Monday, 2 May 2016

Ten Years and Kennedy Town

About 200 people showed up tonight to watch a screening of Ten Years
In the last year or so there has been a protest against the redevelopment of a temporary garden in Kennedy Town and now it's starting to simmer.

The Cadogan Street Temporary Garden is by a bus stop and it's not a large area. It was previously an incinerator and before that an abattoir, where long-time residents remember hearing the squealing of the pigs...

And now the government is looking to rezone the area and put up residential blocks with 600 flats. The area seems small to squeeze that many people in, but hey, micro flats are all the rage these days.

They are protesting the development of the park into flats
Last year a developer tried to get a permit to build a hotel on the site, but it was soundly defeated. However, with housing a hot topic, can you deny others the opportunity to own their own home?

But before that even happens, the government needs to decontaminate the soil, and residents fear that turning up the soil will release contaminants into the air, which is another reason why they'd like the park to stay.

So far activists have collected some 2,000 signatures but it's obviously not enough of an impact to get the authorities' attention.

And so tonight they enticed people to come because they would be screening Ten Years, the film that won Best Picture in the recent Hong Kong Film Awards.

Many sat on the ground of the park while police watched
Over 200 people showed up at 7pm with blankets to sit on or on plastic bags from the protest tents that have been set up for the last few weeks. Apparently the organizers didn't get a permit to protest in the area, but the police didn't move in to shut things down, though they were monitoring the area all day and evening.

I'd read a lot about Ten Years, and finally got a chance to watch it. It's an interesting collection of five short films that are loosely related, telling their own story of what they think Hong Kong will be like in 2025.

The first story is called "Extras", where two men are caught up in a political campaign to implement a national security law in Hong Kong. They're just trying to get by working for a triad, but people higher up (Beijing) have other plans for them.

The pivotal scene in Extras about the national security law
It's sad to see their predicament, and also frightening to see how government officials don't mind having a few casualties to succeed in their political aims.

Next was "Season of the End", the weakest of the five films. It shows a man and a woman who are desperately trying to preserve anything that was left behind by bulldozers that demolished homes. The place they occupy to do their work seems bleak and bland, and towards the end they are in a desperate state of mind.

"Dialect" offers a bit of comic relief as a Hong Kong taxi driver shows how terrible his Putonghua is. Many in the audience couldn't help but laugh when he tried to tell his Mandarin-speaking app where he wanted to go but it couldn't understand what he was saying.

However, the need to speak Putonghua is a must in order to financially survive in the city. He cannot pick up passengers -- or rather passengers would rather communicate with someone who speaks Putonghua than Cantonese.

A taxi driver is frustrated not being able to speak Putonghua
He sympathizes with a local woman who has lost her job because she too cannot communicate in Putonghua, and he later gets penalized for not following the rules.

This vignette is practically what is happening now -- people must know how to speak Putonghua to increase their job prospects, and it's people in the taxi driver's age group, those in their 40s and 50s who are losing out. Even his son speaks to him in Putonghua in front of his friends to avoid ridicule.

The fourth one is "Self-Immolator", where a body was found burned in front of the British Consulate in Admiralty, and experts and commentators are all speculating as to who would have done that and why.

One young activist who fights for Hong Kong independence is the first to be convicted in the national security law and goes on a hunger strike and dies in prison. Everyone thinks it is someone related to the young man, and it's interesting to note one of the characters is a Hong Kong born Indian woman speaking Cantonese to show how ethnic minorities are treated in the city.

In the end it's an elderly woman who decides on doing the ultimate sacrifice, though we don't know what effect that will have on the future of the city.

A shopkeeper asks the difference between "local" and "HK"
There are localist groups who are pushing for Hong Kong independence now, though Beijing has completely dismissed them for even promoting this idea...

Finally "Local Egg" is a scary look at kids who are like little Red Guards, reporting on what is going on in shops to ensure they are politically correct. The word "local" should not be used in a sign saying "local eggs", but "Hong Kong eggs" is deemed kosher. The shop keeper writes "local eggs" because customers don't want to buy those from the mainland.

However, the last chicken farm closes in Hong Kong, and the shop keeper has to find other ways of giving his customers what they want. Meanwhile his son is being indoctrinated to become one of these Red Guards, though he seems to have a mind of his own.

Towards the end, the main character says we should not get used to these changes because if we do, then there will be more changes.

Will Hong Kong become like this, where quasi Red Guards will be spying on us and reporting our activities and we will all be speaking Putonghua?

Who knows? But these filmmakers have presented their visions of what 2025 could look like, and to say it's bleak is an understatement. They are definitely not drinking the Kool-aid, nor are they hinging their hopes on rule of law and politicians to save the city.

It's no wonder Ten Years has resonated with people; no one seems optimistic, and yet they can't think of another way to look at the future.

As for Cadogan Temporary Park, we'll have to see if the authorities back down. While the activists are trying to be realistic, they are trying to get as many people to sign the petition as possible to prove it's not just a small group of voices opposing development plans.


  1. I'm glad you finally got to see "Ten Years". (How did you find out about this screening, by the way?)

    On a side note: it's interesting that three very local Hong Kong films released in 2015 that I liked a lot ("Little Big Master", "She Remembers, He Forgets" and "Ten Years") have sympathetic ethnic Indian characters who are very much Hong Kongers and fluent Cantonese speakers.

    1. HI YTSL -- On the weekend I walked past a space formerly occupied by a pizza joint and on the window saw two posters, one in Chinese and one in English and made of note of it. A friend who lives in Kennedy Town also posted it on his FB page.