Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Moon Thieves is a fun watch, and maybe more! (Film review)

Advertising for the second Lunar New Year comedy 
I viewed in 2024 :)
The Moon Thieves (Hong Kong, 2024)
- Steve Yuen, director and co-scriptwriter (with Chan Kin-hung)
- Starring: Edan Lui, Anson Lo, Louis Cheung, Michael Ning, Keung To
This year's batch of Hong Kong Lunar New Year movies have been star-driven, with Rob n Roll boasting the the single biggest star name in Aaron Kwok. But it's Louis Cheung who will be the festive season's acting box office champ thanks to his appearing in not one but two 2024 Lunar New Year offerings; at least one of which is still in Hong Kong cinemas over Easter weekend!  And while he's part of an ensemble cast in both Table for Six 2 and The Moon Thieves, his parts are significant in both.  
In this Steve Yuen movie, Cheung, together with MIRROR members Edan Lui and Anson Lo, and award-winning actor Michael Ning, make up the titular "moon thieves": a heist crew recruited by "Uncle" (played by another MIRROR member in Keung To) -- a powerful, even while surprisingly young, underworld watch dealer who took over the nickname and business from his late father -- to go to Tokyo and steal three rare (and thus super valuable) watches housed in a Japanese company's safe. 

Edan Lui has arguably the most eye-catching role as Vincent, an antiques watch counterfeiter with quite the watch knowledge (and obsession). As explosives expert Mario, Michael Ning definitely stole some scenes though, while Anson Lo as Yoh, the young lock-picking artist, looked to be able to have fun with his role too.  But it's left to Louis Cheung's Chief, the leader of the crew, to hold things together -- and that he does ably. 
Watching Table for Six 2 and The Moon Thieves just a few weeks apart increased my Louis Cheung appreciation due to his having had very different roles in the two pretty different movies; yet managing to add gravitas to both and infuse emotional depth to generally light (in terms of mood and also dramatic heft) films as a whole as well as his characters in them.  Also, I appreciate how he looks able to hold his own and appeal in both a movie where the big names were a generation older than him (Table for Six 2) and then again in another where the star attractions were decades younger than him (The Moon Thieves). 

Incidentally, I'm sure that many people went to see The Moon Thieves primarily -- or even solely -- because of there being MIRROR members in it! While I wouldn't describe myself as a fan of the music group or even any of its individual members, I will say that I've never been put off by the presence of any of them in a movie (unlike, say, with...Aaron Kwok.  Yes, there's a reason why Rob n Roll was not a movie I made a beeline to go watch!)  And, in fact, I think that all of that group's trio acquitted themselves well in this fun film.
When viewing this festive offering, I found myself not thinking at all about Hong Kong's political situation or pro-democracy protest movement.  Those who don't live in Hong Kong probably will think "Of course, it's just an entertaining -- even mere "throwaway" -- heist movie, after all"!  But upon further reflection, the way that you have people who don't have much in common come together to form a team and end up bonding while working towards a common purpose is something that, well, does remind me of how things were in 2019-2020.  Yes, I may be overthinking it.  But, ultimately, I think this also is why I do think that The Moon Thieves is a very Hong Kong movie designed to appeal to Hong Kongers after all!

My rating for this film: 7.5

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Article 23 has come into effect, and already been wielded

The kind of bookstore I wish could flourish in Hong Kong
Article 23 came into force last Saturday (March 23rd, 2024)Even before it came into effect, yet another wave of fear had swept Hong Kong -- and with it, announcement of store closures and such.  Although pro-democracy/free speech Mount Zero bookstore announced its upcoming closure (at the end of March; i.e., this Sunday) some weeks back, it clearly is a victim of the double whammy that's Article 23 and the National Security Law China imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.
Over the weekend, I visited another of Hong Kong's remaining independent bookstores.  Even while some books that clearly showed its pro-democracy/free speech credentials remained on display, a staffer told me that they were other books that they had removed some others from their shelves while they waited to see where the new "red lines" were being drawn.  Put another way: they were anticipating that the "red lines" would be further tightened and there be less space for free speech and such in the city; and also waiting, like other Hong Kongers, to see Article 23 being wielded against people.

I must admit that a part for me was imagining horrors like mass arrests taking place at the stroke of midnight or pre-dawn on Saturday -- and was already counting my blessings later that day and Sunday that nothing directly Article 23 related had happened over the first 48 hours or so.  On Monday evening, however, I heard rumblings that something untoward had happened involving a jailed activist-protestor; and confirmation came along yesterday that Ma Chun-man had been denied the early release from prison that his family and friends who went to wait for him to come out of the Tong Fuk Correctional Institution on Monday thought he would be given.
All this was before Article 23 came into effect, however.  And "While the city's law stipulates eligible prisoners can be released before their term ends, the new security law allows the government to deny such rights."  Which is what happened; making Ma the first known case of an individual denied freedom and penalised under Article 23.

