Friday, December 29, 2023

The kind of week that makes one pessimistic about Hong Kong's prospects, however personally resilient one endeavors to be

Lest we forget: it's currently a holiday season!
Earlier this week, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI) released the results of its 2023 review and 2024 forecast survey.  Earlier in the month, PORI had interviewed 501 Hong Kong residents aged 18 or above, asking them to evaluate whether they felt satisfied about the city’s development in the past year and for their projections for 2024, as well as assessing their happiness and prospects.
The result, as reported by the Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), was that "Hongkongers have a net optimism rate of zero percentage points for the city’s development in the year ahead". More specifically, "while 40 per cent of respondents were optimistic about the city’s development in 2024, 40 per cent said they were pessimistic, giving a net optimism rate of 0 percentage points".  Lest it not be obvious: "“The very simple picture is that people are very pessimistic about the future of Hong Kong in 2024, on the whole,” Robert Chung, president and CEO of PORI, said in response to a question from HKFP."
Interestingly, however, "respondents had a “less pessimistic” assessment of their personal prospects, with 47 per cent saying they expected personal development to improve next year, versus 22 per cent who expected a setback.  “When you ask them about how they feel about themselves, how they cope with [the outlook], they seem to be less pessimistic,” Chung added."  How to account for this?  
The way veteran journalist and political commentator Johnny Lau sees it, "While many people found the city’s prospect to be pessimistic, they were able to adjust their mood and feel happy for themselves" Somehow, "while the external environment was uncontrollable, people demonstrated resilience by adjusting their personal feelings".
I wonder if people living outside of Hong Kong will find this strange and even hard to believe.  But I must say that I can understand this -- and even have this kind of experience and perspective myself.  Take as an example my mood and situation this week: on the one hand, I've had good times by way of doing such as having had Christmas dinner with family members and spent time doing such as going on enjoyable hikes and walk this week, and also viewing a really excellent film in Abang Adik (Malaysia-Taiwan, 2023) at the cinema; but on the other, I'm also all too aware that this has been yet another week of political repression in Hong Kong.
Among the lowlights: Veteran activist Koo Sze-yiu was denied bail for a third time on Monday (i.e., Christmas!) morning over a protest he had planned -- yes, PLANNED (as opposed to carry out) -- against the overhauled District Council "elections" that took place on December 10th (with just 27.5% of registered voters electing to turn up for it!).  A reminder: Mr Koo is 77 years old AND has been diagnosed with Stage 4 rectal cancer; so it can seem mean, if not rather mad, to treat him like he poses a genuine threat to national security.  
And yesterday saw three students jailed for up to six years over their involvement in a foiled 2021 plot to bomb court buildings and government offices.  Cheung Ho-yeung, Ho Yu-wang and Kwok Man-hei are currently 23, 20 and 21 years old.  Which means that they were 21, 18 and 19 when they were arrested and charged with taking part in a “conspiracy to commit terrorism” under the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.  
Of the trio, Ho Yu-wang was singled out as "the plot mastermind who planned to manufacture explosives and target court buildings in 2021".  A reminder: the youngest of the trio, Ho was 19 years old at the time of their arrest and supposed plotting to "commit terrorism". At the same time though, "no bombs were [actually] made and no casualties occurred".  Call me naive but... could the authorities have taken these young people too seriously as threats to national security?!
Meanwhile, this morning saw lots of news reports about another young Hong Kong activist having gone into exile.  One of the youngest pro-democracy activists to have been sentenced in Hong Kong under a national security law, Tony Chung is still only 22 years of age but already an ex-convict -- having completed his prison sentence in June of this year.  But, as he's now made public, he was still not completely free -- with his being required to not post or say "anything that would harm Hong Kong’s national security — a wide-ranging and unclear restriction — and not speaking publicly".  
Oh, and, as further detailed in a Washington Post piece: "Since Chung’s release, officials from Hong Kong’s Correctional Services Department have requested meetings every two to four weeks, summoning him to random locations and then transporting him to undisclosed places in a seven-seater van, its curtains drawn shut. Chung said that during those encounters, he was interrogated about his activities over the previous weeks, asked to provide the names of elementary school classmates as well as “detailed information about his visits to restaurants and bars, along with contents of [his] conversations.”"

