At Kiosk No. 2 on Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, it's all Jackie Chan, all the time.
The action film star, wearing his trademark snow-white track suit, beams at passersby in the form of a life-size cardboard cutout. Knockoffs of the outfit are for sale inside, along with copies of his 1999 biography, "Jackie" key chains and Chinese motif head scarves, just like the ones he likes to wear in his films. A television set above the cash register plays a nonstop rotation of Chan's 90-plus movies, from the 1978 comedic martial arts classic "Drunken Master" to 2000's English-language buddy movie "Shanghai Noon."
Chan's retail shop stands smack in the middle of the new Avenue of Stars, a spiffed-up waterfront walkway on the city's Kowloon side. Like Hollywood's Walk of Fame, the mile-long path is embedded with speckled silver stars and honors more than 70 cinematic VIPs, including Chan, pioneer producer Run Run Shaw, the late Bruce Lee, director John Woo and Michelle Yeoh, the first Asian Bond girl.
Fans of sword-and-vengeance sagas, gangster flicks and offbeat comedies produced in Hong Kong have long known of the city's place as a world movie capital and the key role its frenetic streets play in its films. Now, the Avenue of Stars, which opened in April next to the Hong Kong Museum of Art, and a couple of other new attractions are making it easy for even casual filmgoers to soak up its celluloid history.
Counting myself in the latter group, I set off to explore the city's movie roots during a recent visit. Like many U.S. multiplex patrons, my familiarity with Hong Kong cinema was limited to a viewing of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," the 2001 Oscar-winning action epic that pays tribute to the region's martial arts movies. By the end of the tour, I had a movie-rental wish list as long as "Crouching Tiger's" award nominations.
Earlier this year, the Hong Kong Tourism Board started offering two free guides highlighting the city's top movie sites. Available at visitors centers around town in English and Cantonese, the glossy publications include maps and directions to a wide range of places, from the generic (Victoria Harbour at night, featured fleetingly in "Rush Hour 2") to the specific (Sunning Plaza in Causeway Bay, where Chow Yun Fat gets kicked around in Woo's classic gangster flick, "A Better Tomorrow").
While the guides mainly promote the city's top tourist attractions, useful information can be found amid plugs for the Star Ferry and Aberdeen's floating restaurant. After learning they were featured in "Chungking Express," for instance, I checked out the Mid-Levels Escalators, a steep covered escalator system that transports residents of a neighborhood known as Mid-Levels to and from their jobs in the Central Business District and beyond.
And my trip to the Giant Buddha on Lantau Island was enhanced by the knowledge that a scene from "Infernal Affairs III," the final installment of the blockbuster crime-thriller trilogy, was shot at the base of the 87-foot statue. I made a note to rent it before the remake of the first installment starring Brad Pitt comes out next year.
What you won't find in these new guides is any mention of Bottoms Up, a well-known topless bar that had a cameo in the 1974 James Bond film "The Man With the Golden Gun." (Relocated last year from Kowloon to Wan Chai, Bottoms Up -- its neon sign intact -- now shares space with an upscale wine and beer bar called the Groovy Mule.) The tourism board leaves you to find the seedier cinematic sites on your own.
There's nothing seedy, though, about the Avenue of Stars. With its round-the-clock sweepers, street lamps and carnival-like kiosks, the area brings to mind Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade rather than Hollywood Boulevard. Families throng the walkway at all hours of the day and evening, and its view of Hong Kong Island's steel and glass skyscrapers across Victoria Harbour is unobstructed and breathtaking.
Another recent addition to the city's movie scene is a luxury cinema in the Central Business District. Located in the mall of the International Finance Centre, the five-screen theater has plush leather seats, tuxedoed ushers and a computerized map at each register that allows you to choose your seat.
I skipped "Spider-Man 2" and "I, Robot" -- movies I could see back home -- and paid about $8 to watch "House of Flying Daggers," the only Cantonese film among the offerings. A love story set during the Tang dynasty with martial arts action sequences as riveting as those in "Crouching Tiger," the film stars Andy Lau, the Tai Po-born movie star whose popularity here ranks at Tom Cruise levels. Just a few hours before, I had watched scores of people, young and old, male and female, pounce on his Avenue of Stars plaque and handprints with cameras and awed delight.
I figure it's just a matter of time before he gets his own retail kiosk.
-- Laura Randall
For more info on Hong Kong's Avenue of Stars and Movie Odyssey Guides: Hong Kong Tourism Board, 800-282-4582, www.discoverhongkong.com. For movie schedules and info on the Palace IFC cinema: www.ifc.com.hk/english/cinema.aspx.