Baseball heroes strike right note at a time of many challenges for Hong Kong

Movie remembering the Shatin Martins shows how victory is achieved by never giving up

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 July, 2016, 8:22pm
UPDATED : Monday, 04 July, 2016, 1:31am

Hong Kong’s handover anniversary celebrations and protests, Brexit, the deadly Ngau Tau Kok blaze, the Link Reit row – there’s enough to talk about these days, but you can add another topic to the mix: the soon-to-be released “localist” film Weeds on Fire, or Just a Step if directly translated from its Chinese title.

Based on the true story of a “forgotten game” more than three decades ago, the HK$2 million low-budget film tells the story of how Hong Kong’s very first Chinese youth baseball team, the “Shatin Martins”, a group of young boys from a Sha Tin Band 5 school, defeated a strong Japanese regional team in a Little League tournament.

More than just the game, the film also depicts how the team, in particular two players living in one of Sha Tin’s oldest public housing estates, grew up together with the city.

“Winning or losing, it all lies in just a step – if we win, we all win; if we lose, we all lose.”

I’m no film critic, but I must say anyone who watches Weeds on Fire will be struck by its “local” flavour: it was the year 1984, when the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s future was signed in Beijing, and Hongkongers greeted that historic moment with mixed feelings and fears about many unknown new challenges.

Yet it was also a time when Hong Kong’s economy was booming, thanks to the opening up of China. In short, it was a time of uncertainties but also opportunities.

The 10-member Shatin Martins were founded that same year. Regardless of the 1997 uncertainties, the two key players from the typical, low-income families living in government subsidised flats only had a simple fixation: who would be the first to leave the housing estate they called the “ghetto” and could baseball change their future?

That particular match and the youth team from a low-ranking secondary school beneath Lion Rock had apparently been forgotten by many until director Steve Chan Chi-fat dug them out from government archives and put them in a movie.

While today’s audience is all too aware that there’s not much Hong Kong can be proud of in terms of baseball or such sports, what matters more is Weeds on Fire rekindles the flame in your heart – that much cherished spirit of perseverance.

“The principal never demanded that you win the game, but I’ve told you that you must never give up,” the headmaster yells at the team to bring out the best in the boys to beat their rivals.

Indeed, despite all the anxieties and fears over the handover, the 1980s saw Hongkongers seize every opportunity thrown up by the changes in the city and across the border. That may well explain why the ‘80s were described as the “golden age” of Hong Kong.

Towards the end of the film, the setting fast forwards to Central during the Occupy movement two years ago. Ah Lung, the key team player, stands there reflecting: “[I believe] the 1980s were the best time for Hong Kong, but can we go back?”

Surely time is a river of no return, but as for which period can be defined as the “best time” for Hong Kong, that depends on who you ask. There’s nothing unusual or wrong about getting nostalgic, but indulging in the past is never the way out.

Producer O Sing-pui and director Chan told me this is the first drama that has secured financing from the government’s Film Development Fund. “We need more support for locally made movies,” was their message.

So, besides going to the cinema, the best way Hongkongers can deliver that support is by understanding how rewarding it can be when you refuse to give up, especially now when the city is facing new challenges, politically and economically.