Hong Kong In Hollywood


This is a school project I have worked in 2015. It aimed to illustrate Hollywood’s impression of Hong Kong and their reasons behind. I have converted the independent website into a part of my personal site in 2018.


We are always fascinated by Hollywood’s depiction of our city, Hong Kong, which had once under the colonial rule of Britain, then handover back to China. A city when east meet west, has converged a new scenery that Hollywood is interested about. More and more Hollywood movies were shot in Hong Kong after 2000, especially action and adventure blockbusters. And those movies contain certain elements that will illustrate Hollywood’s impression of Hong Kong and their reasons behind.



In Prof. Gina Marchetti’s work on the imagination of Asia in Hollywood movies, she picks sexuality as the window in pointing out Hollywood’s Yellow Peril fantasy. This project hopes to continue the investigation on Hollywood depiction on Asia, especially in Hong Kong. Critiquing Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing (1955) and The World of Suzie Wong (1960) , Marchetti describes, “The Hong Kong of these films is Hollywood’s Hong Kong, constructed out of the American imagination and decidedly unlike even Hong Kong film industry’s vision of its own city” (110) It would be interesting to examine if this notion stays true today. The following paragraph attempts to points out the origin of Hollywood’s impressions and the reason behind of Hollywood picking Hong Kong as blockbusters scene location in recent years.



Across all the selected movies partially or entirely shot in Hong Kong, there is a clear attachment to the history and impression of Hong Kong. The oriental fishing village, rickshaw pulling on the street and the famous airport where planes flying over rooftops. These are the remaining spectacle of Hollywood directors seeing Hong Kong till today. The famous Victoria Harbour must appear in the movie in order create authenticity to the Hong Kong on Hollywood screen, so as to remind audiences about Hong Kong was a fishing village before.

Example: Transformers: Age of Extinction, Pacific Rim, Johnny English Reborn, The Dark Knight, Die Another Day



Most movies depict Hong Kong as a populated city, is taking the impression from Kowloon Wall City. The ungoverned settlement area out of Chinese and British jurisdiction, where more than 50,000 people lived in 2.6 hectare border until its demolishment in 1994. To recreate the dense populated Kowloon Walled City, many movies are shot in Quarry Bay, Tu Kwa Wan and Shum Shui Po, districts with densely distributed buildings in the resemblance of the populated scenes.

Example: Transformers: Age of Extinction, Push, Johnny English Reborn



Even as an international city with low crime rate, Hong Kong on screen is filled with crime and gangsters. Because of the populated setting, movie protagonist often hide in the district, or looking for some characters living in these areas. Therefore, crime will happen in order to drive the plot. There will alway be chasing scenes in busy district like Wan Chai and Mong Kok, which characters are chasing or being chased. Crime is also an obvious attachment to the local triads and crime movies.

Example: Transformers: Age of Extinction, Pacific Rim, Contagion, Push, The Dark Knight



Mission Impossible, 007 James Bond, Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones, all these franchises have sequels that have shot in China after 2000s, illustrating the presence of a rising power. Among selected films shot in Hong Kong, one of the constant elements is the presence of Chinese bureaucracy, both in local and mainland government. Some depict Chinese officials as corrupted, while other praise and see China as an equal political power. One of the main reason of such depiction is for the sake of pleasing the authority in China. As Gary Susman writes, “It’s routine for Hollywood to alter the content of its overseas prints to placate China” (Rollingstone.com), but in order to be one of the 34 movies foreign movies permitted to import each year, Hollywood is leaning toward Chinese authority, compromising edits and productions in Chinese delight. Studios are more than happy to create movies that would please the authority, but hesitate investing in movies that will expose Chinese government’s taboo like human rights condition, tibet and government corruptions.



One of the films deserves to be mentioned is Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim (2013). The high-stylistic director reimagines Hong Kong as a strategically important coastal city in defending giant monster. During class one of the most referred topic is how Hong Kong become the verge between east meet west, different nationalities and races and values meet in a city. Pacific Rim makes a good example, taken place in this city we are talking about and adopting multicultural actors in significant role.

While one side of the peninsular is a military base, which men and women with different colors and nationalities gather in saving the mankind, across the harbour is a mix between high-rise buildings and large but busy market where you can find anything. The essence of our vibrant city with neon lights is captured and glorified in the vision that different cultures and races live together peacefully and create a better future. If to choose one of the movies as the best depiction of Hong Kong, Pacific Rim would be the choice.



Depiction of Hong Kong:

In Transformers: Age of Extinction, Hong Kong stands in the last act of the movie. But it is a mixed shot between Hong Kong, Chongqing, Tianjin and Detroit. Hong Kong is depicted as a metropolitan, by setting major fighting scenes in Central and Admiralty, around Bank of China tower and Headquarter of Government Office, central business district that Hong Kong well-known of. But at the same time, the side of Hong Kong as the busiest and crowded city is also illustrated. In a hideout which Joshua and Su met Cade when they are hiding from the villains, scenes were shot in Quarry Bay and Shum Shui Po.

Be that as it may, the depiction of Hong Kong in the movie is not authentic since 1/3 of the scenes were shot in Detroit and Tianjin, as a stand-in of Hong Kong. Hong Kong is also terraformed in order to fit with the plot, as a large piece of woodland in Chongqing is generated behind Mount Parker in Quarry Bay, where Optimus Prime called the help of ancient transformer dragon. A scene of the movie especially mentions the political dynamics between Hong Kong and China. When Hong Kong is turned into chaos by alien robots fighting, Hong Kong Police panicked and said “We’ve got to call the central government for help!” Chinese military vehicles then drive in to the city, displacing the soft military power and the sovereignty of Chinese government.


In the forth instalment of Transformer franchise, Director Michael Bay extends his robotic alien fantasy to Chinese myths and set part of the movie in China and Hong Kong. Serving as a soft reboot of the franchise introducing new main casts and set-up, the movie sets in Texas, where Mark Wahlberg stars as a poor inventor named Cade. He accidentally discovers Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots who has been hunted by U.S. authority. He, his daughter and her boyfriend, set off to help Optimus Prime preventing the extinction of human race, by pursuing “The Seed”, an alien artifact that triggered the extinction of dinosaurs million years ago. On the other hand, corporate head Joshua and his assistant Su Yeming also attempt to gain the control of The Seed to recreate human-controlled Transformer. But as they were hunted by Decepticon and CIA, they left to Hong Kong for extraction.

Director: Michael Bay

Pacific Rim (2013)

Depiction of Hong Kong:

While the name of Hong Kong is used in the movie, Hong Kong in the year of 2025 never looks like the city we are living in nowadays. Principal photography didn’t take place in Hong Kong at all, as most of the movies were shot with CGI effect. Though Hong Kong is recreated by Industrial Light & Magic, special effect company of the movie. Yet it captures the essence of the vibrant city with neon lights. With the whole Kowloon Peninsular turns to a Jaeger and military base, other side of the island turns to a battleground of giant robots fighting against giant monsters.


In the science fiction monster movie of Guillermo del Toro, Kaijus (Alien Monsters) are spawn through a portal under the Pacific Ocean and attacked cities of the Pacific Rim. Giant robots also known as Jaeger, are built in joint-nation effort in order to defeat monsters, with two pilots in control. However, as the monsters are getting more powerful, military funding is turned to building giant wall in the protection of coastal city. Jaeger project is shutting down, with four last jaeger deployed to the base in Hong Kong. Pilot Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) , who has lost his co-pilot brother 12 years ago in a monster fight, is recruited to save mankind again, only if he can find a partner with suitable mental linkage.

Director: Guillermo del Toro