Ten Years directors on why the Hong Kong film spoke to people

Kiwi Chow's Self-Immolator (above) is one of the pointedly political short films in the film anthology Ten Years.
Kiwi Chow's Self-Immolator (above) is one of the pointedly political short films in the film anthology Ten Years.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE FILM FESTIVAL
Maggie Cheung.
Maggie Cheung.PHOTO: SINGAPORE CHINESE FILM FESTIVAL

The provocative film anthology Ten Years, which imagines Hong Kong in 2025, is part of the Singapore Chinese Film Festival

The film anthology Ten Years is a collection of five shorts that paint a dark and disturbing picture of Hong Kong's future in 2025. It taps into a collective unease over diminishing freedom and the erosion of local culture in the territory.

Screenings in the territory were sold out and it was named Best Film at the Hong Kong Film Awards on April 3.

The anthology - released last year - comprises Extras by Kwok Zune, Season Of The End by Wong Fei Pang, Dialect by Jevons Au, Self-Immolator by Kiwi Chow and Local Egg by Ng Ka Leung.

It is part of the line-up for the Singapore Chinese Film festival, which runs from today to May 8. All four of its screenings have sold out.

Speaking over the telephone from Hong Kong, Chow, 37, says in Cantonese: "Why it has had such a connection with people in Hong Kong is because there is the possibility of these things happening."

And the recent disappearance of five people connected to an independent bookshop, which sold titles critical of Chinese politics, has even led some to exclaim that the title should be This Year instead.

  • BOOK IT / SINGAPORE CHINESE FILM FESTIVAL 2016

  • WHERE: GV Suntec City and GV VivoCity, The Arts House, National Museum of Singapore

    WHEN: Today to May 8

    ADMISSION: $13 from www.sistic.com.sg or www.gv.com.sg. $10 for Singapore Film Society and UniSIM members for tickets purchased at the GV box office and through Sistic agents with valid membership card

    INFO: Go to scff.sg

While Ten Years has been warmly embraced by the city, its reception in China has been frosty, and even the broadcast of the Hong Kong Film Awards was prohibited there.

Within the Hong Kong film industry, the film has divided opinion, with some saying the movie won the Best Film award for political reasons.

In a separate phone interview, Au, 35, says in English: "If Hong Kong is still under 'one country, two systems' and I'm making my film legally, then I'm surprised and really confused by the strong reaction."

Under that constitutional principle, after the return of the former British colony to China in 1997, Hong Kong is supposed to retain a high degree of autonomy.

While the film's four regular screenings at the Singapore Chinese Film Festival have sold out, there is one more session for Singapore Film Society members on Sunday at 9pm at Golden Village Suntec City, and it will be followed by a Q&A with Chow and Au, both of whom are graduates of the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. (Go to sfstenyears. peatix.com for more details.)

The most political work in the anthology is probably Chow's Self- Immolator, in which someone commits the ultimate act of protest in front of the British Consulate- General.

He says, though, that he has actually never been a political film- maker and his work has tended to revolve around relationships. The spark for Self-Immolator was lit in the late 2000s when Chow was troubled by political developments such as the constant pushing back of the timeline for universal suffrage and direct elections of the chief executive.

He says: "We've been cheated time and again and I feel that 'one country, two systems' is a lie."

But while his work highlights a radical act, Chow is not proposing a revolution. "I don't want a self- immolator to appear in real life. Ten Years is about a future we don't want to see.

"Rather, the movie wants to ask whether we can do something more for our home Hong Kong. Just because you make a movie about Batman doesn't mean you're asking people to be Batman."

Au's segment, Dialect, imagines a future in which Cantonese is relegated to second-class status behind putonghua and a cab driver who is not fluent in putonghua finds his livelihood and identity threatened.

It reflects his own concerns as a scriptwriter. Increasingly, he has to write dialogue in putonghua instead of Cantonese, with China-Hong Kong co-productions on the rise.

He says: "It's quite difficult for me to write good dialogue when it's not in my mother tongue and I'm losing confidence in myself."

The people of Hong Kong are adaptable enough to adjust to changing language policies, but Au points out: "If you can change anything, then we are losing ourselves."

His next project will examine social issues in Hong Kong but is "not particularly political". He says of his path as a film-maker: "I have to be honest and have integrity when it comes to my work, that's the most important part."

As for Chow, he says: "I do want to make films about romance, but what Hong Kong needs now are films that face up to reality. I want to create without fear and have the freedom to do what I want to do."


Festival highlights

BEST OF FRESHWAVE INTERNATIONAL SHORT FILM FESTIVAL

2006-2010 When: Sunday, 7.30pm Where: The Arts House If you do not manage to watch the award-winning Ten Years, which includes Jevons Au's work Dialect, catch this compendium instead. Au's short, Merry X'mas, is about a little girl who collects rubbish to raise money for a gift exchange. It was named best film in the open division in the 2006/07 edition of the festival. The director will field questions after the screening.

BLIND MASSAGE (R21)

When: Sunday, 9pm; Monday, 7pm Where: GV VivoCity Sixth-generation Chinese film- maker Lou Ye's 2014 drama is based on Bi Feiyu's award- winning novel of the same name. His sensitive exploration of the world of the blind found favour with critics - the film won six Golden Horse Awards, including for Best Feature Film and was also awarded the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the Berlin International Film Festival.

MCDULL, ME & MY MOM (PG)

When: May 6, 7.15pm; May 8, 2pm Where: GV Suntec Bobby McDull might not be the smartest pig around, but his never- say-die attitude has endeared him to fans in the region. The creation of Hong Kong cartoonists Alice Mak and Brian Tse, the character stars in his sixth film, a 2014 comedy about his relationship with his pillar-of-strength mother. It won the Golden Horse Award for Best Animated Feature.

UN PORTRAIT DE HOU HSIAO-HSIEN (PG13)

When: May 5, 9pm Where: National Museum of Singapore Acclaimed Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Assassin, 2015) is the subject of this 1997 documentary by French film- maker Olivier Assayas (Clouds Of Sils Maria, 2014).

He traces Hou's journey from a small village to his feted position in world cinema.

CENTRE STAGE (PG)

When: May 8, 7pm Where: National Museum of Singapore A captivating Maggie Cheung slips into the role of 1930s screen goddess Ruan Lingyu in Stanley Kwan's sensitive and layered 1991 movie.

Cheung was showered with accolades for her performance with Best Actress wins at the Berlin International Film Festival, Golden Horse Awards and Hong Kong Film Awards.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 29, 2016, with the headline 'Filming the future of Hong Kong'. Print Edition | Subscribe