Sunday, April 28, 2019

A very large as well as peaceful protest in Hong Kong against a China extradition plan

The message is clear
 
Truly just a small section of the crowd that took 
to the streets to deliver it this afternoon
 
A crowd that still believes (for now) 
in the power of peaceful protest 
 
 
Earlier today, I took part in another protest march against that China extradition plan which puts far more people at risk than anyone should be comfortable with.  This one attracted a far greater number of participants than last month's -- thanks in no small part, I believe, to it having been far better publicized.  Another development that undoubtedly contributed to people feeling a greater impetus to join today's event involved the outcome of the trial of the Umbrella Nine.  In addition, I believe that the urgency and seriousness of this matter got further driven home by the decision of Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing Kee, who had taken part in last month's protest march, to seek refuge in Taiwan earlier this week.  
 
As has become the norm, there's a vast discrepancy in the size estimates of the crowd made by the police (of some 22,000) versus that of the organizers (over 130,000).  What I think can be safely agreed upon though is that far more people turned up to peacefully but determinedly be seen and make their voices heard than had been anticipated -- to the extent that the need was felt to get the protest march going some 20 minutes earlier ahead of the official start time of 4pm in order to prevent the area where the event began from being brought to a complete standstill.  
 
With more people (many of them bearing yellow umbrellas and protesting in other distinctively Hong Kong ways, including by humming aloud Les Misérables' "Do You Hear the People Sing?") filling the allocated spaces along the march route than expected, movement was on the slow side for the most part -- to the extent that, having arrived at the assembly point minutes before the march got going, it took me close to two hours to walk from East Point Road in Causeway Bay to the section of Hennessy Road by the Southorn Playground in Wan Chai.  And while I made it to the end of the route in front of the Legislative Council building in Admiralty at some two hours and forty minutes after I had set off on the route, a friend of mine further back in the long, snaking procession reported that he was still only at the section of the route near Southorn Playground!  
 
More than incidentally, I think it worth pointing out that that same friend -- who only reached the end point of today's protest march at around 7pm, more than four hours after he had arrived at its starting point -- lives in Tin Shui Wai, over in the northwestern New Territories, while another friend who managed to catch up with me about two thirds along the route hails from the other side of Hong Kong over in Tseung Kwan O.  Put another way: it wasn't just that there were a lot of protesters out on the streets of Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Admiralty today but also that they look to have come from all over Hong Kong and thus could be said to constitute, in more ways than one, a good representation of the population of the territory. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Things I've gotten from taking part in a beach clean-up on Cheung Chau

The water is clear but there's always stuff to clean up 
 
Cleaning up's a tough job -- but there really are 
people who volunteer to do it!
 
 Yes, there are people who care out there!
 
The Hong Kong Observatory got its weather forecasts wrong again today.  Unlike last Saturday, when I got caught in a freak storm which blindsided much of Hong Kong (including its professional weather forecasters up until just a few minutes before it blew into the territory), however, I was happy for the incorrect prediction since it meant that, despite warnings of blustery thunderstorms for the day, we had nice weather conditions for the beach clean-up I organized earlier today.
 
More specifically: the skies were gray and overcast -- which meant there wasn't much sun to bake us and not much light reflecting off the sands to heat our faces as we worked -- but not a single drop of rain fell on those of us who turned up for yet another round of trash picking at Cheung Chau's Tung Wan Tsai (Coral Beach)In addition, today's temperatures were a few degrees cooler than yesterday and the day before (when I got very tempted to switch on the air-conditioning in my apartment for the first time this calendar year!) and there also were really welcome breezes blowing from time to time while we were at the beach as well as on our hikes to and from it. 
 
Speaking of hikes: I first set foot on Tung Wan Tsai some years back when two friends and I hiked around Cheung Chau.  Even now, I remember my shock upon discovering how much dirtier it was than the beaches on the island admininistered by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department over on the eastern side of town as well as thinking how beautiful it could be if it was bereft of the trash scattered all over it.     
 
I also can remember how horrified I was at how much trash there was at this Cheung Chau beach the very first time that I took part in a beach clean-up there close to four years ago now.  Indeed, I felt so devastated at the sight that I couldn't bring myself to take any photos of -- and at -- the beach that day and actually wondered if the efforts of the group I was with actually counted for anything in the face of the large amount of garbage that polluted that part of Hong Kong.
 
Even while part of me felt that it would be a Quixotic or Sisyphean endeavor, however, I felt inspired by the efforts of the other beach clean-up volunteers, especially those who had returned time and time again to voluntarily do something that many people just can't be bothered to (or think is too disgusting to do).  So the next month, I went again for another beach clean-up on Cheung Chau -- and, well, the rest is history. 

