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Given Hong Kong's normally balmy temperatures and its history as a hub for Chinese-language filmmaking, it's surprising that outdoor cinemas didn't take off years ago.

A "drive-in" theatre of sorts -- with permanently moored cars in which patrons could sit -- operated briefly in 2006, and a family-friendly residential area called Cyberport occasionally plays kids' movies and filmed versions of operas or classical music concerts.

But the sluggish movement got a much-needed jolt of energy earlier this year, when Melbourne transplants James Fearnside and Simon Roberts launched Rooftop Cinema HK. The film screenings -- shown on FoFo by el Willy's 21st-floor rooftop bar in Hong Kong's bustling Central district -- marry cult classics with the densely packed, luminous skyline.

For $150 Hong Kong dollars, movie buffs can hunker down on a comfy rattan sofa, complimentary cocktail in hand, to watch perennial favourites like Scarface, The Big Lebowski and The Princess Bride. The downside (or is it?) is that Hong Kong’s cityscape does, at times, compete with the recorded narrative playing out in front of the seats.

"You can see people's eyes wander from the screen to look at the lights," Fearnside said. "We are trying to find little pieces of Hong Kong and incorporate it into what we are doing."

Instilling a sense of place matters to Fearnside and Roberts, who use old camera lenses found in a local market as drink tickets. Though they've already screened beloved director Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love and Hong Kong-bred Bruce Lee's 2008 martial arts flick Ip-Man, organizers aim to add even more local films to the event’s repertoire.

The first season showcased eight films and the current batch, which wraps up on 14 December, contained 20 (all but one screening sold out). The next round of films starts in March (a final date has yet to be set), when they hope to run 30 films over a three-month period. The schedule of screenings varies week to week.

The event is a hit now, but success didn't come easy. Rooftop Cinema HK had to chase down a new venue after the first season (a tall order in space-starved Hong Kong), buy a projector, screen and sound system, figure out how to secure permissions from production houses and navigate various government regulations.

But throughout it all, organizers have managed to maintain a sense of humour. In the short talks that introduce the films, they crack jokes with the audience and dress up in thematically appropriate costumes (dark suits and sunglasses for Blues Brothers; underwear and a button-down shirt for Risky Business). "A sense of nostalgia is something we've always prided ourselves on," Fearnside said.

Hana R Alberts is the Hong Kong Localite for BBC Travel.

 

 

 

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