Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Lost Cities: Kowloon Walled City, the Faux and the Real

From Yahoo and WSJ Live, a retrospective on Hong Kong's infamous Kowloon Walled City, which was demolished 20 years ago:
The Kowloon Walled City in Hong Kong was once the densest place on earth, a virtually lawless labyrinth of crime, grime, commerce and hope. A Wall Street Journal documentary tracks its colorful legacy 20 years after its demolition.
For nearly a century, Kowloon Walled City was a gang-ruled place of low rents, no licences or taxes, drug trades, brothels and illegal dentists. Somehow, it gained further mystique because it sat across the street from an international airport, and landing jets notoriously scraped just over the slum's rooftops. The fascinating culture of this city-inside-a-city has been represented across eastern and western pop culture in video games, mangas and movies. Known as the City of Darkness in Cantonese, it particularly resonates with depictions of gritty urban landscapes in the 1980s and 1990s, and served as an inspiration for Ridley Scott's futuristic Los Angeles in Blade Runner. It recently inspired designers of Gotham sets for the British-American movie, Batman Begins (2005). City of Darkness Revisited notes only two films were actually shot inside the real Kowloon Walled City (see a clip of footage from the real city shown in Bloodsport below the jump):
only two films were actually shot within the confines of the Walled City, the Jean-Claude van Damme vehicle, Bloodsport [1988], and the far superior Johnny Mak film, Long Arm of the Law [1984]. In fact, the Walled City and one of its alleys only make a short appearance in Bloodsport, when the Jean-Claude character and his Chinese minder are making their way to an illegal fighting venue supposedly located there.
An interior facade reveals the city's staggering honeycombed character, built up without any architects. Image Source: La boite verte



Images Source: Greg Girard see more of his photos of the real Kowloon Walled City here. Other photos of the city are here and here.

Former inhabitants testify to Kowloon's tight-knit society:
"We all had very good relationships in very bad conditions. Even now, many people stay in touch with each other even though some old friends are overseas," Shum said. "People who lived there were always loyal to each other. In the Walled City, the sunshine always followed the rain."
Such is the nostalgia for this grim yet fascinating slum, that Japanese business interests have built a reproduction of Kowloon Walled City as an arcade and theme park south of Tokyo (see the theme park's main site here). The development blog, here, insists on historic faithfulness ("all materials produced from the scratch"; "real garbage from Hong Kong were sent by parcel"). HuffPo:
Kowloon Walled City, an infamous now-demolished Hong Kong slum, is enjoying new life as a three-storey Japanese arcade and theme park just south of Tokyo.
David Gilbert, a digital product manager, posted photos of the Kawasaki Warehouse on his blog, documenting stunning details of the resurrected Walled City – in all its dark and rusty glory – save for hints of modernity in its restrooms.

"The juxtaposition of a high-tech Japanese toilet in an authentically grimy bathroom had to be seen to be believed," described Gilbert.

Set designer Taishiro Hoshino, the mastermind behind the arcade theme park's time-bending alchemy, paid close attention to details from the actual slum city.

Hosino and his team examined photographs and video of the Walled City, retraced Chinese calligraphy on signage, tracked down Hong Kong mailboxes, balcony bird cages, and reproduced its neon signs.

Striving for full authenticity, he even persuaded a friend in Hong Kong to mail him her family's trash.
"I was later told that they were totally confused about my request," explained Hoshino in a detailed "Behind The Scenes" post on his website.
This development echoes other odd Millennial efforts to transform famous ruined (and not-ruined) locations of the 20th century into 21st century entertainment centres - a tourist-industry trend notably evident at Chernobyl and formerly-shuttered asylums and prisons in the United States. More images of the original city are below the jump.

The outside facade of the Japanese Kowloon Walled City theme park, which has been artificially aged and grimed up.  Image Source: HuffPo.

More images from Japan's faux Kowloon Walled City theme park, complete with faux brothels, fake open air meat markets, real Hong Kong mailboxes which were shipped to Japan as props - and grimed-up toilets, whose conveniences are actually clean and hyper-modern.  Images from HuffPo.


One of the meticulously-created Japanese faux-Kowloon mock-ups. Image Source: Hoshinogumi

"A slight departure from the theme park's authenticity, those wishing to leave must walk through a red-lit hexagon passageway, stepping over stones set over an illuminated pool toward a circular ying-yang door." Image Source: HuffPo.

Faux Kowloon Walled City, depicted in the video game, Call of Duty: Black Ops Kowloon sequence (2010). Video Source: Youtube.

Compare: cinematic footage of the real Kowloon Walled City in Bloodsport (1988). Video Source: Youtube.

Compare: cinematic footage of the real Kowloon Walled City in Long Arm of the Law (1984). Video Source: Youtube. (Hat tip: City of Darkness Revisited.)

Compare: the beehive-like real Kowloon Walled City in 1989, shortly before its demolition in 1993-1994. Image Source: Wiki.

Image Source (click on the image to enlarge): South China Morning Post.

"Kowloon Walled City was home to 50,000 residents and was controversial since 1898, when it was the only part of Hong Kong which the imperial Chinese government refused to hand over to the British. Throughout the chaos of the 20th century, mainland governments of whatever hue maintained that the site was sovereign Chinese land. It became a lawless area, a favourite base for illegal immigrants and famous for its prostitutes, opium dens and unlicensed dentists. The British and Chinese governments eventually agreed the Walled City's fate in 1987 and it was demolished in 1993." Images and Captions Source for this photo and the photos immediately following: South China Morning Post.

"This picture, taken in the 1970s, shows the squatter village in front of the walled city which was 2.63 hectares of tightly packed dilapidated buildings without water supply or garbage-collection service and with minimal police patrol."

"Children living in the walled city would go to the roof and fly kites that could almost scrape the bellies of airliners as they descended to the old Kai Tak airport across the street."

"The city was a phenomenon with 33,000 families and businesses living in more than 300 interconnected high-rise buildings, all constructed without contributions from a single architect."

"The walled city fell through a constitutional loophole in 1899 and was governed by neither the British, Chinese or Hong Kong authorities, allowing the enclave to fester into a hotbed of vice with rampant drug use, prostitution and gambling activities."

"A misconception is that the walled city was home of the poorest. In fact, all walks of life lived there."

Kowloon Walled City documentary (1989: Hawke Productions) in German with English subtitles. Part 1 of 4. Video Source: Youtube

Kowloon Walled City documentary (1989: Hawke Productions) in German with English subtitles. Part 2 of 4. Video Source: Youtube

Kowloon Walled City documentary (1989: Hawke Productions) in German with English subtitles. Part 3 of 4. Video Source: Youtube.

Kowloon Walled City documentary (1989: Hawke Productions) in German with English subtitles. Part 4 of 4. Video Source: Youtube. (Hat tip: 99% Invisible.)

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