To cut a long story short: Not only have I been taking part in beach clean-ups in Hong Kong for some years now but I've also now organized a fair few.  Something that's warmed the cockles of my heart is that in the past year, there have been a good number of repeat participants for the latter.  Something else that I find really heartening is that those of us who have taken part in a number of beach clean-ups at Tung Wan Tsai actually can see the difference in terms of its overall level of cleanliness.  
 
Put another way: Even while much does remain to be done, I actually do think we've made some difference after all.  And this has inspired me to think and believe that, even when one is faced with great odds, it's better to go do something -- rather than moan and groan or, worse, give up and -- in so doing -- not just let the enemy win but also defeat yourself in the bargain.    

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Musings on the Sentencing of the Umbrella Nine

Sign spotted in Admiralty in October 2014
whose message is still valid today

Two weeks and a day after the pro-democracy activists now collectively known as the Umbrella Nine were found guilty of public nuisance charges by district court judge Johnny Chan, sentencing was carried out on eight of the nine.  Two of these individuals (Law professor Benny Tai and retired sociology professor Chan Kin Man) were given 16 month prison sentences; two others (League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Raphael Wong, social worker-lawmaker Shiu Ka Chun) got eight month jail terms; three others (Reverend Chu Yiu Ming, Democratic Party veteran Lee Wing Tat and former student leader Eason Chung) received suspended jail sentences of varying lengths; while the youngest of the group (former student leader Tommy Cheung) was given a community service order of 200 hours.  
 
As expected, opinion is divided along partisan lines as to whether the sentences meted out were too harsh or lenient. The blogger behind The Big Lychee summed it up as follows: "If you consider the fact that the accused hadn’t done anything wrong by Hong Kong’s old (pre-2014) ‘1 Country 2 Systems’ standards, the charges, trial and sentences are an outrage. But if you buy the story that the defendants caused citywide chaos and misery, the penalties could be described as ‘lenient’."
 
When the news of the Umbrella Nine's sentencing broke yesterday, I felt less sadness and shock on the whole than I had thought that I would.  On reflection one day on, I think this was partly because, in view of these individuals having faced a maximum of seven years behind bars (for the parts they (allegedly) played in inciting tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of people to Occupy Central and a number of other parts of Hong Kong), the sentences they received were actually not as terrible as I feared (even while, of course, wishing for far better).  In addition, my sense is that the whole thing is still not yet over; and this not least because sentencing for one of the group, lawmaker Tanya Chan, has been postponed for at least one and half months in the wake of the shocking revelation that she has a brain tumor that urgently requires surgery.  
 
On the legal front, there are options to appeal the sentences -- and it is looking like at least three of the convicted individuals will go ahead and take their battle to the higher courts.  And, more generally, if the sentencing judge thought that the sentences he meted out would serve to deter those seeking genuine universal suffrage, self-determination and other political freedoms for Hong Kongers from doing so in the future, I believe he's very much mistaken.  Actually, if anything, I think that he's added fuel to people's frustrations, anger and sense of injustice -- and I sincerely hope that he hasn't made them feel that the non-violent route that the Umbrella Nine had advocated and adhered to is a dead end.   

Monday, April 22, 2019

Getting that "It's like I'm in a Hong Kong movie" feeling at Fung Wing Kee Hotpot Restaurant

A place that looks like it could figure in a horror movie
but actually was in a Hong Kong crime drama ;D
 
The restaurant which occupies the street level space
of those three tong lau is a hotpot specialist ;b
 
And it's customary to finish a meal at this restaurant with 
instant noodles cooked in the eatery's signature satay sauce soup! :O
 
As regular readers of this blog will know, I'm a film fan whose love of Hong Kong cinema can approach geek levelsI'm also am a bit of a foodie.  And when I have managed to combine both these passions (by doing such as eating something I got to wanting to try after seeing it featured in a movie -- like in the case of fugu shirako -- or by dining at an eatery which served as a movie location), the experiences are often pretty special to my mind.

So when a fellow Hong Kong movie fan friend told me the identity of the hotpot restaurant which figures in the opening scenes of Johnnie To's PTU and of its continued existence (something which can't be assumed -- since so many famous eateries cum movie locations, such as the restaurant associated with Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood of Love are no more), I immediately contacted a few friends to see if they were up for going there some time.  (A note for those who are wondering: There are eateries where I'm perfectly happy to dine alone but when it comes to hotpot restaurants, one needs dining companions to properly enjoy eating at the place!)             

The Fung Wing Kee Hotpot Restaurant was heaving with customers the night that two friends and I made it out to that Kowloon City dining establishment, so I'm really glad that we pre-booked our table a couple of weeks in advance.  Famed in real life for its satay sauce soup option (with the thing to do being to end a meal there with instant noodles dipped in that salty brown brew!), it's pretty old school in terms of its culinary offerings and also its atmosphere -- and thus not for everyone, particularly those with more refined tastes and tendencies!
 
