The 58th Golden Horse Film Awards, dubbed the Chinese-language “Oscars,” was held in Taipei on November 27. In 2019, China's national film board ordered directors and actors to boycott the event, so for three consecutive years, the film festival has had no mainstream Chinese films on the nomination list.
Beijing's political pressure has affected Hong Kong too. Directors and actors prominent in the commercial film industry have been compelled to decline the award nominations for fear of losing the mainland Chinese market. Unexpectedly, such tensions have generated a space for Hong Kong's independent, less-commercial productions.
This year, Kiwi Chow's “Revolution of Our Times,” a banned documentary about the 2019 anti-China extradition protests in Hong Kong, won the Best Documentary award. Clara Law's “Drifting Petals” won the Best Director award, and Jun Li's “Drifting” won the Best Adapted Screenplay award. All three movies depicted stories about the city's grassroots activism efforts.
Best Documentary Award: “Revolution of Our Times”
The title of “Revolution of Our Times” comes from a protest slogan during the 2019 protests. This July, Hong Kong's High Court judged that the display of the slogan was considered an act of incitement in the trial of Tong Ying-kit. Kiwi Chow's work was banned in Hong Kong, as were other films that address the city's pro-democracy movements and its political tensions with China,
Under the newly amended Film Censorship Ordinance, films that go against national security interests can not be shown in Hong Kong, and anyone who illegally screens unlicensed films could face three years imprisonment and a one million HK dollar fine. Twitter @MenSuen compiled a list of films that have either been banned or heavily edited for release:
You may remember that a while ago we did a Q&A about what films #CCP hates, well here are a fresh batch of films made about #HongKong‘s fight for freedom. Many were censored in #HK but that cannot stop the world from watching them. PLEASE REQUEST THEM FROM @netflix ! pic.twitter.com/6gROEYNYIv
— IFC (@MenSuen) October 21, 2021
Kiwi Chow's documentary was slammed by pro-Beijing media outlets for advocating Hong Kong Independence after it was screened at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.
Kong Tsung-gan, a Hong Kong activist, highlighted the audience reaction and the director's video speech during the award on Twitter:
.@RoOT_film wins Best Doc at Golden Horse Awards. After screening, the audience shouted, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times!” Director Kiwi Chow: “This film belong to every HongKonger with a conscience & righteousness who sheds tears for HK.”https://t.co/IRmRKwSWEe pic.twitter.com/poZ2iEBkU7
— Kong Tsung-gan / 江松澗 (@KongTsungGan) November 27, 2021
Best Director Award: “Drifting Petals”
Director Clara Law was born in Macau, grew up in Hong Kong, and migrated to Australia. In her film “Drifting Petals,” she revisited the twin cities during the 2019 protests and told the story of Hong Kong and Macau through the lens of the diaspora.
Both Hong Kong and Macau are former colonial cities located on the periphery of mainland China. In the late 1990s, both were reunified with China under the constitutional principle of “One Country Two Systems.” Through the traveler's encounter with protesters and spirits of the past in his trip, the director draws connections between the contemporary conflict in Hong Kong with the 1966 Macau riots against the colonial Portugal government and the 1895 Guangzhou Uprising against the Qing Dynasty.
Although the film is not directly about the 2019 Hong Kong protests, it is unlikely to be screened in Hong Kong theatres, as pointed out by Lai Chak Ling, an actress in the film who represented Law when receiving the film festival award:
Best Adapted Screenplay Award: “Drifting”
Jun Li's “Drifting” is the only one among the three awarded films that managed to air in Hong Kong cinemas. The film is based on an actual court case in 2012 involving a group of homeless people in Sham Shui Po, a low-income district that is undergoing gentrification. The lawsuit was filed by a group of homeless people demanding compensation and an apology from the government after police officers and street cleaners forced them to leave their camps by throwing away their belongings without prior notice.
The homeless citizens’ demand for an official apology resonated with the city's pro-democracy protesters during the 2019 protests.
As pointed by Michael Mo, a Hong Kong diaspora in the UK, the director used the politically sensitive chant, “Hong Kong Add Oil” 香港加油 when he received the award:
#HongKong based film #Drifting have just won the best adapted script at the 58th @Golden_Horse Awards. At the end, the director gave his speech in Cantonese, ending with #香港加油 (Cheer up Hong Kong), a slogan which is deemed seditious now.
Thank you #Taiwan. pic.twitter.com/0JcYdPCGFR
— Michael Mo (@michaelmohk) November 27, 2021
“May you stay forever young” and “Coffin Homes”
In addition to the awardees, two other nominated Hong Kong productions were praised by the Festival reviewers.
With less than a 600,000 Hong Kong dollar budget (approximately 77,000 US dollars) production fee, Rex Ren and Lam Sum's “Will you stay forever young” was nominated for Best New Director and Best Film Editing.
The film was also censored in Hong Kong, as it is discussed the 2019 protests. It features a rescue team who searched for young protesters who attempted to commit suicide due to generational conflicts within their families.
The title, “Will you stay forever young,” comes from a 15-year-old protester in the film: “will people be doomed to change as they grow up? If so, I don't want to grow up.”
Established filmmaker Fruit Chan's “Coffin Homes” has been nominated for multiple awards. The comedy thriller, which was screened in Hong Kong in August 2021, is highly critical of the capitalist exploitation in the city to the extent that the ghosts have to compete for living space among themselves and with living people.