Hong Kong Film Directors' Guild Takes Stand Against China Extradition Bill

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Police and protestors face off in Hong Kong.

The statement from the professional body, which counts the likes of Wong Kar Wai, John Woo, Tsui Hark, Andrew Lau and Johnnie To as members, calls for a total withdrawal of the controversial legislation.

The Hong Kong Film Directors’ Guild on Sunday issued a statement to request the total withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill.

Addressed to Hong Kong legislator Ma Fung Kwok, who represents the functional constituency of sports, performing arts, culture and publication, the 17-word statement in Chinese simply and succinctly said, “[We] do not accept suspension of the extradition bill. Request complete withdrawal.”

The statement came on the heels of the Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam’s announcement in the afternoon of the postponement of the bill.

The Hong Kong Film Directors’ Guild is headed by An Autumn’s Tale helmer Mabel Cheung as president, Project Gutenberg director Felix Chong as one of the vice presidents and Jackie Chan among the honorary presidents. The professional body was established in 1989 and has over 200 members, including such internationally esteemed directors as Wong Kar Wai, John Woo, Tsui Hark, Andrew Lau and Johnnie To.

The guild’s statement marked the second entity in the Hong Kong film industry to make a public stand against the law amendment that will make it easier to extradite people to China, where the judicial system is troubled by human rights abuses. The Hong Kong Film Assistant Directors’ Association on June 3 made a statement asking for the bill’s withdrawal, citing concerns about securing the creative freedom of Hong Kong filmmakers given the difference in ideology and freedom of speech between Hong Kong and China.

The bill has been met with significant opposition from the Hong Kong society since its introduction in February. The local legal sector and business community stated their opposition to the bill, pointing out that it will erode Hong Kong’s rule of law and its position and standing as an international financial center. A number of foreign companies made clear that, should the bill be passed, they will withdraw investments from Hong Kong. An estimated million Hong Kong citizens took to the streets in peaceful protest on June 9, the crowd a size unseen in the city for 30 years. But the government refused to back down and declared on the same night of the march that it would proceed with the second reading on Wednesday.

On that day, 40,000 demonstrators gathered in the areas around the Hong Kong Legislative Council in an attempt to stop the second reading. After a handful of protesters threw plastic water bottles and pushed barricades, the Hong Kong police force opened fire at the crowds with rubber bullets, sand bag rounds and tear gas canisters. The unarmed protestors — consisting mostly of students, with some as young as 12 years old — dispersed quickly, but many were hit by the bullets, squirted at close range by pepper spray or chased down and beaten by groups of police wielding batons and wearing full protective gears. Journalists and medical personnel were not exempt. Amnesty International has since condemned the Hong Kong police's action as an "excessive response" and "abuse against peaceful protesters."

The demonstration was then categorized by the police and the chief executive as a “riot.” Some of the injured were later arrested when they sought medical attention at public hospitals. University students were also arrested at their hall of residence.

In the history of Hong Kong, only twice had there been over a million people coming out into the streets to voice their position. The first was on May 27, 1989, when approximately 1.5 million people marched in solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Beijing. The second time was a week later, on June 5, 1989, after the state-sanctioned massacre of students and demonstrators in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

During that week, as the tension in Beijing mounted, over 200 Hong Kong music and film stars organized the “Concert for Democracy in China,” a fundraiser in support of the pro-democracy demonstration in Beijing. Various superstars and industry heavyweights including Jackie Chan, Eric Tsang, Andy Lau and Chow Yun-fat took to the stage. Five hundred thousand Hong Kong citizens attended.

This year, no member of the Hong Kong film industry has as yet voiced out against the Hong Kong police’s disproportionate use of force against its citizens. Only actor Anthony Wong commented on the suspension of the bill and the government’s categorization of the Wednesday demonstration as a riot. In an interview with Hong Kong’s Apple Daily published Saturday, he responded to the suspension as being “better than nothing.”

Said Wong, “If it was a riot, the government shouldn’t have backed down. What kind of government back down to the demands of criminals? Does backing down mean agreeing with the rioters?"

In a comment dripped with sarcasm, he added, “If it was a riot, then everyone who marched on the streets should be arrested. I support the government in arresting all the students, Christians, teachers, journalists, fathers, except Carrie Lam’s policeman father, and mothers, except Carrie Lam.” The actor concluded by describing Lam’s handling of the matter as “inappropriate” and “adding fuel to the flame and escalating the situation.”

Wong, a five-time winner of the Hong Kong Film Awards and a vocal supporter of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, became a pariah in the local film industry because of his views, didn’t get a job offer for a whole year and is still banned in China.