Hong Kong stages several annual events, including the Hong Kong Arts Festival in February/March, and the Hong Kong International Film Festival in March/April. Other cultural activities and entertainment are presented throughout the year, including theater productions, pop concerts, and Chinese opera and dance performances.
There are many nightclubs, hostess and karaoke clubs, theatres and cinemas in Hong Kong. Cultural concerts, plays and exhibitions can be seen at Hong Kong's City Hall, which also has a dining room, ballroom and cocktail lounge.
The neighbourhoods of Wan Chai, Lan Kwai Fong, and SoHo are packed with bars, pubs and nightclubs that cater to everyone from the hippest trend-setters, to bankers ready to spend their bonuses, and more laid-back crowds out for a pint. Partying in Hong Kong is a way of life; it starts at the beginning of the week with a drink or two after work, progressing to serious barhopping, and clubbing if it's the weekend. Work hard, play harder is the motto here and people follow it seriously.
The Hong Kong Cultural Centre, including a 2,100-seat Concert Hall, 1,750-seat Grand Theatre, a studio theatre with 300 to 500 seats and restaurants, bars and other facilities, has become the major venue for cultural concerts, plays and operas.
Hong Kong Art Centre in Wan Chai supplements the City Hall's entertainment with culture in the form of Chinese opera, puppet shows, recitals and concerts. American, Chinese, European and Japanese films with subtitles are shown at a number of good, air-conditioned cinemas.
The busiest time of the year for the performing arts is the Hong Kong Arts Festival, held every year in February and March. This international 3-week affair features artists from around the world performing with orchestras, dance troupes, opera companies, and chamber ensembles. Appearing at past festivals, for example, were the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra, the Stuttgart Ballet, and the Paul Taylor Dance Company.
Places to Unwind
Most people think Hong Kong cinema is all about violence and martial arts. Heroes such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan have spawned a whole slew of martial arts films with overblown tragic plots and fast action. There is variety, though, and if you look hard enough, you might find a Hong Kong film with a storyline that goes beyond tough action. Aside from seeing the latest films, sitting in a big, comfy, air-conditioned theatre, such as the AMC Festival Walk, can also be a great way to escape the heat of summer. An evening is made special with a trip to the classic, two screen Broadway Windsor.
As well as all the usual cinematic offerings, there is a strong independent film scene, mainly featured at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, while art house and foreign films can be found at venues such as the Goethe-Institut (mainly German-language films) and the Broadway Cinemateque.
Most popular in Hong Kong are Beijing (or Peking) opera, with its spectacular costumes, elaborate make-up and feats of acrobatics and swordsmanship; and the less flamboyant but more readily understood Cantonese-style opera. Plots usually dramatise legends and historical events and extol such virtues as loyalty, filial piety and righteousness, with virtue, corruption, violence and lust serving as common themes. Performances feature elaborate costumes and make-up, haunting tonal orchestrations and crashing cymbals. Accompanied by seven or eight musicians, the actor-singers sing in shrill, high-pitched falsetto, a sound Westerners sometimes do not initially appreciate. Although lyrics are in Chinese, body language helps translate the stories and costumes are chosen to signify specific stage personalities; yellow is reserved for emperors, while purple is the colour worn by barbarians.
Another aspect of Chinese opera that surprises Westerners is its informality. Unlike Western performances, Chinese operas are noisy affairs. No one minds if spectators arrive late or leave early; in fact, no one even minds if a spectator, upon spotting friends or relatives, makes his or her way through the auditorium for a chat.
For visitors, the easiest way to see a Chinese opera is during the Hong Kong Arts Festival, held from about mid-February to mid-March each year. Alternatively, Cantonese opera is a common feature of important Chinese festivals, such as the birthday of Tin Hau or the annual Bun Festival on Cheung Chau island, when temporary bamboo theatres are erected.
Otherwise, Cantonese opera is performed fairly regularly at Town Halls in the New Territories, as well as in City Hall in Central and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui.
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