An artist who migrated from Hong Kong to Germany fulfills a 10-year promise to her brother and wins a prestigious award in the process.
Friendly Liu (artist name) is and self-taught stop-motion creator. Her work “Hong Kong Café Let’s Fight Together,” a stop-motion video of a childhood memory scene in a Hong Kong Cafe, won the Best Animation Feature Film Award at the Festival of Animation Berlin in 2018. In an interview with the Epoch Times, Liu says she believes people should appreciate things while they are here and not forget them after they disappear.
In the past few years, Hong Kong’s signature landmarks, like big, bright neon signboards that hung high or decades-old pawnshops, have disappeared. People’s memories are fading away as the city’s charms dissipate. Many long-standing and small shops are forced to close due to old age, regulations, rent hikes, or land development.
Liu shared memories of her and her brother eating at their local cha chaan teng (a Hong Kong-style café/restaurant) in 2005. A plate of beef pan-fried flat noodles and Singapore noodles inspired the creative illustrator. “We imagined how the two plates of noodles would fall in love at first sight. I jokingly told my brother to give me ten years, and I would make an animation to recreate the moment.” Liu recalled.
The inadvertent promise followed Liu as she moved to Germany with her husband.
It was not until 2014 that she remembered her promise. Flabbergasted, she thought, “I have one year left to fulfill my promise of making an animation. But I have not done anything yet.” The determination to keep her promise motivated Liu to focus on learning animation production. At that point, Liu had zero knowledge of producing animations. So she started with the basics.
Little did she know her promise to her brother would win her the Best Animation Feature Film Award at the Festival of Animation Berlin.
Making a stop motion was a challenging mission. Whenever Liu returned to Hong Kong, she would scavenger hunt for local cha chaan teng supplies and record sounds from cha chaan teng. She wanted everything to be as authentic and as close to reality as possible.
Liu enjoyed making everything from scratch. From building the characters, scriptwriting set design, photography, and stop motion production to the voice-over, She did it all herself. Memories suddenly all came to life in her hands.
The story is about an old-fashioned cha chaan teng café struggling and about to close in the face of rising rent. To help Tung Tung’s father and save the restaurant, the protagonist Tung Tung, along with her dream team, work together with the café employees to fight back in an attempt to persuade the landlord for them to stay.
The locals can’t survive the rent hike. “Cha chaan teng is a Hong Kong-style culture. Small community shops and cha chaan teng are the epitome of Hong Kong society. The more I observed, the more I realized that many of these traditional cafés are losing their place because of rent hikes. The local shop owners could not afford to stay. So now chain stores and gold shops have taken over,” said Liu.
Not only does the stop motion animation retain a memory, but Liu wanted to remind Hongkongers to appreciate everything around them. “Many old shops have been around for a long time. We should support local businesses more frequently. Otherwise, there is no point in regret once things are gone.” She said.
Deciding the Ending
After producing 80 percent of the film, Liu took the unfinished product to different districts of Hong Kong for community screenings and asked the audience to vote for the story ending. Should the café disappear? Will the owner manage to convince the landlord and let him stay?
Liu believes listening to the audience’s voices is also part of her production process. In the end, the ending of the story was decided by the voters.
Once she fulfilled her promise, Liu’s loved ones encouraged her to participate in various film festivals. When she won the Best Animation Film in Berlin, she was shocked, “I never thought about winning any award. Making the movie was purely to fulfill my promise to my brother. I did not have much capital to make the movie. So winning the award is a surprise.”
Being able to listen to the voices of people from different walks of life and communities, Liu was grateful that the communities allowed her to understand their thoughts on local shops.
During her scavenger hunt, Liu gained the items she was looking for the movie and understood the compassion Hongkongers have for the culture of the past. She hopes her movies will bring the audience fond memories and give them a warm hug.
In December 2022, Liu returned to Hong Kong to hold a personal exhibition of “Get Go Games” in Hong Kong and screen her animation “Hong Kong Café Let’s Fight Together” during the exhibition. She shared her thoughts with the audience on how mainland tourism had taken over the city with which they were once familiar.
“Nathan Road connects Mongkok, Yau Ma Tei, Jordan. I would return yearly, but Hong Kong was becoming more unfamiliar each time. Every local I once was familiar with has disappeared. Now it seems gold jewelry shops are everywhere.” The unfamiliarity made it hard for Liu to distinguish the districts along Nathan Road.