Film

Seeing Hong Kong’s Past and Present Through Film

Metrograph’s film series To Hong Kong with Love pairs old and new films films made by Hong Kong residents, cultivating a first-person narrative of the city and its changes.

From Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996) (all images courtesy Metrograph)

Hong Kong has been in the broader consciousness for nearly a year now due to the ongoing protest movement there. But cinephiles have had a special affection for the city for decades, thanks to its unique and vibrant film output. These two qualities are brought together in Metrograph’s new screening series To Hong Kong with Love (stylized as “To Hong Kong W/❤️”). Curated by the theater’s head programmer, Aliza Ma, and guest programmer, Katherine Cheng, the series features a mix of titles from the Hong Kong New Wave of the ’80s and ’90s, along with contemporary documentaries on political activism in the city. Each screening will be accompanied by a panel discussion including Hong Kong natives, activists, and experts.

Hyperallergic spoke with Cheng via email about assembling the series. She explained the reasoning for pairing older films and current docs:

If we want to take a look at Hong Kong’s identity and culture, using classic films is fitting, because cinema informs and reflects much of Hong Kong’s sense of itself. We pair these classics with documentaries that reflect contemporary Hong Kong issues to weave a broad view of the collective journey Hongkongers have taken, from the 1930s as depicted in Rouge to present-day Hong Kong in the brand-new documentary If We Burn, which was just added to the lineup.

From Lost in the Fumes (2017)

One old and one new film has been scheduled for each day of the screenings. While not explicitly presented as double features, the pairings make it easy for viewers to see both the historical and contemporary Hong Kong. Significantly, all of the older films date from before the British transferred control of the city back to China. There are not always direct thematic links between old and new, but there are parallels.

One particular pairing that Cheng recommends is Nomad, Patrick Tam’s 1982 film about existentially adrift young people, and Lost in the Fumes, a 2017 portrait of activist and politician Edward Leung. “Protagonists of both films are the youth of Hong Kong,” she stated. “Contrasting the two, you can see how Hong Kong as a society and its young people have changed. In the ’80s, the young people were apolitical and living for the day. In present-day Hong Kong, the new generation is politically aware and on a clear mission.”

From Nomad (1982)

The Metrograph’s webpage on the series notes that much of the debate around the current protests in Hong Kong is “by outside observers with a vested interest in imposing their own narratives.” The program seeks to correct any misconceptions and avoid outside interests by presenting solely films made by residents, cultivating a first-person narrative of the city and its changes. Ma and Cheng also view the program more broadly as a love letter to Hong Kong as a whole, and not just an overview of its political situation. As Cheng put it,

When non-Hongkongers think of the city, they usually think about the multinational businesses, the banks, the finance sector, the ruthless efficiency. Hong Kong is certainly all that, but there is also a soulful side. Hongkongers are pragmatic, but many are also idealistic and sentimental. It’s human, humane, and endearing. That’s the side of Hong Kong we want to present to a US audience through this series.

From Yellowing (2016)

To Hong Kong with Love runs February 1 through February 29 at Metrograph (7 Ludlow Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan).

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