Monday, May 13, 2024

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom tries to keep the spotlight on Hong Kong (even) in 2024 (Film review)

Poster for a documentary, not anime

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom (U.S.A.-Hong Kong, 2024)
- Sean Fleck, director, writer and co-producer (with Alan Parks)
Back in 2020, Hong Kong protest documentary short Anders Hammer's Do Not Split was nominated for an Oscar.  One year later, Kiwi Chow's Revolution of Our Times had its world premiere at the Cannes film festival.  Five years on from the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests that captured the world's attention, films continue to be made about Hong Kong and its protest movement.  And while I've not managed to view James Leong's If We Burn (2023) and the anonymously made She's In Jail (2024), about imprisoned lawyer-activist Chow Hang-tung, I've managed to view Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom here in Hong Kong.
Made by American documentary filmmaker Sean Fleck, Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom is so newly made that it includes information about the passing of Article 23 into law, something which took place barely two months ago.  Incredibly, the pretty comprehensive work also has some coverage of such as the Article 23 protests of 2003, the National Education protests of 2012, the Occupy phase of the Umbrella Movement in 2014, the bookseller abductions of 2015 and Causeway Books' Lam Wing-kee's post-escape revelations before getting to its main subject matter: the 2019 protests and what's happened to, and in, Hong Kong since.
Although its poster may make it seem otherwise, Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom is a seriously legit work that takes a far from cartoony approach to Hong Kong, and the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests that raged on the streets for much of 2019 and into 2020 before Covid (then known as Wuhan coronavirus) woes got Hongkongers fixating on the pandemic over protests.  Witness, for example, its coverage of the peaceful -- and very large number of -- Hong Kong protestors (known as the wo lei fei who were "peaceful, rational and non-violent") as well as the frontline protestors known as "the braves" (that such as Do Not Split had focused -- I'd even say fixated -- on).

Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom also includes interview footage with a number of political personalities like exiled dissidents Frances Hui, Joey Siu, Samuel Chu and Jeffrey Ngo --  and Lee Cheuk-yan, a Tiananmen Square Massacre survivor and former trade unionist, activist and politician who's been behind bars ever since he was arrested and denied bail on February 28th, 2021.  By the way, it was somewhat disconcerting to see the senior man in the documentary -- especially those sections of it that spoke in what might be termed "the ethnographic present" -- since he's not appeared in public (excluding his court appearances) for more than three years now.
Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom also has interviews with a number of Hong Kong protestors whose faces and actual names are not revealed.  This is understandable since those people were taking a risk by appearing in this documentary -- even if they were only providing personal accounts and factual information about the pro-democracy protests.  (And, frankly, I'm also possibly putting myself at risk/in danger by revealing that I've seen the film and in reviewing it.  Such is the state of -- and life in -- national security era Hong Kong!)

Sean Fleck's documentary additionally contains interviews with a number of American politicians (including Republicans Mike Gallagher and Michelle Steel but also Democrats Raja Krishnomoorthi and Jake Auchincloss).  Although they come from, and represent, both sides of the ideological aisle, my sense is that this might weaken whatever messages that Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom seeks to make -- on account of the documentary being perceived as (primarily/wholely) targeted to Americans.
This is a pity since I actually think that Hong Kong: Final Days of Freedom tries hard to be even-handed even while also being largely on the side of pro-demcracy Hong Kongers; something the way it chooses to conclude makes pretty clear.  Also, the quote from George Orwell's 1984 that the work chooses to open with it is says so much: i.e., "The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.  It is their final, most essential command"; this all the more so due to it having been superimposed over a Maoist propaganda poster!

My rating for this film: 7.5


Brian Naas said...

I think I am caught up on your film reviews. Thanks for writing them. Hope to catch a few of them some sunny day - Tatami, Hollywoodgate and HK: Final Days of Freedom - the Moths probably not my cup of tea. Btw, I found a copy of Revolution of Our Times and am about half way through. I can only watch it in 20 minute pieces. It is too intense to watch all the way thru. for me,

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

I wonder which of the films I reviewed you'll have access to where you are. Have you made it through "Revolution of Our Times" yet? (I ask since I'm finally seeing and replying to your comment more than a week after you wrote it!)

Brian Naas said...

Just watched another 30 mins of it. It is tough going. I feel like crying at times. None of these films will make it to Bangkok but a few might make it to the internet. I want to check your review of Revolution.

YTSL said...

Hi again Brian --

Have seen your review of "Revolution of Our Times". Thanks for it.