Tuesday, February 7, 2023

On the third anniversary of the death of Dr Li Wenliang and the second day of Hong Kong's largest national security law trial

  
Lady Justice is usually portrayed as blindfolded;
justice being blind is supposed to be a good thing, not bad
 
Today is the third anniversary of the death of Dr Li Wenliang, the Covid whistleblower who died from a then mysterious virus he had tried to warn others about.  In late December 2020, the Wuhan opthamologist told fellow doctors in a group chat about a new pathogen he had been hearing about. He was soon summoned by the local authorities, who accused him of making "false comments" and "disturbing the social order," and forced him to sign a statement agreeing to keep silent.
 
"Li later shared the statement online: "We solemnly warn you: If you keep being stubborn, with such impertinence, and continue this illegal activity, you will be brought to justice—is that understood?""  With the implicit insinuation being that "justice" meant "punishment" for the likes of him.
 
As a Deutsche Welle (DW) piece from February 2020 noted: Li Wenliang "was not a dissident. He wasn't even political. He was simply a doctor doing his job. But as he became more ill, he began to speak more openly, even granting an interview to The New York Times." And: "Just days before he died, Li said from his hospital bed: "I think there should be more than one voice in a healthy society, and I don't approve of using public power for excessive interference.”"  Something that I think many of us would totally agree with.
 
Today is also the second day of Hong Kong's largest national security law trial; of which there has been much coverage in the international media (e.g., CNN, Al Jazeera, the New York Times, Nikkei Asia and The Guardian).  There are 47 defendants: all of whom were arrested and charged close to two years ago on February 28th, 2021; and most of whom have been denied bail and held behind bars all this time.
 
"Joshua Wong, Benny Tsai, Claudia Mo, Au Nok-hin, Ray Chan, Tat Cheng, Sam Cheung, Andrew Chiu, Owen Chow, Eddie Chu, Andy Chui, Ben Chung, Gary Fan, Frankie Fung, Kalvin Ho, Gwyneth Ho, Kwok Ka-ki, Lam Cheuk-ting, Mike Lam, Nathan Lau, Lawrence Lau, Ventus Lau, Shun Lee, Fergus Leung, Leung Kwok-hung, Kinda Li, Hendrick Lui, Gordon Ng, Ng Kin-wai, Carol Ng, Ricky Or, Michael Pang, Jimmy Sham, Lester Shum, Sze Tak-loy, Roy Tam, Jeremy Tam, Tam Tak-chi, Andrew Wan, Prince Wong, Henry Wong, Helena Wong, Wu Chi-wai, Alvin Yeung, Clarisse Yeung, Winnie Yu, Tiffany Yuen.
 
"These are the names of all 47 people appearing in court today in Hong Kong. Remember their names. They are all people with families, people who had dreams and ambitions that were curtailed as Hong Kong went from being one of Asia’s most liberal cities to a tightly controlled state in just a matter of years. Amongst them are former politicians, democracy leaders, scholars, health care workers, even a disability activist. These people are the best of us and we could be them tomorrow. Rights are fragile – their examples are case in point."
 
Jemimah Steinfeld, Editor-in-chief of Index on Censorship magazine, let rip in a piece out yesterday entitled Hong Kong's travesty of a show trial begins. She also was moved to Tweet this as context: "Lots of tempered wording in the coverage of the #HongKong47 trial, but I couldn't contain my fury at it all." The following are a few more paragraphs from the piece: 
The 47 are accused of “conspiracy to commit subversion” over the holding of unofficial pre-election primaries in July 2020. The primaries aimed to select the strongest candidates among Hong Kong’s then robust pro-democracy movement to run against the CCP-aligned parties. Until then, unofficial primary polls had been a common feature in Hong Kong political landscape, but in the wake of the draconian National Security Law which was passed at the end of June that year, Beijing labelled the democracy camp’s event illegal. In dawn raids on 6 January 2021, the organisers, candidates and campaigners were arrested. Many have been in jail since, denied bail.
 
The Hong Kong government labels them dangerous criminals and for that they could be behind bars for anything from three years to their whole lives. They are anything but.
 
