While it might be easy to mistake “Homeland” simply as eye candy with its trippy visuals and sweeping footage of Hong Kong’s cityscape, there’s more than meets the eye. Patrick Cheung, the local photographer behind the lens of the three-minute, semi-viral video, says he documents the city’s housing estates, temples, and markets not (only) for their aesthetic value, but to “expose the authentic side” of the city.
“I want to show people the real Hong Kong,” the 41-year-old said to Coconuts Hong Kong. “Foreigners have no concept of the concrete jungle beyond the dynamic night view of Victoria Harbour.”
With his work, Cheung hopes to shine a light on the housing crisis that the local population faces.
“Most locals can’t afford to buy a regular flat, let alone grand luxury apartments. Or at least, I can’t,” said Cheung.
In a city where developers can build a bathroom too small to sit in, landlords call paying HKD5,000 a month to sleep in a massage parlor a “good deal”, and one square foot can cost up to HKD16,500, we’d warrant that Cheung’s not the only one who’s been priced out of decent living conditions.
However, while Cheung does want to draw attention to the housing crisis, “Homeland” isn’t an exercise in misery but rather, a look at “the typical daily lives of ordinary Hongkongers”, both the good and bad. Whether he’s pointing his camera at squat mid-century tenement buildings, people making offerings in small Chinese temples, or a family (his family, in fact) eating dinner, Cheung is celebrating the quiet, everyday moments that many take for granted.
“A tiny flat, a square table, a mother cooking dinner and filling your bowls. These are the most down-to-earth things that reflect local living culture.”
In Cheung’s opinion, temples are another similarly crucial part of Hong Kong life. “You can easily find small, hidden temples present in every district, in the middle of a bunch of skyscrapers,” he said. “Plenty of locals still worship deities on a daily basis. It is just as ordinary as having dinner with your family every day.”
When asked about his devotion to Hong Kong as a subject matter, Cheung simply said, “Local people shoot local subjects.” He has made one video about the city every year since he learnt about timelapse photography in 2012.
Inevitably, some long days of hard work and patience have failed to pay off for reasons outside Cheung’s control, such as unpredictable weather conditions or other environmental factors. He hiked up to Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest peak, ten times to photograph a timelapse of the clouds, but only succeeded in capturing usable photos on two occasions, when the weather was good.
Temple Street Market in Mong Kok proved similarly difficult because of the sheer amount of people, meaning that the 10-second shot that made it into “Homeland” took over two hours to shoot.
“There are no guaranteed results when it comes to taking timelapses. You can only wait and hope for the best.” Despite the difficulties that come with the medium, Cheung says he’s driven by his curiosity to see the finished product of each photoshoot, and a desire to see better material of Hong Kong.
Cheung cited examples from foreign countries where filmmakers have utilized hyperlapse and timelapse technology to produce “spectacular” films with strong storylines. “Hongkongers have only really known of hyperlapse technology for the last two years,” he said. “I want us to improve and progress to the standard of other countries.”
Well, what with “Homeland” being shortlisted for awards at international film festivals such as the Finisterra Arrábida Film Art & Tourism Festival, the March edition of the monthly Largo Film Awards, and Sunlight International Film Festival, it looks like we (or at least, Cheung) might be getting there.