Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Fears regarding the restriction of movement out of Hong Kong as well as gripes regarding the restriction of movement and gatherings within the territory

Remember this demand?
 
A lot of people were out protesting this two years ago today
 
Back on August 28th, 2019, some 120,000 people came out to take part in the second protest march against an extradition bill that would send people to Mainland China -- specifically, its prisons.  Two years on exactly, Hong Kong lawmakers approved another bill that has struck fear in Hong Kongers: one which makes changes to the city’s Immigration Ordinance that give sweeping powers to the territory's immigration chief to ban residents and others from entering Hong Kong, and -- this is what really worries people -- will be used to prevent people leaving the city.
 
It may seem ironic that Hong Kongers now fear not being allowed to leave the city whereas, just two years ago, their biggest fear involved people being removed from the city.  But what this tells you is that Hong Kong has become far more like Mainland China as well as under Beijing's yoke in the intervening time (particularly with the enactment of China's security law for Hong Kong), and that Hong Kongers (still) are not happy about their legal and political system (and so much else besides) becoming closer to that of their supposed Motherland.

It's almost unimaginable these days but, for decades, many people hoped that Mainland China would become more like Hong Kong rather than the other way around; and this includes a good number of the participants of the (previously) annual June 4th candlelight vigil in Victoria Park along with the event organizers (who also are the people behind the June 4th Museum).  Sadly, the likes of Lee Cheuk-yan are having problems fighting for democracy in Hong Kong, never mind China, these days; this not least because they have been put behind bars and are facing extended time in prison, no thanks to their often facing multiple charges.   
 
 
And what exactly is the current Wuhan "coronavirus situation" in Hong Kong?  A grand total of seven new cases today; only one of which is local (as opposed to imported).  And if you were to look at the daily new case numbers over the past 30 days for this territory with an estimated population of 7.5 million people, I reckon it's safe to state that most of the rest of the world would consider themselves in a pretty good state if their numbers could match Hong Kong's!  So well is Hong Kong doing, in fact, that the government (also) announced the easing of social distancing measures yesterday (that are set to take effect from Thursday (tomorrow)).   

Of course, this being the Hong Kong government, the new regulations that it has introduced is displeasing a lot more people than should be the case -- and puzzling journalists, restauranteurs and restaurant patrons alike.  And surprise, surprise (not!): medical experts have pointed out that these new rules are not backed up by science and cannot be relied upon to prevent coronavirus transmissions!  In addition, they are not giving much, if any, incentive for people to get vaccinated since, as public health professor Benjamin Cowling has noted, "Vaccinated people here are mostly required to behave in the same way as unvaccinated people, perhaps giving the impression that vaccination doesn't make much difference?"   
 
Perhaps if gathering restrictions were relaxed to allow such as outdoor candlelight vigils attended by people who have been vaccinated as well as would be wearing masks to take place, Hong Kong's anemic vaccination drive would get more willing participants.  (And, medically, it's been determined that the risk of coronavirus transmission outdoors is significantly lower than it is indoors!)  But that's not going to happen here in Hong Kong, is it?  This particularly since there currently is a ban in place on masks being worn at protests!     

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Hong Kong is still freer than Mainland China but more repression and restrictions are on their way

Scene from what may well be the last June 4th memorial event
I'll be able to get into Victoria Park for (back in 2019)
 
Actually, if the authorities have their way, there won't be pretty 
much any mass protest -- however peaceful -- in Hong Kong again :(
 
 
The silencing of Chloe Zhao over in Mainland China began after an interview she did (and was published) in 2013 -- which contained a quote about the country of her birth being "a place "where there are lies everywhere" -- resurfaced earlier this year.  At this point in time, there is not even a scheduled Mainland Chinese release date for the triple Oscar-winning Nomadland  (whose leading actress, Frances McDormand, also took home an Academy Award yesterday) -- though, in a show of how Hong Kong still differs in many ways from the land over on the other side of the Mainland China-Hong Kong border, this film is currently playing in cinemas here.
 
