26th May 2024 – (Hong Kong) In recent weeks, a Hong Kong-produced film centred around the iconic Kowloon Walled City has taken both local and mainland Chinese box offices by storm. “Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In” not only achieved stellar ticket sales but also made waves at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, where its cast was in attendance. This resurgence of Hong Kong cinema’s prowess has caught the attention of high-ranking officials, who are now considering preserving the film’s sets as a tourist attraction. However, the government’s bureaucratic approach and the numerous technical hurdles involved may result in the opportunity slipping away, with the film’s popularity waning long before any concrete plans can be implemented.

Officials have pointed out that some of the film’s sets have already been dismantled and discarded, emphasising the difference between temporary movie sets and permanent tourist attractions. Finding a suitable location to house these exhibits poses a significant challenge, as it requires ample space and convenient accessibility. The question of whether to charge admission fees further complicates matters. In short, the government’s plans are far from being finalised, and even if an agreement is reached, it may take a year or more to come to fruition. By then, the public’s enthusiasm for the Kowloon Walled City may have diminished significantly.

Hong Kong’s film and entertainment industry experienced a golden age in the 1970s, reaching its peak in the 1980s and 1990s, producing numerous superstars. Proposals to integrate this cultural heritage with tourism, leveraging the star power of celebrities to attract visitors, have long been on the table. Regrettably, the government has been unwilling to invest in preserving even the most iconic sites, such as Bruce Lee’s former residence in Kowloon Tong, which has since been lost to history. In contrast, mainland China has demonstrated a greater appreciation for cultural treasures like Bruce Lee, with Foshan having established a dedicated memorial hall in his honour. This comparison highlights the shortsightedness of successive Hong Kong governments.

During Hong Kong’s economic boom years, the city had no shortage of tourists, and officials turned a blind eye to the “lowly” entertainment industry. Little did they anticipate the shifting tides of time. Today, Hong Kong faces economic stagnation and a drastic change in tourist consumption patterns, with the city’s allure fading. The rise of social media platforms has fuelled a desire among visitors to capture Instagram-worthy moments at popular attractions, prompting the government to hastily create photo opportunities. Last month’s “Chubby Hearts” event, intended to facilitate tourist snapshots, fell flat due to its lacklustre execution. Even mainland tourists dismissed it as “just balloons,” leaving the government red-faced. Also in February this year, the much-anticipated appearance of football superstar Lionel Messi in a friendly match turned into a fiasco when he failed to take the field, leading to accusations of disrespect towards fans and calls for apologies. The controversy surrounding Messi’s no-show has even drawn comparisons to his more enthusiastic reception in Japan, further fuelling the anger of Chinese fans.

However, just a month later, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum’s centennial exhibition commemorating the legendary writer Jin Yong (Louis Cha) received glowing reviews, attracting both local residents and mainland tourists. The government finally realised the value of such cultural assets. Jin Yong’s martial arts novels have been adapted into numerous films and television series, captivating generations of fans. Yet, the government had long overlooked this potential, lagging behind even Macao, which had already established a Jin Yong library. This oversight has cost Hong Kong countless opportunities to draw in visitors.

Hong Kong was once hailed as the “Hollywood of the East,” a reputation the government failed to capitalise on in the past. Now, it is time for a reevaluation. Beyond seizing the moment with the Kowloon Walled City film, the government should swiftly explore ways to harness the star power of other cultural icons. The late superstar Leslie Cheung, for example, continues to attract fans from around the world who make pilgrimages to Hong Kong to pay their respects on his death anniversary, rain or shine. Similarly, the recent vandalisation of the late singer Wong Ka Kui’s grave by malicious individuals prompted an outpouring of grief from Mainland fans who visited the site to mourn, demonstrating the enduring popularity of these stars. The government should consider facilitating or even organising exhibitions featuring these luminaries to draw in tourists.

While last night’s drone show featuring the Japanese anime character Doraemon in Tsim Sha Tsui and the upcoming display of over a hundred Doraemon figures along the Avenue of Stars this summer are sure to attract fans, it is important to remember that Doraemon is not a homegrown creation. Hong Kong still has numerous untapped treasures waiting to be discovered. For instance, the Montane Mansion in Quarry Bay has served as a filming location for two Hollywood movies including “Transformers” and remains a must-visit spot for international tourists. This demonstrates that creating tourist attractions does not always require substantial financial investments or seeking external resources; it ultimately depends on whether the government can identify and seize opportunities.

In short, the Hong Kong government must recognise the immense potential of the city’s cultural heritage and take proactive steps to preserve and promote it. By focusing on local cultural assets, such as the sets of the Kowloon Walled City film and the legacies of legendary figures like Jin Yong, Leslie Cheung, and Wong Ka Kui, rather than relying on foreign imports like Doraemon, the government can create unique and compelling tourist experiences that showcase the best of Hong Kong’s rich history and creativity. This approach not only celebrates the city’s cultural identity but also has the potential to revitalise Hong Kong’s tourism industry and economy.