If you haven’t come across it, the Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC) is a beast of an ‘event’. I use inverted commas because it’s not really an official event of any kind, more of a fatass run. No race fees, no prizes, no medals, no pats on the back for being super awesome. Just a bunch of slightly left field women and men trying to run all four of the Hong Kong trails (298km) non stop in less than 60 hours.
Breaking 60, the film about this year’s race mirrors that image incredibly well. It’s no fuss, raw, offers the tiniest glimpse of hope, but ensures the viewer is in no doubts about the gravity of the challenge. If you’re after fluro, razzmatazz, hordes of cheering crowds and selfies then don’t bother with this. If you like your life with a bit of edge and a sense of the unknown, then you need to see this film.
The HK4TUC is the brain child of Andre Blumberg, an expat German who’s lived in Hong Kong for nigh on twenty years and an extremely experienced ultra runner to boot too. There’s not much Andre hasn’t done in the world of super long distance events, from 200 milers in the States to completing the US 100 miler Grand Slam too.
Andre started the challenge six years ago when he decided to run all four trails in four consecutive days. Having done that, he brought it down to four trails in three days, but that was too easy as well. Finally, he settled on the current format which is all four trails, non-stop in less than 60 hours.
Until this year no-one has completed the challenge. A few had ‘survived’ as Andre casts them i.e. they finished over the 60 hour limit, but none had gone below.
Breaking 60 is the culmination of work from Hong Kong filmmaking duo, the Lee brothers, Ben and Robin, who also self-funded the film, such was their passion for the project. And that passion is really evident in the way that they so accurately reflected the ethos of the race in the production of the film. Like I said, no bullshit, pulls no punches and will offer you only the tiniest glimmer of hope for a finish.
The film follows four of the entrants to the event. Stone Tsang, a high accomplished ultra-trail runner from China, living in Hong Kong, and someone very much at the pointy end of competitive races. There’s Scottie Callaghan, an Aussie living in Hong Kong, as well as Brendan Lee, a Kiwi who teaches in Hong Kong. Finally Jag Lanante, making his third attempt at the challenge from the Philippines, but resident in Thailand.
The beady eyes among you will notice no women featured – which to me seems an obvious miss. However a quick check in with Andre confirms that it was not for the want of trying, it’s simply that those women whom he suggested as potential features didn’t want to be in the limelight, another reflection of the type of person who enters this type of event.
The differing approaches of the four runners is well captured by the Lee brothers in Breaking 60. With Scottie and Brendan, there’s a sense of not really knowing what they’ve let themselves in for, but more so that ‘have a go’ attitude which is so very much-needed to even consider starting this event.
Stone exudes a sense of confidence, but not in an arrogant manner in the slightest. Just a man who knows what he’s doing and goes about his business with precision – bar the massive wrong turn he took very early on the first trail! With Jag, speaks a man of experience and understanding, someone who knows what it takes to get your mind and body through such an event – he’s relaxed throughout. His finish under the cut-off is testament to this.
Choosing these four guys strikes a really good balance of the differing journeys, but one common through among all of them and that the film does brilliantly is to capture the enormity of this undertaking and in many senses, the darkness this event can take you too as well.
300km in 60 hours sounds highly feasible on paper – after all, what’s 5km an hour average between friends? But it’s the cumulative toll of being on your feet for so long, even at 30 hours in, and knowing you’re only halfway through that really hits home very hard, particularly in the latter half of the film.
Running films are generally quite ‘bouncy’ and inspirational things to watch. We’re left with a sense of amazement at what people can achieve as we travel through the four or five stages of the classic storytelling model. First we set the scene, then we have the characters and the plot. Next comes the conflict and resolution, followed by the happy ending.
Breaking 60 does capture that for sure, but what I like most about it is how it takes you to some pretty dark places, captured very well in the cinematography, particularly in the second night. Hope turns to desperation with plenty of shots that point straight into the night, of lone runners, hundreds of kilometers into the event looking desperately for someone to just take them away somewhere other than a bloody trail.
It’s this dark nature of Breaking 60 that I think really sets it apart from other films you see about running. It lingers in the conflict zone for a large part of the event coverage, making sure you get a real sense for just how uncomfortable this event is and giving you every reason not to attempt it.
The dark and desperate nature of the way the event is portrayed will only appeal to a certain type of person, which is why I think it works so well on many levels, before it finally brings you back up to share in the joy of runners finishing in what almost seems like a throw-away at the end. Very little time is spent on the congratulatory nature of what these runners have achieved and deliberately so I think to reflect the ethos of the event. If you like your films pumped up with high fives, then I’m afraid you might walk away feeling a little flat.
On personal level, it left me with a nod of appreciation and a greater sense of humility. The rather anonymous nature of the entire event is captured brilliantly at the end of the film as the guys with a sub 60 on their packs run through the crowded bus station on Lantau Island. They pass through the throngs of people going about their daily business in life, oblivious to what these guys have just accomplished. It’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that it doesn’t really matter. And that’s a big life lesson I think many of us can take away from this film.
What we do might be special in our eyes and those immediately around us and there’s nothing wrong with giving a congratulatory handshake at the end of it all – but let’s maintain the perspective on what it is we really do. We run.
And if we’re lucky, we might give a green post box a kiss, grab a quick hug from some close family and friends and off you go, safe in the knowledge that you’ve proven something to yourself – that’s your prize.
If you’re keen to see Breaking 60, the worldwide premier is on the 19th October in Hong Kong, with the worldwide online release going live on the 16th November where it is currently available for pre-order. For more information visit: