With July 1 marking the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s transition from British colonial port to Special Administrative Region (SAR) under Chinese rule and Chinese President Xi Jinping arriving for the occasion, the city is in reflective mood.
The date has traditionally seen large-scale protests, with half a million people demonstrating in 2003 against a proposed national security law, Article 23, which opponents said would curtail civil liberties. More recently, in 2014, organizers claimed about the same number turned out for the annual pro-democracy march.
Politics aside, Hong Kong’s handover has always been a source of material for films made by the territory’s filmmakers. This year’s edition of the Hong Kong Film Festival also featured a section on post 1997 Hong Kong’s films.
Asia Times brings you five selected films exploring the psyche of Hong Kong:
Made in Hong Kong
Twenty years on, it is still the quintessential Hong Kong indie film. The first part of the “Handover Trilogy” by Fruit Chan, and also the best known of the series, it launched the career of Sam Lee, then an unknown. Made on a shoestring budget and one of the first Hong Kong films to focus on working-class youths, the film remains relevant, albeit painfully. Now remastered in 4k, it will be screened in Hong Kong theaters on July 1.
Quentin Tarantino calls the prequel his favorite movie of the year. In Johnnie To’s sequel, Simon Yam – the triad boss who won the “election” in the first movie – attempts to seek another term, even though it’s against the rules. Louis Koo returns as a savvy gangster-cum-businessman more interested in expanding his business empire in mainland China than taking over as head of the triad Wo Shing that he is part of. He will soon find some things are beyond his control, with the (surprise surprise) interference coming from Chinese authorities.
Based loosely on three real-life criminals, the film charts their criss-crossed destinies as Hong Kong approaches the eve of the 1997 handover. One of the best, if not the best, Hong Kong film released last year. Produced by Johnnie To and co-directed by three young Hong Kong filmmakers, the film is proof that there is still talent in the industry. Watch it for its disguised allegory on the fate of Hong Kong.
There’s nothing quite like Infernal Affairs (2002) for a classic cop thriller, but PTU is the film that explores how far the police would go to achieve their goals. A cop loses his gun – and his teammates go all out to retrieve it before the morning. What follows are some almost farcical turns, climaxing in a big shootout. Simon Yam gives a formidable performance as the head of the Police Tactical Unit, or PTU, of the title.
This film won top prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards last year, but a ban on it in mainland China, as well as the media coverage of the award show, probably overshadowed the work. A dystopian five-part omnibus by five young Hong Kong directors, it speculates on how Hong Kong will look in the year 2025. A taxi driver finds himself getting marginalized for not speaking Putonghua; schoolchildren inculcated into a Red-Guard like organization attack the store of a local egg-seller for using the label “local” instead of “Hong Kong”; and a young supporter of the independence movement finds no other option than self-immolation. It’s bleak, but it resonated profoundly with Hong Kong audiences.