Monthly Archives: September 2010

The Peak Lookout restaurant review – peak-a-boo!

Ask me my favourite restaurant in Hong Kong and The Peak Lookout comes close to the top of my list. It’s not so much the food – though delicious, it’s nothing to get excited about – more the location, the ambience and the heritage of place. It has an unhurried old-time elegance, plus obligatory stunning views, that make it the perfect place to while a way a few hours on the Peak.

The Peak Lookout Hong Kong

In a place where restaurants come and go practically before you’ve finished your starter, The Peak Lookout is actually a site with history. Back in the day, it was a resting shelter for the poor sods that had to cart about rich expats on sedan chairs whilst the building we know became an eaterie, called The Old Peak Café, in 1947. This was before the days of the two giant malls that now hold fort at The Peak and it was practically the only (decent) place to eat there for a good fifty years. The Old Peak Café was listed as a Grade II Historic Building in 1981 following a petition against its demolition and Café Deco lost the lease of it in 1989, whereupon it was renovated and re-opened as  The Peak Lookout in 2001. Oddly enough, Café Deco’s eponymous flagship restaurant now sits in The Peak Galleria nearby (with a near identical menu), whilst their Peak Café resides near Central’s Mid-Level Escalators.

Peak Café, in the 1960s, from

The Peak Lookout is now owned by the Epicurean Group, who also own that other famous long-standing Western restaurant, Jimmy’s Kitchen. The building itself is still recognisable from its 50s and 60s heyday and has been faithfully restored with a faintly colonial décor. It’s all rattan chairs, timbered high ceilings and sepia photos… I say this and I don’t even think there were rattan chairs but that’s the vibe they’re going for and it definitely works. Floor-to-ceiling windows look onto the terrace outside, complete with stone walls, shrubs and stunning vistas over the rest of Hong Kong. The suited-up staff come from the more reverential age of dining and the ambience is pleasant, genteel and relaxed. I particularly love the building lit-up at night, where they somehow manage to turn what are essentially fairy lights into the first word in sophistication.

The menu itself “takes inspiration from” various cuisines i.e. is a bit all over the place. It basically does classic dishes and does them very well, even if it’s at premium prices. However, The Peak Lookout, or whoever is the chef there, will forever hold a place in my heart for knowing what gravy is. I have been at supposed steakhouses and had requests for ‘gravy’ met with blank stares and no, I do not mean mushroom jus or garlic sauce or black pepper. I mean gravy. It’s on the menu here, as ‘gravy’, and that makes me very happy indeed.

I find it very difficult to not order the 8oz filet steak from their ‘garden charcoal barbeque’ when I’m here ($328, plus potato, side, sauce of your choice and coleslaw). This is because, in addition to knowing what gravy is, the chef knows how to cook a steak. I don’t even want to think about the number of cows that have died in vain when, on requesting a medium-rare steak, I’ve been met with a bloody blue mess or a dry tasteless brick. Here, it’s always been cooked superbly – perfectly pink in the middle, juicy, beefy and not oozing so much liquid that you just know it hasn’t been rested.

I’m also a big fan of the risotto balls ($108), something a little different that I’ve not seen on many other menus in Hong Kong. Crispy breadcrumb-coated balls of creamy, rich risotto in a tangy tomato sauce, these are absolutely divine but definitely too filling for one or even two people. I’ve also had the nachos, which are probably the nicest I’ve had in Hong Kong thus far (and at $108, they bloody well should be!). For me, the key to good nachos is to cover them in as much cheese, guacamole and sour cream as their little tortilla bodies can take without burning them – it sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many places get it wrong. The chicken quesadillas ($98) are also amongst the tastiest I’ve tried.

I had high hopes for the escargots ($98), as the soft garlicky buttery ones at Jimmy’s Kitchen are divine, but these were buried under far too much mashed potato and not served in their shell, which always means they’re going to be the wrong side of rubbery. And a Caesar Salad ($126 – and that’s without chicken!) will always essentially be a Caesar Salad.

As I never stray from my steak, I can’t comment first-hand on any of the other mains. My boyfriend had the chicken vindaloo ($166) and gave it 7.5 out of 10, saying it was infinitely better than Jimmy’s Kitchen’s famed curry (which he likened to the boil-in-a-bag English variety). My mum had the vegetable curry ($152), my auntie stir-fried mixed vegetables ($146) and whilst had no complaints about the taste, they had plenty to say about the inflated prices. Whilst I think you can justify paying a few hundred for quality pieces of meat (especially as these are usually imported cuts), I’m not sure you can charge that much for well-dressed vegetables.

But in the end, you know you’re not actually paying for the food itself (sorry, I’ve not once managed to have enough room for dessert). You’re paying for the ambience, the environment and the views – and they’re totally worth it. With the birds twittering, the sun shining and HK’s harbour just being its usual beautiful self, it takes some beating. And if you face that way, you can pretend the two ugly malls on The Peak don’t exist either.

The Peak Lookout, 121 The Peak, Hong Kong, 2849 1000

Cake That! (A stranger! From the outside! Oooooh!)

