Sunday, June 9, 2024

Still really f**king loving Hong Kong on the 5th anniversary of the 1 million strong anti-extradition bill march (Photo-essay)

This past June 4th, I was out and about in various parts of Hong Kong in the afternoon.  In Victoria Park, where the June 4th candlelight vigil regularly and officially took place through to 2019, I encountered a crazy amount of cops.  
Earlier today, the 5th anniversary of the 1 million anti-extradition bill protest march, I was in Victoria Park and elsewhere in Hong Kong again.  To my surprise, I didn't see many cops out and about at all.  Consequently, I felt emboldened to effectively walk once more from Causeway Bay to Admiralty this afternoon -- during which I came across some interesting sights enroute.
I know that, from the outside, it might seem that Hong Kongers have given up their fight for, and dreams of, democracy and justice.  But, honestly, I feel like I regularly see signs to this day that this is not the case.  Today, I present to you some of them -- and if they seem on the overly humble and trivial side, remember that there are now not one but two security laws in force in Hong Kong, and the penalties for being adjudged to break them are very dire indeed.   

Spotted earlier this week -- and, in all likelihood,
scribbled in recent weeks or months (as it's so fresh looking!)
The same message, less clearly written, spotted earlier today
A message (Keep Hong Kong Free) that I'm going to assume 
is from 2019, but is still visible in 2024
Also from 2019 -- barely discernible in 2024 but I feel
like I can make out an "Add Oil HK" there
Far more clearly, rendered in Chinese characters:
"Hong Kong people, add oil"
Also from 2019 but much more clearly visible, 
if you know where to find it
Good words to live by
It may not always be clear but yeah, 

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

The 35th anniversary of the 35th of May

In memory of the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre
Hong Kong still remembers.  We are no longer allowed to hold candlelight vigils in Victoria Park to commemorate June 4th.  But we still most definitely remember, and many of us still have lit candles and mourned this evening -- these days, for what has been lost in Hong Kong since China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong (on June 30th, 2020) as well as was lost in Beijing all those years ago. :(

Saturday, June 1, 2024

The verdict has been delivered by the national security judges in the trial of the Hong Kong 47 but it ain't over yet by a long chalk!

Mood this week in Hong Kong
It's not yet over but here's stating all the same that it's been one hell of a crap week in Hong Kong.  Never mind the bad weather (which has included typhoon warnings getting issued -- thanks, Typhoon Maliksi!)Though I must say that the gray days and weeping skies have felt reflective of many people's moods.     
The day after the first arrests under Article 23 were made, a seventh individual was apprehended -- also over "seditious posts" by and on a Facebook page known as the ChowHangTung club that appear to be nothing more than "daily posts in memory of the events in Tiananmen Square and the vigils held in Hong Kong until 2019 to remember them"!  ("The initiative", a P.I.M.E. Asia news piece explains, "is linked to Chow’s legal battle. She was arrested for her role in organising commemorations in Victoria Park. For this reason, she has been in prison since September 2021, and is still awaiting trial after almost three years.")
As Freedom House research director Yaqiu Wang observed in a piece in The Diplomat: "The fact that the authorities keep throwing new charges at Chow for the one thing she did – organize commemorations to honor those killed by their government for peacefully demanding freedom and democracy – only speaks to the insecurity that she inspires in her own government and in Beijing."
Something also worth point out -- which Wang does in her piece: "Beijing’s determination to crush Hong Kong’s freedoms and to erase history is illustrated by the multiple, years-long prosecutions against Chow. However, Chow’s courage and resolve in the face of this repression exemplify Hong Kongers’ collective determination to fight back." 
In a development that now passes for a "Thank goodness for small mercies" one, all of those arrestees -- bar for Chow Hang-tung, who was already behind bars at the time of her arrest on this (new) charge -- have been granted bail.  One way in which many of us found this out was by seeing a photo of one of the six, Lee Ying-chi (a dentist by profession), waiting in line to get into court to see and hear on Thursday morning the verdict being given of the Hong Kong 47.  
Sadly, that's what came to pass.  For more than three years and three months after 47 organizers and participants of a pro-democracy primary staged in 2020 were arrested on February 28th, 2021, the three hand-picked national security law judges decided that only two of the individuals concerned were innocent of the conspiracy to commit subversion charges laid on them.   
Still, lest barrister (and ex-cop as well as district councillor) Lawrence Lau and former district councillor (and registered social worker) Lee Yue-shun, who made history by being the first two people tried under the Beijing-imposed national security law to be cleared of their charges think it's all over, "Director of Public Prosecutions Maggie Yang on Thursday afternoon said that she had received instruction from Secretary for Justice Paul Lam that the justice department would seek to appeal the acquittal of Lau and Lee." Of course!  