I've been meaning to check out this highly acclaimed film for some time now, and its triple Oscar win gave me the extra impetus to finally go and view it.  I'm glad I did because Nomadland is truly a beautifully compassionate cinematic offering.  Honestly, it is so sad to think pretty much a whole entire country (minus Hong Kong and possibly also Macau) will be denied the chance to view it, and learn from it and its director.
 
Having now seen the film, I realize that it was entirely in character for Chloe Zhao to have delivered the beautiful acceptance speech she did yesterday, one in which she: spoke about having learnt from Chinese classic literature that 'People at birth are inherently good"; maintained that "Even though sometimes it might seem like the opposite is true, I have always found goodness in the people I met, everywhere I went in the world"; and said that this award was dedicated to "anyone who had the faith, and the courage to hold on to the goodness in themselves, and to hold on to the goodness in each other, no matter how difficult is to do that."
 
I just hope her faith in people to be good will be returned in kind: if not now, then in the not too distant future.  Sadly, her words actually got me thinking of another beautifully talented and sensitive individual, one who wrote in her diary that "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart".  And while I don't think Chloe Zhao is in any danger any time soon of sharing Anne Frank's fate, I must admit to worrying from time to time in the past year or so (specifically, since the announcement of China's security law for Hong Kong, never mind its actually coming into being) that Hong Kongers will have fates similar to the Jews and other people condemned by the Nazis as well as the Uyghurs of Xinjiang.  
 
Of course there are people (still) who think that I'm over-exaggerating Hong Kong's woes.  After all, it's not even currently in as bad a boat as protestors in Myanmar.  But consider that the authorities here have effectively outlawed even peaceful protests by doing such as sending people to jail for organizing and/or taking part in peaceful assembliesHong Kongers may technically still have the right to free speech, assembly and movement (under the Basic Law, no less).  However, all you have to do these days is to open your eyes and observe what's going on to know that's really not the case any more. 

Just consider the following headlines of a trio of Hong Kong Free Press pieces put up online today (and click on the links to read the articles): Fifth senior official quits Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK; National security clampdown casts shadow over Hong Kong's annual Tiananmen Massacre vigil; and Organizer of Hong Kong's mass pro-democracy demos faces police probe, as force demands financial records.  In addition, tomorrow will see an immigration bill go on the agenda of the now opposition-less Legislative Council that would give the authorities virtually unlimited powers to prevent residents and others from entering or leaving the territory.  
 
If passed, potentially as soon as tomorrow (since there probably won't be that much discussion of -- never mind voiced opposition to -- it), the bill could take effect as early as August 1st.  Which is why I have friends who have talked about it being imperative that they leave Hong Kong before that date.  This in addition to friends who have already left. :(    

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy left me longing for more (Film review)

The poster for the official Closing Film of this year's
Hong Kong International Film Festival features the
lead actresses from my favorite part of the triptych
 
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Japan, 2021)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Galas program
- Ryusuke Hamaguchi, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Kotone Furukawa, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Katsuki Mori, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Shouma Kai, Fusako Urabe, Aoba Kawai
 
Despite Ryusuke Hamaguchi having already won a number of accolades internationally (including at Locarno) as well as his home country, I wasn't familiar with his work prior to checking out this offering from him which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize at this year's Berlinale.  But after viewing Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, I don't only reckon the award was richly deserved but also am making a point to remember his name and look forward to checking out other of his works.  
 
A short film triptych, all of whose segments feature female protagonists and fate playing a significant part in their stories, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy begins with an intriguing opening chapter entitled Magic (or Something Less Assuring) which has a young model (Kotone Furukawa) discovering that her best friend (Hyunri) has fallen for her ex-boyfriend (Ayumu Nakajima) whom she still harbors strong feelings for.  While she doesn't disclose this past connection to her best friend, she does go and confront her ex-boyfriend with this fact.  What he decides to do with this information is interesting to behold, and so too are the actions she decides to take after seeing his reaction to her.    
 