Some further details from the Nikkei Asia article reporting this: "Ma Chun-man, a former delivery man who was found guilty of inciting secession on at least 20 occasions in public and on social media between August and November 2020. Ma was accused of chanting slogans advocating independence from China." Read that again: he CHANTED SLOGANS. (In other words, we are talking about speech crimes.)
Quoting again from the Nikkei Asia piece: "The new security law is more comprehensive than one that was imposed by Beijing in June 2020 to punish secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country or external forces that endangered national security. The new law includes treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets, sabotage against public infrastructure, including computer systems, and external interference in domestic affairs."  
At the same time, it's worth noting that Hong Kong's Basic Law also includes the following Articles:
Article 27:  Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.
Article 28:  The freedom of the person of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable.

No Hong Kong resident shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment. Arbitrary or unlawful search of the body of any resident or deprivation or restriction of the freedom of the person shall be prohibited. Torture of any resident or arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of the life of any resident shall be prohibited.

Article 29:  The homes and other premises of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable. Arbitrary or unlawful search of, or intrusion into, a resident's home or other premises shall be prohibited.

Article 30:  The freedom and privacy of communication of Hong Kong residents shall be protected by law. No department or individual may, on any grounds, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of communication of residents except that the relevant authorities may inspect communication in accordance with legal procedures to meet the needs of public security or of investigation into criminal offences.

It remains to be seen though how strongly they will be upheld, especially vis a vis Article 23.  So, please, don't look away from what's happening in Hong Kong -- the original title of Humans Right Watch's Acting China Director Maya Wang's piece in the New York Times which bemoans, among other things, that "visitors to Hong Kong often fail to recognize the transformations taking place beneath the enduring glitz of the city", and cites a recent Pew Research Center survey having found that "more than 80 percent of Hong Kongers still want democracy, however remote that possibility looks today".

Friday, March 22, 2024

On the eve of Article 23 coming into effect

Poster seen in Hong Kong back in October 2014
This past Tuesday, Hong Kong's homegrown national security law (known as Article 23) was fast tracked through the territory's Legislative Council.  "With unanimous support from all 89 lawmakers, the bill is now set to take effect on March 23 — nearly a month earlier than many observers had expected,"  DW's Yuchen Li (in Taipei) and Phoebe Kong (in Hong Kong) reported.

"The specific laws will introduce a range of new offenses including treason, espionage, external interference and disclosure of state secrets – some of which are punishable by up to life in prison.  Following the first passage of a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in 2020, the latest bill is widely believed to further undermine the city's freedom and autonomy promised by Beijing after the region returned from British colonial rule in 1997," they continued.

As it so happened, I spent last Tuesday evening in the company of a friend who had been in that court.  I think being with that friend and similar minded people helped me to stay calm.  Meeting up and being with other friends in the days since has helped too: to, among other things, remind one another that we are still here, we still support one another, and we all still really f**king love Hong Kong.
So, here are the words and mantras I plan to live by for today and the coming days: Keep calm and carry on.  Live in truth.  Figure out what you can still do, and ga yau!

Friday, March 8, 2024

Thoughts triggered by reports that Article 23 will be passed (very) soon

Spotted in Hong Kong yesterday
Sharing some things I wrote on Twitter late last night after seeing the news that Article 23 would be gazetted today (with typos there hopefully corrected here):
Something many people outside of Hong Kong (still) don't seem to realise is that: People went on protest marches because Hong Kong didn't have democracy but they still felt the government would listen to over 500 thousand protest marchers. But when Carrie Lam didn't listen on June 9th and then 16th, 2019... 
Put another way: if we had genuine universal suffrage, there probably would not have been those mega protest marches. And what REALLY killed off the will to have those mega marches wasn't the national security law but the feeling/knowledge that the government WILL NOT LISTEN.
 Those people lamenting that Hongkongers have lost their courage and don't want to comment (on camera to the BBC, etc.) about Article 23: why should we risk arrest, jail, etc. when we knew/know what we say will just fall on deaf ears?
I mean. Think about it: 2 million people out of a population of some 7.5 million went out on the streets on June 16th, 2019. Young, elderly, some pregnant women, people on wheelchairs, etc. And still our message was ignored. And we -- non-violent protestors -- were derided as rioters. How insane is that?!
And for those who say 2 million is less than one third of the population: think of the people who couldn't attend that day -- who were working that day, in hospital, who happened to not be in Hong Kong that day, etc. And, also, that the majority of the voters on November 24th, 2019 voted for pro-democracy candidates.
And when you look at just 2019 (not even 2020, 2014, every July 1st from 2003, etc.), with protest rallies and marches taking place weekly (with some weeks and days having more than one event): we are talking about A LOT of (committed) people.
In sum: there were/are lots of people who wanted democracy, who didn't want Article 23 to be passed, who really f**king love Hong Kong. And that's what keeps us going (and the majority of us here): the knowledge that We. Are. Still. The. Majority. In. Hong. Kong!
Today, I saw someone Tweet that after Article 23 is passed, he will delete his Twitter account.  And, sadly, I think he isn't the only one who will do so.  We saw this happen after China imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong back in 2020 after all -- and what's been described as Hong Kong's own national security law is threatening to be quite a bit harsher and thus scarier.
I would be lying if I said that I've not thought about deleting my social media accounts and also this blog.  But I also got to thinking that if the Hong Kong government wanted/wants to go after me, they'd already have copied those of my writings they found/find offensive.  So if I delete this blog or Tweets, etc., it just means "the public" won't be able to read them -- as opposed to the authorities.
Consequently, they will stay.  Though for how much longer I will update them... well, let's see how it all goes (or not, as the case could be), shall we?  If nothing else, I learnt a long time ago to: a) never say never; and b) to not try to predict the future -- because so much has happened and can happen, both bad but also good, that we just really couldn't envisage or imagine until it all did! 