The trial is a sham. There is no jury, going against a long tradition in Hong Kong’s legal system, which was established in line with British common law. The judges are handpicked by Beijing. There are reports that some who are taking up the 39 seats reserved for the public in the main courtroom don’t even know who is on trial.
Re the last: indeed. Not only that but many, if not all, of those folks waiting in line to take those precious limited seats are being paid to do so -- or, at the very least, expecting to be paid for their efforts.  The Hong Kong Free Press' editor-in-chief, Tom Grundy, Tweeted yesterday afternoon that: "One court goer approached journalists (including @HKFP's) outside the courthouse asking where she could pick up payment... Emilia Wong, [the legally-trained] partner of a defendant [Ventus Lau], said: “It is obvious that someone is trying to stop the general public from observing the case.""
 
And today, according to at least one report, "[a m]an said he received HK$1500 for queuing, taking the ticket for the seat and leaving the court before court starts - blocking others from using the seat. He also said he brought friends to queue to get HK$1000 each".  Something which I don't only find disgusting but reckon helps to explain why many pro-government/Beijing folks are unable to believe that millions of people voluntarily took part in pro-democracy protests (in the hot sun, rain, braving tear gas, pepper spray, etc. in the process) without getting paid! 
 
Returning to the subject of the trial proper, here's sharing two more statements from Jemimah Steinfeld: "The 47 are walking into court with their guilt presumed"; and "This is a show trial masquerading as justice. It is a joke."  But one that will have few people laughing, especially over here in Hong Kong.  

As the blogger behind the Big Lychee was moved to sum up in his blog post today: "In short, the trial is likely to reflect badly on a city trying to convince the world it is free and open. To Hongkongers, the dissonance or contradiction between the political prosecutions and jailings and the Hello Hong Kong tourism campaign is both absurd and tragic. But not too puzzling if you can grasp the new-look ‘One Country, Two Systems’ model: Beijing is in charge of this stuff, leaving Hong Kong officials to flail helplessly doing that stuff."

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Looking at (a video about) people who have chosen to stay in Hong Kong

 
Wishing readers of this blog "All the best" on 
 
I've spent the 15th day of Chinese New Year in a not particularly festive manner; including doing such as viewing a CNA documentary entitled Changed Lives in Hong Kong: Why Have They Chosen To Stay? Year of Ren Yin.  Produced by the same team that previously made a video entitled One Way Ticket Out: A Family's Journey, about Hong Kong’s great national security law-era exodus, this circa 45 minute video profiles four people who have chosen to stay rather than leave.  (Something worth noting: some 7.29 million people remain in Hong Kong.  The majority, rather than minority, in fact.)
 
I have a few quibbles with this CNA video, including: its description of the pro-democracy protests that began in 2019 having begun on June 12th, 2019, rather than an earlier date (say, late March; and talk of all Covid rules and regulations having been lifted as of December 2022.  Re the latter:  Actually, they have not all been lifted.  Even in February, I can say one word to disprove this: masks.  Also, it seems to imply that 2022, "the year of Ren Yin", has been Hong Kong's worst in a while.  But I feel like 2022 was just another terrible year after 2019, 2020 and 2021.  And I have little confidence that 2023 is going to be that much better. 
 
Still, the overall presentation is watchable, thoughtful and thought-provoking; and I must say that I do like the choice of quartet of people to focus on: two local born Hong Kongers; one Mainland Chinese transplant; and one Japanese expatriate.  This is not least because it offers up some diversity of experiences that is quite representative of that whose government likes to think of it as Asia's World City but actually is more of an East Asian city than anything else (including "just another Chinese city").
 
Ronson Chan is the chairperson of the city's largest journalist group, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA).  He formerly worked for Apple Daily and Stand News, both of which no longer exist.  Midway through the filming of this documentary, he gets arrested -- but he is released and is (even) allowed to leave Hong Kong for a time to take part in a program at Oxford University.  
 
But even though some people, including his wife(!), urge him to stay abroad permanently, he is adamant that he wants to return to Hong Kong -- to do such as bear witness to what's happening to his home city.  He says of Hong Kong: "It's like the girl's not into you anymore but you still long for the sight of her".  It's pretty obvious from what he says, and his actions too, that this is a man who really f**king loves Hong Kong.  He knows that "It's not rational", but it is what it is.      
 