The second chapter of the film, this one entitled Door Wide Open, also has fascinating plot developments which are imaginatively constructed yet appear to easily be within the realm of possibility in the real -- not just reel -- world.  In this case, the scenario in question involves a mature student (Katsuki Mori) who, at the request of her young college student lover (Shouma Kai), seeks to set a "honey trap" for a professor (Kiyohiko Shibukawa) she admires but he bears a grudge towards for having failed him in the course he took with the professor.  Suffice to state here that the extended interaction that she has with the professor in his office made for riveting as well as pretty amusing viewing (and, if one's not dependent on subtitles, listening) -- and that I, for one, would have been fine with it having gone on for several minutes longer than in fact was the case!  
 
The sense that the stories he presented are too short is strongest for me with regards to Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy's third and final chapter.  Once Again has a lightly sci-fi premise, in that it's set in a (near) future -- or alternate reality? -- where a computer virus which has disabled most of the internet.  But what matters far more is that it's a gentle, beautiful story about two middle-aged women (Fusako Urabe and Aoba Kawai) who mistake the other for an ex-schoolmate, then continue to share confidences and emotionally connect even after realizing their identification errors!        
 
Even if the chance situations they end up in can see a bit contrived, everyone of the characters in the movie come across as very "real" -- and, especially in the case of the two women in Once Again, worth spending more time with and getting to know.  I wonder if Ryusuke Hamaguchi is thinking of fleshing out these short stories and making feature length films out of them?  If he did, I, for one, would happily view them!  
 
I'd also be curious to find out how much of a part the director-scriptwriter had in casting this film.  This may sound on the strange side but I was struck by how the cast all have really interesting faces and physical traits!  In particular, fashion model-actor Kiyohiko Shibukawa has the kind of look (at least in this offering) and facial expressions that made him ideal to play the eccentric professor character he did in Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy.  In addition, the way that Fusako Urabe was made up and dressed in this offering caused her character to give off the sort of not entirely conventional, and maybe even "doesn't quite belong", vibes that made her particular story all the more touching.   

My rating for this film: 8.5

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Abbas Kiarostami educates with First Case, Second Case, Tributes to the Teachers and Two Solutions for One Problem (Film review)

Information panel for the Abbas Kiarostami films
I viewed at this year's HKIFF
 
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Restored Classics program 
- Abbas Kiarostami, director and scriptwriter
 
For some reason that I can't fathom, the people in charge of this program decided to screen the three Abbas Kiarostami offerings that make up it in reverse-chronological order as well as from lengthiest to shortest in terms of their running time.  Because I think it makes more sense the other way around, I'm going to review the films in order of when they were made -- beginning with the 5 minute film made in 1975 that brought to mind a later film that the Iranian filmmaker would make: Where's the Friend's House (1987).  
 
Like that feature length work that I reckon is one of Kiarostami's best, Two Solutions for One Problem's story involves a young boy, a classmate and the classmate's exercise book.  In this short film, the exercise book is torn and two scenarios are presented as to what happens when it gets returned by one boy to its owner.  In just five minutes, Kiarostami manages to infuse quite a bit of humor and also didacticsm into the story.  Truly, if I were to know him from just this one work alone, I'd have already marked him down as quite the cinematic talent!
 
Continuing with the educational theme: The 17-minute-long Tribute to the Teachers is exactly that.  A pretty straightforward documentary which features interviews with various schoolteachers, its primary interest for me was to catch glimpses of what life was like in Iran pre-Islamic Revolution.  Since the bulk of the Iranian films I've viewed were produced after the Iranian Revolution, it was novel for me to see Iranian women with their hair uncovered in public settings and I must admit to also being moved to wonder whether they are able to be as confident, vocal and assertive as they are shown in this 1977 film.  Hopefully, this can be so for contemporary female teachers in Iran.  For in this short offering, some of the personalities who really stood out -- for their charisma as well as devotion to the teaching profession -- were female rather than it just being the men who were dominant.
 
