iSurprise Wing Lee Street

The story of a unique street and a famous movie

Movie as street saviour

Tucked away, Wing Lee Street is one of these unique places that has withstood the test of time. Amidst high-rise towers, life in this tong lau terrace remains as it was in the 1950s: an authentic neighbourhood with a tightly knit community living in original tenement buildings.

The street shot to fame in 2010 when filmmakers Alex Law and Mable Cheung, looking for an authentic film location, choose it to shoot the movie ‘Echoes of the Rainbow’ 歲月神偷. Law and Cheung had great difficulties finding a street resembling HK in the 1960s. Scouting for locations in old neighbourhoods like Sham Shui Po proved fruitless, they couldn’t find a whole street intact. In fact, they’d already started making plans to shoot the movie in Malaysia or Guangzhou when they stumbled upon Wing Lee Street.

At the time HK’s Urban Renewal Authority (URA) had plans to demolish the buildings to make way for six-storey residential blocks, but when the film won the Crystal Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival, Wing Lee’s popularity soared to new heights and had residents, local community and the filmmakers passionately pleading to the URA to keep the street intact. Thanks to this public outcry, Wing Lee’s streetscape escaped the wrecking ball, and the tong lau buildings have remained. Unfortunately, many of the original tenants have had to leave, taking Wing Lee’s collective memory and public street life with them.

Wai Che print shop

In the 1970s, Sheung Wan was the centre of the printing industry in Hong Kong. In this small street alone there were 11 print shops. Over the years many businesses have closed but Mr Lee Chak Yue’s Wai Che print shop at the corner was the last one remaining. Having been in the industry for 60 years he was hoping to stay until retirement. However due to the URA plans, sadly he has also had to close down.

In 2012, Mr Lee’s giant Heidelberg Cylinder Letter Press Machine was removed from his shop, lifted by a crane onto a truck and moved to Chai Wan. There, thanks to the curator ‘Another Mountain Man’ Stanley Wong, the machine found a new lease of life at Printing Art Gallery, a new studio workshop in Youth Square. Mr Lee still teaches letterpress workshops to transfer his printing skills to the younger generation.

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