Stanley Lai is a photographer turned taxi driver.  He's had friends leave but he seems unwilling to do so himself.  Even though times are rough, and he finds it difficult to make a living.  He's not specifically asked, so doesn't explicitly state his reasons for staying.  My sense from the video is that he's one of those Hong Kongers who would not be comfortable anywhere simply because Hong Kong has been his whole world all of his life.  And for all the talk of Hong Kong being an international city, the fact of the matter is that there are many more people like him here than folks who have spent time elsewhere as well as here.
 
In contrast, Japanese bartender-bar owner Masahiko Endo has spent more time outside of Hong Kong than in it.  And yet, he's elected to stay.  This even with/after his wife, a fellow bartender by profession who lived and worked in Hong Kong for a time with him, returned to Japan one and a half years ago.  "Hong Kong has given a lot," he told the interviewer (Wei Du), "It's given me a stage to show my true skills".  It's been a place for him where, "I don't need to hide" -- unlike as would be the case, for whatever reason, in his native Japan.
 
I personally know Japanese people who've spent years here in Hong Kong but never considered it home nor feel that they owe it anything.  Somehow, Endo-san seems to feel differently.  I'm not sure for how long more he'll stay in Hong Kong.  But having endured through the times where bars were closed and he couldn't work as a result of pandemic restrictions, it sounds like he'll stay for a time.
 
The segments involving Ronson Chan and Stanley Lai are primarily in Cantonese; the ones with Endo-san mainly in English (with a bit of Japanese when he speaks to his wife -- over the phone -- or Japanese friends in Hong Kong; one of whom I personally know has since returned to Japan).  In contrast, three languages -- Mandarin, Cantonese and English -- are used in the segment involving Suki Liu, a Mainland Chinese insurance agent who came to Hong Kong for graduate studies and has stayed (like a Mainland Chinese-born friend of mine).

Also, like my friend, Suki Liu speaks in Cantonese, not Mandarin, with her parents -- who still live in Mainland China (though she can be seen in the video trying to persuade them to move to Hong Kong).  And the sense one gets is that she actually loves being in Hong Kong more because Hong Kong offers her more professional opportunities but, also, to be herself.  A reminder that even as many people leave Hong Kong because they feel it has become less free, there are others for whom it is freer than their homelands.

On the subject of freedom and restrictions: it's worth noting that the principal interviewer in this documentary, Wei Du, is a Mainland China-born journalist who used to be based in Hong Kong but currently "travels in the region to cover major news events and produce feature stories."  She also happens to be the wife of Tim Owen, the British barrister who's been barred from representing Jimmy Lai -- and even barred for a time from entering Hong Kong.  So it's kind of ironic that she's involved in making a documentary about Hong Kongers in Hong Kong, eh?!

Friday, February 3, 2023

Hello to a Hong Kong that's slipped down to 88th in the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index

  
Hong Kong is really beautiful -- but is not without its problems;
and, in all honesty, I'm not sure it's currently a place which
many tourists will truly be able to get to know and thoroughly enjoy
 
In a (desperate) bid to attract tourists to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong government announced yesterday that it will offer 500,000 visitors free air tickets to Hong Kong from next month on. "“I will personally carry the promotional messages of our proudest [sic.] as the world's freest economy and China's international financial center when I visit Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the coming week,” Chief Executive John Lee also was reported as saying (in a piece in The Standard).
 
As the official launch of the "Hello Hong Kong" campaign yesterday, unmasked performers danced and a super cringey promotional video featuring John Lee was played (which I will spare you the pain of viewing by NOT linking to it).  The "[a]uthorities also played a promotional video featuring famous celebrities, including Aaron Kwok Fu-shing, Sammi Cheng Sau-man, and Kelly Chen Wai-lam, saying hello to tourists and calling on them to come visit" that some critics have likened to Chinese propaganda videos featuring dancing Uyghurs.
 
Note to people thinking of visiting Hong Kong: many Hong Kongers -- for a number of reasons, including our preferring the city's streets to be relatively uncrowded and unclogged like they have been during the pandemic -- will be less welcoming of tourists than those folks who, let's face it, have been paid to try to lure tourists to the city.  Potential visitors would also do well to realize that it was reported yesterday afternoon too that "Hong Kong has slipped three positions in the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index, falling to 88th out of 167 countries and territories."  Its ranking and "overall score of 5.28 out of 10 [is] an all-time low since 2006", the first year that the Democracy Index was compiled. 
 
