Politics and protest: five highlights from the Hong Kong Film Festival UK

The first-ever Hong Kong Film Festival UK showcases a range of dynamic cinematic perspectives on “the time of Hong Kong of upheaval »


By the 1980s, Hong Kong’s film industry was so renowned that it became widely known as the “Hollywood of the East” – a source of tense crime films, martial fantasies, melodramas and movies violent operating modes to rival even the big-budget works. made in the USA. But by the mid-1990s, those fortunes had begun to change as political anxiety swept the nation; Hong Kong’s sovereignty was formally transferred from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, and the legacy of this transition still weighs heavily on the Hong Kong art scene today.

It is no coincidence that the very first Hong Kong Film Festival UK takes place on the 25th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong in 1997, and indeed, strong political themes line the majority of the works in the festival’s lineup. The 2019-20 Hong Kong protests are the focus of many of the 16 films screened in London, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh in March and April under the title ‘Rupture and Rebirth – Perspectives from the time of the Hong Kong upheavals. Kong”. The festival itself, meanwhile, is organized by artists and cultural workers who have gone into exile in the UK following a controversial legislature passed by the continent.

But the aim of the festival is not only to screen films that are no longer allowed to be screened in their home countries, but also to highlight Hong Kong’s enduring vibrancy and creativity in cinema. . Here, AnOther takes a closer look at five notable narrative features, documentaries and shorts from the Hong Kong Film Festival UK.

Revolution of our time (Kiwi Chow, 2021)

In accordance with the “one country, two systems” principle of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, Hong Kong’s capitalist system and infrastructure should have remained unchanged for a period of 50 years after the handover in 1997. In 2017, the ministry China’s Foreign Office announced that the Declaration no longer had any practical meaning, and in 2019 Hong Kong’s Extradition Bill suggested that people facing criminal charges could be extradited to the mainland to live there. stand trial – a perceived erosion of the 1984 agreement.

It was one of the main catalysts that inspired the large-scale pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that dominated international news before the pandemic. With up to two million Hong Kongers campaigning for freedom in a series of increasingly volatile conflicts in 2019 and 2020, the mainland’s response has been to pass the National Security Act 2020 – criminalizing acts of secession and subversion and making them liable to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment in prison.

These events are the backdrop and center of Revolution of our time, an epic, unflinching documentary comprised of interviews, news archives and frontline video recordings that give full context to the upheaval, seen through the eyes of those at the heart of it. The images resonate strongly – from the mobilization of the masses against dubious peacekeeping forces to depictions of police brutality via batons, tear gas and rubber bullets, countless scenes in Revolution of our time reflect those who have shocked the world before and since the protests. The result is a powerful document that is not only essential to understanding the plight of the people of Hong Kong, but also the tensions around the world today.

Prohibited from exhibition in China and Hong Kong, Revolution of our time will arrive in the UK as the opening gala of the inaugural Hong Kong Film Festival UK following its Cannes premiere in 2021, where it will be accompanied by a live Q&A with self-exiled director Kiwi Chow. A second documentary screening at the festival titled Inside the red brick wall, meanwhile, focuses on the 16-day siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University – an event that forms the main focus of Revolution of our time penultimate chapter, and which resulted in the arrest of over 1,100 real-life protesters.

The night (Tsai Ming-liang, 2021)

As the title of this short film by Tsai Ming-liang suggests, The night almost feels like a feature companion to the 2020 Berlin Golden Bear nominated director Days at least on the surface. Stylistically similar also to his great masterpiece of slow cinema Farewell, Dragon Inn, the new short documentary from the Taiwan-based Malaysian filmmaker consists of just over ten static shots observing points of interest around a Hong Kong intersection at night. There are no notable human subjects, or even dialogue – but what director Tsai communicates with these rich images somehow feels deeply profound.