And with mitigation hearings and appeals by at least some of those found guilty also still to come, this case is set to run through the summer; with sentencing not taking place for some months yet.  During which, the stress and misery for many, if not all, of the people involved will continue.  (Reading the piece of AP's Kanis Leung on the toll of Beijing's national security law on Hong Kong's activists before the verdict was already heartbreaking.) 

More than by the way, Chan Po-ying is the subject of a piece by AFP's Xinqi Su which appears on the Hong Kong Free Press' website today with headlines that emphasize that she's spent decades fighting for democracy with Long Hair -- and has continued to do so after his national security law arrest.  The following is how the piece concludes -- and I think is a good way to conclude this blog post:
Chan said it was important that people keep speaking up.

“What we have been trying to emphasise is that we don’t want society to be voiceless,” she said.

“When there is no other narratives than the one and only official version, I think as a humble citizen and resident, it’s our duty to history that we shall not let others alter our history and memories,” she added.

 (My emphasis.)

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

The first six Article 23 arrests get people thinking all the more of June 4th (and this even while it's still only May)!

Victoria Park one week before the 35th anniversary
of the Tiananmen Square Massacre
I had a dream last night in which Lee Cheuk-yan, was walking around talking to people at an event I was attending; prompting to wonder to myself, "Wait, isn't he supposed to be in prison?"
For the record: I don't normally dream about public figures/political prisoners.  But I guess my subconscious turned my being all too aware that we're just one week away from the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre into a dream about the former chair of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China: that is, the organisation behind the (once) annual June 4th candelight vigils in Victoria Park -- the last of which I was at in 2019.   
One reason why I may have been thinking of the upcoming Tiananmen Square Massacre anniversary last night was because yesterday afternoon, as the bus I was taking passed by Victoria Park, my attention was caught by a greater police presence than usual on an edge of the public park.  It's nothing compared to what I imagine will be the case come June 4th (or probably even this weekend -- the weekend leading up to it) based on what's happened in recent years.  
And this on top of the now usual "refurbishments" being made at this time of the year to the football pitches where the June 4th candelight vigils used to take place.  Oh, and this year, there's also a very "red" looking event scheduled to take place in the area too -- one whose advertising mentions the dates 6/1, 6/2, 6/3 and 6/5 but not 6/4!  (For those who didn't realize: the Chinese way of writing dates is like the American one in placing the month before the day.) 
And after today's events, I'm thinking I'll be dreaming tonight of Lee Cheuk-yan's erstwhile Hong Kong Alliance comrade and fellow poliical prisoner, Chow Hang-tung -- who was one of the six people arrested today by the Hong Kong national security police "on suspicion of acting with seditious intention", marking the first apprehensions under the city’s new security law, which was enacted this past March.  (And yes, here's confirming that she, who already is behind bars, was arrested again... and for an alleged crime involving social media posts... even though she does not have access to a computer while behind bars!)

Somewhat bizarrely, "Secretary for Security Chris Tang confirmed... that the arrests were made in connection with a Facebook group that called for support for barrister and human rights activist Chow, who has been detained under the Beijing-imposed national security law since September 2021. The group was created on May 18, 2023, and the primary location for those that managed it was the UK.
It was also reported by the Hong Kong Free Press that: "The posts were said to have made use of an “upcoming sensitive date” to incite hatred against the central and Hong Kong governments, as well as the Judiciary. Police also alleged that the posts intended to incite netizens to organise or participate in illegal activities at a later time."
As Eero Kivistö, a self-described "guy from Finland posting random political ramblings", incredulously Tweeted in reaction to the news of Chow Hang-tung's further arrest: "Let me get this straight: an activist that has been detained since 2021 was arrested under a law that took effect in March? Seriously?"  Sadly, yes.  Also, this time around, the police arrested Chow Hang-tung's mother too!  (No, I am not kidding.  I wish I was but I'm not.) 