With each tier based on a character from Toy Story, is this not the best cake ever?!

Oh OK… how about this one?


If they’re all a bit too big for you, how about this little fella instead?

And how adorable are those miniature alien figures in the back? Want!

Bet Maxim’s Devil Cake feels all sorts of inadequate now.

UPDATE: Confetti Celebration Cakes has now closed down. I believe it’s now been renamed Christina’s Creation Cakes and their Facebook is here.

Confetti Celebration Cakes, Shop 1.08, 1/F, The Style House, The Park Lane, 310 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay

Check out their website and Facebook for even more cool confectionary creations. Like Sesame Street cupcakes kind of cool.

Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 2: Bogan is best?

If you thought Season 1 of Australia’s Next Top Model hit the ground running, Season 2 proved you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Before the finalists even got within sniffing distance of the model house, they were subjected to a gruelling army assault course followed by their first sweaty mud-encrusted photo-shoot followed by their first elimination! Alas, poor bug-eyed Sasha’s trek to Sydney was all in vain – possibly a ruse to cover up the fact that ugmo Sasha had clearly been mistakenly invited in the first place. This was all within the first twelve minutes.

The real twelfth finalist, spunky Madeleine Rose, allowed to escape the indignities of the assault course, was already clad in a slinky evening dress, sipping champagne and awaiting the rest of the befuddled girls at the model house, who thought she was their hostess. No such niceties, Madeleine had already bagged a bed. Meanwhile, it transpired another girl was related to Olivia Newton-John (I’m now hoping that everyone in Australia is at least her first cousin). We’re only fifteen minutes in.

23 minutes saw “Princess” Hiranthi lock the rest of the girls in the apartment by pissing off to the gym with the only key-card but without telling anyone. 25 minutes was the first catwalk challenge, somehow won by Eboni who’d strutted down with only one shoe on. 33 minutes in saw the first big house argument, over Princess’ hour-long sessions in the bathroom whilst 43 minutes saw the first big house piss-up, complete with lesbian snogging and Lara shaving off a sleeping Hiranthi’s eyebrow.

Remember how last season built up to a final nude photo-shoot? Well, this season, it started with one! Princess Hiranthi ummed and ahhhed over whether to participate, one girl gashed her knee with a razor and there were more tits flying about than at a nut-stuffed bird feeder but actually, the photos turned out rather nicely. Lara’s, below, was my favourite – I love how soft and sensual she looks here – whilst the most action-packed of action-packed first episodes culminated in an unexpected double elimination. Bloody hell.

Frankly, this would be enough drama for a whole season of most other Next Top Model shows. But Cycle 2 continued to progress like a soap-writer’s wet dream. Olivia Newton John’s third cousin once removed quit. Lara flashed her bum in a shop window. Alex Perry debuted his ‘expensive’ line. One girl planted horse manure on another’s pillow. Man-eater Madeleine got laid at one challenge win and had a fling with a grungy-looking member of the crew (‘We just chatted’ she claimed, as infra-red footage showed her moaning and squirming around her sleeping bag in ecstasy). Then another girl claimed the same hair stylist had come onto her too, cue him yelling ‘If you think your little fucking presence can fuck with my existence, you’ve got another thing coming!’ Next scene: him being driven away (rumour has it he only left because she threatened legal action). Runner-up Jess slowly began to unravel in a series of panic attacks and death glares. Then there was the saga of Eboni.

Cycle 2’s bogan, Tasmanian Eboni’s platypus bill of a mouth seemed unable to open properly, meaning every uncouth utterance came out as an obscenity-laden manly drawl that practically needed subtitles. On a punishing  trek round the bush, she began suffering back pains and was carted off to hospital. She returned briefly but on being unable to feel her arms in a swimming session, was ferried back to hospital again. They uncovered a problem with her artery that could potentially cause a stroke so she announced that she was pulling out and her photo disappeared from the end of episode group shot. But then, lo and behold, she was back! Effectively given a bye for the week, Madeleine and Jess were rightly angry yet bizarrely edited to look like villains whilst Eboni launched into one of her usual foul-mouthed tirades and mimed strangling Jess behind her back. Eboni’s injury meant she was unable to pose properly, but outrageous favouritism from the panel saw her all the way to the final, by which time the abnormal artery had been talked up as Eboni having actually had a stroke, become a paraplegic and waiting at death’s door. (Contrast this special treatment with how Gemma’s depression, also a serious illness, was near trivialised in Season 1.)

If last cycle was the Season of the Bogan, this was the Season of the Blonde. We started off with about fifty indistinguishable pretty blondes and an all-round decent cast but despite this, we ended up with a final two of brunette fugs. At least Jess started photographing amazingly at the end, with a touch of the Erin O’ Connor about her, but I just wasn’t a fan of her look. Meanwhile, Eboni had a brace of early strong shots (just not in close-up, thank you very much) but her attitude, lack of versatility, and most obviously, health problems should clearly have sent her packing.

