A Film Imagines Hong Kong's Future, Inside China's Tightening Fist ; 'Ten Years' Has Tapped into Fears over Erosion of Culture and Civil Liberties

By Wong, Alan | International New York Times, February 2, 2016 | Go to article overview

A Film Imagines Hong Kong's Future, Inside China's Tightening Fist ; 'Ten Years' Has Tapped into Fears over Erosion of Culture and Civil Liberties


Wong, Alan, International New York Times


"Ten Years" has tapped into fears about the erosion of the territory's culture and civil liberties.

What will Hong Kong be like a decade from now?

When his new film "Ten Years," which answers that question with five dystopian tales set in 2025, was denounced as a "thought virus" by the Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times, the Hong Kong director Ng Ka-leung was unfazed.

"If anything, the editorial brought mainland Chinese people's attention to our small production," said Mr. Ng, who is also one of the film's two producers.

"Ten Years" has become a surprise hit across theaters in Hong Kong, tapping into fears in the semiautonomous Chinese territory over the erosion of local culture and civil liberties, fears fed most recently by the disappearance of five people connected to a Hong Kong company that publishes political books banned in the mainland. Since its general release in late December, most showings have been sold out. With a budget of about 500,000 Hong Kong dollars, about $64,000, the indie production had raked in nearly 5 million Hong Kong dollars by Thursday, Mr. Ng said. On Friday, it received a best film nomination for the Hong Kong Film Awards.

"We didn't even spend a dollar on promotion," he said. "We initially thought we were only going to show it in private screenings and had never expected such huge demand."

In its five short stories, each by a different director, "Ten Years" portrays the Hong Kong of the near future as struggling under the tightening grip of its Chinese Communist rulers, even though the former British colony was returned to Beijing in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" principle with the promise that its freedoms and way of life would be preserved for 50 years.

In one story, "Dialect," the Mandarin of the mainland has displaced the local Cantonese as the official language. Those who cannot speak it are marginalized.

Hank, a taxi driver, has to post a sign saying he does not speak the language. His income is dwindling, as non-Mandarin-speaking drivers are barred from picking up passengers in some areas. Children are taught in Mandarin at school and, in one poignant scene, Hank's son walks up to him after class calling him the Mandarin "baba" instead of "loudau" in colloquial Cantonese.

"Ten years ago, they had to learn Cantonese to be here," a passenger laments to Hank.

In other stories, books are censored, homes are bulldozed and the Chinese government meddles in local policy-making, aided by obsequious Hong Kong officials and hired thugs.

"If people weren't terrified, who would give a damn about the national security law?" a Chinese official asks in "Extras," in which the Chinese government hires gunmen to stage a terrorist attack in Hong Kong, hoping to frighten people into supporting such legislation. In 2003, the Hong Kong government's attempt to pass a national security law was halted by half a million protesters, who were concerned that it could be used by the Communist authorities to crush dissent.

In "Self-Immolator," a woman sympathetic to a Hong Kong independence movement pours gasoline over her head and sets herself ablaze outside the British Consulate, a scene that could have been inspired by protests in 2014 urging the British government to stand up against China's treatment of Hong Kong.

Fantastic as these fables might be, they have clearly resonated with many people here. …

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