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Books

If you want to read about Hong Kong before setting out on your trip, good places to start are A Concise History of Hong Kong by John Carroll (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007) or A Modern History of Hong Kong by Steve Tsang (I.B. Tauris, 2007), both of which give a thorough historical account of the colony's ignoble beginnings through the 1997 handover. I love looking at pictures of old Hong Kong, and especially fascinating is Nigel Cameron's An Illustrated History of Hong Kong (Oxford University Press, 1991), with photographs that show Hong Kong of yore and vividly illustrate how much the city has changed. An even more thorough pictorial history is presented in Old Hong Kong (FormAsia Books Ltd., 2002), edited by Trea Wiltshire and covering Hong Kong from 1860 through the June 1997 handover.

Life in the infamous Walled City is the subject of Greg Girard and Ian Lambot's City of Darkness: Life in Kowloon Walled City (Watermark Publications, 2003), complete with photographs of a life now vanished. Even though it's dated, one of my favorite books is Jan Morris's Hong Kong (Vintage, 1997), which traces the evolution of the British colony from its birth during the Opium Wars to just before the handover. This book gives a unique perspective on the workings of the former colony and imparts an astonishing wealth of information.

For an intimate view of Hong Kong, try Hong Kong: Borrowed Place, Borrowed Time (Praeger, 1968) by Richard Hughes, a foreign correspondent who lived in Hong Kong for several decades and was said to have been the inspiration for several characters in John Le Carre's novels. Gweilo: Memories of a Hong Kong Childhood (Bantam, 2005), written by Martin Booth just before he died, is a poignant memoir of growing up in Hong Kong in the 1950s. Enjoying unrestricted freedom, Booth as a child even entered the notorious Kowloon Walled City. An interesting counterpart, this time from the Chinese point of view during the same period, is Diamond Hill (Blacksmith Books, 2009), about author Feng Chi-shun's teenage years growing up in a Hong Kong squatter village.

A great accompaniment to any guidebook is Travelers' Tales Hong Kong (Travelers' Tales, 2000), an anthology edited by James O'Reilly and filled with personal accounts and essays by well-known writers about life in Hong Kong, including those by Jan Morris, Bruce Chatwin, and Paul Theroux. Hong Kong: Somewhere Between Heaven and Earth (Oxford University Press, 1996), edited by Barbara-Sue White, is a collection of poems, short stories, novel excerpts, letters, speeches, and diaries with ties to Hong Kong, written by both Chinese and people of other nationalities from all walks of life -- soldiers, doctors, politicians, writers, and others, from Queen Victoria to Jules Verne and ranging from historical accounts dating from the Song dynasty to modern times.

Fictional accounts that depict the character of Hong Kong are the classics: Richard Mason's The World of Suzie Wong (Signet, 1957) and Han Suyin's A Many-Splendored Thing (Little Brown, 1952), an autobiographical account of life in Hong Kong shortly after the Chinese revolution in the late 1940s and early 1950s. James Clavell's Tai-Pan (Atheneum, 1966) is a novel about Hong Kong's beginnings; Noble House (Delacorte Press, 1981) is its sequel. John Le Carre's The Honourable Schoolboy (G. K. Hall, 1977) details the activities of George Smiley, acting head of the British Secret Service in Hong Kong. The Monkey King, by Timothy Mo (Paddleless Press, 2000), is a hilarious account of a Macau native who marries into a dysfunctional Cantonese family in 1950s Hong Kong. Fragrant Harbor (Penguin, 2003) by John Lanchester is a historical novel that brings to life Hong Kong from the 1930s to the present, as seen through the eyes of an Englishman in love with a Chinese woman and spying for the Empire during the Japanese occupation. In The Train to Lo Wu (Dial Press, 2006), author Jess Row gives food for thought in seven short stories about dysfunctional foreigners and Chinese struggling to make sense of life in today's Hong Kong. Janice Y. K. Lee's gripping love story, The Piano Teacher (Viking, 2009), takes place during a tumultuous time in Hong Kong's history -- before, during, and after Japanese occupation -- and skillfully shows what people will endure to survive.

Films

Several classic novels, described above, were made into movies, including The World of Suzie Wong (1960), shot mainly in Wan Chai and starring William Holden and Nancy Kwan (I love the movie for its shots of old Hong Kong, as well as for tackling interracial relationships); Love Is a Many Splendored Thing (1955), also starring Holden and considered the first Hollywood film to put Hong Kong on the international movie map; and Tai Pan (1986), shot entirely on location in Hong Kong, Macau, and the Pearl River Delta.

Popular movies shot in Hong Kong have included three films in the 007 series: You Only Live Twice (1967), The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), and Die Another Day (2002). Other movies with scenes shot in Hong Kong include Around the World in 80 Days (1956), A Countess from Hong Kong (1967), Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003), The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), and The Dark Knight (2008).

Enter the Dragon (1973), starring Bruce Lee, introduced martial arts to the Western world and began Hong Kong's long tradition of kung fu movies. Jackie Chan, who has long served as an ambassador for Hong Kong tourism, directed and starred in Police Story (1985), in which the actor performed his own stunts in many memorable large-scale action scenes. Chan returns to Hong Kong in scenes appearing in Rush Hour 2 (2001).

As for local filmmakers, probably none is as internationally known as Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai, who first hit the international radar with his Chungking Express (1994), which follows the lives of two cops in Hong Kong and the mysterious women they fall in love with. In the Mood for Love (2000), set in 1960s Hong Kong, is a slow-paced film about a man and a woman who rent rooms next to each other. It doesn't provide any views of Hong Kong, but it's worth seeing just for the various cheongsams (Chinese-style dresses) worn by actress Maggie Cheung.

Infernal Affairs (2002), directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak, is a crime thriller about a police officer who infiltrates a triad crime gang and a triad member who infiltrates the police department. Its success spawned two more films and was remade in 2006 by Martin Scorsese as The Departed, which went on to receive four Academy Awards. More recent movies include Bodyguards and Assassins (2009), directed by Teddy Chan and set in 1905 Hong Kong when Sun Yat-sen came to the colony to plot an overthrow of the Qing government; and Echoes of the Rainbow, directed by Alex Law, about a boy growing up in Sheung Wan in the 1960s (the movie inspired a grass-roots effort to save a row of tenements used in the film).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.