First Case, Second Case is another Kiarostami film with an educational focus.  Like for Two Solutions for One Problem, the director stages two contrasting outcomes for one story: in this instance, involving a teacher irked by the noise being made when he's drawing a diagram on the blackboard who proceeds to kick seven students out of his class and tell them they can only return if he's told who was the troublemaker.  The first scenario involves one student deciding to name the culprit; the second scenario involves all of the students refusing to do so.
 
Unlike the short film, however, the movie doesn't end after the presentation of the alternative scenarios.  Instead, we then see -- much like in Tribute to the Teachers -- a number of different interviewees (women as well as men) giving their opinions on the matter.  In this case, they include the fathers of the seven boys -- who appear to differ quite a bit in class and education levels, and include at least one military man -- but also a range of authority figures, ranging from education ministry officials to religious ones and also involves leaders of various political parties!  And, expectedly, their opinions range pretty widely -- not only regarding what was the right thing for the boys to have done but the reasons why they thought what they did about what the boys should have done, and the teacher too.
 
I have to admit: the "talking heads" part of First Case, Second Case goes on for quite a bit and is visually not all that exciting; so it can be difficult to keep one's attention fully focused on what's going on and even keep one's eyes fully open for a time.  But somewhere along the line, one realizes that far more is going on than just a discussion of classroom discipline -- for the discussion goes so deep philosophically that it also becomes downright political! 
 
More than incidentally, Kiarostami began working on the film when the Shah was still on the throne in Iran. Shooting was nearly complete when the Iranian Revolution occured.  Kiarostami then took the decision to add post-Revolution officials into the mix while retaining his interviews with pre-Revolution officials.  The film was screened at least once in Iran but after the premiere, it disappeared from view for decades until June 2009 when it reappeared and became widely distributed online! 
 
From the story of its production and lack of availability alone, you'd know that First Case, Second Case is one interesting film.  And when you know the context in which he was working, you have to marvel at Kiarostami's daring as well as genius: because what he got out of the mouths of a good number of the people interviewed in the film is dynamite -- specifically, a discussion that addresses key issues to do with revolution (i.e., reasons for rebellion but also attempts to counter it) and society (should one opt for solidarity or betrayal, physical freedom or moral integrity?) itself.                 
 
My ratings for the films: 7 for Two Solutions for One Problem; 7.5 for Tribute to the Teachers; and 8 for First Case, Second Case

Thursday, April 22, 2021

A dark day for journalists and press freedom in Hong Kong

 
 
Yesterday, RTHK's Hong Kong Connection: Who Owns the Truth? episode about the July 21st, 2019, Yuen Long mob attacks was named as this year's recipient of the prestigious annual Kam Yiu-yu Press Freedom AwardOne of the judges, University of Hong Kong’s associate journalism professor Fu King-wa, praised the work and said that: "Through detailed and professional use of public records, examinations of raw surveillance footage and interviews with key figures, the report raised important leads that the people in power refused to respond to." 
 
Today, one of the program's producers, Bao Choy, was adjudged to have been guilty of improper searches of an online car licence plate database while conducting an investigation aimed at identifying some of the perpetrators of the 2019 Yuen Long attack.  Such is the situation in Hong Kong these days that I expected her to be giving a jail sentence and felt relief that she was "only" fined HK$6,000 for her "offences"
 
But make no mistake: Bao Choy's conviction today was a dark day for journalists in Hong Kong.  For, as she herself proceeded to point out: "The court ruled that searching for public information or access to public data is no longer allowed in Hong Kong, a civilised city where once we were well known for our transparency and accountability."  
 
