Hong Kong Film Festival's Opening Movie Canceled Due to Suspected Censorship

'Where the Wind Blows'
Courtesy of Shaw Organization

'Where the Wind Blows'

The festival said Philip Yung's gangster thriller 'Where the Wind Blows' has been dropped from the lineup due to unspecified "technical reasons," which has become a common industry euphemism for censorship complaints from Beijing.

The Hong Kong International Film Festival has scrapped its opening-night world premiere of Where the Wind Blows, a widely anticipated crime thriller directed by local industry veteran Philip Yung.

The festival said in a statement that the cancellation was made "upon request from the film owner" due to "technical reasons." Over the past several years, such references to vague "technical problems" have become a common euphemism for last-minute censorship complaints by China's increasingly repressive film regulators.

Early promotion suggested that Where the Wind Blows would hew to the classic Hong Kong gangster genre, a category second only to martial arts cinema as the city's most defining and internationally beloved mode of moviemaking. The HKIFF's catalog describes Where the Wind Blows as centering "on the friendship and rivalry between two resourceful police detectives who forge dangerous alliances with organized crime." The film is set during the 1960s, when the city was under British colonial rule.

It is Yung's follow-up to his crucially acclaimed and impressively violent gangster flick Port of Call, which closed the HKIFF in 2015. The movie also has generated excitement for presenting the first onscreen pairing of local stars Tony Leung (In the Mood for Love) and Aaron Kwok (The Monkey King), who play the detectives.

Where the Wind Blows is produced by Hong Kong studio Mei Ah Film Production and mainland Chinese companies Dadi Century and Global Group. The movie was been in the works for years and previously was known as Theory of Ambitions. Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper, whose founder Jimmy Lai is currently imprisoned for his role in supporting the city's pro-democracy movement, previously reported that Where the Wind Blows was targeting a release in late 2018 before it became entangled in censorship problems in mainland China that could thwart the movie's release there.

During the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, the territory's relentlessly innovative commercial film industry produced its projects primarily for the local Hong Kong market, which operated within legal and film ratings systems that ensured freedom of expression. But as mainland China's theatrical film market boomed, luring local studios and talent to the far larger pond across the border, self-censorship to appease Beijing regulators gradually became the norm among the Hong Kong film community.

Since the Chinese Communist Party's Propaganda Department assumed responsibility for all film regulation in 2018, scrutiny of Chinese moviemaking bound for international festivals and markets has grown only more repressive. "Technical reasons" were cited in 2019 when Zhang Yimou's Cultural Revolution-set drama One Second was pulled from the Berlin International Film Festival's competition lineup days before its planned world premiere. A similar set of circumstances surrounded the cancelation of Derek Tsang's youth drama Better Days in Berlin, and Huayi Brothers' war epic The Eight Hundred at the 2019 Shanghai Film Festival.

The encroachment of suspected Beijing censorship demands into the Hong Kong International Film Festival is being read by local industry figures as yet another indicator of Chinese leaders' determination to strip Hong Kong of its special freedoms. On Monday, Hong Kong's leading free-to-air broadcaster TVB revealed that it would not be airing the Oscars Ceremony this year — for the first time in over 50 years. The Hong Kong TV network, which once operated with autonomy, appears to be following recent mainland Chinese political guidance to avoid live coverage of this year's Oscars because of the nomination of the short documentary Do Not Split, which explores Hong Kong's 2019 pro-democracy protests, as well as ongoing official unease over past statements attributed to Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao, who is nominated in the best director category for Nomadland.