HONG KONG, April 4, (AFP): A controversial movie about the future of Hong Kong won the top prize at the city’s film awards Sunday, after being a local box office hit but antagonising Beijing over its portrayal of the semi-autonomous territory in 2025.
“Ten Years” scooped the “Best Film” prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards, following a short cinema release that was widely believed to have been curtailed for political reasons.
The film is made up of a series of five vignettes that tap residents’ worst fears for the future of the southern Chinese city as Beijing’s grip tightens.
The film had only a short general release, while some cinemas refused to screen it altogether, and it raised heckles on the mainland with China’s state-run Global Times newspaper describing it as “totally absurd” and a “virus of the mind”.
“The meaning of this prize is that it shows Hong Kong still has hope. It reminds us that we could have courage to be creative. I would like to thank everyone who has watched it,” said the film’s producer Andrew Choi after the awards ceremony.
Major China-based TV channels pulled out from broadcasting the awards on the mainland, with the nomination of “Ten Years” widely believed to be the reason.
But one of the film’s directors, Ng Ka-leung, told reporters that he was not concerned by Beijing’s opinion, only what his fellow Hong Kongers thought of the film.
“If you ask me what Beijing might feel towards us, I would say it doesn’t really matter. The movie was made for Hong Kong people. We are open-minded to anyone who likes it or not. We just hope that Hong Kong people can share our feelings. We would like people to think about the future of Hong Kong,” he said.
The chairman of the Hong Kong Film Awards Derek Yee acknowledged the controversy that has arisen from the film’s nomination.
“President Roosevelt said one thing: the only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” Yee said before announcing the winner of the “Best Film” category.
Since its release at the end of December, the movie, made for just HK$500,000 ($64,000), has earned an unexpected HK$6 million, but its run stopped when it was still playing to packed theatres.
On Friday thousands flocked to watch the film at various community screenings across the city, as the buzz around the movie continued long after its cinema release ended.
The five part film, each directed by different people, examine different elements of a future Hong Kong, where there is growing anxiety that Beijing is eroding the freedoms enshrined in the 1997 handover deal between Britain and China.
In one, young children in military uniforms prowl the street looking for subversive behaviour, another shows the erosion of the local language Cantonese.
In the final short, a protester self-immolates outside the British consulate — a scene that moved many viewers to tears.
Hong Kong cop thriller “Port of Call” also won big at the film awards, scooping seven prizes including best actor for singer Aaron Kwok and best actress for newcomer Jessie Li.
■ Best Film: Ten Years
■ Best Actor: Aaron Kwok (Port Of Call)
■ Best Actress: Jessie Li (Port Of Call)
■ Best Director: Tsui Hark (The Taking Of Tiger Mountain)
■ Best Screenplay: Philip Yung Tsz Kwong (Port Of Call)
■ Best Supporting Actor: Michael Ning (Port Of Call)
■ Best Supporting Actress: Elaine Jin (Port Of Call)
■ Best New Performer: Michael Ning (Port Of Call)
■ Best Cinematography: Christopher Doyle (Port Of Call)
■ Best Film Editing: Cheung Ka Fai (Ip Man 3)
■ Best Art Direction: William Chang Suk Ping, Yau Wai Ming (Offi ce)
■ Best Costume and Make Up Design: Yee Chung Man (Monster Hunt)
■ Best Action Choreography: Li Chung Chi (SPL 2: A Time For Consequences)
■ Best Sound Design: Kinson Tsang, George Lee Yiu Keung, Yiu Chun Hin (The Taking Of Tiger Mountain)
■ Best Visual Effects: Jason Snell, Ellen Poon, Tang Bingbing (Monster Hunt)
■ Best New Director: Raman Hui (Monster Hunt)
■ Best Original Film Score: Dayu Lo, Chan Fai Young (Offi ce)
■ Best Original Film Song: We Almost Fly (She Remembers, He Forgets)
■ Best Film From the Mainland and Taiwan: The Assassin
China’s state-controlled Global Times denounced the film in a January editorial as absurd and pessimistic and said it was a “thought virus”.
Soon after, screenings of the film stopped in Hong Kong cinemas. Cinema operators told the film-makers they could no longer show it because of scheduling issues.
“People in the movie industry gave Ten Years the best film award to express their position. This is the thing that touched me the most,” Chow added.
The scenes, while fictional, underscore tension simmering between mainland China and Hong Kong, that have resulted in a recent riot and growing grassroots calls by radical protests for greater autonomy and even independence from China.
Mainland Chinese media have ignored a best movie win by “Ten Years,” a collection of five shorts that depict a gloomy future for Beijing-ruled Hong Kong, where freedom of speech has all but disappeared.
Mainland media failed to mention the win by “Ten Years,” with at least one entertainment site omitting it from its list of winners. Online site Tencent, which often broadcasts film ceremonies, put up videos of other winners accepting awards.
In one film, “Dialect,” a taxi driver struggles with a Mandarin proficiency requirement, reflecting nervousness among Cantonese-speaking residents about the influx of mainlanders. Another segment has a woman who sets herself on fire in support of independence for Hong Kong — a cause that might have been unimaginable a few years ago but now is advocated by a number of groups.
“What this award represents is so much bigger than the film. This award means that there’s still hope for Hong Kong,” said executive producer Andrew Choi.
Meanwhile, first time director, Zhang Hanyi’s “Life After Life” won the Firebird Award, the top prize in the young cinema competition at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.
“Life After Life,” produced by Jia Zhangke, is a ghostly tale of lost spirits wandering the abandoned towns and villages of China’s industrial upheaval. The jury prize, or runner up, was Haendl Kilas’ “Tomcat.”
The festival says that its awards “aim to discover and honor budding filmmakers who push the envelope with their unique and innovative works.” The awards were presented at a ceremony at the Metroplex cinema on Saturday (April 2.) There was also a screening of “Crosscurrent,” Yang Chao’s fluvial drama which premiered in Berlin and had its first Asian outing in Hong Kong.
Firebird documentary prizes went to “Behemoth,” directed by Zhao Liang, and the jury prize to Vitaly Mansky’s “Under The Sun.”
The short film competition contained a field of 20 entrants. The winner was Leonor Teles’ “Batrachian’s Ballad,”. Thailand’s Pimpaka Towirs collected the jury prize for her “Prelude to the General.”
The FIPRESCI prize was awarded to “The Island Funeral.” The SIGNIS prize went to “Land Of Mine.”