 
Also, her arrest last November on these charges already constituted a significant blow for press freedom as, right there and then, it caused not only a weight to be placed on her but also pretty obviously held her up as an example of what can happen if you seek to uncover the truth that the police and authorities in general would prefer people to be in the dark about (and have taken to trying to present an alternative history of).  At a time when press freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated (with the latest Reporters Without Borders’ "World Press Freedom Index" placing Hong Kong in 80th spot; down from 18th in 2002), it is important to understand why having press freedom matters. 
 
One easy way to do so: imagine what those who are apt to liar unashamedly as well as attack people even when the cameras are rolling would do if the press were not there to report on their actions (like the likes of Gwyneth Ho did in Yuen Long on July 21st, 2019) and investigate them in depth (like Bao Choy did for Hong Kong Connection).  As a contemporary updating of Pastor Niemoller's famous poem, quoted by Rappler's Maria Resse, goes: "First they came for the journalists. We don’t know what happened after that."
 

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Film screenings back in the news again even while there's so much to report about what's going on in Hong Kong

Hong Kong can look really calm on the surface still
 
But, truly, it was not so long ago that things like this happened, and 
their reverbations most definitely still are being felt (Picture taken at 
the World Press Photo Exhibition the same day that I took the one above it)
 
Last week was such a terrible week for Hong Kong that I've still been fighting to get back to an even emotional keel in the days that have followed.  One way I've been doing so has been to fill my head with thoughts about movies -- particularly those I recently viewed at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival (and writing reviews about them).  But the fact of the matter is that even thinking about movies can get me worrying about the deteriorating political situation here.

 
In addition, earlier in the month, what would have been the first screenings of 2019 Hong Kong Polytechnic University siege documentary, Inside the Red Brick Wall, in a commercial setting were cancelled after pro-Beijing mouthpiece Wen Wei Po called attention to, and criticized, those plans.  And today saw another pro-Beijing newspaper, Ta Kung Pao, and pro-Beijing legislative councillor, Holden Chow, mounting a similar attack on the plans by the pro-democracy Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (CTU) to privately screen the 2020 Hong Kong Film Critics Society Best Film awardee and two other protest documentaries, Eternal Springs in the Mountains (about the police siege of the Chinese University of Hong Kong) and the Golden Horse-nominated Taking Back the Legislature (about the storming of the Legislative Council on July 1st, 2019).
 
As has now become too sadly predictable, the private screening of Inside the Red Brick Wall that was scheduled to take place today has been cancelled -- or, at the very least, postponed; this after six officers from the Communication Authority went at the office of the Confederation of Trade Unions late in the afternoon and asked its representative to provide details of the screening.  One wonders whether this documentary (together with the likes of Taking Back the Legislature and Eternal Springs in the Mountains -- the last of which I can't find any English language information for) will ever get screened again in Hong Kong despite their not actually having been officially banned by the authorities (as yet). 
 
Amidst a climate of fear that descended upon Hong Kong after the coming into effect of China's national security law for Hong Kong, what we are seeing far more is self-censorship than official censorship, for now.  And it is not just the world of film festivals, awards and documentaries that are affected.  
 
Just today, we've seen veteran political commentator Michael Chugani announce that he's quitting most of his journalist posts in Hong Kong (and stating that "We all know that there are red lines, and I just want to think carefully [about] what these red lines mean for me, so that’s why I’m taking a break").  With another veteran journalist, Stephen Vines, recently having been dropped as a regular current affairs commentator on RTHK's Morning Brew programme after more than ten years, we could have done with more rather than less of Chugani's voice; and this even more so when one factors in the (self?) silencing of the likes of journalist-turned-politician-turned political prisoner Claudia Mo, and fellow pro-democrats Alvin Yeung and Ray Chan -- all of whom appear to have deleted their social media accounts while behind bars.  

 
In general, it's easy to conclude, as per the title of a Reuters special report out today, Hong Kong activists are retreating as China-style justice comes to the city.  So those who have not given up and are trying to fight back or at least resist are truly to be admired.  I think here of those good members of the League of Social Democrats who still are manning their "Free All Political Prisoners" stall (which was set up today in Causeway Bay), and every single Hong Konger who is still doing such as continuing to support the Yellow Economic Circle and helping provide financial and moral support to Hong Kong's political prisoners.
 
