Controversial Dystopian Movie 'Ten Years' Wins Best Picture at Hong Kong Film Awards

Ten Years
'Ten Years'

After Beijing banned broadcasts of the glitzy awards show because of the film's nomination, the indie drama continued its rebuke to authority, winning the event's top honor.

A dark political drama about the future of Hong Kong under encroaching Communist Party control earned best picture honors at the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards on Sunday.

The daring indie film, titled Ten Years, is made up of five shorts set in the year 2025, each exploring different ways in which life in the city may change. Collectively, the vignettes reveal a dystopian vision of Hong Kong's future in which human rights and political freedoms in the semi-autonomous city have been eroded by the incursion of mainland China's authoritarian influence.

"Ten Years has transcended being a film, and it shows that there are many possibilities for Hong Kong cinema," the pic's producer, Andrew Choi said Sunday night at the glitzy ceremony, which is akin to Hong Kong's version of the Oscars.

Ten Years was made on a microbudget of $75,000 and opened to sold-out showings at a single Hong Kong cinema in December. Coming in the wake of the city's student-led Umbrella Movement, which saw tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents take to the streets to demand democracy in late 2014, the tiny picture became a surprise runaway hit. Additional sell-out screenings were added and the film grossed just shy of $1 million while beating the local per-screen average of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which debuted at the same time.

Mainland China's state-controlled media, however, responded with umbrage. Communist Party mouthpiece Global Times called the movie "absurd," "pessimistic" and a "virus of the mind," and state broadcaster CCTV notified the Hong Kong Film Awards that it would not be airing the awards show for the first time since 1991. Broadcast deals with private Chinese streaming video services were also abruptly canceled.

On Monday morning, leading mainland Chinese news sites, such as Sina and Tencent, neglected to mention the best picture winner whatsoever in their coverage of the Hong Kong Film Awards. Mentions of the film also were reportedly being scrubbed from Chinese social media. 

The filmmakers behind Ten Years told The Hollywood Reporter that they believe the pic's surprise success and the harsh reaction from Beijing have only added to a climate of fear. In early February, cinemas abruptly suspended screenings of Ten Years despite robust attendance.

Derek Yee, chairman of the Hong Kong Film Awards' board of directors, presented the best picture trophy himself Sunday night, alluding onstage to the fact that the awards show hadn't been able to find a star to present the top prize, as industry figures were presumably concerned that Ten Years might win and their brand in mainland China would be tarnished by association.

"Ten Years exposed the fear of Hong Kong people [towards China]," Chow Kwun-wai, one the film's directors, said in his acceptance speech, according to Reuters. "Ten Years also provided Hong Kong people and us a chance to show that we have no fear."

Elsewhere during Sunday's awards show, the event proceeded more predictably. Philip Yung's hit crime thriller Port of Call took the most trophies of the night, winning awards in five acting categories, as well as best cinematography and best screenplay. The film's lead, Aaron Kwok, took home his first best actor award after four previous nominations.

Tsui Hark scored best director honors for his blockbuster The Taking of Tiger Mountain 3D. It was the veteran helmer's third best director win at the Hong Kong Film Awards and his eighth nomination.

A complete winners list follows:

Best picture: Ten Years
Best director: Tsui Hark, The Taking of Tiger Mountain 3D
Best actor: Aaron Kwok, Port of Call
Best actress: Jessie Li, 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 new director: Raman Hui, Monster Hunt
Best screenplay: Port of Call
Best cinematography: Port of Call
Best film editing: Ip Man 3
Best art direction: Office
Best costume and makeup design: Monster Hunt
Best visual effects: Monster Hunt
Best sound design: The Taking of Tiger Mountain 3D
Best original film score: Office
Best original song: She Remembers, He Forgets
Best action choreography: SPL 2: A Time for Consequences
Best film from Mainland and Taiwan: The Assassin