“Ten Years” is a searingly bleak look at the city’s future
(Hong Kong) Drama. Directed by Ng Ka-leung, Jevons Au Man-kit, Chow Kwun-wai, Wong Fei-pang and Zune Kwok. Starring Liu Kai-chi, Courtney Wu, Peter Chan, Wong Jing, Lau Ho-chi. Category IIB, 104 minutes. Limited release.
If you’re still straying into the fantasyland where Hong Kong will remain unchanged until 2047, “Ten Years” will stamp out your wishful thinking. A collection of five unconnected short films by emerging Hong Kong directors, the film paints a bleak picture of our city’s future in the next decade. The film has had its fill of coverage thanks to the attacks from Chinese state media, but all that noise doesn’t shout down this film, or how powerfully it tells its stories.
The film kicks off with the black-and-white “Extras,” introducing us to an Indian immigrant and a hapless triad member who are roped in by the government to fake an assassination of two political leaders, in order to drum up support for the implementation of a national security law.
It all seems like a joke at first, but things soon get sinister.
In “Dialect,” taxi drivers are required in the future to pass a Putonghua proficiency test in order to pick up passengers at major immigration control points. A Cantonese-speaking driver struggles through the hostile environment while wrestling with his wife, who insists on enrolling their son in a Putonghua-only school.
According to director Jevons Au Man-kit, Hong Kong’s versatile linguistic environment was the spur to producing “Dialect.” He points out the passive status of Cantonese and how Hongkongers attached greater significance to English when Hong Kong was a British colony, and to Putonghua when the Individual Visit Scheme was implemented. “Is this not our turn to defend our language?” he asks HK Magazine. “‘Dialect’ lays bare what the ‘effect’ will be so that viewers can contemplate what the ‘cause’ is—is it the system? Human nature? Or is it our desires?”
“Self-immolator” is perhaps the short that resonates the most. Presented as a documentary, complete with commentary and flashbacks, someone sets fire to themselves in front of the British Consulate-General. With visuals directly recalling the protests at the beginning of Occupy, the tension slowly builds up to a climax.
The script took shape in 2009, when director Chow Kwun-wai decided that the failure in fighting for universal suffrage for both the Chief Executive and Legco was the last straw. “The film gave me the strength to overcome the powerlessness I felt during the Umbrella Revolution,” he tells HK Magazine.
There are no big names, but from rookie actors to familiar faces from TV, the cast delivers poignant performances. Leung Kin-ping deserves a huge hand for his spot-on portrayal of a prudent taxi driver who finds himself on the brink of a career and family breakdown in “Dialect.” The moment when his son calls him “baba” in Putonghua is particularly remarkable, as we watch his despair gently languish into acceptance.
From its abundant use of location-based sounds to its modest shots, the directors are careful to steer clear from tricky shots or flash effects: They know that the audience’s unease feeds on the story’s believability. Another reason is the shoestring budget: $100,000 was all each director had to make “Ten Years.”
From its initial single release, “Ten Years” spread to more and more theaters in Hong Kong, finally rising to international recognition through the festival route. “Dialect” director Au suggests that the success of the film has been its ability to “strike a chord” with those who love Hong Kong, while “Self-Immolator” director Chow expresses a concern that overseas viewers may not be able to understand the jargon and the multitude of political arguments.
But this is a film for Hongkongers. “Ten Years” may not be your average feel-good flick, but this bleak picture of the future touches a sore spot in every Hongkonger’s heart. Sophia Lam
If you missed “Ten Years” in cinemas, there is a simultaneous community screening at 12 locations across Hong Kong on April 1 at 7pm, followed by a live discussion with the directors. Visit facebook. com/hktenyears for details.