Film Review:  Hong Kong Moments (NZIFF 2020)

Hong Kong Moments attempts to capture the mood of the city and the forces at play leading up to the large-scale demonstrations against the notorious Extradition Bill in 2019. Director Zhou Bing attempts and all-sides examination of the ongoing conflict – through the eyes of seven Hong Kong citizens.

Director: Zhou Bing

Specifically, this was seen as a capitulation to Mainland China, from the Hong Kong government. China had been excluded from an extradition agreement prior to the end of the British lease in 1997. This meant a difficult, but not impossible situation to get to people that posed a threat to the Beijing leadership.

The Causeway Bay Books Disappearance were five people selling books critical of the Chinese government who disappeared in 2015. They later turned up in custody on the Mainland. In 2017, Hong Kong billionaire Xiao Jinhua was kidnapped from his apartment by Chinese security operatives, to stand trial for bribery and corruption.

The Extradition Bill was seen as a mechanism to do away with this barrier, and to allow the easier removal of opponents and critics of the Mainland.

Demonstrations against this Bill started early in 2019 and grew increasingly tense and violent, as people feared this would actually come to pass.

Tense police confrontations. Petrol bombs by the protestors. Police firing on protestors and two deaths. Defacing of buildings. Vandalising property and vehicles.

There were also pro-Chinese supporters and factions taking the opposite stance and attacking protestors. The Triad was said to have been one of these groups. Accusations of cover-up and lack of police action around this.

There is some startling and challenging footage capturing this.

But Director Zhou Bing takes a James Joyce Ulysses approach to his camera and lets four residents tell the story from their particular perspectives and philosophical positions on the reason for the riots.  In this fashion the movie is not a polemic for either side, but a more humanistic approach. The concerns of people who are proud to be Hong Kongers, but are apprehensive of the future and the way to respond to it.

We meet a young woman distributing anti-Bill and pro-democracy leaflets on the streets. She has been involved in the organising of the demonstrations. She tells us of the threats of violence, torture and rape she has received. First hand testimony of violence from the security forces and from other residents. You realise the risk she has put herself in by appearing in this movie. But in her early twenties, she is going to continue to protest.

We follow Ray, a taxi-driver. A special breed around the world. The New York City Yellow Cabs, The London Cabbie. Ray has no time for residents who want to destroy or damage property, to block roads. Trying to get around busy Hong Kong streets, he gets frustrated at a passenger who is critical of the government and the bill. Ray invites him to get out of his cab, or shut up.

Ah Bau is a radicalised dissident male who appears with a scarf around his head and a disguised voice. On the frontlines of the demonstrations, coming directly up against the police. He explains the method of Water. Come together from different directions, disperse quickly in the same fashion. Difficult to surround and corral people in that fashion. He is very pessimistic about a future under Mainland rule.

He and the young woman do not see a future for themselves outside of the democratic environment they have grown up in. The choice is either kill for more Government, or die for less.

Then there is the middle-aged woman who runs a café. The business was started by her parents many years ago. Eating places are what Hong Kong is most famous for.

First her father died. Then younger brother who had taken over passed away. Her Mother was devastated and stopped talking. The daughter resurrected the business, got the customers back, and her mother found the path back too.

Daughter feels that the city is tearing itself apart. She loves the old Hong Kong and wants everything to just continue as it has been, even with the Mainland poised to take over.

Of course, events have engulfed the world since the outbreak of a cold virus from the Mainland. The microcosm of Hong Kong’s conflict has appeared around the world.

There is no more prescient documentary you will possibly see this year.

Hong Kong Moments is showing as part of the NZ International Film Festival. For tickets/online access, please go HERE.

Rev Orange Peel