And then there's Jimmy Lai, Martin Lee and Albert Ho -- who have decided to appeal against their convictions and sentences for their roles in an anti-government protest on August 18, 2019 (and, in the case of Lai, also against the 14 month jail sentence he was handed for taking part in an unauthorised march in Wan Chai on August 31, 2019).  In doing so, they aren't only continuing to put up a fight but signalling that they still want to believe in the existence of rule of law in Hong Kong.  At this point in time, many will see their stance as Quixotic but, truly, one can't help rooting for them all the same.

Monday, April 19, 2021

Ruan Lingyu shines in The Goddess but, alas, it's not enough to make me love it (Film review)

 
A measure of film fanaticism can be seen by there being 
people willing to go queue for HKIFF tickets 
at the box office up to an hour before it opens! ;b
 
The Goddess (China, 1934)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Chinese-language Restored Classics program
- Wu Yonggang, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Ruan Lingyu, Li Keng (AKA Lai Hang), Zhang Zhizhi
 
I'm going to state it from the onset: I wish I liked The Goddess more.  If nothing else, it'd give me greater credibility as a filmophile since this 1934 offering is considered to be a sterling representative of China's cinematic golden age and stars Ruan Lingyu, the tragic luminary whose story I learned about by way of viewing Centre-Stage (AKA Actress), Stanley Kwan's 1992 biopic of this Shanghainese actress who already was an established star of the silver screen when she committed suicide at the age of just 24 years.

This film was by no means the first in which I saw Ruan Lingyu in action.  Stanley Kwan included clips of her in action in Centre-Stage -- and watching The Goddess, I got to realizing/remembering that they include ones from this particular offering.  At a previous Hong Kong International Film Festival, I also viewed Little Toys (1933), in which she shone brightly indeed.       

And Ruan is luminous in The Goddess too -- giving a brave performance as a Shanghai-based single mother who makes her living by being a lady of the night.  (The film's title refers to Shanghai's euphemism for prostitutes, who at the time accounted for approximately 1/13th of the city’s female populace.  Hence its earning a reputation for being Whore of the Orient!)
 
The reason why I dub it a brave performance is because she (and the director) appeared to aim for realism and also a non-judgemental approach rather than for such as her bearing her breasts (which she doesn't, actually) or appearing in a sex scene (which, again, she doesn't do in this movie!).  And it's interesting that The Goddess focuses more on showing its titular character interacting with her young son (played by Li Keng) than any of her clients.
 
At the same time though, I can't help but think that this drama shows its age by way of an overly simple and predictable story arc that throws up obstacles in the way of her and her son's happiness in the form of a nasty, uneducated man who takes advantage of her (Zhang Zhichi's villainous character is such a stock part) and critical other mothers who openly disapprove of the way she makes her living who are way too one-dimensionally drawn.  Honestly, it's actually a shock to realize that this film and Fritz Lang's You Only Live Once (1937) were made only three years apart -- and not just because the former is a silent movie and the latter a talkie!  
 
Actually, when I come to think about it, there's a strain of Chinese cinema that is unduly fond of moralizing -- found less so in newer Hong Kong and Taiwanese movies but definitely still there in Mainland Chinese films.  And this kind of moralizing, together with a tendency to make characters overly good or bad, is something I don't particularly care for.  Which is why I couldn't and didn't take to The Goddess even while still being able to recognize why there are others who really hold it high esteem.
 
My rating for the film: 6.0

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A pair of personal Stanley Kwan documentaries that enlighten and move (Film review)

Long overdue for Stanley Kwan to be the Hong Kong
International Film Festival's Filmmaker in Focus
 
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Stanley Kwan: Filmmaker in Focus program 
- Stanley Kwan, director
 
Stanley Kwan is known for his feature films (such as the critically acclaimed Rouge (1987) and Centre-Stage (AKA Actress) (1992)).  So he can seem like an odd choice to helm a documentary commissioned by the British Film Institute for its "Century of Cinema" series.  And this especially if the expectation was for a conventional documentary on Chinese cinema -- which his Yang +/- Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema most certainly is not.    

