A war of words fuelled by critics, critiques

The Arts Development Council has questions to answer over its handling of the Critic's Prize

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 04 March, 2013, 5:08am

A new war of words sparked by Hong Kong-mainland tensions was waged last week over a piece of writing. The first Arts Development Council Critic's Prize went to Jia Xuanning, a 24-year-old working for the pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po. She fought off competition from about 60 other entries, picking up the HK$50,000 prize for her piece on the film Vulgaria.

She won the hearts of the six-member judging panel with her criticism of Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung's blockbuster film Vulgaria from a "social perspective".

Outraged critics and netizens bombarded the ADC after the decision. Many demanded a "refund" of the HK$50,000, and others lamented that Jia's writing was political ideology, not a film critique.

Jia offers little discussion of the film itself.

Instead she slams the vulgarity in Vulgaria, criticising the film for appealing only to a local audience and describing it as an "irresponsible cultural product".

Hong Kong-mainland tensions derived from her interpretation of the film form the backbone of her piece: "The mainland can be the saviour for Hong Kong, but it can't win the hearts of Hongkongers. Hongkongers kowtow to the economic power of the mainland, but in their heads they wouldn't let go of their superiority [to mainlanders]...on the surface they oblige, but deep down they feel as if they were 'being raped'."

The tensions described by Jia are nothing new and everyone is entitled to express their view in a free city like Hong Kong. The gist of the issue here, however, is the ADC. Its endorsement of a piece of writing that has little to do with arts criticism, out of taxpayers' wallets, not only raised many eyebrows but called into question its professionalism.

The Chinese language media smelled a potential conflict of interest. Jia knew judging panel members Perry Lam, chair of the council's arts criticism group and a government-appointed council member, and Yau Lop-poon, chief editor of Yazhou Zhoukan - both Jia and Lam are contributors to Yau's publication. Lam and Yau denied the allegation last week.

The expertise of the panel, where many are from a publishing background, is also in dispute. Critics asked why the ADC did not utilise the expertise of the professional critics' associations, specialists in film, theatre and visual arts, funded by the council.

Adjudicator and acclaimed writer Leung Ping-kwan sadly died of lung cancer at the beginning of this year.

The ADC must explain how the judging process could continue when one of the city's most respected writers was seriously ill.

Organisers also compare criticisms of different art forms arbitrarily. How is it possible to rate critiques of art forms when they convey messages in different "languages"? The awards also exclude English entries, an important language in the art world.