If truth be told, my two friends -- one of whom is a fellow film fan cum foodie, the other far more of a foodie than film fan -- whom I went there with were not too impressed with the food on offer  In particular, we all didn't care much for the beef that was supposed to be the restaurant's forte -- and it was rather disappointing that the most expensive dish we ordered also turned out to be one that we ended up not feeling like finishing since the meat turned out to be tougher than we had expected as well as hoped would be the case.
 
On a more positive note: we did find the seafood we ordered surprisingly fresh and tasty, and the vegetable options were respectable.  Still, what made me happiest over the course of our dinner at Fung Wing Kee Hotpot Restaurant was -- you guessed it! --  was the "It's like I'm in a Hong Kong movie!" feeling that the place gave me -- and not just because it's an actual famous movie location but also because it's the kind of old school place that Hong Kong movies made me nostalgic for even though I actually have spent most of my life outside of the Big Lychee! ;b

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Critter spottings and more on a solitary hike in Tai Tam Country Park (Photo-essay)

It used to be that I wouldn't think to venture into Hong Kong's countryside without at least one other companion -- and, actually, frequently two.  In recent years, however, I've gone alone on a number of hikes in Hong Kong's country parks.  Initially, it was because of my regular hiking companions being indisposed (due to reasons that included knee problems, having to work one days when I wanted to hike, and one of them having become a father).  But I've come to realize that hiking alone can bring its own joys.

More specifically, when hiking alone, I feel more able to slow down and better take in my surroundings.  I also don't feel like I'm imposing on anybody (human) when I decide to stop and try to take a really good picture of a bug that isn't as willing as I'd like to stop and pose for my camera!  

At the same time though, I do carefully select which trails I feel comfortable hiking alone (versus with the added safety and security from having a friend around); with the criteria being that they're not all that physically demanding but, also, that they won't be bereft of people for hours on end.  Consequently, the vast majority of the hikes that I go along on my own are on Hong Kong Island; with Tai Tam Country Park proving to be one of my favorite places to venture on a solo hiking excursion...

It was a good day to get away from the concrete jungle for a few hours :)
 
A grasshopper that would have been far better camouflaged
if it had settled among a bunch of twigs and branches ;b
 
Peaceful scene at Tai Fung Au (aka Quarry Gap)
 
It's not just me who thinks that the patterns at the back of 
the spider's head resembles a face, right? 
 
A clear shot of another species of grasshopper that 
I am really happy that I managed to get on this hike! :)
 
A smaller and more unusual looking spider than the
Golden Orb Weaver that I photographed earlier
 
The Tai Tam Upper Reservoir's dam is one of those structures 
that I find to be an awesome sight and pretty cool to walk along
 
It often amuses me that few visitors to Hong Kong realize 
that there are parts of Hong Kong Island that are so green :)

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Eating Women contains both a number of sex scenes and scenes of women eating! (Film review)

Hong Kong poster for a Japanese movie
  
Eating Women (Japan, 2018)
- Jiro Shono, director
- Starring: Kyoko Koizumi, Atsuko Maeda, Erika Sawajiri, Charlotte Kate Fox, Kyoka Suzuki, Alice Hirose, Mitsu Dan, Yu Yamada, etc.
 
Be honest now: what came to mind when you saw the title of this Japanese film?  If it was something rather naughty and/or erotic, you wouldn't be entirely wrong with regards to the subject of this movie.  Because even though Eating Women's Hong Kong poster emphasizes its foodie and female bonding elements, it's not for nothing that this actually rather delectable Japanese offering got a Category IIB (Not suitable for young persons and children) rating from the Hong Kong censors!
 
Eating Women begins with a innocent scene featuring two young girls (Kotone Uda and Yuna Suzuki) lying down on a quiet road in a bid to hear the gurgling of an underground river whose existence one of the two friends' mothers (Mitsu Dan) had talked about.  Intrigued by their actions, an older female decides to follow suit -- with her actions showing her to be a rather eccentric individual.     
 
The owner of a food-themed bookstore which occupies space in a rambling building which also is her home, Atsuko Motchisuki (Kyoko Koizumi) is a spinster with a cat but also a good number of female friends with whom she regularly gets together to cook, eat, drink and talk about subjects that include their love lives.  At the instigation of her restauranter friend Mifuyu (Kyoka Suzuki), she additionally ends up taking in as a boarder a young American woman whose husband (Hiroyuki Ikeuchi) divorced her in part because of his being tired of her not being able to cook proper (Japanese) meals for him!  
 