 
 
So... who will want to respond to the government's "Hello Hong Kong"?  Definitely not those living outside of Hong Kong who (still/nonetheless) really f**king love Hong Kong; this not least because they fear getting arrested upon their arrival/return (or, at the very least, being barred from entering the city -- like has happened to such as Human Rights Watch founder, Kenneth Roth, back in January 2020).

As human rights activist Xun-ling Au Tweeted in response to a suggestion that people consider visiting Hong Kong: "Reminder that the [national security law (NSL)] is both retroactive and extraterritorial.  Sooo nah."   And should anyone need further reminders of how draconian it is, consider the case of the 47 democratic politicians and activists arrested back on February 28th, 2021, for having participated in and/or organised the democratic primaries that took place in July 2020.  

Their national security law trial is set to finally commence on Monday (February 6th), close to two years after their arrest and getting charged with trying to topple the  government.  In these two years, the majority of the defendants (who include Joshua Wong, Gwyneth Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan -- three of the six Hongkongers that the Congressional-Executive Commission on China have nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize) have been denied bail -- and thus been behind bars.
 
As per an AFP report: "The proceedings are expected to last more than four months, and the defendants face sentences of up to life imprisonment if convicted."  Also reported in the article is this: "The defendants say they have been targeted for normal opposition politics, with observers saying the trial illustrates how little room there is left to criticise China's rule since huge pro-democracy protests in 2019 were stamped out".  And this too: "China says the law was needed to curb political unrest, but rights groups and Hong Kong opposition figures say an ensuing crackdown has all but ended the city's autonomy and political freedoms."
 
A couple of other things worth noting: This trial -- like all of the national security trials that have taken place in Hong Kong to date -- is a jury-less trial.  Instead, it will be decided by the judges.  And is noted in the AFP report:  "Judges who sit on national security cases are handpicked by the city's leader and there has not yet been a trial in front of a jury.  In December, Beijing said Hong Kong's leader could also bar foreign lawyers from taking part in national security trials."  
 
Put another way: the odds are very much stacked in favour of the prosecutors and it also not a case of "Innocent until proven guilty" in the new Hong Kong that I cannot, in good conscience, tell people is a great place to visit and have a fun time.  This even though I really do think that Hong Kong is very beautiful and I have come to really  f**king love this place so very much. :S

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Trying to stay hopeful in a Hong Kong with too many political prisoners, and where lawfare continues to be waged against those seeking justice

 
An exhibition that serves up good reminders and hope
 
As life returns to "normal" after the break that the first few days of the New Year of the Rabbit gave to Hong Kongers, the wheels of injustice have returned to grinding tortuously as well as slowly. Yesterday came news of a 68-year-old woman being sent to prison for 3 months for "seditious remarks" made against a magistrate (which, if you looked closely at the charge sheet, included her clapping (presumably sarcastically) in court!). 
 
After withdrawing an appeal against her conviction, Chu Mei-ying appeared in front of Judge Anna Lai at the High Court yesterday.  "Before [her] court hearing began, over 30 people gathered outside the courtroom, with many hugging Chiu. With help from her daughter, the 68-year-old removed the shoelaces from her shoes outside the courtroom to prepare herself for prison."
 
I don't know about you but my heart ached upon reading about this.  I also got to recalling that in a video made by the now defunct Stand News about how the 47 participants and organisers arrested for taking part in the 2020 pro-democratic primaries back on February 28th, 2020 (the majority of whom have remained behind bars after not being granted bail all this time) had spent their last full day of freedom before going to prison.  This is because one of them, Lee Chi-yung, had spent time buying a new pair of shoes without laces -- since, as the Hong Kong Free Press article about Chu Mei-ying noted, "People going into custody must remove items that could be used to harm themselves or others, including belts and shoelaces."
 
Also reported yesterday was that an even older pro-democracy supporter, 77-year-old activist Chan Ki-kau (AKA Grandpa Chan of the Protect Our Kids group), having been ordered to pay the Hong Kong government HK$510,000 after his attempt to mounta legal challenge against the police over their display of identification during the 2019 protests was dismissed by the court . Further confirmation that lawfare is being waged against older pro-democracy folks in Hong Kong, not "just" the young. 
 
