For those behind Hong Kong’s “umbrella movement”, the years that followed brought turbulence and self-doubt, as charted in a new documentary from the maker of Lessons in Dissent (2014) and Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower (2017).
Filmed in 2015 and 2016, Last Exit to Kai Tak follows pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Denise Ho Wan-sze, Wong Yeung-tat and Derek Lam Shun-hin as they come to terms with life after the 2014 protests.
“If you don’t agree with the changes in Hong Kong, what do you do? Leave again?” asks Ho, the Canto-pop singer-turned-activist.
Thrust into the spotlight by events that unfolded that summer, the activists face stymied careers and derision from those backing Beijing. With little prospect of returning to a quiet life, it’s “revolution or emigration”, as radio DJ Lam puts it.
“We wanted to make something that would reflect the variety of voices within Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp,” says British filmmaker Matthew Torne.
Years spent building relationships within the camp granted the director unique access for his latest feature. Thanks to Wong Yeung-tat’s openness around Torne’s lens, for example, some of the most extraordinary scenes take place when the former leader of populist group Civic Passion and an “establishment goon” engage in a boxing match – an actual fight – that descends into absurdity.
Torne says the title was inspired by Last Exit to Brooklyn, a 1964 novel following characters who, for one reason or another, are stuck in the lower-class New York borough. The filmmaker chose Kai Tak as symbolic of the diminishing opportunities for those who cannot afford to leave, the defunct former airport having closed not long after the 1997 handover. “We filmed a lot in Kowloon Bay and Kwun Tong, so I drove past the old airport hundreds of times and found it ghostly and sad: the ramps to the flyover are still there, but they go nowhere,” Torne says.
Screenings will take place on September 26 at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, 2 Harbour Road, Wan Chai (urbtix.hk); and on September 30 and October 1 at HKICC Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity, 135 Junction Road, Kowloon (putyourself.in).