By the way, mention of Chow Hang-tung's mother got me thinking, of course, of the Tiananmen Mothers, the Chinese democracy activists promoting a change in the government's position over the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre led by the now 87-year-old Ding Zilin, a retired university professor whose teenage son was shot and killed by government troops during the protests. (What can I say?  That's how my brain works!)  
It's pretty incredible that they've sought justice and change for some 35 years now.  And while it's incredibly sad that their pursuit has thus far been in vain, they really are to be admired, if not supported, for their persistence throughout the three and a half decades.
As are the likes of Lee Cheuk-yan and those Hong Kongers who have sought the same -- and for many, the same amount of time.  And have been persecuted for doing so.  A Hong Kong Democracy Council Tweet noted that: "[With] today's 6 arrests there've been in all 76 arrests in #HongKong for commemorating #June4 #TiananmenMassacre since candlelight vigil was banned in 2020. Chow Hang-tung's been arrested 4 times for marking June 4 & is awaiting trial on remand for her role as organizer of the vigil".
I'm willing to bet that before 2020, no one in Hong Kong was arrested with regards to commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre. This not least because the annual candlelight vigils in Victoria Park were peaceful affairs; with the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people who took part in them being there to mourn, remember and honour the dead doing so in a thoroughly respectful and respectable manner.

By the way, the authorities can't seem to bring themselves to actually name the "upcoming sensitive date".  I trust that I've written the date enough times in this blog entry so that there's no mistaking which date is the one that is in question and at issue here.  Also, to be clear: despite their efforts to make it so, I sincerely doubt that Hong Kong has become part of the People's Republic of Amnesia -- or will anytime soon.  This not least because all their attempts to stop people commemorating June 4th only get people remembering it all the more!

Saturday, May 18, 2024

All Shall Be Well threatened to break my heart -- and even if it didn't, did move me a great deal! (Film review)

Hong Kong poster for this Hong Kong film that
had its world premiere at Berlin earlier this year
All Shall Be Well (Hong Kong, 2024)
- Ray Yeung, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Patra Au, Li Lin-lin, Tai Bo, Hui So-ying, Leung Chun-hang, Fish Liew
For the record: All Shall Be Well was the opening film for this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival.  But by the time I got to the ticketing counter to get my HKIFF tickets (around one hour after ticketing began), tickets for both of its screenings had sold out!  So I had to wait until it began is theatrical run at the beginning of this month to do so!  Then, after viewing its teaser trailer (which is achingly beautiful but also sends out achingly painful vibes), I must admit to hesitating a bit to go watch it as I was afraid that it'd turn me into a puddle of tears!
Eventually though, I did go view All Shall Be Well -- and am so very glad I did so.  I'll come right out and say it: this really is a masterfully crafted film, handsomely lensed (by Leung Ming-kai) with characters that come across as very real and human (thanks in no small part to the movie's great ensemble cast), and with an important as well as multi-faceted story to tell.
All Shall Be Well centres on Angie (essayed ever so well by Patra Au) who we first see as one half of a loving couple along with Pat (portrayed by the luminous Li Lin-lin, in her first film appearance in decades).  Two former factory girls who ended up owning a factory and now living a retired life that appears full of contentment and comfort, they have good friends (the closest of whom are lesbian couples, like themselves); and while Angie doesn't get along great with her biological family, she looks to have been thoroughly accepted by Pat's family -- her brother Shing (played by Tai Bo, one of the lead actors of Ray Yeung's Suk Suk), his wife Mei (played by Hui So-ying), and their son Victor (portrayed by Leung Chun-hang) and daughter Fanny (essayed by Fish Liew).
But after Pat unexpectedly passes away one night, tensions and rifts appear in Angie's relationship with Pat's remaining relatives.  It's bad enough when Mei and Shing decide to prioritise a fung shui master's suggestion regarding what to do with Pat's remains over what Angie remembered and tell them had been Pat's wish -- and decide that Shing knows better at what time of the day Pat had been born rather than Angie (who, to make it clear, Pat had spent far more of her life with and spoken to than Shing).  But what really made things bad was Pat not having left a will and Angie (consequently) not being legally recognised as having shared a life and, among other things, an apartment with Pat -- and it becoming apparent that Shing and his family covet that apartment and don't think Angie had any right to it after all.
Seeing how great things had been for Angie and Pat when Pat was alive makes what happens with her family after her death so upsetting.  Frankly, it feels like a betrayal of Angie.  But what makes All Shall Be Well a really excellent work is that it also gets the viewer understanding where night shift security guard Shing, hotel cleaner Mei, Uber driver Victor and Fanny (who lives in a rat-infested apartment with her husband and two kids) are coming from, even if not one hundred percent agreeing with or approving of their perspectives and actions.  This also makes the film not only a touching lesbian drama but a thought-provoking and thoughtful meditation on family plus examination of social class and prevailing cultural mores in contemporary Hong Kong society too.    
By the way, I ended up not tearing up all that much when viewing All Shall Be Well -- at least not outwardly.  I could feel my heart aching and threatening to break at times during the movie though -- but also swelling and just generally feeling very much moved at other points in it!  
My rating of the film: 9.0

