Christopher Doyle’s Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous is a pseudo-documentary made with good intentions, but one that says nothing significant. In the film, Doyle gives current residents of Hong Kong an outlet to share their thoughts and feelings about the world. He then reconfigures what they say into visual poetry—or at least attempts to. As Doyle is such an accomplished cinematographer, Hong Kong Trilogy is a gorgeous film, but it’s hardly poetry. It’s overwhelmingly earnest, but good intentions do not a good film make.
Doyle structures Hong Kong Trilogy into three chapters. Preschooled follows various members of a grade school located in some Hong Kong high-rises. Preoccupied highlights the Umbrella Movement, the 2014 student uprising that shut down the Central district of Hong Kong for almost three months. Preposterous focuses on a speed dating group of elderly citizens who dart about the city on a love tram.
The first chapter, Preschooled, is easily the most successful. It’s the most straightforward of the bunch, and thus the easiest in which to comprehend Doyle’s intentions. The real-life children Doyle found to fill out the segment are delightful, their free-spirited thoughts and aspirations genuinely touching. One highlight of the chapter is Vodka Pak Hei Wong, an overweight little boy who lives with a nanny while his parents work abroad. One fanciful scene finds him releasing a toy turtle into the wild as if it were a living animal needing freedom. Other such absurd scenes don’t play nearly as well as this one, as the scene is not merely absurdist, but actually taps into Vodka’s inherent sadness at his separation from his parents. The other highlight of the segment is Red Cap Ching Man, a little girl who subscribes to all world religions and can always be found carrying a jug of holy water on her trips around the city. A trip home to her water-raft fishing village captures a bit of the blend of harsh reality and poetic aspiration that Doyle is trying for.
Too bad then that each subsequent chapter moves further away from reality, and thus from comprehension. Preoccupied intrigues with its focus on the Umbrella Movement, but such an important event in the recent history of Hong Kong deserves its own dedicated documentary, one willing to tear into the nasty subject of student life without resorting to platitudes. By the time Preposterous rolls around, Doyle has lost any semblance of cohesion. Characters from previous segments blend into the tale of lusty seniors looking for companionship.
Doyle claims he’s playing a bit of visual jazz with Hong Kong Trilogy, trying to let the viewers finish the half-thoughts brought up by the film, but he’s not truly sharing the load. The viewer has to make most of the intellectual effort. Perhaps Hong Kong Trilogy would have been more successful as either straight narrative or documentary. As it stands, in its current mish-mashed form of using real life subjects but having them improvise fictional scenes, it suggests everything and nothing about life in modern Hong Kong.
4 out of 10
Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous (2015, Hong Kong)
Written and directed by Christopher Doyle; featuring Connie Ming Shan Yuen, Thierry Chow, Ching Man Lip, Vodka Pak Hei Wong, Pui Kit Chung, ShanDong Zhang, Wun To, Siu Nam Ho, Miso, Yuk Ying Tam, Siu Ling Tsui, Ho Wah Cheung, Lee Wang Yiu.