Christopher Doyle’s Hong Kong Trilogy: Preschooled Preoccupied Preposterous initially suggests little more than a modest observance of daily life in one of our world’s most bustling cities. Told in three segments and blurring the line between documentary and narrative feature, the film relays via voiceover the true experiences of various citizens in Hong Kong while they act in recreations of said experiences. Some of these people’s long-term goals are abstract to the point of being vague, but this only emphasizes that no one here is completely sure of what they want from life—and this insecurity becomes the connective tissue between these individuals.
Doyle’s filming of his subjects is so unobtrusive that one would be forgiven for thinking, particularly in Hong Kong Trilogy’s opening moments, that he’s documenting random street life. The film is largely built around naturalistic depictions of daily life, but Doyle, through his use of impressionistic editing and photography, acknowledges that time and reality are often marked by a slippery subjectivity. The triptych’s middle section, “Preoccupied,” in particular, fluctuates starkly between documentary realism and dreamlike imagery as it details the inner-workings of the encampment of pro-democracy protestors known as the Umbrella Movement. After showing how a protestor may live within a camp, Doyle profiles a young artist whose discussion of her art culminates in the spontaneous appearance of golden umbrellas.
The opening “Preschooled” concerns the simple lives of schoolchildren and the closing “Preposterous” peeks into the world of speed dating for older adults, but there’s a distinct through line between all three sections. In the first, a neglected schoolboy nicknamed Vodka Wong wants to set a plastic turtle free into a stream. The personalized nature of a young person’s desire is evident here, which stands in sharp contrast to the more consequential and political nature of the ambitions of the Umbrella Movement members longing for a democratic society that will help people in future generations.
Throughout the film, Doyle captures Hong Kong’s almost oppressive magnitude, how its skyscrapers loom large over his subjects, but also the sense of freedom its citizens seek within it, as when a young woman pokes her body through a sunroof to photograph herself as a car speeds through a highway tunnel. Doyle even mines his subjects’ countering desires for comic effect, such as an older singer on the dating scene singing of love to a group of schoolchildren, who laugh at how gross the thought of love is to them. Where finding a companion is paramount to the singer, it means nothing to the children. Such is the benevolence of Doyle’s vision that he makes it impossible for us to succumb to a default way of seeing his subjects, who are all very much ingrained into the fabric of Hong Kong’s everyday reality even as they’re devoted to embracing their individual path through it.