Tower-ing Fiction #8: "Monster Building," Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), Ghost in the Shell (2017), White Dragon/Strangers (2018)

by Shawn Gilmore

The so-called “Monster Building,” a popular tourist attraction and recent filming location, is really five high-rise apartment buildings tightly packed together on the western side of Quarry Bay (鰂魚涌) in the Eastern District of Hong Kong. These five buildings—the Fok Cheong Building (福昌樓), Montane Mansion (海山樓), Oceanic Mansion (海景樓), the Yick Cheong Building (益昌大廈), and the Yick Fat Building (益發大廈)—comprise an “M” shape, with two long north-south courtyards, with colorful apartment porches on three sides, seemingly blocked in on their northern ends.

“Monster Building” complex courtyard

For geographic reference, the complex is just to the south-west of Quarry Bay’s tallest skyscraper, One Island East (港島東中心, at 979’), just right of center below (with the “Monster Building” behind and to the right):

Quarry Bay, looking south

The complex can also be seen on the left in the image below, with the low-slung dark-roofed building just in front of it:

Quarry Bay, looking north-east

 

Seemingly the “Monster Building” complex appears in Western film and television as a metonymic singifier of the dense, chaotic East, while also providing a controlled visual space and shooting location. It has popped up in a few recent prodcutions, which I highlight below.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

At some point in Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014), the “plot” brings our characters to Hong Kong, because reasons. The initial portion of the fight takes place on and around the “Monster Building” complex, as seen in the clip below:

An Cybertronian ship sweeps in over the complex (with One Island East on the left of the frame):

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

While a variety of Transformers menace the pedestrian walkway at street-level and the exterior of the complex:

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

The dual antagonists, played by Titus Welliver and Kelsey Grammer, enter a courtyard, looking for our heroes, Mark Wahlberg and company, who are on the rooftops, running from the assault:

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

As the ship is driven away, exiting to the west, leaving one more good shot of the complex:

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

After more explosions and such, Welliver then chases Walberg over the rooftops, before they parkour/crash/fall part-way down one of the interior courtyard walls, then smashing into an apartment (hoping and failing to imitate a fight from one of the Jason Bourne films):

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (dir. Michael Bay, 2014)

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

The quite problematic live-action remake of the 1995 anime film, Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017) uses a variety of Hong Kong locations, often digitally augmented and desaturated for its future Japanese city setting. Some shots in an footchase action scene mid-way through the film directly use the “Monster Building” complex or echo its visuals:

Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017)

Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017)

Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017)

Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017)

Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017)

Later, after the film’s misguided plot twist, Scarlett Johansson’s Major storms across the pedestrian bridge in front of the complex, a shot followed by one directly upward from one of the courtyards:

Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017)

Ghost in the Shell (dir. Rupert Sanders, 2017)

White Dragon/Strangers s01e04 (2018)

The ITV show White Dragon (aka Strangers), which aired in 2018, follows a professor whose wife is killed in a car crash in Hong Kong. In episode four, the “Monster Building” complex is used to highlight how out of place the blonde, white lead actress is:

White Dragon/Stragners s01e04 (ITV, 2018)

White Dragon/Stragners s01e04 (ITV, 2018)

White Dragon/Stragners s01e04 (ITV, 2018)