Christopher Doyle is a ball of energy, all nerves, tics and lofty ideals, wrapped in the sunburned wrinkles of an older man who has lived plenty of the good life.
His “Hong Kong Trilogy,” an experimental film that premieres in Toronto, mirrors some of those kinetic internal contradictions. It also reflects the puzzle that is present-day Hong Kong — a city with its own currency, laws and traditions that is coming to terms today with being part of modern-day China.
Doyle himself washed up in the city in the 1970s after quitting his native Australia on a merchant ship.
Hong Kong suited him well. It allowed Doyle to be reborn as Du Kefeng, a Cantonese and Mandarin-speaking artist turned star cinematographer. As d.p., Doyle/Du has worked with Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Phillip Noyce, Gus Van Sant, M. Night Shyamalan and most notably, Wong Kar Wai.
When Doyle is asked why he made “Trilogy,” his answer is simple: “I owe it to Hong Kong.” But Doyle talks a mile a minute and quickly adds a few codas. “To pay tribute to Hong Kong, I could have done so many other things, shot sequels or remakes (of classic Hong Kong movies), or s**t. But this had to be done.”
The film comprises three separate elements, ranging from a child’s innocent question about existence to a couple’s absurd speed dating tour of the city, to documenting politics of the street encompassing the Occupy Central movement, which challenged the Hong Kong government over the issue of democracy.
For each segment, Doyle shot hours of documentary footage, which he has assembled into what is his own fiction film. He calls the format “realidada.”
Doyle insists that the film is not a documentary, but says as fiction it gains authenticity from being made up of real people and real voices. “What is so interesting is the timbre of the conversation,” Doyle says, a reference to the way that Hong Kongers are always aware of the bigger picture, and how their conversations require between-the-lines analysis.
Similarly, he is unapologetic about picking at the scabs that blemish Hong Kong society — staggering levels of inequality and obsessions with work and money — and at the unhealed wounds of last year’s anti-authoritarian uprising.
“It is a personal response. I’ve worked before with artists like Ai Weiwei, whose voices don’t fit,” Doyle says. “The film is personal, poetic and political.”
Does he mind that that Hong Kong’s rulers may not recognize the scene? “Hong Kong’s ruling class are all in Beijing these days,” he retorts. The film will be released in Hong Kong on Sept. 28, the first anniversary of the beginning of Occupy Central.