Alternatively, Stanley Kwan -- a male filmmaker who has helmed a number of female-centric works -- would be a good choice to make a film that examines how gender is conceived in Chinese cinema and among people living in "the three Chinas" whose cinematic history and tradition are so distinct from one another.  And that is what Yang +/- Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema is, as its title quite clearly delineates. 
 
This 1996 made-for-TV documentary is particularly notable for its director having come out as gay in it.  Kwan didn't do it in a flashy manner.  Rather, his sexual orientation becomes evident in a conversation he has with his mother in it, one which also saw her talking about how she had idolized Yam Kim-fai, a female Cantonese Opera megastar known for her male roles and her off- as well as on-stage-and-screen relationship with fellow actress Pak Suet-sin, and his talking about how she had ensured that he had grown up watching a number of their Cantonese opera performances.  
 
There's no two ways about it: Yang +/- Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema is Kwan's personal take on gender in Chinese cinema and the history of Chinese cinema in general.  Lest it be thought otherwise though, the offering is not all centered on him.  Rather, this documentary also features interesting interviews with -- and illustrative film clips from works by or featuring -- the likes of Taiwan's Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Ang Lee, Hong Kong's Chang Cheh, Tsui Hark and Leslie Cheung, and Mainland China's Chen Kaige and Zhang Yang. 
 
A confession: This was actually my second time viewing this work.  But the first time was decades ago on a VHS tape.  So I was happy to rewatch this offering -- and, actually, I think it works much better the more familiar one is with the cinemas of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China.  Hence my having a far more favorable reaction to it than the individuals whose reviews of it are up on the International Movie Database (IMDB)!    

And while we're on the subject: those individuals should know to steer clear of Still Love You After All These!  An even more personal as well as shorter (at 45 minutes, as opposed to Yang +/- Yin's 79 minutes) documentary from the same filmmaker, it also is Stanley Kwan's most experimental feeling work by far -- mixing clips from some of his films along with filmed (at sometimes strange angles) excerpts from a stage play he was involved in and evocative imagery of Hong Kong spaces and life.  

Filmed in the months leading up to Hong Kong's Handover by the British (back) to China, this 1997 documentary makes for a bittersweet -- actually, far more bitter than sweet -- watch in April, 2021, here in Hong Kong; this not least because so many issues facing Hong Kongers then are ones that Hong Kongers are facing still/again, including the question of "Should I stay or go/leave/emigrate?"
 
It says a lot about Stanley Kwan as a man and filmmaker, and also about Hong Kong, that in 1997 (through to today), his answer was that he was staying put in order to continue making films and also because he loves Hong Kong.  And the same applies to a conversation captured in Still Love You After All These: one in which someone points out buildings being constructed to him and talks about the increased housing in store for Hong Kongers; whereupon Kwan indicates that his greater concern is how the people who will be living in those residences will be feeling about it all.
 
My ratings for the films: 8 for Yin +/- Yang: Gender in Chinese Cinema; 7 for Still Love You After All These  

Friday, April 16, 2021

Pro-democracy figures penalized for standing with, by and up for their fellow Hong Kongers :(

  
 
where he, alas, was sentenced to prison today

Yesterday was one of those bizarro days in Hong Kong when things one couldn't imagine not so long ago now occur and seem passable as normal in this part of the world. I'm talking about such as four social distanced protestors being surrounded byabout 50 cops ready to pounce on them if they are seen as going out of line (miraculously they weren't adjudged to) and Hong Kong observing its first ever National Security Education Day with schools doing such as erecting bastardized versions of Lennon Walls, students appearing to re-enact the police attack on civilians inside Prince Edward MTR station on August 31st, 2019 and the police performing the "goose step" march that the world tends to associates with Nazis and North Koreans, not just the People's Liberation Army

