26 April 2010

In the footsteps of Pheidippides

SONY DSC Today Londoners flocked to the central city to enjoy the annual spectacle of the London Marathon, the 26-and-a-bit mile run from Greenwich to Buckingham Palace via a circuitous route that takes in Tower Bridge, the Isle of Dogs, the Tower of London and the Embankment.  While the elite competitors are racing in deadly serious fashion, for most of the participants it’s an opportunity to achieve personal milestones and raise money for worthy charities.  Some enthusiasts complete the race in fancy dress to add variety: I saw several clowns, numerous French maids, quite a few superheroes, a handful of armour-clad medieval knights, and someone in a head-to-toe Womble suit.  Perhaps the most impressive was the mad ex-Para geezer running the race with a fridge on his back.  Sure, it was a bar fridge rather than a full-sized kitchen model, but still.  He ran 26 miles with a fridge on his back! 

While I didn’t spot Princess Beatrice, who was the first royal to run the race, I did spot two celebrities.  Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire owner of Virgin, who sponsored the marathon, ran wearing butterfly wings, perhaps to celebrate that he had just been named Britain’s 18th richest person in the Sunday Times 2010 Rich List (estimated fortune: £2.6bn).  The other celeb was Sam Oakley, my pal and former flatmate, who was running for the Samaritans and looked as cool as a speedy cucumber at the 18 mile mark.  Good work, Sam.


[Clockwise from top left: (1) The eventual men’s winner, Ethopia’s Tsegaye Kebede, leading 2nd-place getter Emmanuel Mutai from Kenya in the background; (2) This Womble survived at least as far as the 24 mile mark; (3) Branson & co.; (4) Eritrean Zersenay Tadese, who came 7th]

19 April 2010

With no power comes no responsibility


Matthew Vaughn’s big-screen adaptation of the graphic novel Kick-Ass, which opened in the UK a couple of weeks ago and was unleashed on general audiences in America on Friday, is a much-anticipated comic crossover that has attracted considerable media attention.  The artfully-concocted controversy surrounding the prospect of a child actor using bad language gained the movie a great deal of pre-release exposure and virtually guaranteed a good turn-out at the cinema.  But is it worth the hype?  And is Kick-Ass a film of lasting quality or a missed opportunity?

There is certainly a wealth of potential to make a film that stands out as both a memorable film and a cinema event that can be looked back on with a certain fondness in years to come.  It boasts a novel storyline, appealing and potentially iconic characters, and a perennially popular teen underdog theme.  But while Kick-Ass is certainly entertaining, and hopefully it will be a success for its backers, it falls short of achieving the status of a lasting success.  It is held back by a willingness to conform to somewhat outdated film conventions, a certain lack of independent spirit, and perhaps even a paucity of decent jokes.

So what’s wrong with Kick-Ass

[Warning: mild plot spoilers ahead]

Originally the story of Kick-Ass was to have been about the distinctive
and appealing father and daughter pairing of Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz, who was in (500) Days Of Summer as the worldly-wise little sister).  United by a lust for vengeance against a stereotypical crime lord for the wife/mother death that’s seemingly inevitable in the comic book setting, the nerdish vigilante father and precocious ninja tween accelerate the pace of every scene they’re in. 

Big Daddy is a relatively unremarkable character, but Hit Girl is clearly a winner in terms of generating both fanboy adulation and newspaper column inches.  For who could possibly resist the image of a foul-mouthed and seemingly invincible urchin despatching villains with heartless ultra-violence?  Surely when the producers saw the graphic novel portraits of Hit Girl in pigtails and schoolgirl pinafore, brandishing a silenced assassin’s pistol, they must’ve scrambled to secure the film rights, no matter what the cost.

The problem with making a film about a father and daughter killing machine is that it’s been done before.  Leon may not have been strictly about a family relationship, given that Jean Reno and Natalie Portman’s characters in Luc Besson’s 1994 film weren’t related, but there’s still the same dynamic of a streetwise young girl being tutored in the ways of mortal combat by a father figure.  True, Hit Girl is much more of a self-confident protagonist than Portman’s character Mathilda.  But it was quickly realised that a much wider audience could be reached if a teenage male protagonist could be worked into the mix.

