Sunday, March 19, 2023

Blue Island is a film about Hong Kong(ers) that truly hits home (Film review)

Taiwanese poster for a Hong Kong film
that has to be screened in Hong Kong cinemas
(and, in all likelihood, might never will)
Blue Island (Hong Kong, 2022)
- Chan Tze-woon, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Anson Sham Kwan-yin, Chan Hak-chi, Tin Siu-ying, Kenneth Lam, Keith Fong Chung-yin, Raymond Young, Kelvin Tam Kwan-long
This is one of those Hong Kong films that will make the most sense to those who have the requisite knowledge of Hong Kong's history and political scene.  Sadly as well as ironically, few of these folks have had the chance to view Blue Island -- and, in all likelihood, won't do so in the foreseeable future -- as this thoughtful as well as thought-provoking docu-drama by Chan Tze-woon is one of those cinematic works that stands little chance of being approved for viewing by Hong Kong censors in the national security law era.  
Billed as a Hong Kong protest documentary, Blue Island is actually less straightforward and more ambitiously conceived than Yellowing (2016), Chan's Umbrella Movement documentary, as well as previous films I've viewed about Hong Kong's anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests (including Kiwi Chow's more well known Revolution of Our Times).  Described in a Variety review as a "hybrid documentary", it contains re-enactments of events that took place in the 1960s and 1980s as well as footage of events that took place in 2019 (and possibly beyond), both on the street and off it along with interviews with a number of people who range in age, occupation and, actually, political perpectives too.
Blue Island opens with what the audience later learns is a dramatic re-enactment by two young adults of the escape from Mainland China by two individuals who are now are Hong Kong senior citizens.  Chan Hak-chi and Git Hing swam to the then British colony of Hong Kong in 1973, when the Cultural Revolution was raging in China. In contrast, Anson Sham Kwan-yin and Tin Siu-ying, who briefly portray the husband and wife, and later are seen enjoying a meal and conversation with them in the film, were not born when Hong Kong -- the territory and its people -- was handed over to China by the British in the summer of 1997.     
Some of the most interesting and best sections of this considered offering involve conversations between the young people and the older folks who they essay in the dramatic re-enactments of such as an interrogation scene between a British police officer and a leftist protestor arrested for his involvement in the 1967 Hong Kong riots.  An unscripted exchange between Raymond Young, who served time in jail when he was just a teenager and is the most pro-China participant in Blue Island by far, and Kelvin Tam Kwan-long, the young Hong Konger (and he most definitely identifies as that, versus "Chinese") who played Young in the scenes set in 1967, turned out to be thoroughly moving as well as interesting and illuminating.  
Something truly noteworthy about Blue Island is how complexly it paints the local political scene.  Of course, those who are pro-Hong Kong and -democracy are (disproportionately) represented in the often meditative film; and there are individuals whose vision of Hong Kong excludes China.  But director Chan also serves up a reminder that there also are people out there who love China as well as Hong Kong, and want -- and have worked for -- democracy for all of China, not just Hong Kong.     
One such individual is a veteran politician seen in the film hanging out with his friend Raymond Young.  The fact that "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung is one of the 47 pro-democracy figures who have been behind bars for more than two years tells you a lot about how broad is the persecution the authorities have enacted.  
Another of these individuals is Kenneth Lam, a lawyer who was one of the students present at Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989.  A former president of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (one of whose alumni gatherings he's seen attending along with a number of faces readily recognizable to those familiar with the Umbrella Movement as well as the 2019 extradition bill protests), he has continued to show solidarity over the years with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and also those determined to remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre and still dream of democracy for China as a whole.    

The choice of "actor" to play the young Kenneth Lam in Blue Island was a fellow pro-democracy activist and student leader.  Although he's about three decades younger than Kenneth Lam, Keith Fong Chung-yin has also/already endured his share of trials and travails.  Sentenced to nine months jail last April, the young man is, sadly, just one of a number of the Hong Kongers seen in this film who has spent time behind bars in recent years.
More than by the way, it can come as a shock for those who know -- or, at the very least, can recognize them -- to see several people who now have been incarcerated in it.  This is particularly so in the film's end segment; which makes it all the more sad and poignant.  I hope that those viewers who don't know the folks who feature in that end segment will be similarly affected.  This even though feeling like one has been punched in the gut is not ideal.  Because, while Blue Island has much that one can intellectually appreciate, it needs to psychological and emotionally impact in order to truly hit home.
My rating for this film: 8.0    


peppylady (Dora) said...

I start to watch some foreign film, by the way of DVDs.
Coffee is on and stay safe

Goodbye HK, Hello YVR said...

Comprehensive review!

YTSL said...

Hi peppylady --

Hope you enjoy your foreign film exploration!

Hi Goodbye HK, Hello YVR --

It could have been longer but...! I think your review of "Revolution of Our Times" was lengthier than my "Blue Island" review, no? ;)