In contrast, what's happened today just feels sad.  I refer, of course, to the sentencing this afternoon of nine veteran pro-democracy figures to jail terms of up to 18 months for having organized and/or participated in an unauthorized -- but, please note, massive and massively peaceful -- protest march that took place back on August 18th, 2019. For the record, the following are the individuals concerned and the sentences they received (in order of the length of their sentences):- 
"Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung -- 18 months  
Jimmy Lai -- 12 months 
Lee Cheuk-yan -- 12 months
Margaret Ng -- 12 months (suspended for 24 months) 
Albert Ho -- 12 months (suspended for 24 months) 
Martin Lee -- 11 months (suspended for 24 months) 
Au Nok-hin -- 10 months 
Cyd Ho -- 8 months 
Leung Yiu-chung -- 8 months (suspended for 12 months) 

As history professor Jeppe Mulich was moved to observe, what this amounts to are "1 year+ sentences for organizing a peaceful rally that saw the participation of some 20 per cent of the city's population. It seems the judge ranks traffic disruptions above concerns over democracy and civil rights."  Almost needless to say, this level of punishment for a non-violent protest is unprecedented.  As mentioned in conversation just yesterday with a man whose father had been found guilty of such a charge years ago, previously, this kind of "offence" (which, supposedly, is guaranteed under Article 27 of the Basic Law) would, if prosecuted at all, just result in fines at worst.  
 
All in all, it's pretty clear to just about anyone who's been following this trial that not only has the justice system in Hong Kong changed beyond recognition but that the authorities have used it to retaliate against Hong Kong's protest movement and attempt to silence its pro-democracy political oppposition.  At the very least, this trial has always been about far more than just what took place on that super rainy day back in August, 2019.    
 
After discharging her lawyer, Margaret Ng presented her own mitigationHer speech has been hailed s being one for the ages in many quarters and you should be able to understand why when you read it (made available in full here).  Actually, I submit that this is easy to see from just the following excerpts from it alone:- 
There is no right so precious to the people of Hong Kong as the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly. Not only is the freedom to speak the truth the core of human dignity, it is also the last safety valve in a democratic society, as remarked by our illustrious judges repeatedly. Respecting those rights is also part and parcel of defending the rule of law.

I had learned that the rule of law not only has to be defended in court, or in Legco, but also in the streets and in the community... When the people, in the last resort, had to give collective expression to their anguish and urge the government to respond, protected only by their expectation that the government will respect their rights, I must be prepared to stand with them, stand by them and stand up for them. Otherwise, all my pledges and promises would be just empty words...

Your  honour, I came late to the law. I have grown old in the service of the rule of law. I understand Sir Thomas More is the patron saint of the legal profession. He was tried for treason because he would not bend the law to the King’s will. His famous last words were well authenticated. I beg to slightly adapt and adopt them: I stand the law’s good servant but the people’s first. For the law must serve the people, not the people the law.

After learning of Margaret Ng's speech, fellow Hong Kong lawyer Kevin Yam was moved to vouchsafe the following: "We do not deserve people like this sacrificing for us. They are too good for us."  And after she walked out today with "just" a suspended sentence, the tearful crowd of people waiting outside the courtroom hugged and cheered her.  
 

All in all, it seems that the campaign to keep Martin Lee out of jail (which could be seen in many news publications around the world pleading his case before today, like this one and this other one) has succeeded.  However, the authorities appear intent on making sure that the likes of Jimmy Lai, Joshua Wong and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung will be behind bars for a long time and I worry for all three of them: Jimmy Lai principally because he is no spring chicken (at the age of 73 years); Joshua Wong because he still is only 24 years young, and really should have a far better future to look forward to; and "Long Hair" because it often seems like he doesn't have the international profile of the other two -- and I still do think that international support does count for something in Hong Kongers' fight to be free.