The drama didn’t end there. Post-win, Eboni ended up confined to hospital for six months, unable to attend the reunion show never mind do any actual modelling, and declared that she wasn’t even sure if she wanted to pursue the career anyway. Well, her dreams came true as she was last spotted waiting tables. That’s in-between being charged with obstructing police after jumping on the back of an officer and being removed from a club kicking and screaming after punching someone (antics that make Cycle 5’s Cassi look like a mere amateur). Meanwhile, Jess sent Eboni abusive text messages during the series’ broadcast, stormed out of a signing session with fellow finalists and punched someone in the gob after snogging a girl at a Gay Bash (literally – ho ho ho) party.

Amidst all this, they still found time for the photos to be amazing, with a five-episode stretch of seriously gorgeous shoots. Following the beautiful nude shots, episode two had a circus-themed lingerie shoot could have easily descended into ANTM absurdity. Instead, it managed to look gritty, powerful and arresting; I particularly enjoyed how cute-as-a-button Lara was contrasted with a circus freak’s rolls of flab. I also love the sexy nonchalance of Madeleine’s pose – the cross of the legs, the cock of the head, the challenging look at the camera. Eboni and Louise’s poses, though practically identical, conjure up entirely different moods, with Eboni’s all long-limbed strength whilst Louise has a sadness and loneliness in her eyes. [Top to bottom: Lara, Madeleine, Louise, Eboni]

Episode 3’s black-and-white 50s starlet emotion shoot, shot by judge Georges Antoni, reminded me of NZNTM Season 1 – except the latter are just good photos whereas Antoni’s are more like art. Simone, playing seductive (as if I need to tell you), is just sinuously sexual here. The curve of the body, the parted lips, the languid eyes… she looks like Anita Ekberg or something, captured in a private moment of just being intensely sexy. Caroline (sadness) epitomises the whole beauty-pain thing that I’m sure is another Tyra-ism and I love how Antoni catches the movement of her wiping away the tear. Meanwhile, Madeleine’s photo (screaming anger) just feels so alive. It looks exactly how I imagine a starlet having a mid-scene temper tantrum, plonking herself down on-set and screaming at some unfortunate minion would look. The glare of light across her eyes is an evocative touch too. [Top to bottom: Caroline, Madeleine, Simone]

Episode 4 marked the returned of Nick Leary and, what with hair stylist Carl stealing his pervy thunder, he just got on with taking stunning photos – even more commendable given how grotty the girls were after a night in the bush. It was all about the styling – a sort of romantic colonial prairie-house look, all big messy hair, big flouncy skirts, white lace gloves, rumpled haystacks and wild animals. Simone’s close-up is flawless but I adore the shape her skirt makes and the lazy way her hands drop down in the full-length version too. The rest (and Lara’s pouty mouth, full stop, which gets the honour of being the banner photo) are just pure sex distilled into a farmyard. [Top to bottom: Simone, Eboni, Louise, Madeleine]

Episode 5’s swimwear shoot marked the first sighting of Jodhi Meares as the client for her Tigerlily line, showing more spark than she did in two seasons as host! I think these photos, by Simon Upton are simple yet stunning. They could be campaigns for Ralph Lauren or Abercrombie & Fitch as they have a wholesome, fresh, natural beauty about them. I absolutely love the guarded look Simone is shooting to camera, which makes you feel like you’re totally intruding in her moment. [Top to bottom: Simone, Madeleine, Louise]

Overall, Season 2 offered almost the perfect balance between pretty things, great telly and the mind-boggling conundrum that has confounded all AusNTM fans for the past 6 years: how the hell did Eboni win?!

Going Over The Taupe at Cher2: OPI nail polish review

The other day, I had lunch with a friend who was sporting turquoise nails and I developed a sudden finger fetish, quietly coveting her aqua talons all afternoon. Having not painted my nails in about ten years, it suddenly struck me that there was a whole rainbow-coloured world of make-up that I was wilfully neglecting – and I felt the need to rectify it immediately.

Not as easy as it sounds. Without my trusty Boots to fall back on, I headed to the local equivalents (Sasa, Bonjour, Colormix) and checked out their huge vats of pick n mix nail polish. They were cheap (average $15) but not so cheerful – colours already separating in the pots, brands I’d never heard of and signs imploring me not to try out the goods. When I sneakily opened one, the sad thin lacquer dripped down, morose and unloved. No thanks. I trusted the Revlon and Maybelline concessions more but their limited range of colours left a hole in my technicoloured heart and although I’d heard you could buy good stuff at salons that did manicures, I felt a little odd rocking up at one without wanting a treatment. So it was a case of Sassy Hong Kong to the rescue.

Through Sassy’s fantastic website, I found out about a shop called Cher2, a candyland of nail polish that stocked every colour under the sun. What’s more, this was real nail varnish, made by established brands OPI, Essie and China Glaze, but sold at nearly half the normal retail price. In Hong Kong, you come to rely on such tip-offs because these secret goldmines are invariably tucked away in shabby, unassuming office buildings with those scary lifts where you have to open the doors yourself. I felt like an explorer navigating these old and dusty corridors in search of the treasure trove – and this quiet haven with racks and racks of rainbow explosions was definitely some glorious treasure for a make-up mavens like me!