Oh, and this afternoon saw news that the parents of Agnes Chow, another young Hong Kong activist who's gone into exile, were questioned at Tai Po Police Station this morning.  (Agnes Chow lived in Tai Po before she was sent to jail and then moved to Canada.)  As the Hong Kong Free Press reported: "Chow’s mother was invited to assist police investigation as the guarantor of her daughter’s bail, sources told local media on Friday".  And while it may sound innocous enough, the fact of the matter is that what we have now in Hong Kong is the employment of tactics previously associated only with Mainland China and involving using family ties to exert emotional pressure on people.
Writing about the treatment that Tony Chung's outlined that he has received post coming out of jail, Bloomberg's Matthew Brooker Tweeted that "The term "police state" gets thrown about a bit, but hard to see how HK doesn't meet the definition on this basis: police state [n.] a totalitarian state characterized by the use of police, esp. secret police, to suppress dissent and exert repressive control over its citizens".  And I'm sure he thinks this too about the treatment meted out to Agnes Chow, her parents, Ho Yu-wang and Co, and Koo Sze-yiu.
A darker thought: this week's not over yet.  What other bad developments are in store this weekend... and in the year to come?  And how much more must Hong Kong and its -- thus far, often unexpectedly resilient -- people endure?!

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Time Still Turns the Pages is an emotionally devastating work with stories that many Hong Kongers can relate to (Film review)

Poster for this Hong Kong drama that had
5 Golden Horse nominations
Time Still Turns the Pages (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Nick Cheuk, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Lo Chun-yip, Sean Wong, Ronald Cheng, Rosa Maria Velasco
Like In Broad Daylight, this dramatic offering from debutant director Nick Cheuk (who also is its scriptwriter) was one of the opening films of this year's Hong Kong Asian Film Festival.  And like that film centering on a dedicated journalist going and investigating abuse in a care home, this film about a teacher confronting childhood trauma was nominated for five of Taiwan's Golden Horse awards this year.
Time Still Turns the Pages ended up winning two of those: that for Best New Director, and the Audience Choice Award for Best Narrative Feature -- and I'm going to say outright that I think these accolades were richly deserved.  Also, after viewing it, I can understand how, despite it being a serious and emotionally devastating work, there are people (like at least one friend of mine) who have felt compelled to go and watch it more than once.
In addition to being very well made, Time Still Turns the Pages has stories and characters that (too) many Hong Kongers will find relatable.  The tale that's set in the present involves Mr. Cheng (portrayed by Lo Chun-yip), a secondary school teacher who worries that a student in his class is suicidal after his school's janitor finds an emotional note written by an anonymous youngster. (Student suicide is a big issue in Hong Kong, which saw 27 suspected instances of this in the first 10 months of this year). 
Mr Cheng's suspicions initially fall on Vincent (played by Hennick Chou), a student with hearing issuses that get him being mockingly referred to as Van Gogh.  When the educator tries to reach out, his efforts are rebuffed -- with Vincent doing his own hurting by pointing out to the teacher that everyone at the school knew that Mr Cheng has marital problems and is living apart from his childhood sweetheart turned wife (essayed by Hanna Chan).
Still, Vincent's slight does not upset Mr Cheng as much as a phrase in the anonymous note that triggers back memories of the situation in his family when he was young; one involving a demanding father (played by Ronald Cheng), a hapless mother (portrayed by Rosa Maria Velasco) and their two preteen sons -- one of whom, Eli (Sean Wong giving an absolutely compelling performance), has (already) been pegged as a loser in life as surely as his brother (played by Curtis Ho) is looked upon as a winner.  

Early on in Time Still Turns the Pages, the stories set in the past are more interesting and compelling (as well as heartbreaking) than the one(s) set in the present.  The movie's genius though is how it connects what happened in the past to the present.  And when the two main stories eventually come together is when the tears truly flowed on the part of this (rev)iewer!  
In addition, that's when one comes to really appreciate the character of Mr Cheng: one that's complex, multi-layered, and both a flawed Everyman but also ordinary hero -- trying in his own way to make up for the sins of the father even while forging his own understated but nonetheless admirable path.  (To make it clear: I'm really talking about Mr Cheng -- as opposed to Mr Cheuk, the director -- about whom it's been revealed that he's the son of Warner Cheuk, the current Deputy Chief Secretary for Adminstration and thus number three most senior official in the Hong Kong government!)       