In an early scene, Lisa Matilda (Charlotte Kate Fox) is shown effectively being raped by her then husband.  It's a shocking scene for its contrast with what had come before in the movie.  At the same time though, it effectively serves notice that Eating Women does have sex scenes -- including far more pleasing (and at times amusing) ones that show the female party being pleasured -- as well as a number of mouth-watering scenes involving women enjoying consuming a variety of foods!   
 
Adding to the diversity of this film's subject matter is that its story involves sub-plots involving eight different women.  If truth be told, some of them are far more memorable as well as interesting than the others -- and I also must admit to having difficulty telling a couple of the younger women apart!  So I actually do reckon that Eating Women would have benefited from a paring down of the number of characters that have stories to tell but I wouldn't be surprised if scriptwriter Tomomi Tsutui, who was charged with adapting her novel for this 104-minute-long cinematic production, baulked at doing precisely this.
 
Incidentally, Eating Women's main character, Atsuko, spends a significant amount of time in the movie in front of her computer trying to complete a book that details the lives of her friends.  Is this a case of art imitating life here?  If so, Tomomi Tsutui sure does have some interesting and diverse friends based on such as their occupations alone since this film's female characters include an ear model, a TV assistant producer and a books editor.  Also worth noting is that none of the female characters in this ensemble dramedy is married for any significant amount of the movie; something that's still not all that usual in Japanese cinematic offerings but, at the same point, looks to be reflective of Japanese films being increasingly likely to present portraits of Japanese individuals and families that don't fit the conventional images of yore.
 
My rating for this film: 7.5  

Monday, April 15, 2019

Hiking and food = a good combination in Hong Kong! ;b

Farm/home grown vegetables and fruit for sale
 
Traditional peanut candies made before your eyes!
 
As friends who have gone hiking with me know too well, a hike excursion isn't quite complete for me without a stop (or more) for food.  My usual practice is to start a ramble at a time of the day that will allow for us to reach a good place to have dinner before sunset.  I've also been known to stop for a snack of tofu faa or a more substantial repast mid-hike -- especially if time allows -- on trails that take us through a village enclave with a stall or actual dining establishment!
 
Thus far, however, I haven't stopped to buy items being hawked by people who look like they farmed the produce or made the products they sell by the side of certain trails.  Part of me wants to, not least to help support local farmers and producers -- of which there really aren't that many left in rural Hong Kong.  But the thing is that I'm loathe to add weight to my load (which, early on in a hike, can feel on the heavy side because of the minimum 1 liter of water I bring along to drink on hikes in the cooler months and 1.5 liters of water I take along on hikes in warmer weather).    
 
Maybe I will at some point -- but in the meantime, I do like to not only have dinner in the nearest town (or village) from where I end a hike but also then do a bit of shopping in the area before hopping on public transportation that will take me back home.  Among my favorite post-hike destinations are Tai Po, Mui Wo, Sai Kung and Yuen Long.  And Yuen Long was where two friends and I went for dinner post hike this past Saturday.
 
After wolving down our meal at Victory Beef Ball, the three of us went snack shopping in the area.  While one friend went to a discount store for items to bring home and another decided she had to try some siu mai from The Queen of Siu Mai over on Yuen Long's Food Street, I decided to get some peanut sweets from Kei O after watching one of the establishment's staff making faa saang tong in front of the store, right out on the street.  Then it was off to a bar for a round of craft beer because we went and got our bus that would take us back to our respective home turfs! 
 
Two days on, I've consumed more than half of the box of peanut sweets from Kei O that I only opened after I got back home that evening -- and no, I don't want to think of how many calories they contain (vis a vis how many I managed to burn on Saturday's hike, etc.)!  Instead, I'm already thinking that after I finish the box, I might well have to return to Yuen Long for some more of this sweet stuff -- on a day that involves some hiking or maybe not... ;b

Sunday, April 14, 2019

An urban park that I've grown to like a lot, maybe even love ;b

View from a cool section of Hong Kong Park

A veritable oasis in Admiralty :)

When I was a tourist to Hong Kong -- rather than the permanent resident that I now am -- I never thought to go and visit Hong Kong Park.  And for more than a year after I moved to this part of the world, I didn't set foot even once in this spacious urban park in Admiralty whose wonders aren't all that visible when you're outside of it.  

Slowly but surely though, this well-planned public space has come to occupy a place in my heart.  And it's not just the special facilities such as its walk-through aviary or 1,400 square meter conservatory that I've found myself repeatedly returning to visit.  Rather, I've also come to seriously appreciate how relaxing it can be to walk along its paths that take one close to ponds full of lotus plants, tortoises, koi and frogs (the last of which are often heard but not as often spotted) and waterfalls that may be artificial in nature, yet whose sights and sounds can have the kind of calming effect on me that I get when I hike in the more natural environs of Hong Kong's country parks.    