_12505418769834So the focus of the story shifted towards every-dweeb Dave Lizewski (Aaron Johnson), who buys a naff diving suit and styles himself as a bargain basement superhero, the titular Kick-Ass.  Actor Aaron Johnson, fresh from a quality performance as John Lennon in the excellent Nowhere Boy, is likeable in the role and nails the American accent completely.  (What are the odds that Michael Cera was considered for the role?)  Quite sensibly, Dave is not portrayed as an all-powerful hero.  He’s actually pretty naff, in a good way – at one point he muses, ‘with no power comes no responsibility’.  A potentially crippling injury is thrown into the mix in almost a slapdash fashion, with the resulting reconstructive surgery and nerve damage thereby explaining at least some of Kick-Ass’ ability to absorb enormous amounts of whupping that befall him.        

But while the haphazard brawls Kick-Ass picks with thugs and lowlifes are moderately brutal, once Hit Girl and Big Daddy come on the scene and begin dishing out their unyielding revenge, the violence levels are ramped up exponentially, to a gruesome and almost fetishistic level.  For a generation of filmgoers who have grown up on the cartoon gore of 300 and Sin City, or who regard the Saw ‘torture porn’ franchise as light entertainment, this is probably nothing out of the ordinary.  Which is disturbing in a way, because Kick-Ass makes a point of depicting its vengeful heroes as heartless perpetrators of inevitable dismemberment and death.  In these scenes, it’s not about Kick-Ass’ bumbling yet still bloody efforts: the focus is firmly on grim, merciless ultra-violence.  No asses are actually kicked.  Rather, limbs are messily sliced off, brains are pierced with high-velocity slugs with associated spurts of animated blood, and chests are pierced with wicked blades, all in apparently mandatory gory slow-motion.

The lack of moral complexity in these scenes is worrying.  In V For Vendetta, another graphic novel cross-over, it was the palpable sense that the vigilante justice being dished out by the masked revolutionary was vicious and in many ways inhumane that made the character more interesting.  (It didn’t make the violence any more palatable though.  What is this fascination with lopping off limbs these days?)  On the other hand, the violence in Kick-Ass is treated as straight entertainment, and the film suffers somewhat for it – can a character who puts to death run-of-the-mill thugs and molls who are clearly attempting to run away be regarded as heroic?  After all, in this post-Abu Ghraib age, isn’t it important to be able to distinguish the good guys from the bad guys?

Roger Ebert found the film’s violence depressing:

The early scenes give promise of an entirely different comedy. Aaron Johnson has a certain anti-charm, his problems in high school are engaging, and so on. A little later, I reflected that possibly only Nic Cage could seem to shoot a small girl point-blank and make it, well, funny. Say what you will about her character, but Chloe Grace Moretz has presence and appeal. Then the movie moved into dark, dark territory, and I grew sad. 

I tend to agree.  I don’t have a problem with Hit Girl swearing like a docker, nor would I have been bothered if they had left in the scene in which she deploys cocaine from a Hello Kitty bag for a pre-fight pick-me-up.  (I actually think that’s pretty funny, in a daring, ‘totally wrong’ sort of way).  The film’s co-writer, Jane Goldman, thinks a skewed set of priorities are operating here:

‘If people are startled by Hit-Girl’s violence,’ she says, ‘that’s something they’re entitled to feel, but the fact that they would probably be more startled by the fact that she says “c---” I’ve always felt people overreact appallingly to bad language.’ 

That’s a fair point.  But ultimately it’s the violence that weakens Kick-Ass.  The continuing improvements in film CGI techniques has meant that increasingly directors are able to depict onscreen violence in increasingly realistic and gory fashion.  But in doing so, they’ve reduced the humanity of the characters they’re depicting, blurring the lines between heroes and villains so comprehensively that a film that depicts combat without buckets of blood would doubtless be derided as a sanitised white-wash.  Contrast the then-shocking scenes of violence in Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, banned for many years in Britain.  They are tame by comparison with modern slasher-ethos films, but still achieve their dramatic intent through good acting and using the viewers’ own imaginations to fill in the gaps.  


Kick-Ass also sets out a distinctly unimpressive depiction of female teenagers.  Mainstream movies that are intended for a wide audience usually make at least a nod in the direction of the equality of the sexes, but Kick-Ass makes no such efforts.  Dave Lizewski’s love interest, the so-out-of-his-league Katy (Lyndsy Fonseca), is an embarrassingly one-dimensional male wish fulfilment fantasy, falling into bed with Dave despite a betrayal of confidence that would earn anyone in the real world a punch up the bracket and a bum’s rush to the door.  Once he hooks up with Katy the film veers dangerously close to Spider-Man cliché territory.  Similarly, Katy’s pal Erika (Sophie Wu) hooks up with nerdish Marty (Clark Duke, who is nearly 25!) for no good reason.  Perhaps the presence of the all-vanquishing Hit Girl was thought to be sufficiently empowering for female viewers. 

