When the movies came to Lantau
Lantau has never played a big role in Hong Kong’s storied movie history, but it has picked up enough cameos create its own, occasionally fleeting, back catalogue.
Without further ado, let’s find Lantau’s greatest movie moments.
Enter the biopic
Bruce Lee & I 李小龍與我
Lantau made two cameos in the Bruce Lee biopic, Bruce Lee & I, made three years after his death.
The movie is told from the point of view of girlfriend, Taiwan-born actress Betty Ting Pei. It was at her Kowloon Tong apartment that Bruce died after she gave him a headache tablet.
A scene with Danny Lee, who played Bruce, shows the pair strolling along South Lantau Road above the Shek Pik Dam, apparently chosen because of its spectacular setting. It’s a scene almost impossible to create today; the road carries far too much traffic to be closed down for several hours for a shoot.
We also see the couple hand-in-hand on Lantau’s favourite stretch of sand, Cheung Sha beach. Where else for a romantic stroll?
It’s not much. But it is Bruce Lee.
Cable car climax
The 2012 thriller Nightfall isn’t related to Lantau at all except for a spectacular fight scene in the Ngong Ping 360 cable car.
The thriller stars Simon Yam in a battle of wits with ex-con Nick Cheung over a series of murders. As it nears its climax, they slug it out 20 metres above the hills of west Lantau. Spoiler: they don’t make it to the vegetarian special at Po Lin.
You can catch it in this trailer at the 1:40 mark.
Project A 1983 A計劃
Lantau plays a brief but entertaining part in this much-loved Jackie Chan effort from 1983.
Set in the early 1900s, Jackie plays a marine police officer trying to take down a powerful pirate. Among other adventures he gets caught in a scheme by Sammo Hung to sell rifles to the pirate gang. Sammo hides the guns inside a floating log but Jackie discovers he’s been played and pulls a ruse of his own.
The log scenes (beloow) were shot at still-recogniseable Sunny Bay on Lantau’s north coast. The logs have gone but some of the uprights are still there (though possibly not for long).
These days of course Sunny Bay is best-known as the jumping off point for Disneyland, Lantau’s lasting connection to the fantasy worlds of Hollywood and Hong Kong government finance.
The rifles-in-the-log scene may not be a box office draw, but Chan’s 60-foot jump from a clock tower and the slapstick bicycle chase in Project A have become Hong Kong classics.
Andy and Maggie
Oh What a Hero 嘩！英雄
Here’s a whole movie starring Andy Lau and Maggie Cheung as young lovers from Lantau.
But the island takes a back seat to the plot in which a youthful Andy is a policeman and a successful taekwondo artist up against a rival policeman-taekwondo artist. Eventually they settle things in a taekwondo tournament.
Despite the presence of the megastars the 1992 movie didn’t register strongly with audiences or critics.
There isn’t a great deal of Lantau, either, apart from a running gag about Andy being from Mui Wo. Maggie’s house looks to be at Chung Hau, and Cheung Sha Beach racks up another credit.
For the emotional high of the Maggie-Andy kiss scene (above) the film’s producers snubbed Mui Wo’s grand ferry terminal in favour of the Tung Chung pier.
You can relive it in full here (Cantonese only).
Two Van Dammes
A police boat chase, exploding Mercedes, a climactic factory fight scene, and not one but two Jean Claude Van Dammes: the 1991 action movie Double Impact has all of those and a Lantau hideout, but still managed to earn a critics’ score of just 14% on Rotten Tomatoes.
JCVD plays twin brothers born in Hong Kong but separated as babies after triads murdered their parents. One has grown up a cigar-chomping bad boy, the other a businessmen with a penchant for plum-coloured shirts. Yet they both have the same Belgian accent and martial arts moves.
When things get a little hot the Van Dammes head to a safe house in Mung Tung Wan (above). A quarter century on, it still works as a movie hideaway. It’s as remote as ever and it hasn’t changed; the shots of the jetty, bay and houses could have been taken today.
Unrelated, but a highlight anyway, is the marine police boat chase (it may even be off Chi Ma Wan). The Van Dammes evade capture by forcing Chinese gangsters and two Mercedes overboard. The discarded vehicles explode in the water, exploiting the well-known inability of a police boat to manoeuvre around a burning car.
If that’s not enough Lantau for you, the final death battle scene appears to have taken place in Tsing Yi.
Bonus fact: merely playing the part of a martial artist from Hong Kong wasn’t enough for Van Damme. He had to be one, and has lived here since 2006.
You can watch the whole Van Damme thing here. The Chi Ma Wan scene kicks in at 32:20.
The Lantau of the mind
As Tears Go By 旺角卡門
The Oscar for best Lantau-themed movie goes to this 1988 romance-drama, the first by Wong Kar-wai who later became famous for Chungking Mansions and In the Mood for Love.
It’s another Andy-Maggie love story and another in which Maggie plays a Lantau ingénue – though there the resemblance with the Mui Wo slapstick four years later ends. The two meet when she goes to stay with Andy, a distant relative, in Mongkok where he and his brother (Jackie Cheung) are minor gangsters.
It’s mostly set in gritty Kowloon but Lantau has a small but critical part. We follow Andy as he heads to Pui O to find Maggie at her family restaurant. He decides to return home, and we see the ferry leaving Mui Wo, but he changes his mind again. Maggie runs to meet him and once again there’s a stirring ferry pier kiss.
They spend a couple of days together in Pui O before Andy hurries back to Mongkok to clean up his brother’s latest mess, the start of a downward spiral. At one point he offers to take his brother away with him to Lantau – but too late.
The brief shot of the ferry aside, there are no identifiable Lantau locations, yet it creates a mental view of Lantau as a distant other or refuge – not a million miles from the Lantau of popular imagination today.
You can relive it here.