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Hong Kong movie riles China and taps city’s deepest fears

This production still handout released to AFP from Ten Years Production Limited from the Hong Kong movie “Ten Years” shows actor Liu Kai-chi (left) playing a character who sells local Hong Kong eggs. — AFP photos
This production still handout released to AFP from Ten Years Production Limited from the Hong Kong movie “Ten Years” shows actor Liu Kai-chi (left) playing a character who sells local Hong Kong eggs. — AFP photos

In Hong Kong, a woman sets herself on fire in protest, a taxi driver despairs at the eradication of the local language and young children in military uniform prowl the streets, echoing the horrors of China’s Cultural Revolution. But this is not the past, it is Hong Kong in 2025 as portrayed in the movie “Ten Years”, which has been a box office hit locally-despite some cinemas refusing to show itand has raised hackles in China. The five-part movie made by young Hong Kong directors taps residents’ worst fears for the future of the semiautonomous territory as Beijing’s grip tightens.

Its sell-out screenings have come against an increasingly turbulent backdrop of running battles between young protesters and police, and the detention in China of five booksellers critical of Beijing, as concern grows that Hong Kong’s longcherished freedoms are dying. Since its release at the end of December, the movie, made for just HK$500,000 ($64,000), has earned an unexpected HK$6 million and is now a “best film” contender at the Hong Kong Film Awards on April 3.

“The movie is giving a voice to the unexpressed sentiment of Hong Kongers,” director Ng Ka-leung, 34, told AFP. “I wanted to use the film to respond to some questions I wanted answered, including whether or not Hong Kong has a way out, and how would Hong Kong change.” Ng’s segment “Egg Man” portrays an egg vendor under attack from young “red guards” seeking to denounce citizens.

China has flexed its muscles in response. Broadcasts of the Hong Kong Film Awards on the mainland have been pulled, with the movie’s nomination widely believed to be the reason. China’s state-run Global Times newspaper hit out at the film as “totally absurd” and a “virus of the mind”. Ng suspects political motivations were behind the difficulty in getting the film a decent run in Hong Kong cinemas. “Why wouldn’t cinemas consider our movie, which was profitable and when lots of people still wanted to see it?” he questioned.

Audience in tears
The film’s five segments take a no-holds-barred approach to their vision of Hong Kong, with the image of an elderly woman dousing herself in petrol and setting herself on fire particularly hardhitting. “If we recognize the harshness of reality, that Hong Kong truly has a problem, then we can think of a way out of this situation,” Kiwi Chow, director of the “Self-Immolator” segment told AFP. Self-immolation, which activists in Tibet have used to protest against Beijing’s ironclad control there, is unheard of in Hong Kong. “I really don’t want my story to come true,” Chow, 37, said.

Cinema audiences have watched “Ten Years” in stunned silence, some of them moved to tears. “The movie has left a big impression on me because it shows many scenes which are similar to events in Hong Kong now,” university student Thomson Chan, 21, told AFP after one screening. “I feel what’s predicted (in the film) will happen.” One 53-year-old who wanted to remain anonymous said he felt the future “would be even worse than the movie”. The city’s freedoms are protected by a deal made with Britain when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, but there is now growing anxiety that China is stamping its mark on the territory, from politics to education and the media. Film critics say the public wants to see those issues directly addressed. “There are some political movies in Hong Kong, but they use metaphors and indirect ways to tell the story,” Hong Kong film critic Dominic Li told AFP. “(In) ‘Ten Years’, they are very direct and strike at the present situation of Hong Kong,” he added. “These five young directors showed bravery in making a film about very sensitive issues.”—AFP

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