It’s a pity considering that many teenage girls will see this film: after all, their only positive role model is a murderous 11-year-old girl.  The rest of the female characters are inconsequential doormats.  Given that the screenplay was co-written by a woman (Goldman, who also wrote Stardust with Matthew Vaughn; she is married to TV personality and fellow comics fan Jonathan Ross), perhaps a somewhat loftier portrayal of young women could’ve been hoped for.  Compare, if you’re interested, with the female characters in Greg Mottola’s Adventureland or the peerless Judd Apatow TV series Freaks & Geeks: believable isn’t that hard to achieve.     


As an aside, there are four notable music choices in the film that are interesting.  The first Hit Girl killing spree is soundtracked with The Dickies’ punk-pop rendition of the Banana Splits’ Tra La La Song, aiming for knowing cool and lessening the visceral impact of the violence.  It helps to tone down the gore and reminds the viewer that the maiming is meant to be regarded as ‘comic-book’, even if the spurting red undermines this.  When Kick-Ass realises he has a potential rival in do-goodery, the mysterious Red Mist, the soundtrack kicks in with a montage to This Town Ain’t Big Enough For Both Of Us, the 1974 classic by Sparks.  This is still a fantastic tune, and it fits the scene perfectly.  Similarly, the use of Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation (which has appeared in numerous films and was the theme for Freaks & Geeks) is punchy, rebellious and exuberant, and enhances the breakneck speed of the fight scene.  The only potentially duff note is the use of Elvis Presley’s version of the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which struck me as stodgy and insufficiently upbeat for the heroic finale that it soundtracks.   


By the time that finale rolled around I was wondering if Kick-Ass would go the way of Pineapple Express – tacking on a lingering, unwelcome fight scene to stretch the film way beyond its natural life.  By no means was Kick-Ass anywhere near as bad as that, but it could certainly have benefited from five or ten minutes being snipped from its running time near the end.  As a mark of a reasonable film that could have been a minor classic, this is another pity.  Still, perhaps they’ll fix this in the inevitable and unsubtly-flagged sequel?

17 April 2010

Three days in Old Zealand


A former British ambassador to Denmark, Sir James Mellon, published a book of observations about the country in 1992.  It it, he remarked that ‘the Danes are not a nation … they are a tribe, this is the strength of their fellowship and the reason that they have unshakeable trust in each other’.  Danish historian Knud Jespersen, examining Mellon’s thesis, points out that:

…according to Sir James Mellon, the Danes are not a nation in a normal sense, but a tribe, whose behaviour strongly reminded him of the tribal behaviour he saw amongst the Ashanti in Ghana during his posting to West Africa between 1978 and 1983.  Amongst the Danes he found the same concern for the weaker members of society, the same propensity for consensus and uniformity, the same avoidance of conflict, and the same implicit faith that political results should be achieved through discussion and compromise rather than the face-to-face conflicts which are otherwise characteristic of parliamentary democracy.  All of these traits, and most Danes would nod in agreement with his analysis, he attributed to the tribal awareness of the Danish population, which in his view make Denmark and the Danes quite special amongst modern European nations. 

- Knud Jespersen, A History of Denmark, 2004

This is quite possibly true.  However, my own investigation of the nature of Denmark was somewhat less thorough and significantly shorter in duration than Mellon’s stint in Copenhagen.  To be precise, for three days over Easter I explored Copenhagen and the nearby town of Roskilde.  In the process I admired plenty of Danish architecture, acquired an impressive limp from hours of walking on cobblestoned streets, and suffered a deluge that wreaked havoc on my flimsy £5 Superdrug umbrella.

My flights to and from Denmark were on the budget carrier Easyjet, the garish orange and slightly less rapacious understudy of Ireland’s piratically cut-throat Ryanair.  The advantage of inexpensive flights was somewhat tempered by the inevitable sea of children aboard the flight and the corresponding seat-kicking tomfoolery that left me glad the flight was only an hour and a half in length.

