Ng Ka-leung, "Ten Years" Mastermind, Gives Hong Kong a Decade to Choose Its Future
The dystopian movie has been a huge hit in Hong Kong. Its five different depictions of a dark, bleak future for the city won the Best Film gong at the Hong Kong Film Awards last month.
I was born in 1981 in Hong Kong, and raised here. I graduated from PolyU in 2003, studying multimedia design. I’ve worked in post-production, computer graphics, as a drama production assistant in TVB and production houses, and even as a wedding photographer.
The first time I could actually work on my own project was the one before “Ten Years,” called “Fading Marketplaces.” It’s a series of documentaries, recording the stories of hawkers and small shops in Hong Kong. My family had a store in Shek Wu Hui [in Sheung Shui] for decades, until it closed down last year. So when I started my own project, I wanted to record the uniqueness of Hong Kong in its marketplaces, which could be slowly disappearing.
After that, I started to think about my next project. I saw so many problems in Hong Kong, and we were at a bottleneck. Who was affected by these problems? Grassroots Hongkongers. But many were not aware that this situation was affecting them directly. I talked to many people from different walks of life, and asked them three questions about their past, present and future. I realized people’s answers all had something in common. When it came to their future, people actually started to think a lot harder. Some people imagined a brighter future, some a darker one, but it didn’t matter—in their mind, they all had a certain strength to change something in the present.
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So I decided to create a film about the future of Hong Kong. I worked with the other four directors [Jevons Au, Chow Kwun-wai, Wong Fei-pang, Kwok Zune] because they could all tell the stories of those on the edge of society. Our thoughts and techniques were not that similar, but how we treated the relationship between our work and society was. All five stories describe a future we don’t want to see. We tried to project it to its extreme, because right now, people think that things are still fine.
We followed the track Hong Kong is on to imagine the future, but will it actually happen like we thought? It’s only a 50/50 chance. It’s still the future and if we can make changes during the process, that “future” will not come true. We still have time to change. We are not trying to provide a solution, because that’s not what films are meant for. But we want to inspire people to think and care about society. We chose to portray a future 10 years away because if we talk about 30 years in the future, it’s hard to imagine—and there might not be that big of a change in five years. Ten years is a range of imagination that matches with the story.
For a Hongkonger, it’s a compliment and an honor to be compared to a wonton noodle place.
The big picture will be hard to change, and it could even get worse. But at the same time, people can make their own choices. No matter what situation we are in, independent and critical thinking is the most important and precious of all, and I still have trust and hope in Hongkongers. I’m still optimistic.
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When I first started on the script of my story “Local Egg” [one of the five segments in the movie] in 2014, the word “local” was not as politicized as it is now. It was a very neutral word. Localism is a good thing—It’s only if a place has a history and heritage, that it can create such strong localistic ideals. Sadly in the past two years, whenever you talk about localism or conservation of local culture, politicians will start labeling you, calling you a separatist.
At first when we started this project, we never thought it would be so well received. We were only hoping for a few screenings. The result was unexpected, and it created so many chemical reactions in Hong Kong’s audience. It’s not just a movie anymore. It’s very natural for a movie to have lovers and haters. I’m open to it. But some people criticized the movie without even watching it, and some criticized it based on the budget of the production—that didn’t mean much to me.
I’m actually quite happy that the movie was compared to a wonton noodle place [after it won Best Film, Hong Kong Tourism Board chairman Peter Lam Kin-ngok said in an interview: “If I told you a wonton noodle shop is the best restaurant in Hong Kong, would you accept that?”]. Because I quite enjoy wonton noodles. For a Hongkonger, it’s a compliment and an honor to be compared to a wonton noodle place. There are quality and constructive criticisms that we can actually learn from: But with meaningless criticism, there isn’t much to discuss.