Monday, May 13, 2024

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom tries to keep the spotlight on Hong Kong (even) in 2024 (Film review)

Poster for a documentary, not anime

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom (U.S.A.-Hong Kong, 2024)
- Sean Fleck, director, writer and co-producer (with Alan Parks)
Back in 2020, Hong Kong protest documentary short Anders Hammer's Do Not Split was nominated for an Oscar.  One year later, Kiwi Chow's Revolution of Our Times had its world premiere at the Cannes film festival.  Five years on from the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests that captured the world's attention, films continue to be made about Hong Kong and its protest movement.  And while I've not managed to view James Leong's If We Burn (2023) and the anonymously made She's In Jail (2024), about imprisoned lawyer-activist Chow Hang-tung, I've managed to view Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom here in Hong Kong.
Made by American documentary filmmaker Sean Fleck, Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom is so newly made that it includes information about the passing of Article 23 into law, something which took place barely two months ago.  Incredibly, the pretty comprehensive work also has some coverage of such as the Article 23 protests of 2003, the National Education protests of 2012, the Occupy phase of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, the bookseller abductions of 2015 and Causeway Books' Lam Wing-kee's post-escape revelations before getting to its main subject matter: the 2019 protests and what's happened to, and in, Hong Kong since.
Although its poster may make it seem otherwise, Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom is a seriously legit work that takes a far from cartoony approach to Hong Kong, and the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests that raged on the streets for much of 2019 and into 2020 before Covid (then known as Wuhan coronavirus) woes got Hongkongers fixating on the pandemic over protests.  Witness, for example, its coverage of the peaceful -- and very large number of -- Hong Kong protestors (known as the wo lei fei who were "peaceful, rational and non-violent") as well as the frontline protestors known as "the braves" (that such as Do Not Split had focused -- I'd even say fixated -- on).

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom also includes interview footage with a number of political personalities like exiled dissidents Frances Hui, Joey Siu, Samuel Chu and Jeffrey Ngo --  and Lee Cheuk-yan, a Tiananmen Square Massacre survivor and former trade unionist, activist and politician who's been behind bars ever since he was arrested and denied bail on February 28th, 2021.  By the way, it was somewhat disconcerting to see the senior man in the documentary -- especially those sections of it that spoke in what might be termed "the ethnographic present" -- since he's not appeared in public (excluding his court appearances) for more than three years now.
Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom also has interviews with a number of Hong Kong protestors whose faces and actual names are not revealed.  This is understandable since those people were taking a risk by appearing in this documentary -- even if they were only providing personal accounts and factual information about the pro-democracy protests.  (And, frankly, I'm also possibly putting myself at risk/in danger by revealing that I've seen the film and in reviewing it.  Such is the state of -- and life in -- national security era Hong Kong!)

Sean Fleck's documentary additionally contains interviews with a number of American politicians (including Republicans Mike Gallagher and Michelle Steel but also Democrats Raja Krishnomoorthi and Jake Auchincloss).  Although they come from, and represent, both sides of the ideological aisle, my sense is that this might weaken whatever messages that Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom seeks to make -- on account of the documentary being perceived as (primarily/wholely) targeted to Americans.
This is a pity since I actually think that Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom tries hard to be even-handed even while also being largely on the side of pro-demcracy Hong Kongers; something the way it chooses to conclude makes pretty clear.  Also, the quote from George Orwell's 1984 that the work chooses to open with it is says so much: i.e., "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.  It is their final, most essential command"; this all the more so due to it having been superimposed over a Maoist propaganda poster!