I’d taken my first tentative toe-dips of getting back in the nail polish groove by doing my thumbnail with a tester pot of ‘it-shade’ Particuliere in Chanel. Classy, I know. I’d selected that mould-colour out of curiosity more than anything else, but over the past few days it had grown on me… rather like mould, I suppose! Armed with painted thumb, I asked the Cher2 shop assistant for the most similar colour they had. The girl was brilliant, knowing her stock exhaustively and producing about five different variants, with us eventually settling for OPI’s Over The Taupe as the most accurate dupe. So here we are.

I’m so in love with this shade right now. I love how subtle it is, yet also how very grown-up. Mushroom, putty, greige, mink, taupe, mould, cloudy coffee, sludge – call it what you will but it’s a sophisticated and seriously arresting blend of brown, grey, beige and even a touch of pale purple. I’d also forgotten how great wearing nail varnish makes you feel, like you’ve made an effort even on off-days, and I keep staring at my pinkies in pleasure. Yes, the finger fetish is back!

As for the nail varnish itself, I found it a little thicker and gloopier than I was expecting. OPI’s fatter brush took a while to get used to and I found the Chanel one easier to apply but this is as much due to the deterioration of my nail painting skills over the intervening decade (when advising me on base coats, the Cher2 assistant told me I had healthy nails – probably because I hadn’t painted them in ten years!) as to any shortcomings of the lacquer itself.

Despite lack of skill, I’m sadly still a bit of a perfectionist. I’d paint, not be entirely happy, try and tidy it up with nail varnish remover but manage to get acetone on other nice nails, meaning I had to start all over again, several times! It also seemed to take an age to dry, possibly because I didn’t leave enough time between coats (and you definitely need two coats, just one is too streaky and uneven) – I was amazed that it was still tacky over an hour after application, causing me to perennially smear it on things, meaning the final finish wasn’t quite as smooth as I’d hoped. 90 minutes and three rounds later, I was practically high on nail varnish remover fumes – but I had beautiful nails. Well, from a distance anyway!

I think I need to go a few more rounds with OPI to decide whether the thicker polish and fat brush works for me, but I really adore the colour. Two days on and I’m still chip-free, which speaks highly of the quality, especially reasonable at Cher2 prices.

I’ll be back on the nail varnish wagon again soon with the other two shades I bought so watch out for reviews of them! In the meantime though, I’ll just stare lovingly at my fingers some more…

Looks great with: Black, cream, smart/casual look
Drying time: +10-15 mins
Coats required: 2
Chips: After 2 days

OPI Over The Taupe nail polish, Summer 2009 Bright Pair Collection, $70, Cher2

All Cher2 locations in Hong Kong:

– 1E Po Foo Building, 84-94 Percival Street/1 Foo Ming Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 2882 2528
– 809, Mong Kok City Centre, 74-84 Sai Yeung Choi Street, Mong Kok, Hong Kong, 2886 1132
– 1202A Century Square, 1-13 D’Aguilar Street, Central, Hong Kong, 2810 0171
– 607 Kowloon Centre, 29-39 Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, 2730 0701

Make-Up Miracles: Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Cleansing Foam review

At a recent facial, my beautician was so impressed with my skin that she proclaimed it to be ‘like bean curd’. I’m hoping she means the soft, milky-white kind as opposed to the yellowish wrinkled deep-fried stuff. If this was the case, my next make-up miracle can take most of the credit: step forward, Clinque’s Anti-Blemish Solutions Cleansing Foam.

Prior to the entrance of Clinique’s Anti-Blemish Cleansing Foam in my life, my forehead was suffering from a life-long breakout. Even when spots weren’t springing forth in all their shiny red glory, they were bubbling under as unsightly bumps lying in wait for a day when I’d need my photo taken to make their ugly presence felt. I’d tried various cleansers designed especially for acne prevention (Clearasil, Oxy, Witch) to little effect, plus continuous application of supposed miracle product Freederm only resulted in a constant headache and my family wondering why I smelt like the medicine cabinet.

Part of the problem was the type of Pill I was on – the one the NHS puts you on first as it’s the cheapest – so my GP switched me to a different brand. I became blessed with wonderful skin but also with a mystery nausea that steadily ruined my life and was basically akin to morning sickness during pregnancy. Blood tests abounded until someone worked out it was the Pill and switched my brand; whilst I no longer felt a 24-hour urge to vomit and lie in a darkened room, my forehead was back to square one.

Why didn’t I go to Clinique sooner?! I’ve already told you why they’re practically a make-up miracle in themselves but here goes anyway – stringently allergy-tested, 100% fragrance-free, great for sensitive skin, dermatologist-developed and with a long and trusted reputation for putting your skincare into their white-gloved hands.

After about a month of using the Anti-Blemish Cleansing Foam, my skin was – and still is, she says frantically whacking on wood – the clearest it’s ever been in my adult life. I had got so used to anti-blemish products drying out and tightening up my skin that I’d assumed it was the only way; Clinique proffered a gentler, kinder path that actually produced results.

