Spirit of Hong Kong

Freeman Lo takes a byte out of political apathy

The multimedia designer's videos - celebrations of HK that also take aim at its leaders - have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 December, 2013, 12:19pm

In the difficult days of Sars, Freeman Lo Wing-cheung decided Hong Kong people needed cheering up.

His remedy, a video evoking the city's can-do spirit, was an instant hit, getting 300,000 downloads within a few days of being uploaded to his website.

That's not difficult these days with high-speed connections and social media to share such efforts.

But a decade ago when Lo made Below the Lion Rock, 6th Anniversary of Handover Edition, people were surfing the net with clunky 56K dial-up connections, and Facebook hadn't even been heard of. "My server was down many times because of such heavy traffic at that time," the multimedia designer said.

Lo, 46, joined the industry in 2000 and started his website, in April 2003.

"Everyone was feeling down at that time," he said.

"Even though the business of my multimedia production company was seriously affected, I believed we should face it positively, so I decided to remind everyone that we'd been through so many difficulties before and could also overcome this."

Drawing its title from the RTHK series named for the famed landmark in the Kowloon Hills, the 2.22-minute video showed how Hong Kong grew from a small fishing village to an international financial centre. It also featured the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown which weakened the confidence of Hongkongers in Beijing, the moment of the handover in 1997, and the battle against the severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The theme song, Below The Lion Rock also came from the RTHK series, broadcast at different times between 1974 and 2006.

Lo says his video acted as a "wake-up call" that may have helped trigger the city's biggest protest since the handover - the 500,000-strong July 1 march by residents disappointed in the government's performance and angered by the proposed enactment of the Article 23 national security law. "No one knew what to do to express their feelings," he said.

"My video was a wake-up call for them to realise they had to stand up and say something. And it proved Hong Kong people have the ability to rationally voice what they want."

Lo has been seen as an online convenor of political movements ever since, with productions increasing to more than 30 clips over the years.

Another popular one was Folk Guy's Always With You, a parody of the 10th anniversary handover anthem Just Because You Are Here . Lo's slick music video poking fun at the government was viewed more than 600,000 times in a month after it was posted on YouTube in late May 2007.

Again, it helped to get people out into the streets for the July 1 march.

To keep up the tradition, Lo has spent weeks producing a new video for this year's July 1 march on Monday. The clip, about three minutes long, explores deep-rooted problems such as the widening wealth gap, which Lo says is "tearing the city apart".

"We have had three chief executives since the handover, but each successor did worse than the one he was replacing," Lo said. "Many important issues which should have been addressed have been hidden in the agenda."

Lo said the video reviewed the evolution of Hong Kong in the 10 years after the 2003 July 1 march, which surprised the world by attracting a large turnout of demonstrators who carried out the protest peacefully.

The video features two songs - Below the Lion Rock and Converge Every Beam of Light, a theme song of the concert organised by RTHK in 1990 to strengthen and unite Hongkongers who were suffering from loss of faith in the Communist Party after the Tiananmen crackdown and uncertainty about the future. Lo also made a video in 2004 featuring the latter song.

His latest video was posted on his website last night and was immediately shared on Facebook.

But Lo is uncertain whether the clip will be as well-received as his previous ones.

"Society has changed," he said. "There's too much information bombarding people every day, so they get bored with things easily."

Commenting on the controversial and now-shelved bill to amend the copyright law, Lo said that if it returned as law, online production of all kinds would suffer a decline.

"People nowadays make parody videos, rewrite lyrics, or redo songs for almost every issue in society or in their daily lives. The bill will limit creativity," he said.

"Creativity means people are able to clearly pass their points of view to others. It doesn't necessarily mean their views or ways of expression are 100 per cent new."