Local film Weeds On Fire retells story of inspiring Sha Tin youth baseball team

Established in 1983, the Sha Tin Martins was one of Hong Kong’s first youth baseball teams

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 9:01am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 July, 2016, 9:01am

Baseball was not a typical sport among Hongkongers in the 1980s.

It was precisely because of this that Leo Lu Kwong-fai, then principal of Kei Kok Primary School in Sha Tin, decided to set up one of Hong Kong’s first youth baseball teams in 1983. Called the Sha Tin Martins, it went on to win little league matches against strong foreign rivals ­­– victories that resonated with locals at a time when the city’s uncertain future rested in the hands of foreign players.

“I wanted to make something special,” said Lu, now a 76-year-old retiree, adding that no one thought the team could be successful at the time. “This was a sport dominated by the Japanese. And we stepped right into it.

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

Now a new local film entitled Weeds On Fire or “0.5 Step” in Chinese has breathed new life into the team’s story. The HK$2 million low-budget production is loosely based on the Sha Tin Martins and will be released on August 25. It depicts a ragtag team of disadvantaged youth learning to believe in themselves through playing baseball, eventually winning a match against a powerful Japanese team despite the odds.

The plot unfolds in 1984, a tumultuous time in Hong Kong history. It was the year Britain and China signed a declaration stating that Hong Kong would be guaranteed a high degree of autonomy for 50 years after 1997 – the date of the city’s handover to China after over a century of British rule.

The film chronicles the fictional lives of two teenage members growing up in one of the district’s oldest public housing estates. It also touches on a real-life anecdote that the team was founded with the support of then Sha Tin district officer Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who would become the city’s leader 20 years later.

The movie was one of the first three projects to be wholly funded by the government’s Film Development Fund in 2013.

For Lu, the production captures what he calls the ‘80s “spirit of never giving up”. It harks back to a time that many view as the city’s “golden age”, or an era of change and possibility, he said.

“Nowadays, young people are so pessimistic,” Lu said. “But in the ‘80s, things were different. Society was more promising, and [there were many] opportunities for youth to shape their lives.”

Chan Ka-chun was only 10 when he joined the original team as a left-wing player. During practice, Lu would make them do an exercise where they had to block the ball at all costs, he recalled. Such training drilled into him the importance of always trying your best, even if there is no chance of winning, he added.

“We did think in the beginning that foreigners would be naturally better at the sport ... But after going through many matches, we realised we actually could beat them,” said Chan, 43, now a Chinese University of Hong Kong clerk. “[Baseball] taught me important life lessons.”

He recalled one game against a US team that continued until dusk. After a streak of failures, they finally won one point. He said: “I was so happy – ­everyone was hugging, tearing up. It was that feeling of knowing that we could do it.”

Being part of the team also had a huge impact on Au Wing-leung, who was just a six-year-old ball boy when he joined. His love of baseball continues to this day, and he is now a part-time coach for the Hong Kong Baseball Association’s women’s team.

“Baseball ... trains your perseverance, unity, obedience and resilience,” Au said. “I don’t think this spirit will ever change.”