2007 / 57 Minutes
NTSC / Stereo / Color / B&W / Digital video
Distributed by: mingyuen@earthlink.net


The fourth and final video in Ma's Xin Lu project, [os] excavates the personal and the collective, the colonial and the transnational, the traumatic, the wistful, the queer, and the spectral to tell intersecting stories about our desires to return to the past. Its title represents the etymological ‘ghost’ that haunts the creation of the word ‘nostalgia’, which combines the Greek word nostos (return home) and New Latin algia (akin to Greek neisthai to return).

The video unfolds with a series of stories collected from a group of exiled Chinese gay men. In it, Ma travels to the United Kingdom, Canada, and throughout the United States to search for men from his generation, and who, like him, grew-up in Hong Kong but are now living abroad. When he finds them, he asks each of them to tell him a story about their memory of growing up in Hong Kong. These stories are told against a backdrop of crumbling old buildings and historical monuments shot in the U.S., Europe, Hong Kong, and China. These melancholic, dream-like sequences are contrasted with a Reality TV-style tour of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood—reputedly one of the most-haunted locales in Los Angeles. Another narrative emerges from this site, mysteriously correlating. A series of phone messages is addressed to one of the hotel's most famous ghosts, believed to haunt Room 928. The ghost responds. From these spectral conversations the issues of queerness, displacement, and isolation emerge, and they are subtly echoed in the Hong Kong stories, in which the men reminisce about the awakening of their desire for other men, while recalling their memory of a lost time and place. The stories and the video become haunted with specters from the past. Mandarin pop songs from Shanghai of 1930s and '40s, sung by chanteuses like Zhou Xuan and Yao Li, and re-recorded at the contemporary queer club Bricktops - itself an invocation of the 1920s Parisian speakeasy - add yet another cultural and historical layer to the work.

In its disparate recalling lost times and places, [os] traces transitory states of being that are shared by both exiles and ghosts. These connections, like the experience of haunting, are ethereal and ungraspable—yet uncannily powerful. In [os], the ghosts of memory are given a “reality check” by actual ghosts, who turn out to be just as elusive, disappearing around the corner before they can be captured by the camera.

Read more on Xin Lu Project