My rating for this film: 9.0

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Seasonal Photo of the Day :)

One of the cooler Christmas decorations I've seen 
in Hong Kong this year :)

Friday, December 22, 2023

Thinking about Hong Kong's political prisoners, and Glory to Hong Kong, on Midwinter Solstice

Sesame-filled glutinous rice balls in ginger sauce -- a dish
I ate last night but can imagine many people opting to eat tonight :)
It's the Winter (or Midwinter) Solstice today -- and many people are celebrating it with family and loved ones; with some shops closing earlier than usual to allow staff to do so and some restaurants not offering dinner service to enable their staff to have the evening off.  Which is why, I guess, my thoughts turn to the Hong Kongers in exile who are not able to do the same -- and, also, Hong Kong's political prisoners, of which there really are far too many for comfort; and with their numbers increased this week too.
As Samuel Bickett, who has had first hand experience of the brand of "justice" dished out by Esther Toh, one of the three judges presiding over Jimmy Lai's national security law trial, Tweeted: "In case anyone still had doubts—this is a pretty clear indicator of how the next few months of Jimmy Lai’s trial are going to go for the defense."  That is, there's not much that's going to be allowed to go the defence's way.
Jimmy Lai, for those who didn't realize, has now spent over 1,000 days behind bars -- the majority (if not all) in solitary confinement.   Another reminder: "Prolonged solitary confinement is a form of torture (according to the UN Mandela Rules)".  And yet that is what the former media mogul has been subjected to by the authorities here in Hong Kong.
Another Hong Kong political prisoner currently in solitary confinement is lawyer-activist Chow Hang-tung.  Incredibly, the apparent reason for her latest spell in isolation is that she had received "too many letters"Yesterday also saw her latest application for bail ahead of her national security law trial being denied, with the judge saying that it's because it can't be guaranteed that she won't be a national security threat.  
A reminder: this is the Chow Hang-tung who's a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and recently awarded a human rights prize by the foreign ministries of France and Germany that "honours“civil society’s commitment to human dignity and the inalienable human rights of all people”". What kind of government would consider her a national security threat? I leave you to be the judge on that.

Yesterday also saw the addition of (at least) one more name to the shocking lengthy list of Hong Kong political prisoners. Marilyn Tang, the sister-in-law of jailed activist Lee Cheuk-yan, was given six months in prison for ‘perverting the course of justice’ after she pleaded guilty to removing electronic devices from her sister, Elizabeth Tang’s home following Lee Cheuk-yan's wife's arrest this past March under the Beijing-imposed national security law.
Here's the thing: Marilyn Tang did admit to having visited Elizabeth Tang's apartment and removed her sister’s phone and laptop, which was potential evidence. But the fact of the matter is that the police later found no evidence she had tampered with the devices, nor found anything incriminating on them. Yet she's been sent to prison -- for SIX MONTHS -- nonetheless!