It works like any other cleanser – massage onto wet face, morning and night, rinse off, follow with a moisturiser of your choice. The pump dispenser is convenient, ensuring no mess (especially safe for travelling), and the foam itself is very light but easy to work with. As well as clearing up and preventing acne, it does the other basics of a cleanser, removing dirt, unclogging pores (another noticeable difference to my skin was how my blackheads were substantially reduced) and reducing redness. Whilst AM and PM cleansing is standard for the sweaty summer months, I find just a morning cleanse is enough in winter and only one or two pumps of the foam can go a long way – meaning one bottle generally keeps me going for upwards of six months, which I think is fantastic value given the stellar results.

My skin is softer, smoother, brighter and lighter – the coveted ‘bean curd’ that my beautician was on about. Clinique, my forehead sends you its eternal thanks.

Clinique Anti-Blemish Solutions Cleansing Foam, $170 for 125ml

High School Musical: Live On Stage @ HK APA review

Is there any point to High School Musical if there isn’t Zac Efron to drool over? With the arrival of High School Musical: Live On Stage to Hong Kong’s Academy of Performing Arts, it was my chance to find out!

Lack of Efron aside, I had also worried how the soundtrack, largely made up of rather slight pop songs, would translate to the more complex arrangements of musical theatre. Luckily, the majority have been substantially and successfully beefed-up – Start Of Something New is transformed from treacly to terrific, making for a rousing multi-layered opener, whilst When There Was Me And You morphs from weak Vanessa Hudgens solo to deluxe power-ballad duet.

However, the biggest problem lies in the script, which was hardly a masterpiece in its TV movie origins and hasn’t got much better with stage treatment. I doubt the writers unduly taxed themselves when they sat down to make the easiest buck of their life by adapting the film for theatre – some parts are lifted almost wholesale from the movie (including a cringeworthy section about wanting to be best friends at kindergarten), other parts heavily rely on Grease for “inspiration”, there are cultural references that would barely translate to Hicksville parts of America, let alone to an international audience and the actual dialogue itself is simple, workmanlike and generally not as funny as it could have been. Whilst this isn’t really a problem when you’re pitching yourself at an audience that already knows the plot, characters and songs inside-out (and I think you can guess at the complexity of these elements given the number of five year olds experts on HSM), it’s up to the cast to sell the production – and that they must definitely do.

This energetic, enthusiastic 30-strong ensemble makes the hyperactive kids on Supernanny look like slackers. All-singing, all-dancing, all-smiling – I could barely keep up with them and I was only watching! The dancing in particular is full-on throughout and always exciting given the sheer number of performers executing one slick move after another, whilst chucking some break-dancing into the mix was a nice touch.

hsm hk 5 troy gabriella

As for the main characters, Max Milner, as basketball-wielding dreamboat Troy Bolton, manages to out-Efron Efron and makes the part his own. He has a sweet acting-style, turning in a charismatic, naturalistic performance that makes him the kind of boy that all mothers would delight in their daughters bringing home. Brainiac Gabriella Montez was irritatingly drippy in the film – and not just because I’m jealous that Vanessa Hudgens gets to bang Efron in real life – but Talia Kodesh turns on the charm and has an endearing twinkle in her eye throughout. Their strong vocals carry the show (Where There Was Me And You is fantastic) and Milner especially has a gorgeous tone. Kyle Grant will probably need testosterone injections for the rest of his life to combat damage done by the tight pink shorts he dons as Ryan and I was impressed with Tsephi Mash as Taylor McKissie, the weakest link in the movie since the actress who played her (Monique Coleman) could neither sing, dance nor act particularly well. Despite this underdeveloped role, Mash is a bubbly vibrant presence on-stage and turns almost all her lines into winners.

I wish I could say the same for Sharpay. Ashley Tisdale’s scene-stealing diva turn in the film was the knowing wink at the heart of the franchise, stopping it from becoming a molten crème brulee of saccharine tweendom, and should be a gift of a part. However, Raquel Munn seems to have taken her performance cues from a line about her character being named after a dog and raised her pitch to being audible to canines alone. She’s nasal, screechy and annoying – which is certainly one way to play Sharpay (but I would say, not the best one) – with zero warmth, a total lack of funny lines (the script’s fault) and makes her songs a pain to sit through.

Moreover, there is only room for one ham in this show and Robyn Sara Scott as histrionic drama teacher Miss Darbus has it covered. Once this production rolls into China, it won’t just be the Great Wall you can see from space – Scott’s performance will be right up there too. This is an acting style that makes Brian Blessed look restrained. Quite frankly, I’ve never seen anything like it and I doubt Hong Kong has – or ever will again! Entertaining and terrifying in equal measure, I can only hope this was the performance of Scott’s life as the possibility that anyone doesn’t have to act their socks, shoes and blisters off to produce such an unhinged creature is too horrifying to comprehend.

