Skip navigation

Slow Island Hop

susan pui san lok

A short piece that finds the opening sequence from Wong Kar Wai’s 1992 film, Chungking Express, re-edited, and its soundtrack replaced by my own. A home video recording of a copy of a copy transmitted on television, three times degraded and removed from its source, the sequence is dirtied, decelerated and truncated. Subtitles are edited out and the resulting one and half minutes are drawn out into five. Where music might otherwise safely propel bodies as they stop / start through frames, their slowed, halting fragments remain floating, unanchored by text nor synchronous sound. The disjointedness of the visual track is compounded by the sonic navigation, dislocation and mistranslation of place: faint echoes of song are interrupted by whispers and laughter, in between the condensed whir of traffic, while feet hit the ground in a solitary game of lines and square landings.

I was interested in the film’s romantic evocation of Hong Kong and its illusory symmetries built upon repetitions and displacements, non-events and mis(s)-es (non-coincidences, non-meetings, mis-registrations, mis-understandings, mis-recognitions), and the enunciative slippages as camerawork and editing combine to condense time and space, compressing bodies into claustrophobic, discontinuous and disorientating spaces heightened by a humid saturated palette. The cumulative visual and narrative loops and reversals have a strange and ambiguous effect; there is little transition, in the sense of plot progression, only sudden changes in the circumstances and look of things that go barely noticed by the protagonists – ignored, misheard or misread. In a densely populated city of some seven million, the question of how subjects negotiate space and each other recurs; my sampling of the film aimed to undo the unifying, cohesive work of the soundtrack, bestrewn with nostalgic pop songs, to accentuate instead the irresolution of pursuits and dislocating encounters in a “fractal city,” whose ‘centre’ proliferates in the repetition and displacement of itself – a self without centre – giving rise to the levelling out, the collapsing and skewering, of the temporal.[6]

dropped into a dark narrow street made narrower with bodies, birdsong punctures the silence, heralds a head-rushing dive into noise

the opening scenes unfold, adulterated, the decelerated footage slowed further: an Asian woman disguised in dark glasses and blonde wig forces her way through the crowd, sharp movements made deliberate, the abruptness drawn out

cut from claustrophobic ground to a twilight panorama of roof-tops, skies soaked in polluted blues: a moment of stillness

bursts of birdsong ring clear against indistinct swathes of subterranean rumblings, traffic and building works, perhaps

voices weave and clamber, crawl over, beneath, sometimes looping – a distant megaphone, some whispered confidences, the shaky phrases of a song

acoustic debris and visual noise cling like hair drawn by static to a balloon; source locations blur, spaces layer, compress, dimensions multiply, exaggerating echoes where before there were none, all the while, if sometimes submerged, a rhythmic smacking of the pavement as feet hit the ground

Jump – Hop – Pivot

figures blur as the camera picks out a young man, plotting nuances of body, limbs, clothes, stopped in motion; he brushes past the camera, the woman in the wig, pursued / in pursuit of another, in a paper bag mask; he swerves into a building, its cursive pink neon sign waving, wavering, teasing, twisting; into labyrinthine corridors of eyes and elbows, glancing, grazing, and out again, slowing and stalled as he brushes the woman as before, and sounds recede, and each spins towards the other

hear a final

Jump – Hop – Pivot

a sudden connection, face to face for a second drawn out to five; fade to black [7]


Susan Pui San Lok, UK, Slow Island Hop, 5 mins, 2000