Love it or hate it, Ten Years points to the common enemy in Hong Kong politics – fear
Alice Wu says the dystopian vision of the film isn’t new, and instead of arguing over it, we should fight the fear-mongering that is hurting us all
The creators of Ten Years have said their movie was “not intended to be a political film”. But despite that, the film has definitely achieved great political impact. Whatever their intentions, the political consequences of the Best Film winner at the Hong Kong Film Awards – from the emotionally charged responses and politically charged interpretations it elicited, to the exposure of the cultural politics within the film industry – have perhaps been more than enough to justify its controversial win.
As a portrayal of our worst fears, it is arguably the quintessential political horror film of our time. It perfectly plays (or should it be “preys”?) on many Hongkongers’ primal fears that have been present since the mass migration waves of generations past began from across the border.
Is Ten Years more thought-provoking than fear-mongering? The answer to that may not be as important as how “uncomfortable” the film has turned out to be for apparently everyone. Provocation is an art form. Perhaps the true value of Ten Years lies in how uncomfortable it is to us all.
Fan or critic, Ten Years is all about discomfort. Its dystopian vision – or nightmare – of Hong Kong in 2025 is undeniably uncomfortable.
Whether one sees the film as echoing or fanning a sense of dread for the city’s future doesn’t change the fact that nightmares – whether they’re yours or someone else’s – are simply not pleasant. It’s Hong Kong’s modern-day version of A Nightmare on Elm Street. Even if one doesn’t dream of Freddy Krueger, the fact that someone else does is important enough.
One of its most fascinating political consequences is how vicious its harshest critics have reacted. Calling the movie a “thought virus”, in addition to banning it, all makes George Orwell’s “thinkpol” not so much of a quantum mind leap ; if calling it a “thought virus” was aimed at discrediting and dismissing the film, it may have just achieved the opposite. Ten Years has managed to become Beijing’s worst political nightmare for Hong Kong.
Interestingly, horror isn’t a novel genre for our politics. Recall that back in late 2013, Legislative Council President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing got flak for calling out what he believes to be Beijing’s “inner demons” and the need for political exorcisms. The offence some took in Tsang’s words ironically pointed to how spot on Tsang’s choice of words were. Tsang was merely pointing out, then, the obvious: that if the unresolved underlying fears and mistrust between Beijing and the pan-democrats dictate our political reform debate, we’ll not get anywhere. And that’s pretty accurate of what happened and where we stand, still, today.
So perhaps it is time for us to seriously consider that wherever we stand politically, we all have our own versions of “Freddy Krueger” and what that means. Fear is so very tiring and suffocating, but it’s also very human. Of all the unintended political consequences that have become of Ten Years, perhaps it is in this common “nightmare” that we can find common ground.
We can continue to prey on each other’s worst nightmares and inner demons, taunt one another with all the bogeymen we can pull out of our closets of fears, and vilify whatever or whoever fits our agenda.
Or we can revisit the notion that reconciliation is a way of overcoming and conquering all the fears, anxieties, and mistrust.
Instead of seeing Ten Years as an oracle, prophesying an inevitable future, instead of resigning ourselves to the doomsayers’ notion that there is no alternative for Hong Kong’s future other than seek “independence”, how about we – and that includes Beijing – start addressing all these fears.
Call them what you will: inner demons or “Freddy Krueger”.
Politicians will continue to appeal to the people’s existing fears, to elicit powerful responses that can override reason or common sense. But whether we accept being confined in the politics of fear, and let those fears permeate and paralyse our present and rob us of our future, is entirely up to us.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA