The Hong Kong episode of PARTS UNKNOWN best encapsulates Anthony Bourdain
”To fall in love with Asia is one thing. To fall in love in Asia is another. Both have happened to me.
The Star Ferry at Kowloon at night. The lights of Hong Kong behind me. It’s a gift, a dream, a curse, the best thing, the happiest thing, yet also the loneliest thing in the world.”
These are the opening words by the late Anthony Bourdain (who died from suicide at the age of 61) from the most recent episode of PARTS UNKNOWN, which takes place in Hong Kong, a place that is truly informed by Bourdain’s love for Hong Kong cinema, especially from the work of Wong Kar Wai and his cinematographer Christopher Doyle.
The episode is very bittersweet because it is the epitome of Bourdain’s reverence for Asian culture, informed by art, history, and most of all, the people. The segments where the show presents everyday working-class people, like the umbrella repair man, and the refugees in Chungking Mansions, is a time capsule because many of these people and places will soon disappear in place for modernity and the slow eradication of Cantonese culture as Mainland China soon takes over politically and culturally in absolution.
As various reflections and articles about Bourdain come out this past week, from Bourdain being the best white man, to his love for Asian culture without fetishizing it, to being heralded as a modern day Mister Rogers encouraging TV viewers to expand their horizons, shows how much of a loss he is to so many of us.
So, if you have not watched his show in some time, I urge you to see it. It’s eloquent, full of life, melancholy and a glimmer of hope on one of the most revered and interesting places in the world, Hong Kong. Oh, and Christopher Doyle is still a lovable loon.
You know it was a special episode for Bourdain, as he wrote in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, fulfilling his cinematic dream.