As per a Hong Kong Free Press report: "The 77-year-old filed the initial challenge in June 2019 and alleged that it was “unlawful and/or unconstitutional” for the police Special Tactical Contingent (STC), also known as “raptors,” not to display their unique identification numbers during operations on June 12, 2019" -- the day that I suggested then marked the end of Hong Kong as we knew it.  (And yes, I believe I was right, sadly enough.)

"Chan said he had filed the legal challenge because he saw “injustice,” but was unsuccessful due to his education level", the report continues.  "According to Ming Pao, the Department of Justice had initially asked for around HK$510,000. [The presiding judge] reportedly reduced that amount by about HK$2,000."  So generous -- not!
 
When reading about cases like these, it's hard to not feel psychologically battered and down if you really f**king love Hong Kong and care about what's happening to this place. Which is why little things like the existence of the You are Not Forgotten exhibition taking place at an independent bookstore cum exhibition space called The Hiding Place are appreciated.  (More than incidentally, Hong Kong's The Hiding Place got its name from Corrie ten Boom's book about the hiding place her family used to keep Jews safe in Nazi-occupied Haarlem.)
 
Organised by the Cup of Color NGO, the exhibition -- which is on until this Friday -- consists of 180 artworks telling 20 stories of hope co-created by 170 artists from 68 countries and territories, including Hong Kong.  Among the Hong Kong representatives are Joanne of All Things Bright and Beautiful.  And among the messages of hope are those entitled "Passing the Hope" (whose lit candle theme got me thinking of Hong Kong's (once) annual June 4th candelight vigils in Victoria Park) and "Hope in the Prison" (which I sincerely hope Hong Kong's political prisoners do indeed (still) have).  
 
It is upsetting to me that, as of the end of last month, there were/are 1,337 political prisoners in Hong Kong.  And it also is upsetting to me that there are Hong Kongers who actually think that the situation in Hong Kong is actually "not as bad as many people think" -- something I actually heard with my own ears (and voiced by a friend of a friend) at dinner earlier this evening.  
 
Frankly, people like that can add to my sense of despair as well as anger.  Which is why I feel it is important to remind myself that I am indeed NOT alone, and that hope exists.  Incidentally, two of the themed messages in the You Are Not Forgotten exhibition which personally spoke to me (the most) were about "Hope in the Valley of Death" and "A Forgotten Hope": the former of which I read as hope being alive even when you think it's been extinguished; the latter because some people appear to have given up hoping (that Hong Kong can ever be a good place again) but our being served by our not forgetting what was, and what remains possible.  

Monday, January 30, 2023

Chinese New Year flower and critter spotting on my second Chinese New Year hike of 2023 (Photo-essay)

On my hike last week, I had hoped to see Chinese New Year flowers -- seeing as it was Chinese New Year already and all -- but I came up blank on that score and wondered if Chinese New Year had come too early this year for the flowers to bloom.  A few days ago though, a friend posted her photos of these seasonal flora that I look forward to seeing each year on Facebook.  So I decided to hike this afternoon in sections of Tai Tam Country Park where I had come across clumps of Chinese New Year flowers in previous years.

I'm happy to report that I was successful in making some Chinese New Year flowers on my hike.  But, actually, there were fewer of them in bloom than when I hiked in the area on the 15th day of Chinese New Year last year.  On the other hand, I made quite a few critter spottings: specifically, of birds and boars.  And got in a generally nice hike on a beautiful blue sky, crisp air day.  So, all in all, it was a very pleasant afternoon out in the Hong Kong outdoors once more! :)
 
Proof that it really was a bright blue sky day! :)
 
When visibility is high, Tai Mo Shan can seem not so 
far away even when one's on Hong Kong Island!
 
Me and my (long) shadow out hiking in Hong Kong :)
 
If you can see beyond Kowloon Peak to a number of
other New Territories mountain ranges and mountains,
you know that the air is clear and visibility high that day! :)
 
Enough scenic views!  Now for some bird pics, including
of this fat orange breasted critter (who I'd appreciate
someone IDing for me!)
 
Another avian beauty that I'd appreciate getting an ID for!
 
