As Protests Continue, Hong Kong's Entertainment Industry Begins to Polarize

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Deanie Ip

Award-winning actress Deanie Ip and veteran star Tony Leung Ka-Fai are among the high-profile stars that have publicly backed opposing sides as tensions continue to rise in the city.

As tensions in Hong Kong continue to rise, high-profile figures in the city's entertainment industry have begun to break cover and speak out, mirroring the political polarization that has wracked the city over the last month. 

Award-winning actress Deanie Ip, one of the first Hong Kong stars to back the ongoing demonstrations, says she’s concerned that protesters may polarize public opinion after they entered the Legislative Council building on Monday.

Speaking to Apple Daily during the July 1 march, Ip, who won a best actress award at the Venice Film Festival in 2011, urged protesters not to turn the tide of public opinion against the movement seeking to block a controversial China extradition bill. The A Simple Life star has been vocal about her support for the protests and previously joined the peaceful marches that took place on June 9 and 16, both events that organizers said exceeded a million people.

Ip reiterated that the extradition bill needed to be scrapped entirely, not temporarily suspended as per the current policy of Hong Kong’s beleaguered government. “Temporary suspension is not right. It shouldn’t be temporary suspension,” Ip told Apple Daily. “It is supposed to be ‘apparently’ [stopped], but we don’t want anything ‘apparent,’ we want something substantial.”

Ip’s comments came as student protesters broke into Hong Kong’s legislature and vandalized the main meeting chamber in an escalation of tactics modeled after the Sunflower Student Movement of 2014 in Taiwan. The actions have polarized public opinion as well as created divisions among supporters of the movement, which up until Monday had been notable for its large-scale civility.

Pro-Beijing elements in Hong Kong, as well as supporters of the extradition bill, were quick to denounce the destruction of government property and vandalism.

Since the June 12 protest, which gained worldwide coverage for Hong Kong’s police force utilizing heavy-handed tactics against student demonstrators, tensions in the city have been high. Many citizens were horrified by police tactics and the violence that ensued that day, with others siding with the police. The splits in society have begun to surface in Hong Kong’s entertainment industry, which hitherto had remained apolitical.

In the main, Hong Kong’s entertainment industry has been conspicuously silent as protests continue in the city. Previously, only the Hong Kong Film Directors’ Guild and the Hong Kong Film Assistant Directors’ Association had released statements calling for the bill to be scrapped.

On June 30, a pro-police counter-demonstration was held, with pop stars Alan Tam and Kenny Bee, who have been active in the Hong Kong entertainment industry for five decades, going on stage to condemn people attacking the police and accusing the “young people of today” of “being ridiculous.” Tam is widely regarded as a Cantopop icon but has also won a Golden Horse best actor award for If I Were for Real (1981), while Bee is his fellow member in rock band the Wynners and a prolific 1980s actor in his own right. Both starred with Jackie Chan in Armour of God (1986).  Filmed footage of Tam and Bee’s longtime fans smashing their vintage vinyl records in response to their appearance at the pro-police rally has gone viral.

Actor Tony Leung Ka-Fai, who came to international renown in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s The Lovers (1992) and played cops numerous times on screen, most recently in Cold War 1 & 2, also attended the pro-police gathering, holding a placard that said “Support the Police,” but he didn’t go on stage or speak. During a promotional tour for Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch in early June, Leung told Taiwanese media that he was “not qualified to comment as an actor” when asked about the extradition bill.

Ip was asked by Apple Daily for her thoughts on actors backing the police but chose to stay diplomatic. “We can’t call other people’s choices wrong. Everyone has their own judgments. We shouldn’t pit ourselves against one another. I’ve come out today because everyone has their freedom to do what they think is right, but I won’t criticize them,” she said.