars and clubs. [D’Aguilar Street, 2021]
Branches off from D’Aguilar Street, the deserted Wing Wah Lane (榮華里) was once a cozy lane filled with dining tables on Friday night. [Wing Wah Lane, 2021]
Today in the midst of the Covid 19 pandemic, Wing Wah Lane is pretty much vacant. [Wing Wah Lane, 2021]
Serving lunch and takeouts to office workers in Central, restaurants at Wo On Lane (和安里) are perhaps some of the least affected business in LKF during the pandemic. [Junction of Wo On Lane and D’Aguilar Street, 2021]
A small deity shrine dedicated to the patron saint of the area marks the end of Wo On Lane. [Wo On Lane, 2021]
Beyond the deity shrine is Lan Kwai Fong Amphitheatre. [LKF Amphitheatre, 2021]
Lan Kwai Fong Amphitheatre has been a popular venue for parties, live performances and community events such Christmas Carols and outdoor movie screenings. Today, as all gyms and sporting venues are closed due to the Covid 19 pandemic, LKF Amphitheatre has become an outdoor exercise area for the community. [LKF Amphitheatre, 2021]
From boxing to weight lifting, LKF Amphitheatre has become a hot spot for exercising during the pandemic. [LKF Amphitheatre, 2021]
Built in 1892, the brick and stucco building was a cold storage depot for Dairy Farm, Hong Kong’s first local dairy company. The NGO arts organization Fringe Club (藝穗會) is housed in the South Block of the listed old Dairy Farm Depot, offering venues for art exhibitions, theatre performances, restaurant, and roof garden to support emerging artists in the city. [Junction of Wyndham Street, D’Aguilar Street and Lower Albert Road, 2020]
The North Block of the old Dairy Farm Depot is occupied by Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC), where foreign journalists and local media workers mingle after work. [Junction of Ice House Street and Lower Albert Road, 2020]
The FCC has occupied the North Block of the old Dairy Farm Depot since 1982. [Junction of Ice House Street and Lower Albert Road, 2020]
In 2020, the year when the whole world was overshadowed by the Covid 19 pandemic, most public festival celebrations in Hong Jong had been called off. 2020’s Halloween fell between Hong Kong’s third and fourth wave of Covid 19, offering a moment of relaxation for some minor celebrations to happen. [Looking towards D’Aguilar Street from Theatre Lane in Central, 2020]
On Halloween night, neighbourhoods in Central were filled of festive joy near Soho and LKF. [Pottinger Street in Central, Halloween night 2020]
Despite lack of large scale celebration due to the pandemic, the joyful crowds still dressed up in costumes and gathered around LKF for the annual Halloween celebrations. [Pottinger Street in Central, Halloween night 2020]
The street get more crowded as we approached LKF. [Wellington Street in Central, Halloween night 2020]
The police crowd control measures didn’t defer the crowds from entering D’Aguilar Street towards LKF. [D’Aguilar Street, Central, Halloween night 2020]
For many, it was time to party in LKF after many months of social distancing. [D’Aguilar Street, Central, Halloween night 2020]
Many ended up waiting in queues to enter the clubs and bars. In less than a month’s time after the Halloween, bars and clubs were shut down once again due to the fourth wave of Covid 19 in Hong Kong. [LKF, Halloween night 2020]
For those who couldn’t get into the clubs and bars, just dressing up in Halloween costumes, greeting pedestrians in laughter, and chilling out on the party street would easily put the night as one of the most memorable moments in the year of lockdowns and social distancing. [LKF, Halloween night 2020]

DAY 3 (6/6): ASAKUSA AT NIGHT (浅草), Tokyo (東京), Japan, 2017.06.16

We both felt asleep on the train back to Tokyo.  The normally popular tourist district of Asakusa (浅草) was largely deserted by the time we walked out Asakusa Station at around 9pm.  We didn’t want to return to our hotel yet.  We decided to wander around Asakusa, from the world famous Kaminarimon (雷門) of Sensoji (金龍山浅草寺) to the inner streets of dining, shopping and entertainment district of Rokku.  Most shops were closed except for some restaurants and street eateries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe buildings and streetscape around Tobu Asakusa Station reveal the former glory of Asakusa when the district was a foremost area in Tokyo.

02Tokyo Skytree and Philippe Starck’s Asahi Beer Hall stood out in the skyline beyond.

03Kengo Kuma’s Asakusa Culture and Tourist Centre (淺草文化中心) took on a different appearance under the perfect illumination.

04Surrounded by scaffolding, the Kaminarimon (雷門) of Sensoji (金龍山浅草寺) found a moment of peace with the absence of tourists.

05The 200m Nakamise (仲見世) Shopping Street closed for the night.  Security guards were checking the shopping streets to ensure no visitor stayed behind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Nakamise (仲見世), we entered a side street (雷門柳小路) into the grid network of small streets of restaurants, cafes, and bars.

07Orange Street (オレンジ通り), a street famous for its orange paint lies at the centre of the dining and entertainment area of Asakusa.

08The Rokku area of Asakusa was once the biggest entertainment district in Japan before WWII.  During the Edo Period (1603-1867), Asakusa lies outside the city wall and was a red light and theatre district.  During the prewar years of the 20th century, theatres and cinemas dominated the Rokku area.  Much of Asakusa was destroyed during the war.  Today, the entertainment district of Asakusa was only a shadow of its past.

10Some restaurants in the area still maintains the atmosphere of the prewar days.

11In contrast to the spirituality and history of Sensoji Temple just a few blocks away, the Rox Dome is a popular indoor batting stadium.

 

12The atmospheric Dempoin Dori (傳法院通) offers a glimpse of the former theatre and entertainment district.

Not many pedestrians were around at Dempoin Dori.  However some of the restaurants were still open.  The traditional shopfronts reminded visitors the appearance of the lively high street during the prewar years.

17Despite its decline in the postwar years, Asakusa remains an interesting place to stroll around and get a feel of Tokyo’s history and its vibrant dining scenes.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday, the Rokku area is still a focus of dining and entertainment experience, with outdoor eateries here and there near the junction of Don Quijote Department Store.

16Most shops were closed for the night, but the street-side eateries were still quite lively when we were there.

18The junction in front of Don Quijote Department Store was brightly lit up by neon lights of theatres and shops.

19Apart from the street eateries and traditional shops, there are also covered arcades in the area providing another alternative shopping experience.

20After strolling for an hour or so, we headed back to Asakusa Station and took the metro back to Shibuya.  Passing by the narrow alleyways near the station, the Tokyo Skytree across Sumida River could be clearly seen at the street end, revealing a new chapter of shopping and entertainment just a stone throw away from Asakusa.