So much have I come to like -- and maybe love might not be too strong a word! -- Hong Kong Park that I now have taken to taking friends and other folks visiting the Big Lychee to this urban oasis, particularly those unable -- due to time constraints or some other factor -- from spending time in the territory's country parks.  Almost without fail, it's proven to be a hit with the visitors; and this especially with those individuals who have been in Hong Kong for a few days and had rushed themselves off their feet trying to adjust to the quick pace of life here as well as felt stressed by the crowd density in the parts of the territory that tourists and people here for a conference or other type of business trip usually stay within.

For my part, there's one additional reason why Hong Kong Park feels special: that is, certain areas recognizably served as filming locations for movies that I've seen and liked, including Dante Lam's The Beast Stalker (which was my second favorite Hong Kong movie of 2008).  So, there are times when I feel like I'm in a movie while I'm in the park -- and perhaps none more so than on my recent visit there last month when a friend and I got to belatedly realizing that acting legend Lisa Lu was right behind as as we made our way to the branch of the Lock Cha Tea House located within Hong Kong Park and, as we sipped tea and chatted in one corner of the facility, filmed what appeared to be a TV interview in another section of the establishment! ;b

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Critter spottings on a hike from Shek Kong to Ho Pui

Can you see the two critters in the above picture?  
(You may need to click to enlarge the image ;b)
 
Is that a Paris Peacock I see before me?
 
After not going out hiking for weeks, I've now been out hiking twice this week!  What's even more amazing is that, despite the Hong Kong Observatory's forecast for today having included showers and even thunderstorms (and it in fact having rained in a large percentage of Hong Kong), I didn't feel more than a few rain drops over the course of the 7.8 kilometer hike that I went on over on the northern edge of Tai Lam Country Park!
 
Upon checking the weather forecast earlier in the week and seeing what had been predicted for today, the two friends and I had come up with a contingency plan to go for yum cha at Chuen Lung if it was raining when we met up at Tsuen Wan West (from where we would be boarding a bus to take us into the countryside to the north).  But since conditions were on the clear (even if overcast) side when we met at the appointed place and time, we opted to stick to our plan to go hiking; with the chosen route from Shek Kong to Ho Pui being entirely paved, flat and wide -- and thus easy enough to go along with umbrella in hand if the need did arise.
 
While it may be on the physically unchallenging side, the trail we went along is by no means uninteresting; what with it passing by the Farm Milk Company (where one can get fresh milk and milk pudding), an eco-garden that's home to lots of flowering plants beloved by butterflies, a couple of irrigation reservoirs and a small but pretty waterfall.  Indeed, I like it so much that I've been along it around five times now (albeit with minor variations in the route on a couple of occasions)!
 
With abundant foliage growing in the area, I find this shady trail to be particularly pleasant during the times of the year when the sun is likely to shine pretty fiercely.  Something else that makes this unnamed trail attractive to me in the warmer months is that lots of critter spottings can be made; with way more butterflies being spotted on today's hike than the one I went on in Tai Tam Country Park earlier this week.
 
Among today's critter spotting highlights were a couple of eye-catching Paris Peacock swallowtail butterflies, grasshoppers camouflaged to look like chunks of wood and one of those long-tailed lizards whose tails are around three times lengthier than their bodies.  More than incidentally, the lizard was spotted in fairly close proximity to a small butterfly which my friends and I were thinking might have been the reptile's intended meal if not for our presence having made it decide to turn tail and disappear into the undergrowth away from our prying eyes!

Friday, April 12, 2019

Signs that spring has come before the rainy season begins in earnest this year!

Before the rain fell

Lots of flowers and plants are already in bloom...
 
...and mating season has begun for some wildlife! ;b
 
Between my trip to Phuket and the Hong Kong International Film Festival occupying a good chunk of my time last month, I didn't do as much hiking as I should have.  And after seeing that the rainy season looked to be getting going in earnest from today (with many consecutive days of precipitation), I decided I had better go spend some time outdoors before the heavens opened with a vengeance.  
 
With the air already heavy with humidity and a high temperature for the day of around the 30 degrees Celsius, I opted for an afternoon hike in Tai Tam Country Park that began at a bus stop in Wong Nai Chung Gap and ended some three hours later at a green minibus stop in a residential section of Braemar Hill.  Along the way, I passed by, as well as caught sight of, three of the Tai Tam Reservoirs -- which were a study in contrast in terms of one being pretty full, another being completely empty and the third being not completely empty but also far from being completely full.
 