Meanwhile, it feels like Hong Kong dodged a bullet earlier this week -- or, rather, to mix metaphors, kicked it a couple of months down the road to February 24th. I'm referring here to the Hong Kong government's appeal against a lower court's rejection of its proposed Glory to Hong Kong injunction that seeks to ban the dissemination of the 2019 protest anthem online, including via Youtube videos.
On Tuesday, the Appeals Court judges hearing the appeal decided they would need more time to hear the government’s arguments rather than make a judgement about it. From what was heard though, here's the government's case for the injunction in a nutshell appears to be that the song "amounted to a “weapon” for people to threaten the authorities".
Think about this for a minute (or more): this is a SONG we are talking about. But, then, the Hong Kong government has previous with regards to thinking that things most rational, sane people don't consider to be weapons to be so. Remember their saying this about umbrellas (starting from as far back as 2014)?  Also, remember the case of the female protestor arrested and convicted of assaulting a police officer with HER BREASTS?!
Back to the Glory to Hong Kong case: here's a reminder that the injunction application was rejected by High Court judge Anthony Chan in July   On Tuesday, "Acting as “a friend of the court” – someone who is not involved in a legal case, but who assists a court by offering information or insight – Senior Counsel Abraham Chan described the injunction pursued by the government as “unprecedented" and pointed out that "the song itself was not illegal, and there was no evidence that an injunction would help internet service providers remove the song if the publisher’s intent was unclear".  
"Chan also asked the court to consider provisions in the security law which stipulate that human rights and freedom must be protected."  One can but hope against hope that it does. And consequently reject the government's appeal come February 24th. Otherwise, I fear that yet another level of Pandora's Box will be opened; one that will lead to Youtube (and its parent company, Google) deciding to stop its services in Hong Kong -- something which it did in Mainland China years ago -- and, in the process, make it even more difficult for people here to stay connected to friends and family members living elsewhere in the world.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Rain couldn't spoil my visit to Kakunodate! (Photo-essay)

This week started badly, with my having nightmares two nights in a row -- the result of worrying about bad things happening in Hong Kong.  Last night though, I had a nice dream involving my being in Japan eating sushi.  I figure the dream was set in Japan in part because I finally got to viewing Hayao Miyazaki's magically evocative The Boy and the Heron yesterday -- and, also, because for some years now, Japan has been a place I have found myself visiting in the imagination, even if not physically (by way of movies, books (I'm a big fan of Keigo Higashino's tomes, among others) and food!).
Of course, I did finally visit Japan again this past October -- after a hiatus of some 4 years (thanks to the pandemic).  And there's still so much I want to share about that trip.  So, here's resuming doing so with this post about the next place I went to after visiting Tazawako: the former castle town and samurai stronghold of Kakunodate; one stop away on the Akita mini-shinkansen and, actually, now officially a part of the Akita prefectural city of Semboku along with Tazawako (though I must say that the parts of it that I visited sure didn't feel like a city)!  Anyways, you be the judge by way of the following photo-essay! ;b
It was still dry when I walked from Kakunodate's train station
through its Merchant District...
But the predicted rain came soon after I got to the Samurai District
(and stayed through the rest of my time in Kakunodate! :()
The first attraction I made a beeline to was the 
turned out to be a compound with multiple buildings...
...many of them chockful of treasures, including
samurai armor and swords (that I couldn't help thinking
Suffice to say that I most definitely came away from the visit
thinking that the Aoyagi family were serious collectors
of so much STUFF (including cameras and gramophones)! 
The second samurai house I visited, the Ishiguro House,
had far less STUFF inside of it -- but that might be true
only of the areas open to the public!
A cool element of this house -- parts of which remain occupied
by members of the Ishiguro family -- are the wooden panels,
designed and made in such a way that one's treated to a shadow show :)
Yes, I could have done without the rain -- but I also can see
what someone's said: that the rain can make the dark wooden 
buildings more photogenic!

Monday, December 18, 2023

Spotlight on Hong Kong, the national security law trial of Jimmy Lai, and prosecution witness Andy Li

Winter is -- and gray days are -- here in Hong Kong
This past Saturday, the temperatures dropped quite a bit and there's now a distinct chill in the air.  Still, it wasn't the cold air that made me shiver this morning but, rather, what I read in a piece by Shibani Mahtani for the Washington Post about what happened to Andy Li, a pro-democracy activist who's scheduled to be a key witness for the prosecution in the long-delayed national security trial of Jimmy Lai which finally got underway today. (How long delayed? Here's pointing out that he was arrested back in August 2020 and in and out of jail through to December 2020, when he was decisively denied bail and been behind bars since!)
The title of an article in The Guardian about the trial begins with the words "The world watches" -- and it does feel like Hong Kong is back in the international spotlight today.  Jimmy Lai's trial begins "two weeks after another landmark hearing came to an end on 4 December. The Hong Kong 47 mass trial of pro-democracy activists was the biggest national security law case since the legislation was implemented in Hong Kong in June 2020, quelling a year of protests against the tightening grip of the Chinese Communist party on the city. Lai’s trial has just one defendant. But," Amy Hawkins asserts, "it will be just as, if not more, significant for Hong Kong’s global standing."
"Lai, who turned 76 in jail this month, is charged with colluding with foreign forces under the national security law, as well as sedition. If convicted, which experts say is highly likely, the British national faces spending the rest of his life in prison."  Something noted there, which many people and media have not done so for much of this time, is that Jimmy Lai has a British passport -- a full fledged one as opposed to the "British National (Overseas)" passports issued to many Hong Kongers. But, due to his ethnicity, the authorities in Beijing -- and their proxies in Hong Kong -- consider him Chinese.  As well as an enemy of the Chinese state.

