A hard-drinking Australian seems an unlikely figure to be one of the most important and influential cinematographers in Asian cinema, but that is exactly what Christopher Doyle is. His richly atmospheric, improvisational style has worked its way into the lexicon of both music videos and mainstream Hollywood fare. Moreover, his photo-collage artwork and his bizarre, often drunken public antics have made him a sort of cult celebrity in much of Asia.
Born in 1952 in Sydney, Doyle fled the banality of the suburbs to spend much of his early life on the road. At various points in his life he was a well digger in India, a Norwegian merchant marine, a cow herder on an Israeli kibbutz, and a doctor of Chinese medicine in Thailand. In the late '70s, Doyle was rechristened Du Kefeng by his professor at the University of Hong Kong, and his life has not been the same since. Soon afterward, he moved to Taiwan and fell in with the Taipei art crowd, including such future members of the cultural elite as Hou Hsiao Hsien and Stan Lai. In 1978, he was one of the founding members of the Lanling Theatre Workshop, the first modern theater company in Taiwan; he also created a landmark television series, Travelling Images. Yet Doyle's first breakthrough occurred in 1981, when Edward Yang asked him to shoot his feature debut That Day on the Beach over the angry protests of the studio's 23 salaried cameramen. Fearful that Taiwan's relatively modest film industry might stunt his career, he again hit the road and got a gig shooting Claire Devers' Noir et Blanc (1986) in France, only to discover that his heart still belonged to Asia. That same year, he returned to Hong Kong and shot Shu Kei's second feature, Soul, a pastiche of John Cassavete's Gloria (1980) starring noted Taiwanese directors Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Ke Yizhong. Though the reviews for the film itself were mixed, people noticed Doyle's unique camera work and he soon found regular work in the Hong Kong film industry.