Hong Kong handover hits new party highs

HONG KONG — At last, the handover’s over.

After years of anticipation and planning, Hong Kong finally threw its ultimate party Monday night. It had enough fireworks, teary-eyed speeches, champagne, tuxedos and choruses of “Auld Lang Syne” to put any New Year’s Eve celebration to shame.

But as the handover gives way to the hangover, the mood of pomp, circumstance and frantic frivolity is changing to cautious concern about what life will be like under Chinese rule. While most people in Hong Kong were celebrating, pro-democracy demonstrators were offering their opinions to anyone in the center of town who wanted to pause and listen.

Even some supporters of the reunification were startled by the unrelenting use of Mandarin — the language of Beijing, not of Hong Kong — in the swearing in of the new government. To some, that’s a signal that the “one country, two systems” formula is not as rock solid as China promises.

As the media hub of Asia and the second-largest exporter of films, Hong Kong has a lot to lose if political changes force the show business community to alter its freewheeling and staunchly capitalist style. Already, the former British colony has seen an exodus of young directors who have gone off to Hollywood in part because of what they see as a creeping loss of artistic freedom.

Not everyone, however, is concerned. One curb-dwelling reveler wore a T-shirt declaring in larger letters, “China sucks,” although he pointed out the smaller type that finished off the shirt’s declaration: ” … Hong Kong into a new dynasty.” Another T-shirt showed a mainlander picking up Hong Kong island with his chopsticks and the slogan, “The Great Chinese Takeaway.”

But with two more public holidays ahead of them, there was plenty of time for partying before the all-important issues of censorship, free speech and creative integrity need to be addressed.

“It’s great to be part of such a momentous occasion,” said actor Paul Sorvino, who celebrated the handover at a black-tie dinner party hosted by NBC.

Working holiday

Sorvino is in town to film the Tsui Hark actioner “Knock Off” along with Jean-Claude van Damme, Rob Schneider (“Men Behaving Badly”) and Lela Rochon (“Waiting to Exhale”).

“I’m so excited. I’ve got chills,” added Rochon, who wore a green silk halter embroidered with Chinese designs to the NBC event, which was also attended by producer Moshe Diamant.

From her perch overlooking the trendy Lan Kwai Fung bar district, Rochon snapped photos of the mainly twentysomething British expatriate crowd that braved the often heavy rain to pack the narrow alleys. For them, the key was to drink heavily, sing choruses of “God Save the Queen” loudly and try to get their faces in front of the bevy of television cameras on the scene.

And with 8,400 or so members of the media here to cover the event, getting face time on television — at least in Norway or Taiwan — should not have been difficult.

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