A reminder: the British government was a co-signer with the Chinese government of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. That 1984 document set the conditions in which then British-ruled Hong Kong was transferred to Chinese control and for the governance of the territory after 1 July 1997.  And it's the Sino-British Joint Declaration that had it that Hong Kong would be governed from July 1st, 1997, to June 30th, 2046, under something that came to be known as "One country, two systems": i.e., it would be part of the People's Republic of China but a Special Administrative Region that would enjoy a "high degree of autonomy" and, among other things, would have universal suffrage for its residents -- something which, of course, does not exist in the rest of China.
Returning to The Guardian's piece about Jimmy Lai's upcoming trial: "Lai’s trial is expected to run until spring 2024, with a verdict expected in autumn. It will be presided over by a panel of judges handpicked by the Hong Kong chief executive to handle national security cases.  Elaine Pearson, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch, [has] said [that] “Lai’s trial has been marred by serious violations of fair trial rights such as denying him a lawyer of his own choosing and handpicking judges. Beijing seems intent on imprisoning one of its most powerful critics for many years, possibly for the rest of his life.”"
Something else that is disturbing about the trial: its having witnesses for the prosecution like Andy Li.  A member of the Hong Kong 12 taken into custody in Shenzhen after a bid to flee to Taiwan by speedboat was foiled by Chinese coastguards, he looks to have been tortured while behind bars in Mainland China.
Quoting from Shibani Mahtani's piece: "Li, a 33-year-old gifted programmer who during the protests became a significant player in international lobbying and fundraising efforts, has already pleaded guilty under the national security law for his own role in the democracy movement, and he is expected to tie Lai to an alleged foreign conspiracy against Hong Kong and China. But Li was mistreated while in Chinese custody, a year-long Washington Post examination of the case found, raising questions about whether his testimony will be voluntary and reliable." 
Since returning to Hong Kong, Andy Li has been held in a Hong Kong psychiatric facility.  If that doesn't sound nuts and bad already, consider these passages from the Washington Post article which I find disturbing and chilling:  
For the first three months, according to several people familiar with the conditions, [the Hong Kong 12] were confined to these solitary cells, where two guards on shift took turns to watch them around-the-clock, even as they went to the bathroom. The lights were always on. During the day, they were forced to sit cross-legged on a concrete stool until their joints grew sore, except during mealtimes or interrogations. Walking around the cell was generally not permitted. At night, they were awakened at random hours, for no apparent reason. They were never allowed outside.
The interrogations were relentless during those initial months, the people familiar with the conditions said. Guards threatened to send them to Xinjiang — where the Chinese government has arbitrarily detained more than a million Muslim Uyghurs and subjected them to torture, forced sterilization, surveillance and other conditions, according to the United Nations — if they did not detail their attempted escape.
Most of the 12 were not physically abused, but seven people familiar with conditions at the center said screaming could “consistently” be heard coming from one cell: Li’s.
“It is likely that what [Li] faced inside was 10 times worse” than the rest, one person said.
If things were normal in Hong Kong, I think it would be safe to say that anything that Andy Li says at this point would be treated with suspicion as to its credibility.  Instead, the chance is extremely high that his words will be taken at surface value by the handpicked judges presiding over Jimmy Lai's trial.  And that in and of itself already will say a lot about whether justice can still truly be served, and served up, in Hong Kong in the national security law era.