While the water levels at the reservoirs didn't look as terribly low as around this time last year, seeing them got me realizing that not that much rain has fallen in recent months.  At the same time though, much of the foliage was reassuringly and splendidly green.  Also, there are a lot of flowers in full bloom already, including those of the Red Azalea and Gordonia plants, which add lovely splotches of color to views of the Hong Kong countryside.

Since flowers bloom in winter in Hong Kong as well as the warmer seasons (with the Chinese New Year flower famously blooming, as its name implies, around the Chinese New Year period), however, I don't tend to equate their presence with spring, as would be the case in many other parts of the world.  Instead, the signs that really signal that spring is here for me are my being able to spot a lot of varieties of critters out and about (including butterflies that actually stop to be photographed rather than just seem to want to flit about all day) over the course of a hike, including ones which have decided that the time has come to go about procreating!
 
And for those who wonder, in view of my having captured so many creatures enacting such acts: no, I really don't go in search of copulating critters.  Indeed, in the warmer months, I tend to be more on the look out for snakes -- and not because I especially want to spot these slithery reptiles but because I really don't want to accidentally step on them and thereby be the target of their often downright poisonous ire!
 
At the same time though, I must admit that the sighting of the amorous pair of critters was one high point of this particular hike; this particularly since I had previously never come across wasp moths performing this act before and so now can add my shots of them to the subset of my photography collection which has had friends labelling me "nature's pornographer"! :D  

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Evans Chan's We Have Boots goes beyond umbrellas and into hearts (Film review)

Reading the writing(s) on the (Lennon) Wall

We Have Boots (Hong Kong, 2019)
- Evans Chan, director


A sequel to his Raise the Umbrellas (2016), We Have Boots documents the government backlash, especially in the past few years, against those making calls for genuine universal suffrage for Hong Kong that have been ringing out for decades but were particularly loudly voiced in the latter part of 2014.  An apparent work in progress that has been added to and updated since I viewed an earlier version of this cinematic labor of love last November (and may well be added to and updated again in the (near) future), it includes footage of protests in Tung Chung over the influx of Mainland Chinese daytrippers in the wake of the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge last year and memorial events in honor of Liu Xiaobo held in Hong Kong in 2017 as well as from the 2016 Legislative Council swearing-in ceremony whose repercussions Hong Kong continues to feel, and the pro-democracy camp to reel from).

Whereas Evans Chan's 2016 coverage of the Umbrella Movement and its aftermath had concluded on a positive note, the thought-provoking We Have Boots may leave viewers sympathetic to the cause in two minds at best, and feeling down and at a loss at worst.  It's not just that, in picking up where Raising the Umbrellas left off, the filmmaker had to chronicle multiple setbacks for Hong Kong's political opposition, including the disqualification of a number of politicians who had been voted into the Legislative Council by thousands of voters in 2016 and also budding politicians seeking elected office (including Demosisto's Agnes Chow) and the conviction of a number of political activists (on charges that seem dubious or outright unfair).  

Rather, it's also how a number of Chan's interviewees, among them four members of what has come to be known as the Umbrella Nine, appear to envision their and Hong Kong's (near) future.  More specifically, there looks to be a sad acceptance that those seeking self-determination -- forget independence -- for Hong Kong are going to be rigidly opposed by the authorities and punished, including with years of imprisonment.  And while a number of these individuals feel it is their duty to press on regardless, their examples don't actually come across as all that massively inspiring any more.   

In view of their knowing -- not just fearing -- that political prosecution and persecution is in their future, it is perhaps only logical that their thoughts often tend to turn inwards and towards how to deal with the ordeals that they will be undergoing.  It also doesn't help that more and more paths seem to be closed to people seeking to agitate for a fairer deal for Hong Kong than Beijing is willing to give; this not least since, in delivering his verdict on the prosecution of the Umbrella Nine, presiding judge Johnny Chan has stated that civil disobedience is not a defence for a criminal charge

Amidst all this doom and gloom though, We Have Boots actually -- and rather surprisingly -- contains some moments of levity; with such as comments made during interviews with the likes of Alex Chow and Chan Kin Man getting viewers at the screening of the film that I attended chuckling and even laughing out loud.  Perhaps some of the jokes made can be seen as gallows humor but I'm also inclined to see hope for those who retain a sense of humor in the face of adversity -- and also seek to learn from trying experiences they expect to undergo.

The Nicki Giovanni poem that inspired this documentary work contains lines about laughing all through the storms that are bound to come.  Where Do You Enter concludes with the following lines:-
We have umbrellas
We have boots
We have each
other  
And it is true enough that there do remain a good number of people out there seeking genuine democracy from Hong Kong and who thus are not alone in their quest, however quixotic it may seem to be. 