It’s perhaps fitting that High School Musical: Live On Stage truly takes off at the ‘soaring flying’ show climax of Breaking Free. Finally, the writers get their heads in the game, sending the cast swarming into the audience to cheer us into submission, creating a truly immersive invigorating experience. The action is meant to be taking place in a theatre and suddenly, we’re a part of it and it becomes the pure joyous stuff that live musical theatre thrives on. The party atmosphere really kicks in with the high-octane ten-minute closing Megamix, which almost has as much oomph as the rest of the show put together. To resist is impossible, so don’t even try to deny it.

Whilst I’m not sure if High School Musical: Live On Stage has the ingredients to become a classic still doing the rounds decades from now, what is certain is that however long it lasts, it will have a hell of a lot of fun along the way. Go Wildcats!

(And yes, it just about works without Zac Efron.)

GWB Entertainment’s production of High School Musical: Live On Stage, Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, 13-19 September 2010.

The Asian tour will stop off at Beijing, Shenzhen, Wuhan, Guangzhou and Chongqing in China and later, Taiwan.

All photos from HSM: Live on Stage in Hong Kong’s Facebook

The Lodger: Hitchcock Retrospective @ HK Film Archive review

People say silence is golden but is this the case for cinema? I decided to put this theory to the test with The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, the first film and only silent one in the LCSD’s current Hitchcock retrospective.

Although it was Hitchcock’s third film, it is widely-regarded as the first “Hitchcock” film, setting in motion his signature style. Having never seen a silent movie in a cinema before, keen to see the beginnings of Hitchcock’s trademark thrillers and hardly breaking the bank at fifty bucks per ticket, I thought it would prove to be an interesting experience.

The Lodger is Hitch’s take on the Jack the Ripper story. A serial killer murders blonde women around foggy London on Tuesday nights, leaving a calling card of ‘The Avenger’. A witness describes him as having a scarf pulled up round his face – cue a mysterious stranger, complete with scarf pulled up round his face, arriving at a boarding house nearby i.e. the eponymous lodger (Ivor Novello). He soon gets friendly with Daisy, the pretty blonde daughter of the house, whilst skulking around the place and acting creepily enough to arouse the suspicions of anyone with eyes and a functioning mental capacity. Is he The Avenger? Will he kill Daisy? Will anyone tell him to tone down on the creepy front?

I found The Lodger more interesting in terms of witnessing the start of Hitchcock’s development rather than a film in its own right, and there are plenty of distinctive Hitchcock motifs – the pursuit of an innocent man, the obsession with blondes, a bathroom scene, touches of humour, strong visuals and innovative shots – to keep the average film geek going. The opening close-up of a woman screaming as she is being murdered (back-lit to emphasise her halo of fair hair) is pure Hitchcock, whilst a clever shot that sees the nervous landlords look up at their shaking chandelier, dissolving to the Lodger’s feet pacing the floor above it (achieved by shooting his feet from under a glass floor) is unbearably tense. And if you thought that The Thomas Crown Affair is the ultimate in sexy chess scenes, there’s a really sensual one here albeit with a dangerous undercurrent about forty years early!

It was also interesting to see Ivor Novello, the actor and matinee idol, rather than just the long-forgotten name behind a prestigious song-writing award. He’s actually rather beautiful, with his feminine lips and milky pale skin set to glow, but he overacts to such an extent that his performance practically reaches the exhibition hall downstairs. He arrives on-screen looking and acting like Nosferatu and I haven’t seen an actor delight in being so obviously sinister since the audience burst out laughing at how weird (and seemingly talcum powder covered) the Cullen kids were in their first appearance in Twilight. There’s an ultra-magnified close-up of his kissing lips that may have had the swooning audience of the 20s reaching for their hankies in pleasure yet it’s just gigglingly uncomfortable nowadays.

Whilst Novello just about gets by on charm alone, I can’t say the same for the unsatisfying anticlimactic ending. Given Ivor Novello’s heartthrob status plus the fact that Hitch would surely never be so obvious, the Lodger’s innocence is never really in doubt (although Novello’s acting does suggest that he should have been sectioned along the way) but for us never to find out who The Avenger really was is a bit of a damp squib. Apparently, Novello’s popularity put the clappers on any earlier ideas Hitchcock had about making his identity a more ambiguous affair whilst right until the final shot, I was still hoping for a twist that would see Daisy’s jealous cop boyfriend or her dim father turn out to be the one wot dunnit. Instead we get a baying mob persecuting The Lodger (in an admittedly thrilling sequence that was the only part of the film to elicit an audibly excited response from the audience when I saw it) and a prolonged happy ending. There is only the sight of the ‘To-Night Golden Curls’ visual motif, flashing in the background as it has repeatedly throughout the film and The Avenger’s reign of terror, to provide a very slight ominous touch.

Seeing the film in complete silence meant that every other sound in the small cinema at Sai Wan Ho’s Film Archive was magnified – sadly, in my case, this meant the stomach rumblings of the old man nodding off next to me. Unlike black-and-white as opposed to colour films, or hand-drawn animation as opposed to CGI, I really felt that the lack of sound meant something vital was missing. It’s worth pointing out that even in 1927, the audience wouldn’t have been sitting in complete silence like we were – there would have been live musical accompaniment, with a score performed by a pianist during the film to heighten the moods depicted on-screen. This screening would have been undoubtedly improved had the LCSD thought to do the same – given the space constraints, at least a man on a Yamaha keyboard or, joking aside, a CD player using the score from DVD versions of the film could have been managed.

