How my encounter with Keanu Reeves passed by in a blur

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.

7 June

After a couple of weeks in Qatar, England and Wales, I’m back in China. Or above it to be more precise. I’m on BA 169 bound for Shanghai,  just south of the Gurbantünggüt Shamo in northern Xinjiang, at some 50,000sq km China’s second-largest desert.

Thanks to the excellent British Airways onboard wifi, the website that never sleeps is fully functional as we soar over China

After landing at Shanghai Pudong International, I’m heading to the city’s other airport, Hongqiao International, to catch up with Dicky Cheung, General Manager of the Retail Management Department, who has been leading such an impressive transformation of the shopping and F&B offer.

After a night in the airport hotel to shake off the jetlag, I’m off to Sanya in Hainan for a major event, full details of which I can’t reveal yet. Let’s just say it involves the initials MM but I’m not talking about Martin Moodie. More of that in coming days.

Last week I had the pleasure and privilege of attending The House of Suntory’s 100th Anniversary Event, themed ‘Suntory Time’, in an extraordinarily atmospheric setting at The Londoner in Leicester Square, London.

To reflect the centenary, precisely 100 guests were invited from around the world. I was honoured and fortunate enough to be one of them, representing the travel retail community. Of the other 99, some were rather more illustrious names, including Canadian actor Keanu Reeves, Academy Award-winning director Sofia Coppola and fifth-generation House of Suntory Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo.

Guests dined inside a room encircled by a beautifully evocative and immersive digital surround, showcasing scenes and sounds of nature, water and the evolution of The House of Suntory during the past century. Each course focused on a particular era with Suntory whiskies carefully chosen to match.

House of Suntory Managing Director Jon Potter (pictured below) put it beautifully as he described the elusive concept of ‘Suntory Time’, commenting, “It’s about the friends you meet along the way,” he said, closing with a toast. “To the friends we’ve met tonight and the friends we met along the way, you will always be welcome at the House of Suntory.”

One of those friends along the way is Keanu Reeves, with whom Suntory first collaborated on an advertisement for Suntory Reserve three decades ago.

Reeves told the audience: “I’m a long-time fan [of the House of Suntory]. And it’s an honour to be here alongside the fantastic, amazing Sofia Coppola.

“It’s 30 years since we made our first commercial and I can say that my admiration for Suntory whisky has only grown since that day.”

The star spoke warmly about his recent time in Japan working with The House of Suntory on a series of documentary shorts titled ‘The Nature and Spirit of Japan’, directed by Roman Coppola.

The series explores Japanese whisky culture through three lenses: harmony with nature (Wa), Japanese craftsmanship (Monozukuri) and authentic Japanese cultural experience (Omotenashi).

“It was a personal journey, going to Japan, spending time with Japanese artisans, getting to spend time at the Yamazaki distillery and the Hakushu distillery, meeting with Master Blender Shuji and management and really getting to learn and know about the House of Suntory and their extraordinary whisky,” Reeves said.

“It’s really been a life-changing experience and inspiring.”

Keanu Reeves praises the work of “the fantastic, amazing” Sofia Coppola (pictured below in white, seated)

As I messaged my Moodie Davitt colleagues to tell them Keanu Reeves was in the room, a kind of mass hysteria set in. One of my team made it clear she would leave her husband on the spot for the star of Matrix, Speed, Bill & Ted and Point Break.

Given such a billing (and Teding), it only seemed right to get a photo with the man himself at the end of the evening. The perfect moment came as he made for the exit, stopping patiently to chat with guests and join in their selfies. I shook his hand and asked Keanu if he would mind having one more picture taken.

“Sure, no problem,” he said kindly. Whether it was the excitement of being snapped with this acting superstar or perhaps the effect of a sublime Yamazaki  18 Year Old (among my all-time favourite drams) and other outstanding House of Suntory whiskies during the evening, but somehow I managed to snap a couple of photos with more blur than London in a pea soup fog. Disaster.

Over a late night glass back in my hotel room at the Londoner, I tried various photo-enhancing programmes, all to no avail. And so my readers will just have to take my word for it and my colleague stay with her husband. Yes, I did meet, chat and have my photo taken with Keanu Reeves. But like my life in general, the moment passed by in a blur.

8 June

I’m on China Eastern Airlines MU5648 rom Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport to Sanya Phoenix International. The plane is encouragingly packed with holidaymakers headed to the sun, sea and other natural and man-made attractions Hainan island offers, including, of course, some of the best duty free shopping on the planet. More of that in a coming blog.

I enjoyed a fascinating tour of Hongqiao International Airport Terminal 2 yesterday with Dicky Cheung and his colleague Cecilia. If you want an insight into China’s importance to luxury brands take a visit to this domestic terminal and you’ll understand more.

Dicky Cheung and me outside the temporary Louis Vuitton store, to be complemented by a more expansive version in the future

Hongqiao T2 was the first Mainland Chinese airport to create a luxury boulevard and what a line-up it is, offering a roll-call of  luxury’s most lustrous names. Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Chanel, Gucci, Dior, Cartier and Tiffany & Co are  just the tip of a very large upscale iceberg. Passenger numbers have recovered to 85% of 2019 levels and spending, driven by higher ATVs is already higher.

From just six initial luxury stores a few year ago, the airport now offers a luxury option at every turn. And there’s lots more to come. A series of tenders over coming months will further transform what surely ranks as one of the world’s premier domestic airport shopping environments.

I reckon this might just be the best Relay store in the world. Look out for my full report coming soon on the Hongqaio retail offer.

The terminal also features some outstandingly impactful digital installations courtesy of JCDecaux

Similar things are also happening to an already diverse and impressive food & beverage proposition. There are some splendid names on offer already, including the delectable Din Tai Fung from Taiwan, Tai Hing, Ramen Ippudo and many others, with more to folllow as a result of forthcoming tenders. Watch this space.

I capped off my all too fleeting sojourn to Shanghai with dinner at the newly opened Stiller by Stefan Stiller in the good company of Foreo Global Travel Retail Director Gary Leong. The restaurant, located in the bustling Xintiandi area, was packed as were all its neighbours. Shanghai has burst back into life since its COVID-driven lockdowns of 2022 and it’s great to see.

A superb meal, with fine company, wine, whisky (the delicious Omar Single Malt Sherry Cask from Taiwan) and a good Davidoff cigar offered the perfect conclusion to a long but wonderful day in my first stop in Shanghai since The Trinity Forum was held here in October 2018.

With so much going on in China travel retail, especially at Hongqaio Airport, I suspect the gap between visits will be weeks this time, not years.