Jun 01, 2006|
Forget “Mission: Impossible III” and “The Da Vinci Code,” Hong Kong’s No. 1 summer blockbuster is “Bus Uncle,” a six-minute video captured on mobile phone and posted on YouTube.com.
Since being posted on the net on May 12th, the low-resolution color film has been watched by almost two million people and spawned an industry of spin-offs that would make Hollywood envious. “Bus Uncle” has become a phenomenon in Hong Kong, especially among youths,” says Keith Ho, a Chinese journalist and lecturer at Chinese University. “It's the most popular subject that students want to discuss with their teachers.”
It all started when a teenager on bus 68X from Mongkok to Tuen Muen thought the older man in the seat in front of him was talking too loudly on his mobile. After tapping the man’s shoulder and requesting him to keep his voice down, the man (now forever enshrined as the notorious “Bus Uncle”) turned around and let loose on the teenager, giving him what he thought was the scolding of a lifetime. “I’ve got pressure and you’ve got pressure. So why are you challenging me?” he says. And later, after the conflict appeared to be resolved: “It hasn’t been solved yet! It hasn’t been solved yet! It hasn’t been solved yet!” When the combatants shake hands, the youth’s less than sincere actions prompt another lengthy tirade from the exasperated man, who delivers a slew of sexually explicit remarks about the youth’s mother. Noted local media writer Chip Tsao even called what happened “noise rape.” Roland Soong, who runs the respected media and cultural blog EastSouthWestNorth, adds: “A lot of people from all walks of life have watched the clip because they can finally refer to this situation as an example of the weirdos they meet in this city. Before now, many people didn't believe something like this could happen.”
The incident might have been forgotten, if not for the quick actions of a passenger across the aisle, who recorded it all on his mobile. This one act may be remembered as the moment local youths began to realize the awesome media power they now hold in their hands. "It's also created the question of whether this is right," says Soong. "It's been called stealth filming."
The clip was uploaded on the popular video site YouTube on April 29, but only in Cantonese. By May 11, anonymous netizens had added both Chinese and English subtitles. As of press time, 1.7 million people around the world had seen the clip. The clip’s popularity has also spawned a variety of internet-based remixes that are growing by the minute. For film fans, there are new phrases mixed in alongside Stephen Chow’s comedy “The God of Food.” Music fans can listen to rap remixes with popular “Bus Uncle” phrases, a bamboo-fight song remix or even “Bus Uncle” meets William Hung during a hideous version of “Hotel California.” Then came the merchandising, by yet another hopeful entrepreneur, in the form of “Bus Uncle” T-shirts, mugs, tote bags and more. The teenager, reportedly named Alvin, has even been interviewed on local TV and radio shows.
The rapid dissemination of “Bus Uncle” and its offspring is not surprising, given that Hong Kong is one of only three places in the world completely connected by always-live broadband (Japan and South Korea being the other two). The exploding popularity of “Bus Uncle” is a perfect example of the new media revolution, powered by the internet and characterized by active participation rather than passive consumption. All this comes naturally to tech-savvy young adults. “I just copied and pasted the video on my computer using Snagit 6,” says one 22-year-old Hong Kong remixer, who goes by the handle of “asflisflyingtoday.” One of the most popular audio remixes is the Dr. Dre remix, created by Denis, a 22-year-old Hong Konger currently studying in Los Angeles to be a filmmaker. It received 7,000 views in one day. “It took just one night to edit,” Denis says.
While the “Bus Uncle” phenomenon could prove a pivotal moment of media self-awareness in our wired city, others say the video has simply managed to fill a niche ignored by the entertainment industry. “The lack of reality shows in Chinese media is why ‘Bus Uncle’ became so successful,” Denis says. But some of the fascination also stems from a cultural perspective, Ho says. “We didn’t expect that an uncle from the grass-roots class would articulate such sophisticated phrases.”
One recently uploaded video, presumably fake, shows Bus Uncle getting arrested, and media-savvy web goers may already be looking for a sequel. “Bus Uncle” is certainly yet another sign that power is increasingly being transferred from mainstream to new media forms. “These things come and go. But in the long run, this will become more powerful than the mainstream media because of its penetration rate,” says Ho. “It is easily accessible, quickly updated and free.” There will be others, but anybody who has seen it is unlikely to forget “Bus Uncle,” or the possibilities that this six-minute clip have created.