A virtual exhibition of Hong Kong movie unit photography stills
The online platform hosting the exhibition
Funny things, virtual exhibitions. Like online platforms for viewing movies, they can take a bit of getting used to. In a real life exhibition in a museum, you wander from room to room, either looking at everything or, perhaps, looking at particular exhibits that take your fancy or that you want to study in further depth.
All that happens too in an online exhibition. I guess they can be viewed on a smartphone, but I was looking at this on my PC. There are help instructions on the menu, but I, like many others I suspect, ignored them and worked out how it all worked as I was going round.
I must have seen quite a bit of the whole before I realised that the best way to proceed might well be the ‘previous’ and ‘next’ buttons taking you from exhibit to exhibit. Before that, I’d worked out that if you clicked on a photographic image hanging on the gallery wall, your viewpoint / the screen / the camera would zoom in on the exhibit and frame it perfectly.
This is strangely disconcerting: you would never do this is a gallery – something similar as you stand and look, but never framed absolutely, mathematically perfectly (or maybe that’s exactly what we do – but somehow, the experience feels completely different here).
After you’ve looked round one room, you’re not quite sure if you’ve finished or if there’s another wall or room tucked away somewhere. (Again, pressing ‘next’ resolves this by taking you to the next exhibit, complete with the moving in on it and the perfect framing of it.)
Alternately, you can go for a guided tour of the whole, or look at (click the drop-down menu option for) the List of Works and click on the photos (and bits of explanatory blurb on the gallery wall) one by one. In the end, I found this the easiest way to go round as you’re seeing the photos in the order the exhibition’s curators intended.
The virtual exhibition as a medium is still in its early days: like online streaming services, every platform is different. (This one is powered by software kunstmatrix whose website www.kunstmatrix.com is in English, French and German.) At the moment, the technology is so new that it tends to be as fascinating as the exhibition content itself.
The exhibition itself
The exhibition is built around the work of four specific unit photographers – two men, Jupiter Wong, Wong Wai-lun, and two women, Quist Tsang (Facebook, Instagram: @quistography quistography.com) and Sharon Salad (Instagram: @saladd #saladfilmstills #sharonsaladtravels). So the exhibition can be fairly said not to be biased to either gender. Their social media handles make it easy to further investigate the work of the latter two.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a number of directors recur throughout the exhibition – notably Fruit Chan (one of three directors behind portmanteau horror Tales From The Occult (2022) which played during the weekend, but does not appear in this exhibition) and Ann Hui (whose July Rhapsody (2002) played and does indeed also appear here).
A shot of Better Days (Derek Yee, 2019, photographer: Wong Wai-lun) really brings home the atmosphere of a vast, abandoned warehouse set, the ground strewn with what appears to be discarded, cardboard packaging. Wong Wai-lun also shot stills on Infernal Affairs II and III (both Andrew Lau, Alan Mak, 2003) and Ip Man (Wilson Yip, 2008), among others.
Seven Swords (Tsui Hark, 2006, photographer: Jupiter Wong) coalesces as the silhouettes of six horsemen backlit by sun peering through a cloudy sky, suggesting a Western, although this is actually an historical Chinese epic – Eastern rather than Western, but in many ways not that dissimilar. Jupiter Wong also shot stills on Made In Hong Kong (Fruit Chan, 1997); Purple Storm (Teddy Chan, 1999); Durian Durian (Fruit Chan, 2000); One Night In Mongkok (Yee Tung-shing, 2004), After This Our Exile (Patrick Tam, 2006); Ip Man 2 (Wilson Yip, 2010) and Journey To The West: Conquering The Demons (Stephen Chow, Kwok Chi-kin, 2013).
Extraordinary Mission (Alan Mak, Anthony Pun, 2017, photographer: Quist Tsang) generated an extraordinary image of a bike crossing the gap between two buildings. Hong Kong is famed for such stunt work, but Tsang’s image – ramshackle yellow buildings with a cloudy green sky behind – brings a whole other dimension to it. She was also the photographer on Raging Fire (Benny Chan, 2021) for which she achieved a number of iconic shots.
Shock Wave (Herman Yau, 2017, photographer: Sharon Salad) produced a striking composition of a burning car. Salad also shot stills on Anita (Longman Leung, 2021) the festival’s opening night film, capturing that film’s sumptuous production design.
While it is open, the exhibition can be accessed here.
Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema, a Virtual Exhibition of Hong Kong movie stills unit photography is accessible from Friday, July 8th to Sunday, August 14th 2022 in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2022 Making Waves.