As the Airbus banked into its approach path the view out the window showed the broad flat lands around the capital, which is perched on the eastern shore of the island of Zealand (Sjælland).  This is not to be confused with Zeeland in the south-west of the Netherlands, which is the province 17th century Dutch authorities named New Zealand after.  (Abel Tasman named the country Staten Landt when he passed by in 1642.  But I digress).

Having taken a connecting flight through Copenhagen’s smart Kastrup airport whilst returning from Russia in 2008, I was familiar with the friendly five-second border check passengers arriving in Denmark enjoy.  They still find the time to stamp your passport though.  After collecting my bag it was a simple escalator ride downstairs to the airport train station for the 12-minute ride to the central station in town.

A ten-minute night-time walk eastwards from the central station past the closed gates of the famous Tivoli amusement park (still closed for the off-season during my visit), through the open expanse of the Radhus plaza (the square in front of the town hall), and near one of the city’s many canals, led me to my hostel.  It was a great location in the middle of the city, and benefited from the usual Scandinavian attention to cleanliness and organisation.  Some pitfalls emerged during my three night stay, though.  For one thing, the hostel’s popularity with young clubbers meant that there was a constant flow of people into the dorm all through the night and into the wee small hours, most of whom had failed to learn the cardinal rule of backpacker etiquette, which is to minimise noisy backpack zip action in a sleeping dorm.  There were also no drinking fountains and the bathroom sinks were so small that I couldn’t fill my water bottle.  In the end I had to fill it with lukewarm water from a shower head!  Yes, I felt slightly daft, but at least I got a very clean arm as a by-product. 

My first full day in Denmark was spent exploring Copenhagen, which is well set out for tourists on foot.  Starting out before 9 o’clock the main pedestrian boulevard, the Strøget (‘the Sweep’) was nearly empty, and I walked along its cobblestone walkways peering in the windows of the various retailers and boutiques.  By mid-morning the Strøget was heaving with pedestrians, with Danes undertaking their weekend promenades and window-shopping in the smart department stores.  I veered southwards to take in the island of Slotsholmen, home of the Danish royal palace of Christianborg.  (The names of Danish monarchs usually alternate between Christian and Frederick, so the range of historic placenames can be a bit restricted).  Walking through a broad archway visitors emerge in a spacious central palace courtyard with a carefully groomed dirt track for equestrian exercises, which is a nice touch in the middle of a big city.


In the afternoon I spent several hours engrossed in the National Museum.  I was expecting its collection to be strong on the Viking period, and it was, but the pre-Viking early history collections were superb too.  Many of the museum’s riches have emerged from Denmark’s voluminous peat bogs, where artefacts were lost accidentally, thrown in or buried as sacrifices, or stashed and lost for reasons unknown.  A highlight was undoubtedly the astonishingly detailed Gundestrup Cauldron, a huge silver vessel in the Thracian style made the century before the birth of Christ, carved inside and out with superb Celtic-style engravings.  No-one knows exactly where it came from, why it was made or why it ended up in a Danish bog, but since its discovery in 1891 it has been one of the greatest treasures of Danish prehistory.


I should probably mention that during my day’s exploration of the capital I didn’t make the trek around the harbour to visit Copenhagen’s most famous tourist attraction – the statue of the Little Mermaid.  I actually had no intention of visiting it, as the uniform reaction of those who devote the time to the long walk seems to be ‘is that it?’  But I was saved the admittedly minimal temptation of the iconic statue by the fact that when I visited Copenhagen the statue was actually on her first overseas holiday.  She was on loan to the Shanghai Expo, having been removed by crane and shipped to China. 

On my second day in Zealand I ventured out of town.  It was a relatively late start because the various clubbing dolts in the dorm had kept me awake all night, so I inadvertently slept in until 9.30am.  But with the train station only a short step away I was on a train in no time, bound for the nearby town of Roskilde.  My wallet was considerably lighter for the journey, with a one-way ticket costing about £12 for a brief 35-minute journey.  Roskilde is probably most known these days for its annual rock festival, which sees thousands of fans descend on this quiet town for a massive party.  (This year’s headliners for the July festival include Gorillaz, Muse and Patti Smith, not to mention the Narasirato Pan Pipers from the Solomon Islands).  

The day I visited Roskilde was about as far from the rock ‘n roll lifestyle as it’s possible to get.  The skies had darkened and unleashed a continual downpour.  It was a Sunday so all the shops were shut, and almost no-one was around.  Still, there were two things I really wanted to see in Roskilde, and not even the prospect of a disintegrating £5 umbrella from Chelmsford Superdrug could deter me. 