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Farewell to David Bordwell, a beloved fan and respected champion of Hong Kong cinema

David Bordwell sharing a stage with Karena Lam, 
Christopher Lambert and Bong Joon Ho at the 
Today was one of those days when soon after I had dragged myself out of bed, on account of it being a way colder March day than I'm used to in Hong Kong, I wanted to head back to bed for the rest of the day.  For a change, it wasn't bad political news that made me feel this way.  Rather, it was learning (via a Facebook post from a mutual friend) that a good friend had passed away.

David Bordwell was one of those people I first knew about -- and writings (including Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment (of which there's a second, revised edition and Chinese language translation) I read -- before I met him.  An eminent film scholar whose Film Art: An Introduction (co-authored with his wife, now widow, Kristin Thompson) was the textbook for many introductory film studies courses, he taught for decades at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and, by many accounts, was a fantastic teacher as well as professor.

I never formally knew this side of David Bordwell as I never ever took a film studies class (nor was I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison).  Still I do think he taught me a lot over the years by way of one-on-one conversations, email discussions and such.  And not just about film but, also, how to be a good human being.

Among the things that struck me pretty much from the start of my getting to know him -- around two and a half decades ago now -- was how he would generously share information and insights, never forget to thank people who answered queries he had and to openly credit people he felt had helped in even the most minor ways.  Also, unlike too many professors and others who occupied respected positions, he never treated people who weren't his peers like, well, they were not his peers.
In addition to being an admirably "hail fellow well met" kind of guy, I really appreciated that David Bordwell was film fan as well as a film scholar.  Again, unlike too many other folks I've encountered (who seem to think that to be serious about cinema requires one to be critical -- or, at the very least, emotionally detached), he was unafraid to show his enthuasiasm and enjoyment of a movie, and also would openly expression passion for a particular actor, actress or filmmaker -- and even openly champion their work.

Fun fact: I first "met" David Bordwell via a film discussion board used mainly by movie geeks.  Although we were both based in the US at the time, we only met "in the flesh" in Hong Kong a few years later -- after a Hong Kong International Film Festival screening; one of many we would end up finding ourselves both at.
Some of my favorite memories of David involve watching movies at the Hong Kong International Film Festival with him and then waxing lyrical to each other about those we had enjoyed viewing.  Among the most memorable of our shared viewings was of Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China (Hong Kong, 1991) with two other friends.  All of us had seen this martial arts epic before and loved it.  But it truly was a rare treat for all of us to view it on a big screen with friends who were fellow fans.     
Another memorable viewing with David was of a lesser known Hong Kong movie: New York, Chinatown (Hong Kong, 1982), which we both viewed for the first time, sat side by side, in the front row of the cinema at the Hong Kong Film Archive back in 2014.  That's 10 years ago now but I still can recall his glee when watching this movie which can't be called a classic by any means but still has its moments.  
Afterwards, we headed out of the Film Archive and parted ways -- he to take the MTR and I to take the bus.  That was actually the last time I saw him because ill health made it so that he was advised by his doctor to not make the trip over to Hong Kong from Wisconsin in subsequent years.  I wish it weren't the case.  And I have to say that every year since that the Hong Kong International Film Festival has come along, I had hoped that I'd see David again.  Sadly, it's not to be.  
He was, and will be, missed.  But, well, David, thanks for the great memories. And, actually, thank you for everything -- including your championing of Hong Kong cinema -- and Hong Kong in general* -- over the years but, also, for being a wonderful human being and treasured friend.        
*From a 2020 post on his (and Kristin Thompson's) Observations on Film Art blog: "Since the last edition [of Planet Hong Kong], I have not followed Hong Kong cinema as intensively as I would have liked. Other projects have diverted me. But I have never lost my admiration for this cinema, this culture, and this citizenry. Watching Hong Kong films and visiting the territory have added a new dimension to my life."
RIP, David Bordwell (1947-2024).  And Kristin, should you ever read this blog post: my sincere condolences once more.