Tuesday 1 August 2023

A Light Never Goes Out (Anastasia Tsang, 2022)

Middle-aged widow Mei-heung (Sylvia Chang) has gone through countless sleepless nights since the abrupt death of her husband, Bill (Simon Yam). One day, she finds a key among the items that Bill left behind, leading her to his secret neon workshop where she meets the young apprentice, Leo (Henick Chou). With his help, Mei-heung tries to uncover the story behind the signs and learns the craft of blowing neon lights in hope of fulfilling her deceased husband's last wish of recreating one of Hong Kong’s legendary neon light with her own hands. Along the way, Mei-heung reminisces about her meaningful moments with Bill and unearths pieces of Bill's past, the only consolation left to her. Meanwhile, Mei-heung’s daughter, Prism (Cecilia Choi), plans to leave Hong Kong with her fiancé.

As clues of the legendary neon sign gradually emerge, the secrets that Mei-heung couldn't face are about to be revealed. Neon lights are essentially writing calligraphy with light. First introduced in the 1930s, they embody the ideology and aesthetic orientation of Hong Kong. With the industrial boom of the 1960s, many businesses, nightclubs, and restaurants used neon signs to promote their services or simply as a branding tool. The colourful, layered patchwork neon signs outlined Hong Kong's streets and neighbourhoods, and were integral to its specific energy, and most especially at nightfall when they lit up the streets. The neon signs became not only a symbol of individual success, but also of the significant status of Hong Kong's fast-growing economy and tourism industry. 

With the full implementation of the new ordinance enacted by the Hong Kong government in 2010 to strictly control and remove potentially dangerous outdoor neon light signages, these symbolic signs have been removed one by one. The large-scale demolition operation aroused the public's concern and attention, who have gradually come to see the neon night scenery as part of Hong Kong's rich history and unique culture. Their disappearance is not just the loss of the streetscape, but also of the memory and stories of every Hong Kong individual behind it. A Light Never Goes Out—which had its European premiere back in January at IFF Rotterdam—is a spirited look into Hong Kong’s iconic neon signs through a touching story about love and loss. 

Director Anastasia Tsang mourns this fading icon of Hong Kong through the poignant story of a widow in A Light Never Goes Out: “Hong Kong’s blooming neon lights have always been an icon of its economic prosperity. They lined the city's streets during the economic boom of the 1980’s, lighting up a "Pearl of the Orient" that enchanted the whole world. As an iconic imagery of Hong Kong, neon lights represented the city's most prosperous era, and its fading glow seems like a metaphor of the city's fate. Like Hong Kongers who tend to hang on to the good old days, the widow in the film desperately wants to retrieve her husband's past. Even when it seems to be futilely stubborn, sometimes we need to insist in order to exist.”

Source/images: Trinity CineAsia