The notion of living «a borrowed time in a borrowed place» comes up in Chinese director Zhou Bing’s documentary Hong Kong Moments. It’s an interesting turn of phrase, given the cultural discontinuity, the push and pull of belief systems, that underpins the social unrest in contemporary Hong Kong the film explores. In terms of identity, what does it mean to be a Hong Konger, born under the colonial rule of Britain and its instilled individualism, and now in the sphere of rising Chinese influence after 1997’s mandated handover?
The film does well in capturing the complexity of allegiances and tensions in a polarised Hong Kong, as it charts flashpoints of conflict during the 2019 pro-democracy protests. Thousands took to the streets to oppose the perceived threat of their huge, authoritarian neighbour to rights (including freedom of assembly and freedom of speech) guaranteed in law only until 2047. The initial catalyst was Beijing moving to allow extradition to mainland China — plans critics feared could undermine judicial independence and be used to target activists and journalists. Hostility had already been growing against China, as mainlanders poured into Hong Kong following the handover. «Five demands, not one less!» was the protesters’ motto, and after the demand to withdraw the extradition bill was met the demonstrations continued around issues such as police brutality and the demand for an inquiry.
Politics and imperialism
The film strives to be even-handed. It carefully balances its protagonists between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing viewpoints and affords dignity to both, as protests are followed in September and on October 1, the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Violence is not dismissed out of hand as a method of control or resistance. Of course, there is an argument to be made that not all positions are in fact equal, but this is filmmaking of the common humanity school, which implies good faith endeavours to understand the other are the most fruitful path out of hostile polarity.
A volunteer first-aider points out how …
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