Friday, December 15, 2023

Five more Hong Kongers have HK$1 million bounties put on their head

Hong Kong in 2023 is a Hong Kong where Chinese Communist Party
as well as People's Republic of China flags can be seen flying 
(*though the former far less often than the latter still)
Of this quintet, Simon Cheng is probably the most well known. A former trade and investment officer at the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong, he is, as the Hong Kong Free Press report points out, now "based in London [and] the founder of Hongkongers in Britain, a group that supports Hongkongers settling in the UK. He was detained by Chinese authorities as he attempted to return to Hong Kong from a business trip in Shenzhen in August 2019, when protests engulfed the city, and was granted asylum by the UK government three years ago."
Then there's Frances Hui and Joey Siu, both 24 year old activists "based in Washington DC, in the US. Hui is a policy and advocacy coordinator at The Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong Foundation, while Siu works at NGO World Liberty Congress and was a former policy advisor at NGO Hong Kong Watch, according to her LinkedIn. Sui has US citizenship."  
Hui also is known as the then Emerson College student who came under attack from Mainland Chinese students after she penned a piece in the college newspaper in April 2019 entitled "I Am From Hong Kong, Not China" which included the lines "I am from a city owned by a country that I don’t belong to" and "I will strongly hold onto that identity because I am proud and I want to tell people where my actual home is."  Meanwhile, much has been written in the past 24 hours or so (on Twitter and elsewhere) about Joey Siu being an American citizen who the Hong Kong government is accusing of colluding with... her own country's government!
Then there's Johnny Fok and Tony Choi who, frankly, I had not heard about until the news of their arrests yesterday. Apparently, they are Youtubers "accused of inciting secession and inciting subversion?"!  And, as The Wire China's Aaron McNicholas Tweeted, "accused of misleading Tsang Chi-kin and several others into arranging an appeal for donations to aid their escape from HK, an escape which never happened. We can only speculate how much of the case against those two is based on Tsang's testimony."
In any case, suffice to say that their having HK$1 million bounties on their heads is a big deal -- as is the fact that the Hong Kong government has decided to increase the number of the people they have done this too.  And it is a tragedy that this situation has come to pass -- for Hong Kong along with the individuals concerned, and their loved ones too.
I'll leave the last words today of this post to Joey Siu though.  First, from her 20-year-old self's college newspaper piece: "I have never felt so desperate to find other people from Hong Kong and advocate for my culture."  And finally from a Tweet yesterday: "More to say later but for now: I will never be silenced, I will never back down."

Thursday, December 14, 2023

The Goldfinger is not a film I value all that much! (Film review)

Officially opening later this month but I've already seen it!
The Goldfinger (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2023)
- Felix Chong, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Andy Lau, Simon Yam, Charlene Choi, Alex Fong Chung Sun
Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Andy Lau reunite in a blockbuster (whose HK$350 million budget makes it one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made) directed by one of the scriptiwriters of Infernal Affairs, the 2002 crime drama they starred in that Martin Scorsese remade into the multi-Oscar winning The Departed.  Glossy looking and beautifully shot by cinematographer Anthony Pun (who also lensed Hong Kong's current all-time box office champ, A Guilty Conscience), this Mainland China-Hong Kong co-production looks to aim to be a major crowd pleaser but I can also see its clearly ambitious makers expecting critical acclaim and have the film be the Federation Of Motion Film Producers of Hong Kong's next Best International Feature Oscar nominee. 
But like Where the Wind Blows (2022), another big budget period crime drama which stars Tony Leung Chiu Wai and was indeed the Federation of Motion Film Producers of Hong Kong's official Oscar selection last year, The Goldfinger left me cold and feeling it's yet another style over substance offering which won't win over that many Hong Kong viewers (though it could maybe satisfy Mainland Chinese ones).  And, sorry, having the Independent Commission for Corruption (ICAC) as the movie's good guys (rather than the cops) is not going to cut it these days; especially since the ICAC are among the organizations involved in making political arrests these days (along with the Hong Kong Police Force and National Security Bureau)!

