BLOG – Hong Kong 2013 vs. Fritz Lang’s 1927 Masterpiece ‘Metropolis’

Anyone Hong Konger watching Fritz Lang’s 1927 expressionist sci-fi masterpiece ‘Metropolis’ would find it hard to avoid the parallels between the dystopian future he predicted and the high-rise over-populated reality of our city in 2013…

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The functional, eclectic architecture featured in Lang’s sets have sharp, rectangular outlines, dark lighting effects, and intense shadows emphasising the enormity and density of the buildings…

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Jardine House? Or perhaps a NT housing estate?

It is all reminiscent of Michael Wolf’s photography of Hong Kong, which – by far – has the largest number and highest density of skyscrapers in the world…

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Michael Wolf

HK has a complex system of elevated walkways and underground tunnels which – over 50 years – have evolved into a tangled mesh of pedestrian thoroughfares…

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They are split between street level, underground and overground levels. Parks, offices, train stations and malls are interconnected and can often be navigated without touching the ground, as traffic jams reign underneath…

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Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge

From ‘Cities Without Ground: A Hong Kong Guidebook‘, by Adam Frampton, Jonathan D. Solomon and Clara Wong. Click to enlarge.

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via ‘lohb’ on Flickr

In Lang’s world, the workers are robotic, anonymous second-class citizens who keep the city in operation. The bars on the elevators symbolise the confinement and toil of the lower class…

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An old industrial building in Fo Tan

Even though HK is now in a post-industrial era, the notoriously long working hours its people suffer are ‘blamed for everything from depression to the city’s notoriously low libido levels.’ On average, Hong Kongers work 49 hours per week and 62.4% of people regularly work unpaid overtime.

Sai Yeung Choi Street last Saturday…

Lang admitted in an interview to being inspired by New York – “…the film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924… the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotise.”

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The Hopewell Centre?

However, it is in Asia that his elaborate vision has been realised – albeit with a splash of ‘cyberpunk’ neon.

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By Carol Willis

It is not all drudgery…  In Metropolis, the wealthy citizens who populate the surface live a lavish and obviously contrasting lifestyle. These scenes are lit in a soft, elegant and gentle style; they are much lighter than the shots of the underground workplace. The plants, beautiful fountain and exotic animals add to the cheerful and carefree atmosphere…

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Meanwhile, HK’s poverty gap is also worsening as the SCMP reports that the poorest 20% make up just 6% of the city’s wealth, whilst the rich account for 43% of society’s income. Those with the lowest incomes are, predictably, amongst the highest on the ‘misery index’.

The cost of production (5million franks) would amount to US$200million today. The movie involved a cast of 37,000 extras, took 2 years to make and has inspired countless films since.

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by Michael Wolf

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The entire, restored movie can now be accessed on YouTube…

Click for more Architecture & Infrastructure posts on Hong Wrong.

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Blog posts celebrating and critiquing development in the City of Lights…

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