Hong Kong bans movies deemed 'subversive' or 'romanticizing' protests

Lawmakers blame the 2015 dystopian film '10 years' for inciting young people to protest in 2019.
By Shum Yin Hang
Hong Kong bans movies deemed 'subversive' or 'romanticizing' protests People watch a film at the city's first socially distanced outdoor entertainment venue in Hong Kong which has 100 socially distanced private 'pods', each seating two or four people to respect social distancing measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nov. 10, 2020.

Authorities in Hong Kong are cracking down further on public dissent, requiring film censors to consider whether a film breaches a draconian national security law banning criticism of the government or depictions of scenes deemed 'subversive.'

The city's Legislative Council (LegCo), whose former opposition members are either behind bars or in exile, passed amendments to the Film Censorship Ordinance on Wednesday, paving the way for films to be pulled from public screenings.

Pro-government LegCo members said they also hoped the measures would soon be extended to online video as well as movies screened in theaters and other public venues.

Commerce minister Edward Yau said he hoped the law would be implemented "as soon as possible, to enhance the film censorship system and to plug loopholes."

The law raises the penalty for screening unapproved films to three years' imprisonment and a H.K.$1 million fine, from a 12-month jail term and a fine of H.K.$200,000 previously.

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Luk accused former pro-democracy lawmakers of using the film and cultural industries to "promote fear, harm the country and vilify Hong Kong," citing the dystopian "10 Years," which depicts a bleak future for Hong Kong under Chinese rule, where the city's lingua franca, Cantonese, is banned in favor of Mandarin.

"[That movie] is clearly an example of these speculative attempts to vilify Hong Kong and create alarm," Luk told LegCo.

"It has incited a lot of people, especially young people, to feel despair or anxiety about their future, and they went on to do a lot of irrational things in 2019, even illegal or violent acts," he said in a reference to the 2019 protest movement, which began as peaceful mass protest against plans to allow the rendition of alleged criminal suspects in Hong Kong to mainland China.

The movement later broadened to include demands for fully democratic elections, official accountability over excessive police violence, and the release of all those imprisoned or arrested during protests.

"Why do people have to shoot subject matter that endangers national security?" Luk said. "Is this really unintentional? A normal and healthy film industry wouldn't have any problem at all with this [amendment]."

'Full of hatred'

Priscilla Leung said she had been "shocked" to see "10 Years," which was banned in mainland China when it was released in 2016.

"It was full of hatred of our country, hatred of Mandarin, and it romanticized hunger strikes, and self-immolation," Leung said, accusing the directors of "inciting Hong Kong independence."

"At that time, you could say our government here in Hong Kong sat by and did nothing," Leung said.

“10 Years” is divided into five short films directed by Kwok Zune, Wong Fei-pang, Jevons Au, Kiwi Chow, and Ng Ka-leung, each depicting a different sort of bleak future for Hong Kong in the year 2025. One depicts Mao-style "youth guards" who police the use of words like "local" as the city's Cantonese is being phased out. In another, a citizen self-immolates as a final act of protest.

Self-immolation has been used as a form of protest by more than 100 Tibetans since February 2009 to protest Chinese rule in Tibetan areas and call for the return of exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, while the directors previously told RFA that the film uses Cantonese as a bellwether for the health of Hong Kong's political identity and the traditional freedoms crucial to the film's plot.

The movie was featured at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival in November 2015 before going on to net more than five million ticket sales on general release in the city, drawing more Hong Kong movie goers to the box office than "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Released as the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) stepped up its efforts to promote "patriotic education" in schools across the country, the film was denounced by the CCP-backed media as a "thought virus" that would spread fear and loathing in the city where many already feared Beijing was rolling back their promised freedoms. Hong Kong cinema operators quietly dropped the film after these articles were published.

The national security law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing from July 1, 2020, has targeted dozens of pro-democracy politicians and activists for "subversion" after they organized a primary election in a bid to win more seats in the city's legislature.

The law bans words and deeds deemed subversive or secessionist, or any activities linked to overseas groups, as "collusion with foreign powers," including public criticism of the Hong Kong government and the CCP.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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