My rating for the film: 7.0

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Two more Li Lihua movies viewed at the 2019 Hong Kong International Film Festival (Film reviews)

Information panels found at screening venues when
the Hong Kong International Film Festival is taking place

The Flower Girl (Hong Kong, 1951)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Li Lihua: Four Treasures Restored program 
- Zhu Shilin, director
- Starring: Li Lihua, Han Fei, Wang Yuan Long, Jiang Ming, Liu Lian, etc.

In between the making and cinematic release of the first two films in the HKIFF's Li Lihua: Four Treasures Restored showcase that I viewed and the making and cinematic release of third offering starring Li Lihua at this year's fest that I viewed, Mainland China underwent a political revolution that saw it go from being the Republic of China ruled by the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party) to the People's Republic of China under the Communists.  These political upheavals north of the Mainland China-Hong Kong border resulted, among other things, in many people fleeing to, and re-settling in, Hong Kong -- including many leading lights of the Shanghai film industry such as this 1951 movie's director, producer (Fei Mu) and lead actress.

Set at a time when much of China was under Japanese military rule -- another tumultous (then) recent period of history which the cast and crew had personal experience of -- The Flower Girl is a Chinese adaptation of Boule de Suif, a well known Guy de Maupassant short story set during the Franco-Prussian War.  A party of disparate Chinese individuals journey from Shanghai one fateful day.  Already delayed by the coal-fueled truck breaking down at least once and going far slower than they would like, they then find themselves detained in the town they reached before the night curfew forbidding civilians to be on the road came into effect for an indefinite period of time as a result of one of their party having caught the eye of the area's Japanese military commander (Bai Shen).             
Identified early on in this emotional drama as a courtesan (a "nicer" term, like "flower girl", for prostitute), Hua Feng Hsien (Li Lihua) turns out to be a Chinese patriot and far more morally upright individual than the "higher class" members of her travelling party who initially trumpeted their outrage at her having been asked to go have sex with the covetous Japanese military officer but, then, for their own selfish reasons, put pressure on her to do just that.  A sub-plot involving a widow whose Chinese resistance fighter husband was killed by the Japanese further makes clear that people should be judged on their willingness to help others rather than their economic standing or social status. 

In recent years, there have been a number of Chinese language films set during the Second World War that appear to be geared towards unifying the Chinese by getting them to hate the Japanese.  However, the apparent pillars of the Chinese establishment who figure in the more dramatically complex The Flower Girl -- namely, a couple of businessman, a scholarly-looking patriarch and their wives -- come off looking almost as bad as the Japanese occupiers; an outcome that gets me thinking that Zhu Shilin and Co were making a statement that the bourgeoisie were to blame for the Communist revolution that threw China into further tumult after the end of the Second World War and resulted in many of their countrymen and -women's exile to Hong Kong, Taiwan and beyond. 

My rating for this film: 7.0 

Storm Over the Yangtze River (Taiwan, 1969)
- Part of the HKIFF's Li Lihua: Four Treasures Restored program
- Li Han Hsiang, director
- Starring: Peter Yang Kwan, Li Lihua, Ko Chun Hsiung

The evening after I viewed The Flower Girl, I saw another movie with Li Lihua as its female lead whose story takes place during the Second World War.  Still, there's no confusing these two works: filmed 18 years later than the earlier film, with a bigger budget (that, among other things, allowed for it to be lensed in color and feature action scenes with what appeared to be hundreds of extras) and shot in Taiwan, Storm Over the Yangtze River is as expansive in feel as the 1951 drama was often claustrophobically intimate. 

A spy-thriller with lots of intrigue and double agents, this ambitious effort's story can get rather confusing to follow -- especially if one doesn't quickly realize that there are four sides (Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalists), Chinese Communists, Chinese collaborators (with the Japanese) and the Japanese) trying to get the better of one another rather than just Chinese versus Japanese.  Adding to the complex web woven in this film is that the male protagonist -- who initially appears as a traitorous mercenary, only to turn out to be a heroic member of the resistance -- is seen having few qualms about sleeping with another woman even while he is a married man with a young son.

I have to be honest and admit that, with its plethora of sub-plots and slippery characters, it took me until around the half-way mark of this close-to-two-hour movie for things to start falling into place for me.  Once the pieces in the tale start to connect and make sense though, this film -- which tells the true story of an undercover intelligence agent code named Yangtze Number One -- turns out to be a pretty satisfying watch! 

Li Lihua is commanding as a Kuomintang intelligence unit head able to charm Chinese collaborators and resistance members alike.  Ko Chun Hsiung makes for a suitably handsome heroic resistance fighter.  But Peter Yang Kwan steals the show as the smooth fellow who many people -- not just this (re)viewer -- had trouble figuring which side he really was on; and it's not all that surprising to learn that he won the Golden Horse Best Actor prize for his work in this movie (and, for the record, Li Lihua also was named the Golden Horse Best Actress that year).   