My rating for this film: 7.5

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Snow in Midsummer gets critical acclaim and screened outside of Malaysia -- but will it get what it deserves in its home country? (Film review)

Poster for Snow in Midsummer on display
at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre during
the 48th Hong Kong International Film Festival
Snow in Midsummer (Malaysia-Singapore-Taiwan, 2023)
- Chong Keat Aun, director, scriptwriter and co-music composer (with Yii Kah Hoe)
- Starring: Wan Fang, Pearlly Chua, Pauline Tan, Lim Koet Yenn
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Firebird Awards: Young Cinema Competition (Chinese Language) program
In my previous blog post (and review of Hollywoodgate), I mentioned there being a number of Hong Kong films that cannot be screened in national security law era Hong Kong -- yet my (still) being able to view many works from elsewhere that are banned in their home territories.  Snow in Midsummer may be one more such cinematic effort.  At the post screening Q&A I attended, its director-scriptwriter, Chong Keat Aun, said that he had submitted his drama about what he's called "a hidden wound in Malaysian history" to the Malaysian film censorship board -- but, as yet, had not heard back from them.
The same day that it screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, Snow in Midsummer was named as the winner of the Firebird Award in the Young Cinema Competition (Chinese language) section of the fest.  And it is set to begin its Hong Kong theatrical run tomorrow -- four days before the 55th anniversary of what's now known as the May 13th Incident (which I used to remember hearing about as the May 13th race riots -- since, in the Malaysian worldview, Malays, Chinese and Indians are different "races" (as opposed to ethnic groups) -- for what seemed like the longest time).   
Snow in Midsummer begins on May 13th, 1969. Ah Eng (played by Lim Koet Yenn) is a young girl of ethnic Chinese parentage who's a bullying victim at her Malay language (and presumably majority ethnic Malay) Kuala Lumpur primary school.  Her Nyonya mother, Su Mei (portrayed by Pauline Tan), wants her husband Kooi (essayed by Peter Yu) to get Ah Eng blessed by a medium of Datuk Kong -- but he chose to have a ritual performed on their son Yeow (played by Teoh Wei Hern) instead.
The relationship between Su Mei and Kooi appears on the strained side. So it came as no surprise that when Kooi gets two tickets to go watch a movie at the Majestic cinema that evening, he elects to take Yeow with him. The snub ends up saving Su Mei and Ah Eng's lives. Because, the Majestic cinema ends up becoming a massacre site that night -- while Su Mei and Ah Eng, who had contented themselves with going and watching an open air Cantonese opera performance by the temple where the medium of Datuk Kong had effectively held court, were saved by members of the Cantonese opera troupe (whose leader is played by Pearlly Chua) who let them hide backstage with them while others ran riot and murdered or were murdered.
Fast forward 49 years and Ah Eng (now portrayed by Wan Fang) is now a middle-aged woman living in Penang. After she learns about a soon-to-be demolished "513 cemetery" on the Kuala Lumpur outskirts, she decides -- over the objections of her husband (who comes across as rude and domineering as her father) to go there on the anniversary of the riots -- to see whether she can find the graves of her father and brother; something her grieving mother had been unable to do all these years. 
Snow in Midsummer's director, Chong Keat Aun, spoke about the difficulties of finding Malaysian actresses for his film on account of the continued sensitivites over the May 13th Incident.  And I can't help wondering if the character of Ah Eng would have been more loquacious  if she had been played by a Malaysian actress as an adult rather than a Taiwanese whose lines were largely in Mandarin (despite the film being multi-lingual -- using Hokkien, Cantonese and Malay (as well as English? I forget!) dialogue (whose English subtitles don't quite do them justice).
Alternatively, it might have been Chong Keat Aun's intention all along to get the audience figuring a lot of things out for themselves via visual and other cues.  Frankly, I think this is a big ask of Snow in Midsummer's audience since there really are a lot of things that require prior knowledge: of not only Malaysian history but Malaysian ethnic relations, local ethnic traditions and Cantonese opera.  
As an example: The movie's title refers to the Cantonese opera performed in the film whose theme concerns a grave miscarriage of justice -- something that Chong Keat Aun clearly believes has taken place not only with regards to what happened on May 13th, 1969, itself but, also, the neglect of its victims over the years. (On a perhaps related note: I also felt that Ah Eng and Su Mei were women who their husbands sought to control -- even oppress -- them, yet were actually strong characters in their own way, even while being much put upon!)
In any case, the work does appear to have struck a chord with film festival programmers and audience members at such as Venice (where it had its world premiere), Taiwan (where it was nominated for 9 Golden Horse Awards) and now also Hong Kong.  Still, I do believe that it's in Malaysia where Snow in Midsummer would most resonate.  We can but hope that it will be allowed to be screened there at some point in time -- and without the damaging cuts that removed its essence, the way that has happened to Cannes award winner Tiger Stripes!  

My rating for this film: 8.0