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Kiwi Chow, the director of the short Self-Immolator, which featured in the controversial 2015 omnibus Ten Years, says he’s “grief-stricken” by the death of a Hong Kong protester that tragically echoed the plot of his film.
Set in Hong Kong in 2025, Self-Immolator tells the story of a protester who sets himself on fire in front of the British Consulate in response to the police’s violent crackdown on demonstrations. In a sad case of life imitating art, on Saturday a man dubbed “Raincoat Man” by protesters and local media, fell to his death from the roof of a shopping mall after unfurling a banner decrying a proposed China extradition bill. The unnamed man’s death was the first related to the anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong, which over the last two Sundays have seen millions of people on the streets peacefully demonstrating.
“Self-Immolator depicted a future that we didn’t want to see,” Chow told The Hollywood Reporter. “Unfortunately, the imagined scenario that we’d never want to see has become reality. I’m grief-stricken.”
He added, “Don’t surrender to our pessimistic imaginings, but take concrete action, like [Raincoat Man]. You might not agree with his method, but I will remember his spirit of sacrifice, his heartache and contribution.” Concrete action, Chow said, included the peaceful protest march that saw more than a quarter of Hong Kong’s population, nearly 2 million people, take part on June 16. Police estimated the size of the crowd at 338,000 at its peak.
According to organizers of the recent marches, nearly “two million plus one” people demonstrated against the extradition bill and called for it to be fully withdrawn. The bill would let China extradite Hong Kong citizens it suspected of crimes Its progress was suspended on Saturday.
The “plus one” was a dedication to Raincoat Man, who Hong Kong protesters are calling a “martyr” and whose death many have said has galvanized them into taking to the streets.
Raincoat Man’s banner asked for the complete withdrawal of the bill, retraction of the police’s “riot” categorization of the protest on June 12, and release of the arrested students and injured, as well as the cry for others to “Help Hong Kong.”
Protesters paid respect to the man and laid white flowers, of the fresh and origami kind, forming a floral sea in front of the shopping mall during the second consecutive Sunday march, which saw the largest rally ever in Hong Kong and lasted over eight hours. People of all ages and from all walks of life, including babies in strollers and the wheelchair-bound, came out in droves to protest against the bill and the disproportionate use of force by the police against unarmed protesters on June 12. One elderly man carried a placard that said, “Shoot me. Don’t shoot the students.”
The march was a display of peaceful civility within an act of civil disobedience. No damage to property has been done, no car overturned or burnt, and no shop looted, though two million protesters had walked through the city center. Crowds parted like the red sea for ambulances and stranded buses to pass through. But the Hong Kong marchers also made their wishes clear: shelve the bill. They also asked that chief executive Carrie Lam resign, and maintained that their demonstration was not a riot.
When the march was still in progress, Lam issued an apology to the Hong Kong people via a press release for the “disappointment and grief” caused by “deficiencies in the government’s work”. The statement stressed that there was no timetable for restarting the process of passing the bill. Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo, clarified on Monday that only the individuals engaged in violent actions on the June 12 demonstration were suspected of rioting, and that the entire demonstration was not categorized as a riot.
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