The first was the superb waterfront Viking Ship Museum devoted to five Viking-era ships that were recovered from the Roskildefjord in 1962 and reconstructed with painstaking accuracy.  The remains of these 11th century ships may not be as spectacular or old as those I saw in the similar museum in Oslo in 2008, but the range of vessels recovered, from a fat trading ship to a sleek longship built for raiding, means the Roskilde museum makes a major contribution to our understanding of Viking ship-building.  The most likely explanation for the vessels’ deliberate sinking was that the townsfolk of Roskilde were hurrying to block a narrow passage in the fjord to forestall an invading fleet.


The second was back up the hill in the middle of town - the pointy-spired brick cathedral that houses the remains of the Danish royal line stretching back into the Middle Ages.  It’s changed a lot since it was constructed in the 12th and 13th century, with more and more lavish burial chapels being added as centuries of monarchs shuffled off to join the choir invisible.  My favourite was the chapel of Christian IV, which aside from being decorated with splendid murals and a fine statue of the king himself, also boasts marvellously ornate iron lattice gates wrought by Caspar Fincke in 1619.  It’s said that when they were made no-one believed a mere mortal could work such genius, so they must be the work of the Devil.  Obviously they didn’t say this particularly loudly, because the gates have adorned the cathedral for nearly 400 years. 


My third and final day in Zealand was truncated due to my return flight leaving at 5pm.  I had mused about the possibility of taking a train over the Oresund Bridge to nearby Malmo in Sweden, just to be able to say that I’d taken a detour and ended up in a neighbouring country.  But the continuing rain put me off this idea, so instead I stayed in Copenhagen and checked out a few of the sights I’d missed on Saturday.  First stop was St Saviour’s Church in Christianhavn with its beautiful spiral tower, one of the signature postcard images of the city.  Equally grand yet rather more obscure was the gaudy Frederick’s Church, otherwise known as the Marble Church, which is like a mini-St Peter’s tucked into a cramped Georgian square. 


Finally, I spent a few hours in the national art gallery, which boasted an excellent collection of European and Danish art.  I was initially dubious when the first room I entered contained gloomy paints with names like And In His Eyes I Saw Death.  Downer, dude.  But it turned out that was the focal point for mordant paintings, and the rest of the galleries were full of the usual portraits and landscapes.  Particular favourites included works by Cranach and Durer, and the sitcom humour of Carl Bloch’s 1866 work, In A Roman Osteria, in which the viewer is regarded with suspicion by an Italian gentleman who fears that his comely sisters are being eyed up, while the sisters in question clearly have no problem with the attention.


Soon it was time to make my way to the airport and return to England.  It had been an entertaining few days in Zealand, and while I still regard the other Scandinavian capitals I’ve visited with considerable esteem, I was glad to add Copenhagen to the list and experience its sights in person.  Indeed, my aching cobblestone heels attested to the diligence with which I undertook my exploratory duties.


Some famous Danes:

Hans Christian Andersen, writer

Karen Blixen, writer

Victor Borge, entertainer

Lars von Trier, director

Helena Christensen, model

Niels Bohr, physicist

Søren Kierkegaard, philosopher

Mads Mikkelsen, actor


Some famous half-Danes:

Viggo Mortensen

Sandi Toksvig

Er… that’s it.

16 April 2010



An enjoyable lunch at Marzano in Battersea last weekend to commemorate yet another birthday.  Decent Italian food and the largest gathering of tots and babies I’ve ever seen in one place – Clapham and Battersea being the Nappy Valley of upwardly-mobile Londoners.  By my (admittedly biased) reckoning I can still claim to be a member of the mid-30s club for another six months or so.  After that the plan is to start counting backwards.

10 April 2010

A foreign devil in Macau

SONY DSC The American writer and journalist Ambrose Bierce once wrote that ‘the gambling known as business looks with austere disfavour upon the business known as gambling’.  In Macau, however, the chief business is gambling and business looks upon it with a particularly vigorous favour.  During my recent visit to Hong Kong, in which I stayed with the Wilsons on lovely Lamma Island, I paid a visit to Macau to see first hand its collection of Portuguese colonial architecture.  During my day spent in the territory I must have been one of the few visitors travelling for purposes other than gambling – Macau is a huge haven for legal gambling visited by thousands of mainland Chinese every day.