The night opens with a close-up of the remnants of old posters superimposed on an outside wall – even though what they advertised is no longer recognizable. Next, a bus station is observed for six minutes – enough time to consider the painted graffiti as cars pass from left to right. Later, a line of people forms at the side of the road under the flashing blue neon of “Jubilant Medicine Shop”, before the cold metal of the interior of a deserted walkway is illuminated by harsh white lights. The montage ends with an audio excerpt from the Chinese song “Liang Ye Bu Neng Liu”: “The beautiful night is leaving. Why can’t we stop the hands of time?

“One night I started filming the Causeway Bay streetscape after the frenzy had died down,” Tsai says of the film (part of the “Multiple Realities” shorts compilation) in a statement. published on the Hong Kong Film Festival UK website. “As a witness to the unexpected changes in Oriental Pearl,” he says, “I couldn’t help but feel a thrill.”

Fables of Wong Ping 1 (Wong Ping, 2018)

Londoners might recognize Wong Ping’s spooky digital media from exhibits like Strange Days: Memories of the Future at The Store X in 2018, or heart seeker at the Camden Arts Center in 2019. The work of this avant-garde artist and animator is easily recognizable by its hyper-lysergic, sexually explicit and/or surreal nature – and this shortened riff on Aesop’s fables is not different.

The first chapter of Fables of Wong Ping 1 is about a blind, one-eyed elephant who practices Buddhism and dates a turtle. Another story concerns a chicken suffering from Tourettes who is also causing a stir on social media, who joins the police and solves a number of unsolved cases. No less absurd is the story of a tree on a kaleidoscopic bus that tries to communicate telepathically with a cockroach in a passenger’s bag.

These brief tales sound like a hallucination of the early days of the Internet, as a Skittles-colored iMac recalls. Add in a load of grotesque anamorphic characters with wriggling appendages – plus a bed of audio that mixes chiptune SFX with the sounds of crashing flesh – and you have Hong Kong’s most exciting contemporary digital artist.

Made in Hong Kong (Fruit Chan, 1997)

Anxiety over the future of Hong Kong was widespread in the years leading up to 1997, with prominent Indigenous filmmakers such as Wong Kar-wai and John Woo notably traveling overseas during this time for fear of stifled creative freedoms. and reduced work opportunities at home. In the midst of such turbulence, Fruit Chan’s Made in Hong Kong would make a splash – it won three Hong Kong Film Awards in 1998, including Best Picture and Best Director, despite being completed on a budget of just HK$500,000.

It was the country’s first independent film of the handover era; an anarchic coming-of-age crime story set in the densely populated housing projects of Hong Kong, of a young Hong Kong hoodlum trying to find his place in the vast urban sprawl of the city-state. This AnOther feature about Hong Kong’s post-handover revival of crime cinema explores the film in more detail – but rest assured it’s not just a creatively and politically significant narrative feature, c t is a classic of contemporary Hong Kong cinema. Catch a rare UK screening of the newly restored film at the Genesis Cinema in London on March 25.

Derivative (Jun Li, 2021)

One of the best films released from Hong Kong in 2021 was Jun Li’s second feature Derivative – a narrative work set in the mostly poor neighborhood of Sham Shui Po in Kowloon, notable for being the target of a series of recent urban redevelopment projects.

Li’s film, based on a real court case set in 2012, explores the struggles of a community of homeless people living in makeshift homes under an airlift – who press charges against authorities after being forcibly evicted from their camp, and their property seized and destroyed. 1999 Golden Horse Film Festival Recipient of the Francis Ng Best Actor Award (The mission; Exile) delivers an emphatic turn as the film’s protagonist: a drug-addicted former criminal dismissed as a vagabond by the police, but who shows remarkable compassion for his own beleaguered community.

The film is awaiting the results of eleven nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2022 – including Best Picture, Best Director (Jun Li) and Best Actor (Francis Ng) – which will be revealed on April 17. In London, the film will screen at Picturehouse Central and Bethnal Green Genesis – with a pre-recorded Q&A with Li accompanying each screening.


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