Chris Kyme: Postcard from Hong Kong

Chris Kyme_April2016.jpgChris Kyme continues his "Postcards from..." series and this time he asks does Hong Kong have a problem?

Just recently, Spencer Wong, uber-guru of McCann & Spencer, published an article expressing concern about the demise of creativity in Hong Kong and how the city is at risk of losing its identity within the Mainland China bigger picture of huge budgets and sheer size and scale of brand campaigns.

He's got a point and it's something I touched on in my book 'Made in Hong Kong' whereby I did ask the question of various creative leaders - what's Hong Kong's future role? Which was answered rather neatly I thought, by Eddie Booth who was then Chairman of Leo Burnett Hong Kong. Eddie said "If China is the factory, whereby they turn out Fords by the thousands, Hong Kong should be the home of hand-crafted where we make the Bentleys."
In other words, we should stand for quality not quantity. But for anyone who's been privy to our regular daily dose of "badvertising" in Hong Kong over recent years, that's wishful thinking. Not unlike most markets I know, but there was a time when Hong Kong tried harder.

Forget what turns up in the shows. We all know about some of the Hong Kong agencies' impressive prowess on the global awards stage in recent years, and they are often or not achieved through 'agency initiative' campaigns. Which is fine. But I'm talking about mass market advertising, pure and simple. Online or off. Of which there was a time when some of it wasn't half bad.

Stanley.jpgSo what was different years ago than now? A good question, and among the many comments Spencer's article invited when he posted the link on Facebook (one from a certain N.French no less), was an invitation by that champion of Hong Kong causes, Stanley Wong (pictured left). He of ex creative director cum artist cum film maker fame (he cums and goes does Stanley, arf arf) to attend his latest exhibition. Which I duly did.

The 'Very Hong Kong Very Hong Kong' exhibition at City Hall, Central, was co-curated by Stanley and his long time friend Alan Chan, design guru and man about town. It is basically a celebration of Hong Kong creativity, via the decades of once excellent popular culture, covering respected pioneers in everything from design, music, movies, photography and product creation. For people who grew up here, it's a warm, nostalgic browse down memory lane. Featuring film directors like Wong Kong Wai, Tsui Hark and Ann Hui, music maestros like Sam Hui and James Wong, and photographers like Fan Ho, Idris Mootee and Sam Wong.

Not that it's a retrospective designed just for people from our industry. For members of the public, there are countless memories of good times, delivered by the designs, the album covers, the songs. But the exhibition is about more than just a pointless bit of nostalgia. Yeah it's great to look back. But we're in an industry where we should constantly be looking forward. And in this case, and to Spencer's point, for the good of Hong Kong. And I asked Stanley about this.

Postcard Aug 17.jpg"Alan and I both enjoyed our first experiences with design during the years of the 70s and 80s. Luckily we born during the Hong Kong boom years, when we learned from some very good Western practitioners who were here, teaching us our craft. These early pioneers held our hands and raised us until we were ready to spread our wings and explore our own culture.  This was because there was a Hong Kong spirit in force, which had been building since the 60's and 70's. It was about working hard, never say die, efficient, flexibility and being street smart. Always 'tomorrow will be better'. But we all lost the confidence and belief over the years since the handover."

So the essence of the exhibition seems to be to show the youth of Hong Kong what's possible. That once, great people dared to explore their art and creativity in ways that were unique to Hong Kong. It was about positive spirit, a significant statement to make in a city which is these days seemingly burdened by negativity, tantrums and self-pitying navel gazing.

There is another section on advertising, which will be on display at Comic Home Base in Wanchai, August 17-29. If you're in Hong Kong and reading this, go and see the exhibition. Maybe it'll help shed some light on where Hong Kong should be going, creatively, in the future.

Chris Kyme is chief executive officer at Kymechow, Hong Kong.

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