A banner day -- in a bad way -- for the Hong Kong International
Film Festival and "Asia's World City" in general
in Hong Kong today :(
Mark this day, Hong Kong film fans: For what probably may well be the first time ever in the Hong Kong International Film Festival's 45 year history, the screening of a fest opening film has been cancelled. Supposedly, it's upon the request of the film owner. If so, that begs the question why.
The official reason given for the cancellation of the screenings of Where the Wind Blows is "technical reasons". As veteran film writer Patrick Frater noted: "“Technical reasons” is widely understood in mainland China as a euphemism for censorship. It was the phrase used for the abrupt cancelation of Zhang Yimou’s One Second at the 2019 Berlin film festival and for the last-minute halt of The Eight Hundred which had been set as the opening film at the Shanghai festival later the same year."
Where the Wind Blows is about two police detectives who forge dangerous alliances with organized crime. Listed as TBC (To be Confirmed) right from the start, it looks to have fallen afoul of the censors despite it being a period drama (set in the 1960s) and (loosely) based on real life personalities -- for some time now.
Here's the thing: up until now, it's been informally recognized that certain films that would not be given (allowed to have?) a commercial release in Hong Kong would still allowed to be screened at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. At the very least, in years past, I have viewed many a Mainland Chinese film at the Hong Kong International Film Festival that I doubted would have been allowed to have been screened in Mainland China: e.g., The Ditch, at the 2011 Hong Kong International Film Festival.
Also, I have felt for a few years now that the Hong Kong International Film Festival programmers had become more cautious and conservative in their film selection. Hence the likes of Ying Liang's A Family Tour ending up debuting at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival rather than the, frankly, more prestigious Hong Kong International Film Festival -- and Evans Chan's Raise the Umbrellas and We Have Boots not being screened at this festival but, nonetheless, being deemed worthy of screening at, say, Rotterdam.
Put another way: the Hong Kong International Film Festival folks appeared to have taken pains not to foul afoul of the authorities. And yet, the day has come when even they have been caught up in the net of the censors. And, as it so happens, the announcement by the Hong Kong International Film Festival of the cancellation of one of this year's Opening Films has come on the very same day that it also was announced that this year's Academy Awards ceremony will not be broadcast on Hong Kong TV -- for the first time in 52 years.
Regular Oscars broadcaster TVB released a statement that "it was purely a commercial decision that we decided not to pursue the Oscars this year". But comments made about China by Chloe Zhao (that is is "a place where there are lies everywhere"), the Beijing-born director of Nomadland, nominated for six awards (including Best Film and Best Director), and the nomination of Hong Kong 2019 protest documentary, Do Not Split, for the Best Short Film Documentary, are believed to be behind the decision.
Another piece of news reported on today: West Kowloon Cultural District head (and loser in the bid to become Chief Executive back in 2012), Henry Tang, has said that it will be up to the police to decide if art displayed at the M+ museum violates Hong Kong's national security law. So, yes, the arts are now being targeted for censorship and censure here in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, in the "real world", it's been reported that political activist Andy Li is being held in solitary confinement in a psychiatric hospital in Hong Kong. Which begs the question of which is worse: the possibility that he's really in need of psychiatric treatment (post experience behind bars in Mainland China) or that the Hong Kong authorities are using extraordinary means to keep him in forced "secret detention" prevent him from speaking to his family, lawyers, etc.?
Also, former Legislative Councillor -- and Security Law suspect -- "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung (whose 65th birthday it was last Saturday) has been denied bail today while fellow League of Social Democrats party member, Jimmy Sham, and another fellow Legislative Councillor, Claudia Mo, have had their bail applications postponed to a later date. If truth be told, this outcome was not unexpected -- but, like with the Hong Kong International Film Festival Opening Film and Oscars broadcast cancellations, this says a lot about how much the situation of Hong Kong has deteriorated already and in a way that is so destructive to Hong Kong's cultural, social and political scene and life.
For those who need to be told in no uncertain terms what I'm observing, here's journalist Ryan Ho Kilpatrick's comment on RTHK's report of what Henry Tang said: "For years, Hong Kong has promoted itself as a global art hub. Now, the legality of artwork in the city will now be determined by a secretive, opaque new arm of the police accountable only to Beijing, and tasked making arrests for political crimes. Let that sink in for a moment." Get it now?