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Five Films From… Hong Kong

Although Hong Kong is only 0.7 times as big as London, it plays a crucial role in the Asian film industry. Due to its economic prosperity and political freedom, in the late 20th century it was known as the ‘Hollywood of the East’, when figures like Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan were undoubtedly famous all over the world. Later, the return to China and continuous economic stability led to a plateau and even a decline in the whole cultural industry. While the recent political oppression has struck the film industry again, it has triggered a wave of new artists who try their very best to preserve the local culture. They have produced numerous art pieces which get outstanding results in different international film festivals.

Hong Kong movies are an inseparable part of the local sense of identity and the social development of it. As a local Hong Konger, it is certainly a great challenge to pick my top five films.          

Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996) dir. Peter Chan

Yes, it is almost a love story, but there is more to it than just romance. On the surface, the film seems to be a love story between two Chinese-mainlanders living in Hong Kong, but I really love how it reflects Hong Kong society in its golden era through the story of small people. In the late 20th century, countless people escaped from mainland China to Hong Kong, and escaped from Hong Kong again in 1997 in the fear that it would rejoin China. The couple embodies a generation who spent their whole life seeking stability and a sense of belonging. Using Teresa Teng’s music to soundtrack the scenes, it allows everyone to gain insight into the struggle of ordinary Hong Kong people in the 1990s with deep senses of nostalgia and romance.   

A Simple Life (2011) dir. Ann Hui

Based on a true story, it illustrates the touching tale of a film producer called Roger and a maidservant who has worked for his family for decades. She suffers from a stroke after retirement, and Roger in return takes care of her. Without dramatic plot twists and artificial effects, it tenderly portrays the most simple yet warmest interpersonal relationships hidden in the affluent façade of the city. Together with shots of local wet markets, small restaurants and a landscape suffering from urban decay, it allows everyone to appreciate the real and loving side of the Hong Kong community in depth.     

Ten Years (2015) dir. Kiwi Chow, Jevons Au, Kwok Zune, Wong Fei-Pang, Ng Ka-Leung

This film depicts a worst-case scenario for Hong Kong where, in the year 2025, it suffers from the authoritarian rule of the Beijing government. Released in 2015, it reveals the fear of Hong Kongers concerning the loss of freedom and local identity after the failure of the campaign for universal suffrage in 2014. Although it was produced without sponsorship and screened in limited cinemas, it has managed to beat Star Wars and won Best Film at the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards. Miserably, when it comes to 2021, the supposedly dystopian scenes mirror reality. Protests are suppressed brutally, and pro-democracy activists are imprisoned. It was also removed from the streaming platform Netflix this year. It is a witness, forecaster and participant of the struggle of this beautiful megalopolis.

Drifting (2021) dir. Jun Li

Here is another remarkable film based on a true story. Presenting a tragedy whereby a group of street sleepers are forcibly removed by the police without prior notice and without the right to collect any personal belongings, the film powerfully reveals the inequality and ruthlessness of Hong Kong’s hierarchies and legal system. The soundtrack and cinematography are extraordinary, beautifully provoking a strong sense of hopelessness, where ordinary people can never win against the property tycoons and the authorities. The homeless people can only be abandoned, and live in a vicious cycle of drug addiction, crime and imprisonment. Awarded the Best Adapted Screenplay at the 58th Golden Horse Awards, it is a definite must-see amongst recent Hong Kong films. 

Revolution of Our Times (2021) dir. Kiwi Chow

This headline hitting new release has been named the Best Documentary at the 58th Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan. In 2019, the ‘Extradition Bill’ in Hong Kong triggered a series of protests against the government’s political oppression. In this film, Kiwi Chow unfolds events from both a macro view of the historical context and the micro perspective of the protestors, presenting the famous mottos of the movement like ‘be water’ and ‘blossoming everywhere’. It is both informative and powerful in evoking emotions of pain and fear. Although it is recognised by several international film festivals, ironically it cannot be screened in Hong Kong. It not only tells a Hong Kong story, but also reminds the globe of the power of civil society and the preciousness of freedom.

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