號外 City Magazine Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature
號外 City Magazine Alexey Marfin Feature

I have a 16-page special feature in this month’s issue of 號外 City Magazine. I had the opportunity to share ‘Hong Kong through my eyes’ – talking about my connection to the city, our VR film ‘Kowloon Forest / 靜影九龍’, and showing some previously unpublished photos that I have taken in HK over the years. Huge thanks to the fantastic Iemi Chu. Pick up a copy this month if you are in HK.

English Translation ▾
[PAGE 2]
“I first came to Hong Kong six years ago, when I was making my first short film, Blue-Eyed Me. It was a science-fiction film looking at the infrastructure of global commerce, and with our team we went to the Greater Pearl River Delta area. I visited urban villages in Shenzhen, smartphone factories in Guangzhou, border smugglers in Hong Kong, etc. This was fascinating for me, because ultimately this is the ‘behind the scenes’ of the world’s consumer desires.
However, I realized there was so much more to Hong Kong and its culture, than these mainstream interpretations of the city, as a science-fiction fantasy, or the world’s commerce center. I realized there was some kind of truly unique emotional context as a result of all this; something much more poetic. At the time, I didn’t know that I wanted to make a VR film, and I didn’t know anything about Hong Kong, I just had a general feeling that maybe there are different stories to be told here. So over the years that followed, I became more and more integrated and familiar with Hong Kong. I did some teaching at Hong Kong City University, I’m slowly learning Cantonese, I lived in different parts of Hong Kong, filmed a lot, and made many friends in this city. Now, I split my time between Los Angeles and Hong Kong.
Over time, based on various experiences I had, and people I got to know here, those abstract ideas began to take on a more defined shape, and eventually became the blueprint for “Kowloon Forest”. A simple example: the opening scene is actually based on a friend’s place in Sham Shui Po where I stay sometimes. It’s the top-floor flat and the washing machine is on the rooftop – so that story of doing laundry on the roof is actually based on my own experience living there, just fictionalized in a different time, back in the era of low-flying airplanes coming into Kai Tak airport.
Even though Kowloon Forest is very different to Blue-Eyed Me, there are similar themes. For example, the Mainland Chinese businessman and the Filipina domestic helpers are migrant workers of various forms, presenting the idea of Hong Kong as a magnet for capital and labour. The ‘mukbang’ livestreamer presents the idea of companionship and identity in the digital age.”
[PAGE 5]
“When I first came to HK (while filming Blue-Eyed Me), I lived in Chungking Mansions, in a small room in a Hong-Kong-Indian-owned hostel on the top floor. More than just being cheap accommodation, I was interested in the building’s infamous status. I remember HK friends telling me about its dangerous and seedy reputation. Actually, I think only the ground floor is hectic – the upper floors are surprisingly calm.
One thing there which surprised me, is how different spaces – residential, business, hotel, etc – are all just combined together. I remember on our floor there were two hostels, several apartments with families, and some kind of travel agency. The scene in Kowloon Forest about an internet cafe that doubles as an online astrology center at night is loosely inspired by a real internet cafe that I saw in Chungking Mansions. Especially with such a presence of different cultures, Chungking Mansions really feels like its own complex ecosystem. If you go onto the building’s rooftop, you can see that it’s actually several interconnected buildings, not just one. I have been back since, but the building looks different now.”
[PAGE 6]
“Hong Kong Island, I think, is shaped more by the aesthetics of the corporate world: glass towers, banks, luxury shopping, etc. Kowloon, on the other hand, is a little more chaotic. There’s more of the old Hong Kong preserved in areas like Sham Shui Po – I thought that setting fit better for the idea of the film. However, I think it would be very interesting to make a Hong Kong Island version of the film – the same format, but with different characters from that context…”
[PAGE 9]
“I have shot two short films in Hong Kong. I would like to do more projects in HK in the future, too. One thing that interests me is how a place or culture has thoughts and fantasies about another place or culture. For example, like in Fruit Chan’s movie ‘Hollywood Hong Kong’- the characters live in a village below a building called ‘Plaza Hollywood’ and wonder what it’s like to live there. And the girl who lives in that building dreams about going to the actual American Hollywood one day. But then someone in Hollywood might be longing for another place, like Paris, or London, or Hong Kong. I think that’s a very human condition – a desire for something/somewhere/someone, which you know only indirectly. This might be through popular culture, or even through an account you follow on Instagram, or whatever. As our world gets more interconnected and migratory, this condition will only get stronger, I think.”
[PAGE 11]
“The film is basically a series of character portraits. As a viewer, we meet those characters in moments of intimacy or privacy. Each character is doing something when they are not being watched by others. Then we use the format of VR to invisibly ‘inhabit’ these personal spaces. For example, the character played by Toonyun is taking off her makeup and the viewer is in the tiny space between her and the mirror. This experience of actually feeling the human presence of the film’s characters, is something that regular movies cannot express in the same way, I think.
The backgrounds and real-life experience of the actors helped to develop the characters in the film. The Indian astrologer is played by a real spiritual teacher from India, who brought his own clothes and props for the scene. Or Sara, who plays one of the Filipina domestic helpers, is the daughter of a Filipina domestic helper from Hong Kong. Each space also has a view out onto the city, so we see each quiet moment in relation to the wider world beyond. I think there are a lot of interpretations possible for the audience.”
[PAGE 12]
“The film is sort of a love letter to Hong Kong, so everything is a little more romanticized or stylized in the film’s version of the city – in order to exaggerate certain emotions and feelings. Each scene is composed of a combination of on-location footage, on-set footage, and computer-generated images. Some of the objects in the scenes are the real belongings of the actors – the photos in Toonyun’s room are her real childhood photos from Hong Kong. The view of Mong Kok in the Filipina helpers’ scene is filled with many neon signs which are not there anymore in reality.
Many audiences in Hong Kong have told me that the film makes them look poetically at everyday moments, which they never thought of as being poetic. That made me think: perhaps there is some value in being an ‘outsider’ in a place, to see its beauty. This combination of being both very familiar and distant can capture the poetic qualities of Hong Kong. For example, the very beautiful portrayal of Hong Kong in ‘In the Mood for Love’ is filmed by Christopher Doyle, who isn’t originally from Hong Kong.”
[PAGE 15]
“It’s difficult for me to predict the future of Hong Kong; everything is changing so fast. A lot of things which are characteristic of the city’s culture are disappearing (or have disappeared). For me, the low-flying airplanes or the ubiquitous neon signs in Kowloon Forest become a way of preserving the traits and spirit of the city.
I think that for many people, Hong Kong is a city which looks like ‘the future’. Films like Blade Runner and Ghost in the Shell established this vision of ‘the future’ as a dense neon-lit cityscape somewhere between Hong Kong and Tokyo – presumably because at the time of those movies, Hong Kong was one of the leading players on the world stage. But I think this vision is only from the outside’. On the inside, it’s a different story – I think there’s a lot of nostalgia in Hong Kong culture. Whether it’s people looking back at the era of Beyond and Leslie Cheung, or imagining a romanticized vision of the 1960s in In the Mood for Love – I think there’s a longing for some kind of ‘golden age’ that we’ve just left. Or maybe this just says more about my own nostalgia – I don’t know.”

Web Version: 馬樂思 靜影九龍 – Alexey Marfin Kowloon Forest – A Love Letter To Hong Kong – 號外 City Magazine