People's Fears Propel 'Ten Years'
Apr. 14, 2016
A low-budget film that paints a bleak picture of Hong Kong's future has been thrown into the spotlight.
It won Best Film at the city's annual movie awards, as its dystopian vision resonated with judges and viewers alike.
Some think the film's themes are already coming true.
People gathered in more than 30 locations across Hong Kong to watch the film on April 1. When the film opened last December, only one theater showed it, but it proved to be a surprise hit.
The film consists of 5 short stories set in the year 2025. One section features a taxi driver's struggle to learn a new language. Under Beijing's direction, he now has to speak Mandarin instead of his native Cantonese.
Another episode describes so-called Youth Guards censoring people's activities. It's a reference to a mass student movement known as the Red Guards, who attacked intellectuals during the Cultural Revolution.
Co-producers Andrew Choi and Ng Ka-leung say it was important to set the film in the near future.
"Ten years is because it's related to everyone, no matter you're young, you're elderly people, it's closely enough to experience in immediate future," Choi says.
"This film depicts Hong Kong 10 years from now," says Ng. "But it shows what people are concerned about now."
They say after the screenings began, some of the ideas in the movie have started happening in real life.
One of the episodes has authorities in Beijing plotting conspiracies in Hong Kong. Some viewers are seeing a parallel with the disappearance last year of people dealing in books that are critical of Beijing.
"The bookstore incident highlighted the dark side of the Chinese government," says one young woman who watched the film. "I feel terrified that these fictional stories are coming true."
Another story tells of young people involved in an independence movement. And that was just what prompted street clashes in February.
Police arrested more than 70 people, including Edward Leung. He later ran for a seat in the local legislature, campaigning on a promise to push for the city's autonomy.
"We thought that the old method of protesting cannot put enough pressure on the government," Leung said. "If we want to achieve a real autonomy for our people, independence is the only way out."
Polls suggest the number of people in Hong Kong who believe the city has autonomy has slumped over the past 10 years.
The movie captures the people's concerns.
"The film is urging us to raise our voices. Otherwise, we will be completely under their control," says one young man who watched the "Ten Years."
The movie is a hit in Hong Kong, and winning acclaim at film festivals farther afield. But on the mainland, it's been greeted with silence.
NHK World's Takuma Yoshioka joined anchors Aki Shibuya and Sho Beppu in the studio from Hong Kong.
Shibuya: We know restrictions are becoming tighter in Hong Kong, but how did the movie's popularity spread?
Yoshioka: "Ten Years" has resonated with audiences in Hong Kong. It screened for 8 weeks after opening last December. But only one theater showed it at first. Then word spread, and 5 more theaters played to packed houses. At one cinema, weekly box-office revenues during some periods topped the latest Star Wars movie. It's no longer shown in Hong Kong, but there's still wide discussion. I often hear local people talking about the film. It cost only $64,000 but box-office sales were $770,000, 12 times the production cost.
The film presents a frightening vision of Hong Kong in 10 years and asks what people can do now to prevent this outcome. I think many watched it imagining what their own life might become.
Beppu: Well, naturally, we understand that the film isn't making the Chinese government happy.
Yoshioka: That's right. In mainland China, a major IT firm, Tencent, obtained exclusive rights to broadcast live a ceremony congratulating winners of the Hong Kong Film Awards. The company reportedly gave up their right after "Ten Years" was nominated for the Best Film award. China's state-run television did not air a link-up to the ceremony. Pro-Beijing people in Hong Kong called it a "big joke." Some said it didn't deserve an award.
Beppu: The film is obviously touching on sensitive issues. But where is Hong Kong's democracy movement is headed?
Some young protesters are becoming increasingly radical. They clashed with police in February, as shown in the video. Hong Kong politics are represented by 2 main factions: the pro-Beijing camp, which supports the Chinese government, and the pan-democracy group, which is more critical of the mainland.
From the pan-democracy faction, radical forces called "localist groups" have emerged. The college student Leung in the video is one of them. He was arrested during the February clash and indicted. They consider violent acts an option during demonstrations. Some of them are calling for Hong Kong's independence from the mainland.
Hong Kong society is now more divided than before, but I can feel the power of the civil society. People here firmly believe in freedom of speech and respect for human rights. They will not change their beliefs even if Beijing increases political and economic pressure. The Hong Kong Legislative Council elections are scheduled for September this year, and this will be a major test for the region's future relationship with the mainland.