in Hong Kong (but not Hong Kong cinemas)
Revolution of Our Times (Hong Kong, 2021)
- Kiwi Chow, director
Revolution of Our Times is now viewable worldwide on Vimeo, including (for now) Hong Kong! Kiwi Chow's protest documentary had its world premiere at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival and has had a number of screenings worldwide since, including the USA, United Kingdom, Germany, Taiwan (where it was given a theatrical release and became the highest grossing overseas Chinese documentary in Taiwan's cinematic history) and Japan but had hitherto not been viewable in Hong Kong, and stands zero chance of being allowed to be screened in Hong Kong cinemas in the wake of the amendments having been made last October to the film censorship law to allow film censorship on the basis of national security considerations.
So while I badly wanted to view the film after hearing of its existence and viewing its trailer on the very day that it dropped on Youtube last July, I had to rely on comments by friends (including the individual behind the Goodbye HK, Hello YVR blog) and reviews from strangers to try to figure out the film's contents, until yesterday. Upon finally viewing it myself, I now understand why some people were so affected by it (to the point of tearing up more than once during the film's screening) and others left feeling confused and perplexed.
Put another way: you do need some knowledge of Hong Kong -- its history (particularly but not exclusively key events which took place in 2019), geography, society, etc. -- to appreciate what unfolds on the screen In particular, those who choose to view it are best served if they already know what the following means/involves: The Joint Sino-British Declaration; the extradition bill; June 9th (2019); June 12th (2019); June 16th (2019); July 1st; July 21st (Yuen Long); August 31st (Prince Edward MTR station); October 1st; the siege of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University; and China's national security law for Hong Kong.
Revolution of Our Times is divided into several themed chapters (including one looking at Lennon Walls that I appreciated for helping show that the protests didn't just involve mega marches and street clashes between the police and demonstrators), and over two and a half hours long. If truth be told, there are parts of this documentary work which can seem to drag and could have been more tightly edited. At the same time though, even while this ambitious offering covers so much ground, I found myself wishing it had covered even more.
For example, I think the film would have benefited from also having shown: what happened in Shatin's New Town Plaza mall on July 14th, 2019 (because the visuals involving riot police invading an upscale shopping mall and clashes occuring between them and protestors would have shown up how the riot police (and protests) intruded into normal life); the "singing in malls" protests of late 2019 (to emphasise that peaceful demonstrations were still happening months into the protests); and the November 24th District Council elections (the last democratic elections Hong Kong had and may well ever have). So, yes, it's an imperfect work. But, given the circumstances of its creation, I don't feel I can be too harsh about it.
In any event, it's inevitable that Kiwi Chow had to be selective about what to include and what to leave out. The choices he made as to whom -- not just what -- to focus on are also interesting. More specifically: while recognisable public figures -- almost all of whom are currently behind bars or have gone into exile -- like former journalist Gwyneth Ho and law professor Benny Tai (who are interviewed in the film) appear in Revolution of Our Times, a good amount of time is spent on a number of protestors whose identities are not revealed and faces are blurred, go by monikers like "Nobody" as well as "Mom" and "Dad", and are shown to have specific roles in the protests (e.g., as "frontliners", providers of "get away" transport and those who disseminate information about such as the whereabouts of police near the scene).
Revolution of Our Times also spends time on and with three individuals who might be said to be ordinary citizens but who I found to be extraordinarily courageous and caring. Anyone who followed the 2019 protests knew about "Grandpa Chan", the elderly farmer turned member of the Protect Our Kids Campaign, a religious group that seek to act as protest mediators, but the film's audience get to hear him explain his motivations behind his doing what he did as well as to see him in action up close.
Then there's social worker Jackie Chen, who I first saw in impressive action -- in the company of now exiled politician Ted Hui (who's in the news today for being found guilty of contempt of court, for fleeing Hong Kong!) -- in another 2019 protest documentary, Taking Back the Legislature, but who gets to speak directly to the camera in Revolution Of Our Times as well as is shown trying to negotiate with the police. And thirdly, there's a young man who goes by the moniker "Morning" but whose face is not pixellated in the film, who was the very medic whose anguished cries to be let in to help people inside Prince Edward MTR station on August 31st, 2019, I will never forget.
Along with Gwyneth Ho (whose live recordings inside Yuen Long MTR station on July 21st, 2019, are a testament to her courage while that done inside the Legislative Council on July 1st, 2019, show her journalistic dedication), these three individuals' actions along with words were some of the most moving parts of Revolution of Our Times for me. In addition, as far as visuals are concerned, the drone images of the June mega protests along with the demonstrations of "Be water" in action were very impressive indeed.
A further word on the visuals: I'm sure that many of the scenes of police brutality and general protest violence will shock those who are seeing them for the first time. Rewatching some of the footage three years on can still be pretty upsetting. But what I truly hope people will note and realize after viewing this documentary work is the uneven resources in terms of weapons that the police and protestors had. This was not a fair fight at all. One that literally involved one side armed with guns that fired real as well as plastic bullets, tons of tear gas, water cannons and more, and the other with not much more than umbrellas, shields fashioned from such as flotation devices and sticks made of plastic.
In the cold light of day, it seemed inevitable that the far better equipped and far more powerful would prevail. But Kiwi Chow is asking for his film's viewers to root for the underdogs. And I'd wager that he succeeds in doing so.
My rating for the film: 8.0