“Who wanted to deal with politics? I do it just for a living.”
Explicitly or implicitly, the directors of the five stories in the movie Ten Years, a low-budget indie film made and released in 2015, tell us the same message: no matter what, we are doomed in the end. All set in 2025, I read the five stories as predicting five gloomy ‘lesses’ that will characterize Hong Kong in the near future.
The first story, “Extras” (directed by Kwok Zune), predicts a ‘truth-less’ society for Hong Kong. In the story, the government undertakes a series of clandestine actions, including forgery and intimidation, for political purposes. Society has become very chaotic, which the government and media suggest is caused by a small group of mobs. The truth, however, can never be known as the government has control over the media. (Similar to TVB in Hong Kong and CCTV in China, perhaps?)
“Seasons of the End” (directed by Wong Fei Pang), the second story, gives me a sense that the future of Hong Kong will be ‘hope-less,’ as increasingly, ‘old things’ are taken away. (Consider the colonial post boxes that were removed recently, for example.) The couple in this story choose to preserve selected ‘old things’. Unfortunately, their efforts are not appreciated, as many people simply regard this practice a form of meaningless nostalgia. There are too many things to protect and we are too weak to defend them.
I would use ‘speech-less’ to describe my response to the film’s third episode “Dialect” (directed by Jevons Au). The plot is straightforward: in just one decade, Putonghua, the language of mainland China, has become the main language used in Hong Kong, while our mother tongue, Cantonese, is slowly being ‘killed’. (Indeed, the ‘murder’ of Cantonese is already happening: consider the use of Putonghua in primary school classrooms.) That Cantonese is being ‘squeezed out’ of Hong Kong leaves many people in the city, especially the older generation who lack Putonghua proficiency, ‘speech-less’.
The fourth section, the provocative “Self-immolator” (directed by Chan Kwun Kwai), is my favourite. It presents what I would call a ‘heart-less’ social order. By 2025, Hong Kong has become more and more absurd and relentless. People are divided into two groups: those who are completely indifferent to political events and the radical protestors who practice extremism in opposing the government. In the end, some protestors decide to sacrifice themselves with the hope of lighting a candle in the heart of all the ‘heart-less’ people.
The concluding segment, “Local-Egg” (directed by Ng Ka Leung), describes a form of ‘mind-less’ devotion to the communist government. Children in Hong Kong are trained to be a ‘red-army’, resembling the ‘red guards’ of the Cultural Revolution in China. These youngsters march out to check if there are any ‘violations’ in the neighborhood. Many of the local characteristics of Hong Kong are consequently destroyed. Even the word ‘local’ itself is a violation. This portion of the film suggests that the next generation is going to be brainwashed, and that people will become ‘mind-less’ as authority has absolute control over their thoughts and minds.
“It’s not hatred that keeps me going, but hope.”
Some people have criticised the film for being too pessimistic about Hong Kong’s future. Others have suggested that it accuses both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments of transgressions without offering any concrete proof. However, if we look at what has been happening in Hong Kong recently, there is a reason for all of us to worry. Five booksellers from the bookshop in Causeway Bay have gone ‘missing’. The Taiwanese actress Chou Tsu-Yu was forced to apologise for showing the Taiwanese Flag on a TV show. We are afraid that the freedom we have now, which is already diminishing, will eventually disappear completely.
It seems that the Chinese government has already written the script for Hong Kong’s future. We all know the deadline: 2047, which signifies the end of the ‘One country, two systems’ policy. For many, the original hope for the policy was that in 50 years’ time, the differences between the mainland and Hong Kong would be eliminated and Hong Kong would be a good fit for integrating with China. It was expected that China would make steady progress towards freedom to match Hong Kong, but it seems that things are now going in the opposite direction, as depicted in the movie.
Ten Years is controversial not only because it prophesies a dark future for Hong Kong in the hands of the Chinese government, but also because it provides an important critique of certain Hong Kongers’ attitude about ‘Hong Kongness’, ‘Cantonese’, ‘Local’, ‘British Hong Kong’, ‘small stores in estates’, ‘the Lion Rock’s spirit’. The movie posits what Hong Kong will look like in ten-years’ time and invites the audience to think about what the ‘re-definitions’ in the stories mean. Where do these ‘re-definitions’ come from? What if our ‘Hong Kongness’ is diminishing bit by bit until it is exhausted?
The movie ends with a quote from the Bible: ‘It is an evil time. Seek good, and not evil, that you may live.’ (Amos 5:14) We cannot predict what waits ahead. However, we do have the right to defend our ‘Hong Kongness’ with our last breath.
Lam Man Tsun is a final-year student at the Department of English and the Department of Education. [Click here to read all entries by Tsun.]