Do all cities have their own psyche? They all seem to have their own atmosphere, at least. For several years, filmmaker and video artist Simon Liu has been capturing that quality in Hong Kong. His films and video installations reveal the rapidly shifting psycho-geography of a city subjected to intense repression by China.
Devil’s Peak uses dynamic montage to evoke this pressure-cooker environment. Much in the mold of classic city symphony films such as Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (1927), the film initially seems to be giving an impression of the bustling urban life encountered in any major city.
But that all changes with a barrage of fragmentary scenes of repression and protest. Tangled umbrellas evoke the crushing of the Umbrella Movement; street fires recall the raging protests; and surveillance cameras on the streets reflect the level of scrutiny in the city. The soundtrack, comprising slowed-down and sped-up snippets of songs and voices, accentuates the sense of being caught in a disorienting nightmare. The protest slogan “We will be back” written on a wall seems more like a cry of desperation than a prediction of the future.