My rating for this film: 7.0        

Sunday, April 7, 2019

A political documentary about the contemporary U.S.A. and another on Vladimir Putin (Film reviews)

Gone but not forgotten...
Fahrenheit 11/9 (USA, 2018)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Cinephile Paradise program
- Michael Moore, director and scriptwriter

Seven days ago and four films ago, I viewed Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 11/9.  Prior to doing so, I had worried a bit that I'd fall asleep during its screening as it'd be my third at the Hong Kong International Film Festival that day.  Looking back, in doing so, I had forgotten the maverick documentary filmmaker's ability to entertain and evoking strong emotional reactions as well as inform and educate.

There's no question that the subjects that Fahrenheit 11/9 examines and the issues addressed in it are pretty serious ones.  We're talking, after all, of topics including money-driven elections, political corruption, gun control (or, rather, the lack of), lead poisoning, voter apathy, striking teachers and the rise of White nationalism.  At the same time, Michael Moore proceeds to present them in a film with segments that can -- and did -- make people smile, snigger and laugh out loud several times over the course of this two hour work (in addition to frown, groan and want to cry with frustration at other points during the screening).  

If truth be told, I'm not sure if many of my (liberal-leaning) American friends would react in the same manner to such as the opening scenes of this documentary that showed the widespread assumption prior to Donald Trump's shock win on November 9th, 2016, that Hillary Clinton would be elected President of the United States of America.  And therein might explain why it is that this documentary is among Michael Moore's lowest grossing films ever: for even while it's clear enough that the filmmaker is no fan of Donald Trump, it's readily apparent right from the first few minutes of this offering that he's got far more targets than just the man who is the USA's 45th president, and that they actually do include individuals on both sides of the country's political divide.

Also impressively diverse and varied are the topics that Michael Moore covers in Fahrenheit 11/9 and manages to weave together in a masterful polemic about American governance and politics that saw him spending time in places as far flung as Flint, Michigan (his city of birth) and West Virginia as well as Washington, D.C., and New York City.  More interested in understanding and making clear the conditions that led to the rise of Donald Trump and the ideologies he represents than solely throwing vitriol on him and his ilk, this is a film that Americans seeking to prevent their continued dominance would do well to view -- and it's a tragedy that it seems that many of them have, for some reason or other, opted against doing so.

My rating for this film: 8.5         

Putin's Witnesses (Latvia-Switzerland-Czech Republic, 2018)
- Part of the HKIFF's Reality Bites program
- Vitaly Mansky, director and concept

In the late hours of the last day of 1999, as the Russian people were getting ready to ring in a new year, there came an announcement by then President Boris Yeltsin that he would be stepping down from office.  Filmmaker Vitaly Mansky was at home in Moscow with his family when they heard the news -- and, in fact, in the middle of filming them for what presumably was a home video originally intended entirely for private consumption.  

Although reports had it that his approval rate was down to a mere two percent at the time, Yeltsin's shock announcement still upset Mansky's wife and the elder of his two young children.  On the other hand, it's not clear if his younger child was more upset with her father following her into the bathroom to continue filming her or the news that they had learnt via watching Yeltsin's 'live' TV appearance while Mansky himself didn't seem unduly perturbed by the news -- and appeared to have no qualms to subsequently take part in the filming of what appeared to be a pretty candid documentary portrait of the new Russian president in his first few months of political office and the lead-up to what turned out to be the first of several electoral victories that has seen him remain as the country's head of state since that fateful day close to 20 years ago now.

Among the things that can't cease to amaze when viewing Putin's Witnesses is how freely Mansky appeared able to film Vladimir Vladimorovich Putin.  (Indeed, in the short time that they appear on film, Mansky's family voiced more objections to having his camera on them than Putin looks to have done!)  Also pretty astounding is how unassuming the man we now know is perfectly comfortable wielding great power and firmly holding on to it appeared -- or, rather, took pains -- to be in early on during his presidency.  

A sign of how much things have changed in the intervening years can be seen in Mansky and his family now living in exile (in Latvia) and this film not being listed as a Russian (co-)production despite all of it having been filmed in the country whose head of state its primary subject is.  One reason for this is, as Mansky acknowledged in a post-screening Q&A, Putin appears to have changed so very much from what he had appeared to be like back in 2000.  Also worth noting though is how inadvertently -- and thus chillingly -- revealing the footage he shot back then (which includes that of Yeltsin and Mikhael Gorbachev post retirement and also a room full of then Putin advisors and aides, of whom -- rather disturbingly (and tellingly?) -- only one of them has remained in his political circle) can be close to two decades on.  

My rating for this film: 7.5