Macau (or, if you prefer, Macao) returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1999, and like neighbouring Hong Kong, it operates as a Special Autonomous Region, entitling it to a certain local leeway.  Hence the gambling, and the maintenance of a separate local currency, the pataca, that travellers are warned not to bother taking out of the city, because it’s next to useless as soon as you board the ferry.

The SAR status means visitors from Hong Kong have to go through border control both when leaving Hong Kong and upon arrival in Macau. This involves standing in a huge hall with several thousand mainland Chinese day-trippers for about 20 minutes each time. And if you’re me, it also involves the Chinese guy behind you slipping his snotty tissue into your bag when you’re not looking. Gosh thanks mister, you really know how to make a gweilo tourist feel welcome!

The swift catamaran journey from Hong Kong only takes an hour.  On the day I travelled the skies were murky grey and visibility was low. (Services had been significantly disrupted the day before by an impenetrable fog bank that blanketed the region).  After another border crossing I took a quick bus ride from the wharf to emerge into the heart of old Macau – a little corner of Portugal in the Far East.  The triangular Largo do Senado (Senate Square) is surrounded by pretty low-rise official buildings decked out in brightly-coloured paint, leading to a twisting pedestrian precinct that winds its way up the slope to the site of Macau’s most famous building. Or, to be precise, the remains of said building.

Stitched Panorama

After a 20-year programme of construction, the foundation stone of St Paul’s Cathedral was laid in 1602, during the 60-year Spanish rule over Portugal.  The cathedral marked a new bastion of the Catholic faith in the far-flung corners of the Iberian empire.  Following a destructive fire in 1835 St Paul’s suffered massive damage, and all that was saved for posterity was the ornately-carved façade that had been carved by exiled Japanese Christians in the 1620s.  Now this thin sliver of history is visited by a torrent of tourists, and it has become the most prominent landmark in a city that, aside from its downtown colonial core, does not boast an enviable architectural heritage.


SONY DSCThis much is obvious when the city is viewed from on high in the Monte Fort adjacent to the cathedral.  Macau is crammed with crumbling apartment and office blocks, but one building stands out must win plaudits for its sheer bloody-minded oddness.  Dominating the Macau skyline, the Grand Lisboa casino can only be described as a gigantic flaming onion bestriding the city below.  It’s a monstrous size, 261 metres tall, but it’s so much taller than the surrounding buildings that its bulk is emphasised.  The outwards flare of its upper storeys gives the building a gravity-defying appearance.  Despite its theatrical levels of vulgar attention-seeking, I decided that I loved the Grand Lisboa, tacky gold mirror-glass and all.  After all, there’s no way you can come to Macau and fail to form an opinion on it – mine is that the architect must have been completely bonkers – and what better edifice to sum up the spirit of the modern city full of gamblers?

Walking back down from the fortress into the rabbit-warren of city streets I managed to get hopelessly disoriented, but this didn’t prove to be a nuisance as I had already seen the parts of Macau I’d intended to.  I walked back to the ferry wharf past the modern harbour-side developments of spectacularly peculiar tourist attractions.  First there was a scale model of the Coliseum with shops nestled around its circumference.  Alongside was some berserk Aztec-style theme park, which must have been aiming for an Indiana Jones vibe.  Further on there was an intricate replica of the sheer-walled towers of Lhasa and an imposing Chinese fortress surrounded by a moat heaving with well-fed koi carp.  Lastly, not to be out-done, there was a volcano.  A bloody volcano!  Imagine the planning permission application for that one.


01 April 2010

Tower of power

Kowloon skyline
Originally uploaded by eT le snap
This vast construction site in West Kowloon sits atop the Airport Express rapid rail link to Hong Kong International Airport. There's a train station underneath from which passengers can be whisked to the airport in about 20 minutes. Each of these new towers is massive, but the leftmost is the biggest around. Known as the International Commerce Centre, when this 484m tower was completed in 2009 it secured the status of Hong Kong's tallest building, besting Hong Kong Island's spectacular IFC2 (415m). It's currently the fourth highest skyscraper in the world, behind Dubai's Burj Khalifa, Taipei 101 in Taiwan and the slightly taller Shanghai World Finance Centre. Once it's fully operational later in 2010 the 118-storey ICC tower will feature a public viewing platform on the 100th floor and the highest hotel in the world, with the Ritz-Carlton taking the top 15 floors.

The odd-shaped skyscraper in the centre of the picture is the Arch Tower, which at 81 storeys and 231m high is the third highest residential building in Hong Kong.