HK PARTIES LIKE IT’S 1997

HONG KONG — As the Union Jack comes down at 9 a.m. Los Angeles time today (midnight in Hong Kong), millions of the island’s people are out on the streets celebrating, carousing, demonstrating, and, most of all, looking for the best party in town.

The official pomp and circumstance commemorating Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China was, for the most part, closed to the public. Even most of the thousands of media representatives on hand were not invited. That means a healthy percentage of Hong Kong’s 6.3 million people headed to the harbor to watch the fireworks and participate in a karaoke singalong that organizers hope will make the record books. Then many will head to the nightclub areas of Lan Kwai Fong, Wanchai and T.S.T. to dance in the new era of Chinese rule. And the myriad bars expected them to do it in style, or at least in the costumes of Suzie Wong, Queen Elizabeth or Chairman Mao.

Perhaps the most extravagant private fete has been the China Coast Changeover Classic, which began a week ago in Beijing. Then the 380 guests moved on to Shanghai and now they’re in Hong Kong for a round of all-nighters. The price: $4,000, plane tickets not included.

For all the hoopla and world attention, however, this event will be more Madeleine Albright than Sharon Stone. Prince Charles was in town, but his glamour quotient isn’t what it used to be. Director Wayne Wang was expected to shoot the festivities as a backdrop for his Jeremy Irons-Gong Li starrer “The Chinese Box,” which revolves around the handover.

Only a few other Hollywood names — Mel Gibson, Sean Connery, Paul Sorvino, Lauren Hutton, Liza Minnelli — were expected. Raconteur P.J. O’Rourke, who’s on assignment for Rolling Stone, has been holding court the past week at the jam-packed Foreign Correspondents Club. And one name, Jean-Claude Van Damme seems to be the name on every Monday-night party list — from the MTV boat to the NBC event at a club called Post 97 to hotel disco JJ’s.

For the most part, the names in town belong to the media. Not since the 50th anniversary of D-Day, back in 1994, have Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings been on the same foreign soil at the same time. And they were not afraid to take shots at each other before the handover. Jennings told Daily Variety that Americans will turn to ABC for handover coverage because excelling at big international events “is what we do.” That drew derisive laughs from the others. “Then they should have been here four days ago,” said Brokaw, who had arrived in town earlier in the week. And Rather said CBS’ smaller contingent wouldn’t hurt its coverage. “Forty of ours can beat 100 of anybody else’s. Our musculature is better defined.”

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