Killing Prince Edward Road’s Creative Buzz

Twenty years ago, when film producer Amy Chin was looking for a new office, she came across a 1,500-square-foot flat in an old shophouse in the Mong Kok Flower Market. She fell in love as soon as she saw the 12-foot ceilings, balcony and huge, enclosed verandah. “This place is very good for creative people because of the ambiance,” she said. “We work late, until three or four in the morning, when the flower hawkers come out. The air is so fresh.”

Over the years, some of the biggest names in Hong Kong film joined Chin: John Woo Yu-sen shared an office with her until he moved to Los Angeles, film director Fruit Chan Gor leased the flat upstairs, Chow Yun-fat’s agency moved in and Ann Hui On-wah used one of the building’s flats to film a movie. Chin credits her landlord, a retired civil engineer, for keeping the building in good shape while keeping rents low. “He’s done a better job of taking care of this property than the government ever could,” she said. “The reason I can keep on making movies is because of this place.”

Now her building is one of 10 shophouses that will be renovated by the Urban Renewal Authority. The buildings, which were built in the 1930s by the Belgian construction company Crédit Foncier d’Extrème Orient, were originally targeted at middle-class homeowners, with amenities like private bathrooms that were unusual in other shophouses. Today, the buildings contain a mix of flower shops on the ground level and businesses and residential flats on the upper floors.

While the buildings’ ground-level retail tenants have been assured by the URA that they will have the right to return to their properties after the renovations, no plans have been made for the upper floors, which are zoned for commercial and cultural use. “I’m not sure if, after they’ve redone this place, creative people can come back if they rent it to us at a market price,” said Chin. The current landlord charges HK$15,000 per month, about HK$10 per square foot — a rate comparable to those in industrial districts, not Mong Kok.

“This is the creative industry right here,” said Fruit Chan Gor, whose 1997 film Made in Hong Kong earned him international recognition. He has rented a flat in the building for six years. “There’s art studios, dance companies, people like us. A lot of movies have been made here.” Chan’s flat contains an office, a storage room for props and an editing room. He worries that the Prince Edward Road buildings will meet a similar fate as the Woo Cheong Pawn Shop in Wan Chai, which was converted into an upscale bar and restaurant as part of another URA project. “After they renewed the building, everything inside was destroyed. Now it’s a restaurant for tourists. It’s so sad.”

URA spokesman Jimmy Sha said that no plans have been made yet for the upper floors, as property acquisitions have just commenced. Its goal, he said, is to prevent the demolition of historically-valuable shophouses around Mong Kok, which has come under intense development pressure in recent years.

At an information meeting with URA representatives last week, Chan asked what will happen to upstairs tenants after the renovations. “Nobody answered me,” he said. “It’s hard for an independent film company to survive in Hong Kong. The film industry has been moving to factories in Kwun Tong, but it’s nicer here. But we know that in the end, if the government insists on doing something very commercial with this space, we’ll have no choice but to leave.”

This story was originally published in the South China Morning Post on April 25, 2010.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Tuesday April 27 2010at 12:04 am , filed under Architecture, Asia Pacific, Heritage and Preservation, Society and Culture and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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