Okay, at least I can ID these flowers with absolute certainty:
and yes, these are the famous Chinese New Year flowers! :)
 
And this, dear readers, is one of 10 wild boar
that I caught sight of on the hike today :)

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Say I Do To Me is not the kind of work one expects from the director of Revolution of Our Times! (Film review)

  
Probably not the kind of film you'd expect to see
directed by Kiwi Chow (and co-produced 
by Chapman To) -- but it is so!
 
Say I Do To Me (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Kiwi Chow, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Frankie Chung and Isis To)
- Starring: Sabrina Ng Ping, Kelvin Chan Kin-long, Jacky Tong, Candy Lo, Mixson Wong
 
There are no two ways about it: this is a film I wish that I liked more than I do.  With Kiwi Chow at its helm, Chapman To among its producers and Gregory Wong in its cast, Say I Do To Me can't help but be considered super yellow (i.e., pro-democracy) based on its pedigree, and thus would be a movie that those who support the Yellow Economic Circle would feel they should go and watch.  And there's the added impetus that comes from wanting to view a Kiwi Chow film playing in Hong Kong cinemas because the feeling is that this is a rare treat; this not least since the chances of Revolution of Our Times, his protest documentary, ever being allowed to be screened in Hong Kong currently is very slim and ditto for Ten Years (the dystopian anthology which he directed a segment of) getting theatrical screenings again.
 
For those wondering how Say I Do To Me managed to be allowed to be screened in Hong Kong: suffice to say that this Chinese New Year offering is a very different beast from Chow's political works -- and I challenge you to find any overtly, or even covert, political content or messages in this fanciful film!  And while this movie focuses on romantic relationships like his Beyond the Dream (which was made in betweeen Ten Years and Revolution of Our Times), it's generally far lighter in mood than that 2019 romantic drama about the forbidden love between a man being treated for Psychosis and his psychological counselor.

Say I Do To Me's protagonist is a spirited young female Youtuber who declares to her audience that "I want to marry myself!".  Ping (who's played by real-life Youtuber, Sabrina Ng Ping) is the daughter of a woman (essayed by Isabel Chan) who's been married six times and likes to pretend that they are sisters rather than mother and daughter.  Declaring that "Marriage is a sham!", Ping decides to use that particular institution to get her channel 1 million subscribers by effectively turning it on its head -- and even making a mockery of it.  

In the process, Ping also involves herself in a big lie -- because, as is revealed early on in the movie, she's actually in a relationship with Dickson (portrayed by actor-filmmaker Kelvin Chan King-long), her professional partner as well as live-in lover!  Prior to Ping's "sologamy" declaration, the couple -- whose over-the-top cutesy ways some might find endearing, and others grating -- were co-stars on another Youtube channel.  But their clown-themed enterprise never attracted many fans; though it did gain Ping an ardent one in the super Christian Daniel (played by Jacky Tong), whose adoration of her rivals his devotion to Jesus Christ.
 
Ironically, even as Ping carries out this big charade, she inspires people (like the flawed but likeable characters essayed by Candy Lo and Mixson Wong) to be true to themselves.  And to love themselves too.  Which all sounds really positive and good -- except that, well, these folks' idol had effectively fooled them in her quest for clicks, subscribers and cash, and didn't actually practice what she so successfully preached!  
 
Something else that is troubling in the grand scheme of things: three of Ping's fans fall badly in love with her.  Throw in the fact that Dickson, who has taken up the role of "demon" to Ping's "angel" to rack up some drama, ends up losing control of his followers, and I think you can see how Say I Do To Me sets itself up to be an overly-complicated affair and, as it turns out, a messy plus farcical one too!

There are some filmmakers who do very well producing lighter fare who don't do so well when making serious works.  (I think of Steven Spielberg, whose openly commercial offerings tend to be more interesting than his "high brow" efforts.)  Kiwi Chow appears to be the opposite.  Which is sad because, among other things, the ability to make one's audience laugh a lot is something that should be prized.  For another, producing light entertainment would be the politically safer thing for him to do in current circumstances; this particularly since, unlike Chapman To (and a few -- the majority even -- of his Ten Years co-directors), he appears intent on remaining in Hong Kong for some time to come.  

