'Joshua: Teenager vs. Super Power': Film Review | Sundance 2017

Solid and stimulating.

This doc profiles a courageous Hong Kong student who led a movement against the Chinese government's efforts to interfere in school curriculums.

A teenaged Hong Kong student takes on the Chinese Communist government and fights it to an international draw. It may sound like the basis for a kids' animated feature, but Joshua: Teenager vs. Super Power is actually a rousing documentary on a youth movement against, essentially, educational brainwashing.

In the most mismatched David and Goliath political scenario you can conjure, Joshua Wong rallies his fellow students to protest the Chinese Communist government's insidious attack on their curriculum. In short, the Communist government is set to impose a system based on the “principles” of their government. It's tantamount to brainwashing and a direct Orwellian assault on individual thought and expression.

Filmmaker Joe Piscatella structures his film like a smart lawyer would present his case. Portraying the good-student nature of Joshua and his otherwise normal teenage world, Piscatella draws dimension to the overpowering opponent that Joshua has to take on. A charismatic speaker and organizer, Joshua is a natural: He instinctively forms a tiny grass-roots organization called Scholarism and spreads the word on their mission. Not surprisingly, Joshua is pummeled with all sorts of opposition: parents, friends, school officials.

While very likable, Joshua is also tenacious and adaptive. He understands the power of images and he realizes that he must be the “face” of the fight. With that comes personal challenges, while the intensity of the Communist pushback increases. Hong Kong's political leader, a stooge of the Beijing government, condescends at first, hoping to wear him down. But Joshua and his growing movement don't give in; they stage street protests and a camp-out outside the primary Hong Kong governmental building, and begin to attract media coverage.

In this quixotic and titanic quest, they are magically abetted by bad weather, the colorful umbrellas the protesters hold becoming a popular symbol for their movement.

Admittedly, what Joshua and his followers achieve is one solid step to thwart Communist thuggery, but as their story progresses Joshua learns that in order to ultimately win, they must evolve to fight. They form a political party and win a seat in the government, enduring to fight another day. Stay tuned.

Production companies: A Netflix release of a June Pictures presentation of a Pandamonium production
Director-writer: Joe Piscatella
Producers: Andrew Duncan, Matthew Torne, Mark Rinehart
Executive producer: Alex Saks
Editor: Matthew Sultan
Music: Bennett Barbakow, Rob Amjarv
Venue: Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Documentary Competition)

78 minutes