When the movie Ten Years was released, Hong Kong was in a commotion. The low-budget film with its virtually volunteering actors had surpassed the newest Star Wars movie at the Yau Ma Tei box office last December, marking the Hong Kong people’s political awareness, expression and to some extent, unrest.
Ten Years was a project directed and cultivated by five local undergraduate students from institutions scattered around Hong Kong. The entire production consists of five short films compiled together, connecting to one another under the larger discourse: a fictional foresight of what Hong Kong will become in ten years’ time. The five short films, ‘Extras’, ‘Season of the End’, ‘Dialect’, ‘Self-immolator’ and ‘Local Egg’, address socio-political issues that are currently in the local heat of debate.
Where did it all start?
In December 2014, the ‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ campaign, a disobedience project aiming to inflict pressure on the PRC into implementing an electoral system of universal suffrage, and the spontaneous ‘Umbrella Movement’ that followed, brought people of different ages and occupations onto the streets. The movement was quite divided, as 12 different organizations and political parties were present, each advocating for their own version of ‘universal suffrage’ and ‘democracy’.
Following the 2014 ‘Umbrella Movement’ and ‘Occupy Central’ protests that had placed Hong Kong under international spotlight, Ten Years symbolizes an artistic rise in political awareness and expression. Civil disobedience, language restriction and self-identity are themes within the piece that protest against China in response to the student strikes and subsequent violent outbursts. As SCMP writes, it conveys “Hongkongers’ worst post-Occupy fears”.
The 2014 civil disobedience triggered the immense sense of segregation and disunion between the people, as more campaigns and alliances of different views emerged, such as the ‘Blue Ribbon Movement’ and the ‘Silent Majority for Hong Kong’. The disparity in opinions was the fitting climate for brewing violence and dissent, allowing any change to become impossible as 2015 rolled around. The prospect of previous efforts inflicting any effect at all on Hong Kong’s future was shattered when the Pan-Establishment, or Pro-Beijing camp, suddenly left the Parliamentary hall as they were asked to vote on the bill to pass a reformed (but apparently unsatisfactory) version of Hong Kong’s 2017 Chief Executive Election last summer. This tremendous act was broadcasted live. That summer, the disorganized state of the authorities left Hong Kong in awe, or rather, in distress, having witnessed the (live) process of returning back to square one.
Post-Occupy: where does Ten Years come into play?
Hong Kong has entered a period aptly deemed the “post-occupy” time, where collective contemplation and criticism of past events start to sprout. Today, Hong Kong is divided as ever. The peaceful protestors of Central and Admiralty have long gone, as news channels are teeming with students and protestors with rebellious thoughts and schemes to break into government quarters. The Mong Kok civil unrest riot, better known as the ‘Fishball Revolution’ (there was a crackdown on illegal fishball-selling hawkers) that broke out on Chinese New Year in February 2016 at one of Hong Kong’s most populous districts, is a case on point of the pent-up dissatisfaction and opposition between civilians and authority. The violence that night left the Hong Kong Police Force, once known as “Asia’s finest”, with a tarnished image as severe distrust aroused amongst the Hong Kong people.
‘Extras’ launches a subtle but penetrative blow at Hong Kong’s pro-establishment and PRC-supporting groups. Kwok Zune, director of the short narrative in Ten Years, describes the local armed forces as “not much different from triads”, highlighting the police’s rising rate of power abuse and infliction of violence on those with opposing views. As a light movie review, netizens have linked the recent Mong Kok riot with the plot of ‘Extras’, exclaiming that the scenes in the movie are gradually materializing.
Another heatedly debated topic is the extermination of Cantonese, Hong Kong’s official language. ‘Dialect’ depicts the marginalization of a Cantonese-speaking taxi driver who had failed to pass a Mandarin proficiency examination. The underlying pro-Cantonese sentiments expose not only the protection of the Hong Kong identity, but also an exaggerated defense against those who threaten its place.
Hong Kong’s political unrest over the past year and a half has been a striking one. Though fragmented, the once largely politically silent and indifferent majority, especially students, are starting to speak up. However, Hong Kong itself is still unsure if it is prepared to hear the voices of its people. For a choir to produce a harmonious sound, the soprano, alto, tenor and bass singers must cooperate with one another, and listen to the sounds that each person is producing. Good progress cannot be achieved without open-minded discussions that give way to creative thought and new perspectives.