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Beijing-style movie censorship is coming to Hong Kong, the once semi-autonomous financial hub forever famed for its vibrant film history.
In a statement released Friday, the Hong Kong government said the city’s film censorship ordinance had been expanded. Under the new regulations, any film including “any act or activity which may amount to an offense endangering national security” will be banned from exhibition.
The change is the latest blow to Hong Kong’s rapidly eroding freedoms of expression. The new guidance, which is effective immediately, brings Hong Kong’s film regulation policies more closely in line with the draconian “national security law” imposed by mainland China last year. That law effectively made all forms of political protest illegal. Scores of pro-democracy advocates have been arrested since the law was introduced, sending the city’s protest movement mostly underground.
“When considering a film as a whole and its effect on the viewers, the censor should have regard to his duties to prevent and suppress acts or activities endangering national security, and the common responsibility of the people of Hong Kong to safeguard the sovereignty, unification and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China,” the new guidance reads.
While mainland China’s National Film Bureau operates a notoriously repressive censorship system, Hong Kong’s has long used a ratings system similar to the one employed by the Motion Picture Association of America. Sex and violence were rated for adults, or banned if too extreme, but politics were left untouched.
But even before Friday’s changes, the writing was on the wall for a more constrained reality for Hong Kong’s once famed film sector. In March, an award-winning documentary chronicling Hong Kong’s citywide pro-democracy protests in 2019 was pulled moments before its local release after days of criticism from state-aligned Chinese media outlets.
From at least the 1970s through the early 2000s, Hong Kong was home to one of the world’s most vibrant and innovative commercial film industries, producing everyone from King Hu to Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Stephen Chow, Wong Kar Wai, Johnnie To and scores more. The local industry’s output and influence began to ebb with the emergence of the far larger mainland Chinese film market in the late 2000s, however, as veteran Hong Kong talent crossed the border to pursue a far larger audience, and paycheck — but at the cost of submitting to Beijing’s censorship system (most critics agree that Hong Kong auteurs’ mainland Chinese works pale in comparison to their innovative Hong Kong-made breakthroughs).
Hong Kong’s indie film sector has attempted to keep the city’s creative flame alight, to mixed success. As recently as 2015, Ten Years, a dystopian anthology film imagining what Hong Kong might look like in 2025 amid increasing mainland Chinese control, became a runaway indie hit, beating the opening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in ticket sales at the local Hong Kong theater where it premiered. In 2021, approximately four years early, the possibility of a politically incisive project like Ten Years being produced and released in Hong Kong already has been snuffed out.
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