Australian actor Nicole Kidman has been spotted on the streets of Hong Kong after local media revealed that the Hong Kong government has waived its tough quarantine rules for the star. The actor is in town for the filming of a new Amazon PrimeVideo series called Expats.

The exception for the Hollywood star comes even as the city announced stricter quarantine restrictions for inbound travellers. Local athletes returning from the Tokyo Olympics earlier this week were made to follow quarantine measures.

Photo: Wikicommons and Little Brown Group.

Kidman, 54, landed in the city on a private plane from Sydney on Thursday last week, according to Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper. The Australian city is currently suffering from an outbreak of the more infectious Delta coronavirus mutation, reporting a record daily high of 633 new cases on Wednesday.

In a press statement, Hong Kong’s Commerce and Economic Development Bureau said “the case in discussion has been granted permission to travel to Hong Kong with a quarantine exemption for the purpose of performing designated professional work, taking into account that it is conducive to maintaining the necessary operation and development of Hong Kong’s economy.”

Kidman was spotted out shopping two days after her arrival and was not staying in a designated quarantine hotel.

Photos circulated on social media on Wednesday evening showing the actor in the city’s Sai Wan district.

Other fully vaccinated inbound travellers from Australia must serve seven days of quarantine and from Friday onwards will be required to quarantine for 14 days.

‘Tone-deaf’

Expats is based on a novel by Janice Y. K. Lee about the lives of a group of privileged expatriates in the financial centre.

The series, produced at a time of frequent arrests and daily political pressure on a flagging pro-democracy movement in the city, has been criticised as “tone-deaf.”

The exemption for the star also sparked indignation among some internet users.

“Impending scandal for Nicole Kidman, who landed in Hong Kong to produce a TV series on wealthy Western residents with exciting lives…The topping on the cake: the star has been exempted from quarantine. Not to mention the indecency of ignoring the tragic local political context,” one Twitter user wrote in French.

“Nice to know that Nicole Kidman isn’t at all mercenary & stands with the people of Hong Kong,” another wrote.

‘Exciting Times’

Expats is one of two upcoming Amazon Prime Video series set in Hong Kong and centred on expatriates. They have been criticised by some internet users for perceived insensitivity towards the ongoing crackdown on dissent under a Beijing-imposed national security law.

On Tuesday English actress Phoebe Dynevor was announced as the lead for the other series, Exciting Times, about a love triangle involving an Irish teacher of English.

Photo: Isaac Yee/HKFP.

The new series come as the government prepares an international campaign to promote the city as “the best place in Asia to live,” after spending over HK$44 million on public relations consultations.

The novel by Naoise Dolan has been highly praised but one critic termed it insensitive to the city’s political and cultural landscape.

“Absent the textures of a real city that is sharply divided along generational, ideological and class lines, Dolan’s novel could have taken place in any other major Asian metropolis,” Xuan Juliana Wang wrote in a book review for the New York Times last June.

“Those who’ve spent time in Hong Kong can’t help wondering what it’s like to be among the Anglophone transplants who work and party there. Are they as insensitive and indifferent as they seem to the foreign city they call home? The answer Exciting Times seems to offer is yes.” Wang wrote.

Since the security law came into force in June last year, dozens of opposition figures have either been arrested or fled abroad. Pro-democracy groups have been pressured to disband in recent weeks, in what critics have decried as the dismantling of civil society.

Official figures show the city’s population has dropped by 90,000 under the security law. The government has largely blamed Covid-19 travelling restrictions for the decline, even as long and frequent queues for flights to the UK have been spotted in recent months.

“As HKers are imprisoned and exiled, silenced and traumatised by state violence, we get not 1 but [two] Prime Video series about expats. This is starting to feel like cruel and unusual punishment. How much more does the city need to suffer before they care about actual HKers lives?” tweeted journalist Ryan Ho Kilpatrick.

“Right then, that’s it,” tweeted shareholder activist David Webb. “My Mum is changing her name to ‘Nicole Kidman’ and I’ve just sent my Gulfstream G650 to pick her up. One SAR, two systems.”

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.