However, seeing The Lodger on the big screen is still worth fifty of your best Hong Kong dollars. As with most silent (and indeed Hitchcock) films, there is barely an ounce of fat on the film and it zips by at a brisk, eminently watchable pace. Having over 100 people gathered to watch a film over eighty years old and basking in the near enough complete silence, especially in frantic eternally-modernising Hong Kong, has a special charm all of its own.


The Hitchcock Retrospective, 10 September until 28 November 2010, comprises of 20 films shown twice at the Film Archive, Space Museum or Science Museum. Tickets cost $50 from (worst ticketing website in the world, seems to have been built in the 90s).

Each film has two showings, with the season quite heavily biased towards Hitch’s earlier films (Rear Window and The Birds are two notable omissions), but seats are limited and many of the most famous ones have already sold out. All films are screened in English only, whilst a series of lectures ($80 each) are all conducted in Chinese!

Film Archive, 50 Lei King Road, Sai Wan Ho, 2739 2139.

Australia’s Next Top Model, Cycle 1: The importance of being a power pussy

Quite why Australia’s Next Top Model doesn’t crow about the success of its first season is beyond me. Whilst Season 3’s Alice Burdeu gets trotted out at the drop of a hat, Season 1’s winner goes unmentioned and unremembered – strange given that Gemma Sanderson has been amongst the most successful of the Next Top Model alumni internationally, working steadily ten (!) years on from the programme, albeit on a mainly commercial level (you’ll spot her regularly and ASOS and she’s actually one of the top-earning e-commerce models in the world). I had actually heard of her before the show, which must mean something!

If you’re used to first cycles having an awkward host, ugly cast, cheap shoots and an uninspiring winner (hello Canada and Britain!), look away now. Other than a first episode where the cameraman hadn’t realised that filming over the host’s shoulder with a direct view to the photos she was handing out probably wasn’t a great idea during call-out, Season 1 was a cracker. The drama… the tears… the bitching – and that was just on the phone to their loved ones! Nothing beats an unhinged wannabe, fresh from being accused of being anorexic, screaming ‘YOU DO NOT OWN ME!!!’ down the phone at her on/off boyfriend or an encouraging mother motivating her upset daughter by forcing her to repeat ‘I am a Power Pussy!’ three times in the full glare of the viewing public.

Then there were the characters. Having watched six series of AusNTM, I’d got used to there always being one “bogan”, a skanky small-town girl whose hicks-ville ways are held up as cause for amusement. This being the first series, there was not just one bogan but half the bloody cast! This lot were mostly endearingly ignorant, with indigenous model Shannon McGuire coming out with gems like people must be famous because ‘they have a commercial’ (she was slightly stumped as to what to call herself when the finalists got to film one themselves), and being startled at a fancy restaurant by a waiter putting a napkin on her lap and mesmerised by the concept of mineral water!

There was also gobby Sam, pleased to lose a challenge since she was sick of being the experienced one (‘I am so happy to be the underdog for five minutes, thank God!’), an attitude she strangely lost when she happened to win one. Girlfriend even had her own signature pose, the ‘Triple S’ (Sam Shoulder Squint). There was wooden Atong, one of the few black women ever on NTM not to have received the trademark Grace Jones cut at makeover, who thought that someone had stolen money from her wallet in the first episode – yet gave wildly differing values each time she was asked about it. There was plastic Allana, who was continually quizzed over her definitely not-fake boobs, threw a tantrum at makeover when her scraggy hair extensions were removed, was thrown out of a challenge by Napoleon Perdis’ far-more-normal brother for refusing to ditch her fake eyelashes and walked before she was pushed for repeatedly sneaking out to meet her boyfriend. And there was eventual winner Gemma, who managed to shack up with a dinner guest one evening (they found his underpants later!) and whose depression caused sudden outbursts of tears that, as sod’s law would have it, only mortal enemy Sam seemed to be able to quell.

Judge-wise, there was the first appearance of a happier and more innocent Alex ‘expensive’ Perry, albeit with obsession of getting rid of ‘midgets’ and those deemed ‘not beautiful’ already in place. There was someone who claimed be a stylist but wore clothes that looked like they’d been picked by his mum and who had about as much personality as said apparel; however, he did have the best line of the series about a girls’ chunky arse: ‘Stick a handle on it and it’s an overnight bag’.

Fox8 are keen to erase all memory of Erika Heynatz, who jumped ship to another channel in pursuit of her singing career (attempts at which she sadly inflicted on us in Season 2), but she was actually a great host, the most hands-on one I’ve ever seen. I wondered if she even had a room in the model house, given the regularity with which she’d pop up for the most mundane of events, at one point strolling round the corner and scaring the daylights out of Gemma! She also turned up unscheduled to give Allana a memorable bollocking when she quit, ending her diatribe with a delightfully abrupt ‘Happy birthday babe!’

