No. 1 Chung Ying Street film review: political drama draws parallels between Occupy protest and 1967 Hong Kong riots
Film by Derek Chiu is either very naive or a master stroke of provocation. It is bound to draw fire from both political camps in Hong Kong, but neutral viewers may admire a meditation on social activism and its costs
A film conceived and shot in the wake of the idealistic, if arguably futile “umbrella movement” protests in Hong Kong in 2014, No. 1 Chung Ying Street is an artfully made, black-and-white character drama that paints an intriguing picture of life amid social chaos.
Set in Sha Tau Kok, a town straddling the border between Hong Kong and China, the film doesn’t take sides. That ambivalence will almost certainly make it a target of criticism from both the city’s political camps.
No. 1 Chung Ying Street is produced, directed and co-scripted by Derek Chiu Sung-kee, who has made two Chinese films about the Second Guangzhou Uprising, a failed revolt in 1911 against Qing dynasty rule of China (72 Martyrs, Road to Dawn) but isn’t known in Hong Kong for speaking out about politics.
Half the film is devoted to reconstructing scenes from the 1967 anti-British riots in the city, and half on imagining the ramifications for activists of the recent Occupy Hong Kong movement – as the “umbrella movement” was also known. Both halves feature the same trio of actors playing similar roles, and therein lies a problem.
Yau Hawk-sau ( Ten Years , With Prisoners ) plays a hot-blooded Maoist in the 1967 segment and a disillusioned student leader in hiding in the post-Occupy narrative set in 2019; Fish Liew Ziyu ( Lazy Hazy Crazy , Sisterhood ) is a childhood friend and love interest of Yau’s character who is inadvertently given a taste of police brutality and prison; and Lo Chun-yip plays a wealthy admirer of Liew’s character and an outsider looking in.
Chiu’s effort to draw parallels between the deadly pro-communist riots in 1967 and incidents of civil disobedience in recent years can be viewed either as very naive and a mistake or – if I’m being cynical – a masterstroke of provocation. It is not every day that you encounter a politically charged work which manages to offend people on both sides of the political divide. Chiu is implying similarities between the two camps and nobody will be happy.
People sitting on the fence, and foreign audiences with no vested interest in Hong Kong affairs, may well appreciate the film as a serene contemplation of what it means to be a social activist. But your reviewer is too wrapped up in the here and now to judge whether No. 1 Chung Ying Street is mere fool’s gold. Let us come back for another verdict in five years.
No. 1 Chung Ying Street opens on May 31
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