Speaking of the police: The Goldfinger begins with police officers rioting(!) and threatening violence against unarmed individuals(!!).  Early on in the film, it also is revealed that Lau Kai-yuen (played by Andy Lau), the ICAC officer in charge of a major investigation against businessman Ching Yat-yin (portrayed by Tony Leung Chiu Wai), is a former police officer -- something which might be expected to explain his doggedness in pursuing his prey over a lengthy period of time during which Andy Lau morphs into an older man who, rather disturbingly, resembles Hong Kong's Financial Secretary Paul Chan!
For his part, Tony Leung Chiu Wai remains recognisably himself over the course of proceedings -- but his Ching Yat-yin character does radically change in circumstance and clothing style: from a poor, out-of-work engineer who looks to have been smuggled into Hong Kong by boat to a money-making genius who many were wont to believe had the golden touch and sat atop an international finance empire.  (Cue lots of work for -- and great work -- by such as the film's costume and set designers and art director!)  
A note for those who didn't realise: The film's titular character is based on George Tan, the ethnic Hokkien head of the Carrian Group whose fraud case has a large section devoted to it on the official ICAC website.  The following are quotes from it that can serve to outline part of The Goldfinger's plot: 
"In 1972, a 37-year-old Singaporean civil engineer arrived in Hong Kong to work as a project manager in a subsidiary company of a land developer. Soon the engineer was the land developer’s ‘hotshot’ and was even given the financial backing to establish a joint enterprise with the developer. Following the stock market slump in 1973, signs of rapid recovery in the Hong Kong property market began to emerge in 1976. The engineer saw a window of opportunity and started to purchase land in the New Territories with the intention of becoming a major property player..."!
This same engineer (who some people also had thought was Malaysian) went on to establish the Carrian Group.  In The Goldfinger, the conglomerate in focus is known as the Carmen Group.  In 1980, the Carrian Group acquired a high prestige property in Central called Gammon House.  In The Goldfinger, the Carmen Group acquired a high prestige building in Central known as Golden House.  And so it goes.
Watching The Goldfinger and the antics of its money crazy characters (who excessive money also turns them into pretty crazy people in general) can sometimes be akin to viewing -- not so much Crazy Rich Asians as The Wolf of Wall Street!  I know some people can derive some fun from doing so but for me, it can get too sleazy to seriously enjoy.  
Something else that I don't enjoy is the elements of the film that smack of casual racism, including casting terrible Caucasian actors to perform alongside a stat-studded and generally pretty capable group of Hong Kong thespians, and having one of them play a Southeast Asian presumably because he (Philip Keung) has darker skin than the average ethnic Chinese Hong Konger.  And then thre's the anti-British swipes that can feel like cheap shots and that I'd expect more from Mainland Chinese sources than contemporary Hong Kong movies. 

While we're on the subject of cheapness: I don't think a mega budget Hong Kong movie should be so carelessly made that not only is it way too obvious that scenes supposedly set in an overseas prison actually were shot in Tai Kwun but, also, that exhibit labels in its former prison cells be visible on screen!  Honestly, the more I think of The Goldfinger, the more problems with it I can finger.  I could go on but I think you already get the picture (i.e., I did not like this movie!), and thus will stop! 
My rating for this film: 5.0 

Monday, December 11, 2023

The silent majority made its collective voice heard and broke records by staying away from the 2023 District Council "election"!