Even the photos were unexpectedly good. The best shoots were done by Nick Leary and I wondered why he hadn’t appeared on any of the latter seasons of AusNTM; come episode four, where he came on to two of the girls and ‘pashed’ another at a party, I soon realised why! Regardless of how he lives up to his surname (think about it…!), his photos are rather fantastic. The sexy swimwear shoot was the first of the whole season, making the hit rate of quality shots even more surprising – let’s just say you can never beat a good pair of fingerless gloves! [Shown earlier: Sam, Shannon, Allana]

The second shoot, on horseback, was similarly gorgeous. They feel like scenes from an epic  movie – romantic, moody, but with a sense of adventure and breathless sensuality too. My boyfriend had issues with the fact that you can barely see the horse in most of them though! [Above: Gemma, Shannon; Below: Sam, Zoe – who is now apparently a wrestler!]

Finally, leery Leary was in his element with the obligatory nude photoshoot. Gemma’s shot (the banner photo) is just beautiful – a judge commented that her gilded limbs looked ‘genetically engineered’ they were that perfect – and although the other girls all produced great photos by going straight for the fierce jugular, I preferred Gemma’s more elegant approach. The boring judge suggested that she was trying out for The Lion King, but that tawny quality complements the pose nicely, managing to be graceful, statuesque and powerful all at once. Bear in mind that this is the first ever cycle of AusNTM and we got three sterling shoots, whilst Cycle 14 of ANTM had ‘dresses made of hair’ and ‘vampires in a bath’ as themes.

In case you’re wondering what’s with the artfully deconstructed banner photo, I’m afraid that Cycle 1 is from a time before the Internet got good and so I went for screencaps instead. Most of the shots were only released in sizes fit for hanging on the Borrowers’ walls, whilst Sam’s horseback photo was entirely different and markedly inferior to the one shown on the programme so my pieced-together screencap is a bit of an exclusive! As for the swimwear shots – well, those were so smoking that they’re still in most of the models’ portfolios five years on. I guess there’s something to be said for having your photos taken by a bit of a perve then.

Great Forgotten Pop Songs: Ruslana – Wild Dances

For a recent great forgotten pop song, I shared my love of Scandipop. Now, I’m going to spread the love in a distinctly Slavic direction.

Ruslana’s Wild Dances won the 2004 Eurovision Song Contest (and an eternal place in my heart and hard drive) with one of the highest point totals of all-time, whilst Terry Wogan tutted on-high, branding her Xena: Warrior Princess. Lucy Lawless wishes!

Ruslana exudes fierceness. And no, we’re not talking the sexy-scowly wild-eyed fierceness that Tyra and her minions specialise in, yet a total ferocity where you wouldn’t be surprised to see her tear a man into mincemeat before busting out a nifty little dance routine atop his carcass and finishing things off with a howl of a top-note. And he’d still come back begging for more.

Wild Dances pounds with raw energy and near-tribal rhythms, complete with a drumming section from the lady herself. Factor in an ear-pricking attention-grabbing horn intro, skimpy leather costumes complete with bits of animal hanging off them and a tune so feral it demands to be stomped along to, it’s a unique hunk of Ukranian pop greatness. And frankly, you can’t argue with lyrics like ‘Day-na-day-na wanna be loved’, can you?

This was one of the first Eurovision winners to be sung partly in the country’s own language, which makes it even better for someone listening with an English-only ear. The best way to whip yourself into a Ruslana-shaped frenzy is to grunt suitably primal noises along to the Ukranian lyrics, making you really believe you’re participating in some sort of ritualistic chant. I also can’t resist beating something along with the rhythm – be it my seat, my chest or my flabby thighs – which has drawn a few strange looks on public transport. I believe that when most critics describe a song as air-punching, they mean it in a purely figurative sense; nevertheless, I find it becomes a fist-clenching reality as the shouting ‘Hey!’s of Wild Dances always propel me to aim my best right hooks skywards.

At the end of the day though, Wild Dances does exactly what it says on the tin. If it came along sounding all meek and mild, or even if it socked it to you with an immaculately-produced Dr Luke/Max Martin hook, it just wouldn’t feel right. As it is, Ruslana’s throaty efforts ensure that it’s three minutes of stomping staggering and downright bonkers pop dynamite. And it’s badass enough to be featured on Grand Theft Auto IV. Go! Go! Go! Wild dancers!

UK Chart Peak: 47
Key lyric: ‘Go! Go! Go! Wild dancers!’
Get more bonkers Slavic pop: I really don’t know anymore. Just stick Ruslana on repeat. It works for me.

Come one, come all but what brings you here?!

Over the last few days, my blog has suddenly received an influx of 3000 visitors. Which is a bit of a change from its previous high of 90. So welcome!

Not that I’m complaining, but can someone please put me out my misery and tell me how you’ve all discovered me?! I can’t get my head around the stats.

So please some considerate soul, leave me a comment to reassure me that you’re not all spambots continually pressing the refresh button. Thanks!