Sunday, June 7, 2020

We Have Boots, updated and with added heft in 2020 (film review)

We Have Boots (updated and extended version) (Hong Kong-USA, 2020)
- Evans Chan, director and editor

The first time I saw Evans Chan's We Have Boots, it was back in November 2018 and that which was billed as the sequel to his Raise the Umbrellas felt very much like an addendum to his 2016 work. The next time I viewed the film, in April 2019, it had been added to, and bulked up from, its original 70 minute length but still felt like a companion piece for that which I still consider to be the best Umbrella Movement documentary I've seen.        

Recently, I had the privilege of additionally viewing the version of this documentary offering that had screened at Rotterdam in February, and also the fourth -- and, Evans Chan says, final -- version prepared for, among other things, the 2020 editon of Filmfest DC and the Sheffield Doc Fest.  Now with a 130 minute running time and featuring footage from the anti-extradition bill protests (which some have dubbed the "Be Water" protests/movement/revolution) along with updated information (all the way to the Communist Chinese regime's shock announcement a couple of weeks ago that it would impose national security legislation for Hong Kong), We Have Boots has become a substantial offering that can very much stand on its own.  

Undoubtedly because I've witnessed and experienced Hong Kong being in turmoil and up in arms for a year now, I am inclined to look at We Have Boots in a different way from previously.  Among other things, the "Occupy" phase of the Umbrella Movement seems like it took place so very long ago now -- in a time when the firing of fewer than 100 cannisters of tear gas was capable of shocking the city and before the occurence of so much else, including the 2016 Fishball Revolution and 2017 death of Liu Xiaobo.  As such, the sections of the film that focused on it and the figures people associate most with the 2014 protests (such as Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man and Alex Chow) are helpful this time around as reminders of what was as well as setting the scene, intellectually as well as psychologically.

Something else that seems more noticeable upon further viewing is how different many of the personalities featured in We Have Boots are from one another.  As an example, you have Chan Kin-man talking about how he is a "world citizen" but you also have famously "localist" representatives like Hong Kong Indigeneous party founder Ray Wong, and Edward Leung.  There also is quite the generational difference between the likes of the septuagenarian Reverend Chu Yiu-ming and 23-year-old Agnes Chow (who, interestingly, is the most prominently featured female in this documentary; one thing about the film I would have liked to have been different), and it shows in their political outlooks.  

In addition, I very much appreciate the particular contributions of artist-activist Kacey Wong and social worker turned lawmaker Shin Ka-chun to the picture; with the former giving an irreverent spin to things that's inspirational as well as often humorous, and the latter providing especial emotional engagement and grounding with the discussion of how his political sacrifices affect his aged -- and obviously beloved -- mother, not just himself.   
This time around too, certain quotes and comments from the individuals featured in the film (which does contain a good amount of interview segments along with protest footage) stand out for me more than before.  Some of them can smack of bravado (especially in retrospect) -- such as the invocation of an old Chinese proverb by one interviewee that he would rather be a broken jade than a whole tile or that of another who stated that the authorities can't arrest everyone, so they bid to terrorize everyone but "When we have no fear, authoritarianism withers".  Other assertions come across as more prescient and still relevant though, including the suggestions that we are now living in an "era of democratic regression" and Hong Kongers need to "fight pragmatically for the impossible".

Despite having been dealt several body blows of late, Hong Kongers remain defiant.  And while Evans Chan may have declared that his work on We Have Boots is done, I am trusting that he will keep playing his part in documenting and telling the complex as well as long-running story of his home territory's ongoing fight for freedom and self-determination (and, frankly, respect from the authorities) for some time to come. 

My rating for this (revised) film: 7.5

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