'Ten Years': Filmart/HKIFF Review

Ten Years 2 - H 2016
Hong Kong International Film Festival
A strong collection of deeply felt films as specific to a single place as it is universal.

Independent filmmaker Ng Ka-Leung gathers together five young directors for a politically charged and timely omnibus.

Domestic terrorism as a way to force through unpopular legislation, the eradication of a culture through erosion of its language and radical activism as the only way to effect change are among the thorny topics tackled in the anthology Ten Years, now something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. After grabbing headlines for its stealthy, self-distributed — and completely sold-out — screenings at the end of 2015, the collection was dubbed a “virus of the mind” and is the reason for the Hong Kong Film Awards’ banishment from Mainland airwaves. Running hot and cold as all anthologies do, Ten Years is nonetheless a vital, angry and despairing statement by five young Hong Kong filmmakers with a wholly distinct value set to previous generations and the audacity to speak their minds, strange as that is to say in reference to Hong Kong. With the city’s ongoing socio-political morass keeping the formerly low-key territory in the news around the world, Ten Years is all but guaranteed considerable festival play, and art-house release in targeted markets could pay off for creative and independent-minded distributors. Digital download platforms should also prove a healthy outlet.

The ghosts of Article 23, the Cultural Revolution and the failure of the Joint Declaration to guarantee semi-autonomy are some of the other issues woven into the fabric of the shorts, a decidedly pessimistic bunch that each posits a possible future around 2025 (in reality, a heightened present), for a Hong Kong under the increasingly firm grip of Beijing. Spearheaded by Ng Ka-Leung, Ten Years is the kind of work that could only be made by relatively fearless newcomers: Of the five, only Jevons Au (one of the three directors on Trivisa) has a high-profile credit. Given the way things are going in Hong Kong, none is primed for any exposure in China anytime soon.

Kwok Zune’s opener “Extras” is one of the strongest entries. A pair of Hong Kong’s marginalized, an Indian man (Peter Chan) and a low-ranking Triad foot soldier (Courtney Wu), are set up as patsies in a Mainland plot to scare the Hong Kong public into allowing passage of a National Security Law. Playing off the association with the despised Article 23 (the de facto inspiration for annual July 1 protests, long since shelved indefinitely) as well as press chatter about Triads allegedly hired by Beijing to intimidate protestors during October 2014’s Umbrella Movement, writers Leung Pui-pui and Fean Chung unspool a nice, tight quasi-thriller, gorgeously shot in hard black-and-white by Mike Mak, that has more than its share of commercial filmmaking tension to go alongside the conspiracy that seems just outlandish enough to be real. A legislator in the pocket of Beijing hires the pair — through a gangster accomplice — to shoot two popular councilors at a Labor Day event, spark a panic and allow the security law to pass.

Wong Fei Pang’s more esoteric “Season of the End” chronicles two researchers, Wong and Lau, documenting what remains of Hong Kong and Hongkongers in a crumbling, dank “lab.” Lau makes the ultimate sacrifice when he volunteers to become Specimen Z765. Wong’s vision is perhaps the most visually arresting of the group, with its oppressive atmosphere making its hopeless future palpable.

“Dialect” by Au touches on the increasingly sensitive subject of the very existence of Cantonese. A cabbie (Leung Kin Ping), unable to work at border crossings because of his inability to speak Putonghua, must navigate a city where the language of his birth, heritage and home is usurped in favor of tourists. With a glaring stroke-through sticker in his windshield, the man is ashamed to speak to his son in front of his friends, and winds up on the losing end of petty legal disputes. He can’t even speak English to Western tourists, who now assume Putonghua is the local language.

In the mock-doc “Self-Immolator” by Chow Kwun Wai, a radical student democracy activist (Ng Siu Hin) dies after a hunger strike and incites a radical response from the community. The story begins with the press and police trying to determine who set themselves on fire in front of the British Consulate in protest of the U.K.’s disinterest in ensuring the former colony’s autonomy since 1997. When Chow finally reveals the identity of the self-immolator, it’s a moving testament to the idea that demand for change is coming from all walks of life.

Ten Years closes with Ng’s “Local Egg,” starring industry favorite Liu Kai-Chi as Sam, a grocer forced to contend with a new Red Guard of sorts; school children who police the neighborhood for banned words — like “local.” When he catches his young son Ming (Hui Yuk-Ming) tossing eggs at a bookstore dealing in inappropriate materials (echoing the missing bookseller controversy that’s bubbled behind headlines recently) he’s pleasantly surprised to discover Ming is a mole. A final, wistful chat between Sam and the bookseller, about “getting used to” the harassment, is as ominous as it is disheartening.

Taken separately, the films of Ten Years can play as heavy-handed (“Self-Immolator”) or too diffuse to have real impact (“Season of the End”), but as a single work, the thought-provoking collection has undeniable power. Polished and well-produced despite what was likely a modest budget, each demonstrates an assured directorial hand clearly guided by an agitating spirit that is slowly working its way back into Hong Kong's indie scene.

Production company: 109G Studio, Four Parts Production
Cast: Courtney Wu, Peter Chan, Hui Pui Do, Wang Hong Wei, Chan Wai Sin, Tsang Man Wai, Leung Fei Hung; Wong Ching, Lau Ho Chi; Leung King Ping, KK Si, Gloria Lai, Siu Ying Kit, Kwan Wai Lun; Ng Siu Hin, Ho Fung, Tanzela Qoser, Cho Ying Fat, Ben Yuen, Neo Yau, Cheung Ping Kuen, Joe Wong; Liu Kai Chi, Wong Hing-Nam, Hui Yuk-Ming, Lai Chung-Hin
Directors: Kwok Zune, Wong Fei Pang, Jevons Au, Chow Kwun Wai, Ng Ka Leung
Screenwriters: Leung Pui-pui, Fean Chung; Wong Ching, Wong Fei Pang; Ho Fung Lun, Chung Chui Yi, Lulu Yang; Chow Kwun Wai; Ng Ka Leung
Producers: Jevons Au, Frankie Chan, Ng Ka Leung, Mandrew Kwan, Andrew Choi
Executive producer: Charlie Choi
Directors of photography: Mike Mak, Lau Tsz Kin, Yuen Chi Him, Ho Chiu Yuen, Twinsen Ng
Production designers: Vincent Cheung, Ma Wing Yu, G Tsu,
Charlie Choi
Costume designers: Chan Hap-Yi, Charlie Choi
Editors: Kwok Zune, Wong Fei Pang, Samuel Chan, Gigi Li, Chow Kwun Wai, Ng Ka Leung
Music: Chun Hor, Kashima Daisuke, Herman Yip, Yang Zhi Chao
World sales: GoldenScene

In Cantonese

Not rated, 104 minutes