My rating for this film: 6.0

Thursday, January 26, 2023

A Guilty Conscience is a far more serious film than one expects a Chinese New Year movie to be! (Film review)

  
Hong Kong poster for the first Hong Kong movie
I've viewed in the new year of the rabbit :) 
 
A Guilty Conscience (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Jack Ng, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Terry Lam and Jay Cheung)
- Starring: Dayo Wong, Renci Yeung, Ho Ka-wai, Louise Wong, Tse Kwan-ho, Michael Wong, Fish Liew, etc.
 
After emerging as Hong Kong's Chinese New Year box office king in 2018 (with Agent Mr Chan), everything that one time "box office poison" Dayo Wong touches has appeared to turn to gold.  And even though cinema closures resulting from Hong Kong's fifth Covid wave turned 2022's Table for Six from a Chinese New Year movie to a Mid-Autumn Festival offering, it didn't hurt the film's box office performance.  In fact, it is now Hong Kong's highest grossing comedy ever -- and, amazingly, is still playing in at least one cinema more than four months after being its theatrical release.
 
This has resulted in a situation in which two films starring Dayo Wong are currently in Hong Kong cinemas.  But rather than compete with one another, Table for Six actually helped provide publicity for A Guilty Conscience -- in that at the end of the 2022 movie, vieweres were treated to a clip of Dayo Wong as the character he portrays in the 2023 film: which is one of Hong Kong's three Chinese New Year offerings this year but differs quite a bit from tradition in that it's far more of a serious legal drama than a family-oriented comedy a la the All's Well, Ends Well or I Love Hong Kong festive movies.
 
In the early stages of A Guilty Conscience, lawyer-turned-magistrate-turned-lawyer-once more Adrian Lam (Dayo Wong's character) comes across as a laughably feckless individual.  But after an act of irresponsible negligence on his part causes his client to be sentenced to 17 years imprisonment, he resolves to turn over a new leaf and fight to clear the name of Jolene Tsang (portrayed by Louise Wong), the mother wrongly accused of being responsible for the death of her beloved daughter.
 
After reassembling the young legal team -- consisting of the idealistic Evelyn Fong (essayed by Renci Yeung) and resourceful "Prince" (played by Ho Kai-wa) -- that he realised he had badly let down along with their client, Adrian goes to court and finds himself up against a formidable opponent in the ultra-professional prosecutor, Mr. Kam (Tse Kwan-ho).  Adding to the enormity of his task is the fact that Jolene turned out to be the mistress of Dr Desmond Chung (played by Adam Pak), whose entitled wife, Victoria (portrayed by Fish Liew) is a member of one of Hong Kong's richest and most influential families, and thus someone used to getting her way with pretty much anything.
 
Although Jolene's innocence is established very early on, the viewer need not worry about there being insufficient surprises, twists and turns in this actually pretty involving tale.  Also, while it's true enough that some of the proceedings -- and Adrian's court antics -- can seem overly and improbably dramatic, I think that those viewing A Guilty Conscience won't mind this too much as they help to make the movie interesting and thoroughly entertaining, and hammer home certain heartfelt plus hard hitting points about Hong Kong society and its justice system.  (A case in point: that moment when Adrian shouts out "Everything is wrong!" in court is one that I wager will resonate with many of the movie's local viewers.)  
 
I'm going to be honest and admit that I had my doubts that Dayo Wong could pull off a performance that was largely dramatic rather than comic (though, Dayo Wong being Dayo Wong, he still does get in, and ellicit, some laughs along the way) -- but he really did so.  Truly, A Guilty Conscience benefits from his star turn -- though credit is also due to the other members of the movie's strong as well as large ensemble cast (who include entertainment veterans Vincent Kok and Bowie Lam).  Even Michael Wong (who plays the Chung family's legal advisor, James Tung, in his imitable bilingual way) acquits himself rather well in this film whose first-time helmer, Jack Ng, looks to have done a bravura job as a director and scriptwriter (the latter along with debutant scriptwriters Terry Lam and Jay Cheung).    
 
More than incidentally, I find it of note that, like with last year's The Sparring Partner, this legal drama actually highlights the important role that the jury has to play in legal proceedings.  At a time when so many important cases in national security law-era Hong Kong have been ordered to be jury-less trials, this element can make a movie like A Guilty Conscience represent wishful thinking or plain fantasy on the part of its makers.  Or, alternatively, a reminder of how justice should be served and that might is not always right, with the underdog able to have its day some day(s).
 
My rating for this film: 8.5