The kind of advertising I wish Hong Kong had less of!
Yesterday morning, I was awoken by my phone ringing.  When I answered, I heard an automated message asking me to please go out and vote in the District Council "election".  Or at least, I think I did because I was only half awake and really wanted to just go back to sleep!  Then, later in the day, before a film screening properly got underway, a message (in three languages -- Cantonese, English and Mandarin) was aired asking people to go vote.  You could almost hear as well as smell the desperation of those trying so hard to avoid yesterday's event having a record low turnout!
Over on Twitter, Joel Chan was keeping tabs by the hour of the electoral turnout and very early on, it was evident that the turnout was low for the first national security law-era District Council "election" and on course to not be anywhere near the 71.2% voter turnout of the 2019 truly democratic district council election that had some 2.94 million Hong Kongers casting their votes and saw the pro-democrats win by a landslide.  Heck, by lunchtime, Chan was forecasting that the total votal turnout would not be able to match, never mind exceed, the 30.2% voter turnout of the 2021 Legislative Council "election"!   
Actually, a friend of mine had confidently predicted this weeks ago -- based on what she had seen and heard and knew about her fellow Hongkongers!)  And so it came to pass.  With not even the voting time being extended to midnight (due to voter registration system problems!) being able to help much at all!  
To put it mildly, the final voter count of 1,193,193 votes and voting percentage of 27.5% looks absolutely pathetic when compared to 2019!  And for the record: the 2023 District Council "election" had the lowest ever voting percentage; lower even than any of the District Council elections held before the Handover as well as being the lowest among those held after!  For whereas in 2019, the "silent majority" that the authorities had assumed was on their side went out and voted for the pro-democrats, this time around, the "silent majority" decided against taking part in what was widely seen as sham elections.  
So, although those not following what's been happening in Hong Kong for the past four years may not realize, actually, Hong Kong voters have delivered the same message once again: that we want genuine universal suffrage (which, remember, is one of protestors' "five demands" and the sole "demand" of the Umbrella Movement back in 2014).  
And speaking of protestors: three members of the League of Social Democrats, including chairwoman Chan Po-ying, were stopped and arrested yesterday on their way to protest the city’s “patriots-only” District Council "election".  (A measure of the deterioration of freedoms in Hong Kong can be seen in their being able to carry out their protest of the Legislative Council "election" just two years ago, in 2021.)  And it's looking like they will be charged -- like another League of Social Democrats member, Koo Sze-chiu, who was arrested on Friday -- with sedition.
On the subject of spoilt votes: It's turned out that 22,045 of the votes cast yesterday were declared invalid.  Was this primarily the result of a "spoilt votes" campaign or human error, particularly on the part of elderly and/or less-educated voters who are prone to this?  We will never know.  But what's known is that it's close to double the number of spoiled votes in 2019 (which was 12,097).   Finally, one election statistic that's higher in 2023 than 2019! 

Saturday, December 9, 2023

An out-of-season visit to Akita Prefecture's Tazawako (Photo-essay)

With a depth of 423 metres (1,388 ft), Tazawako (Lake Tazawa) is Japan's deepest lake. A caldera lake that's not had much development around it (which makes it pretty rural -- and pretty, period!), it's nonetheless reachable by public transportation; albeit with the catch that service there is not super frequent; so timing is of the essence to get there (and out of there)!

Also, if you go to Tazawako out of season (i.e., not in the summer months), there's really not too much that's open or to do there.  That is, if one is not on an organized tour, one can either go on a sightseeing boat that goes around the lake (which runs only once every 2 hours!) or rent a bicycle to ride around the lake.  And while the latter could be a nice option in fine weather, the former's really the one thing to do there on a day where rain was predicted!
Thus it was that after we go to the lake shore, all but one of the bus passengers who disembarked at the Tawazako stop ran up to a nearby hut where a woman was selling tickets for a sightseeing boat ride around the lake. Seconds after I got on, the boat took off -- leaving just one person on the shore, looking perplexed at what had happened. As it so happens, that person was the one non-Asian passenger on the bus I had been on.  Unlike the rest of us -- who numbered less than a dozen -- it seemed he hadn't got the complete memo about the place; something which I hope readers of this blog post now will make sure to do prior to going to a locale that's far more off the beaten track than even I had realized before venturing there! :D
Puppet Ponyo and the ONE Tazawako sightseeing boat in operation 
the morning I was there (Also, this is a post-trip pic as I was 
too much in a hurry to get on the boat to take a pre-trip pic!)
The view encompassing the now distant shore that I had 
boarded the  sightseeing boat seconds after getting on it!
The water at the Goza no Ishi Jinja side of Tazawako
was an incredibly bright, almost unnatural blue!
At the western end of Tazawako, what first caught my eye 
was the tree on the side of the lake with red leaves on it...
But, actually, what this section of Tazawako is famous for is 
the golden statue of Tatsuko, a local beauty who, legend has it, 
got cursed and turned into a dragon after drinking water from the lake! 
Imagine how this was look during the height of
koyo season...

Still, it's not like I didn't see much beauty on my visit to Tazawako! :)
Au revoir, Tazawako, its swan boats and all. (And yes, 
there really not being that many other people around when
I was there made the experience feel all the more precious!) :)