Hong Kong’s freedoms intact but anxiety is growing, Taiwanese director says

HKU screening of his documentary on Golden Horse Film Awards allows audience to express their political fears

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 5:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 March, 2017, 11:21pm

A documentary on 50 years of the oldest film awards in the greater China region has reflected freedom of speech in Hong Kong but with signs of anxiety, its director says.

Yang Li-chou, a renowned film director in Taiwan, made the remarks after a post-screening discussion on Wednesday at the University of Hong Kong of his two-hour work, The Moment, which documents the Golden Horse Awards since it was launched in Taiwan in 1962.

“The general reception differs little between the audiences in Taiwan and Hong Kong,” Yang told the Post on Thursday.

“But what strikes a sharp impression in me is the depth of questions the Hong Kong audience raised, such as the issue of censorship, and that I think shows the level of freedom has remained intact as guaranteed by the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”

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The director observed there was some anxiety among Hong Kong people, which he felt was absent during his first visit to the city just before the handover to Beijing in 1997.

“The people then were very composed, which was a surprise to me, but this time I can feel there are signs of anxiety, especially on the political future,” he said, referring to a student’s question on mainland China’s increasing restrictions on films and performers, including those from Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Lung Ying-tai, a visiting professor at HKU who commissioned Yang in 2014 to undertake the documentary project when she was Taiwan’s cultural minister, told the full-house audience the pressure was felt beyond the region.

“It has become global as there are movies even in Hollywood which revise scripts in order to make it to the mainland market, such as changing the villains from original Chinese to Korean,” she said.

Lung praised the documentary for having the power to “bridge the lack of understanding between generations, and it could also remind us that cross regions that connect Hong Kong,Taiwan and the mainland direly need this kind of reaching out”.

Yang told the audience of his own experience of taking the documentary to screen in Beijing in 2015.

“It was screened at the Beijing Film Academy as an event to celebrate the school’s 65th anniversary,” he recalled.

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The film opened with vintage footage featuring Taiwan’s official anthem and he thought it could be problematic.

“So I showed the footage which I thought sensitive to the professor who was hosting the internal screening for 200 students, and he said the anthem was fine,” he said.

“But he ended up very scared over the brief mention of June 4 by the Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan Kam-pang, which I didn’t expect would trigger such as a response.”

Yang subsequently applied for a public screening on the mainland but was rejected for being “too nostalgic”.

“I asked a lady director at the China Central TV, and she said the terse reply meant no, adding her own application was also rejected for being ‘too real’,” he said.

At the HKU screening, Yang noticed students from the mainland did not react to the 1989 crackdown on student protesters.

“I am impressed to see those mainland students were free to express themselves in Hong Kong. That is something different in Beijing,” he said.