Thousands flock to screening of provocative Hong Kong film

A crowd watches a community screening of the movie Ten Years on April 1, 2016, in Hong Kong.
A crowd watches a community screening of the movie Ten Years on April 1, 2016, in Hong Kong.PHOTO: EPA

HONG KONG (AFP) - Thousands of moviegoers on Friday flocked to mass screenings of Hong Kong film Ten Years, a provocative futuristic portrayal of the city that has riled China.

Released at the end of last year, it has been a box office hit locally - despite only getting a short run in cinemas - and has raised hackles on the mainland amid increasing fears in Hong Kong over Beijing's tightening grip.

The series of five short films, each by a different Hong Kong director, depicts the city in 2025 where young children in military uniform prowl the streets, the local language of Cantonese is disappearing and one protester goes as far as self-immolation.

The filmmakers say they feel it was only given short sporadic runs at cinemas across Hong Kong after its release in December due to political reasons, as it was commercially a runaway hit, selling out at the cinemas where it was shown.

Many residents were left disappointed after missing out on the movie due to its limited run - and the filmmakers sought to remedy that with Friday's screenings.

People flocked to simultaneous screenings at 34 locations across Hong Kong on Friday evening from cafes and churches to public spaces including the city's government headquarters.

Hundreds of people sat on the ground and on plastic chairs to watch the film at the government complex which was at the centre of pro-democracy rallies that blocked the city's streets for months in 2014. Some cried at the film's end.

Tina Wu, who couldn't get tickets to watch Ten Years before cinemas stopped running it, was happy to finally see it.

"The government doesn't want us to have the chance to watch the movie, and now we get the chance so we are quite excited," Wu, 56, said.

Another woman applauded the filmmakers for taking on tough topics.

"I think we should come out to support the people who made the movie because they were willing to tackle something that's politically sensitive, that's very rare," Queenie, in her 40s, told AFP, without providing her last name.

"The movie is able to bring to life something that we imagined but were not able to fully express," she added.

Friday's screenings come ahead of the Hong Kong Film Awards Sunday, where Ten Years is nominated for a best movie.

Broadcasts of the awards ceremony on the mainland have been pulled, with the movie's nomination widely believed to be the reason.

China's state-run Global Times newspaper has hit out at the film as "totally absurd" and a "virus of the mind".

Hong Kong's freedoms are protected by a deal made with Britain when the city was handed back to China in 1997, but there is growing anxiety that Beijing is eroding that autonomy.

"We never imagined it to be such a huge success or (have such a response) from the local audience," Andrew Choi, one of the film's producers told AFP.

"People are concerned about the future of Hong Kong and I think they treasure the opportunity to watch this film in their local community," Choi said.