Documentary Hong Kong: City on Fire (2022) is set to be released in the UK on 22 November in limited cities.
Recently, I was contacted by Dartmouth Films to promote a new documentary to be released in the UK this week. The city that I was recommended to engage with is Leicester, for a particular show on the opening day. When I read the email, it was like a wound cut open. Not many people feel the multiple pains as I do by following the events since 2014. At the same time, I also feel obliged to write something about this encounter I had.
While being put in a position and being forced to choose a side, only one thing can help. I hope, that is to be transparent and honest. Therefore, here is my take.
For those who are interested in the unrest in Hong Kong in the past few years, I recommend you to go and watch this documentary. The audience in the UK is one of the most critical groups internationally. In particular when it comes to documentary, the regular documentary consumers are well exposed with the way how story is told in this particular genre.
The documentary reveals some extended footages that international news may not have been able to include within a limited space. We are provided a closer position to see things from the perspective of the frontline protesters and try to understand, how exactly and when did violence escalate. While the documentary is engaging and sympathetic, it also creates space for the audience to put the missing puzzles together, which is the essence that any documentary provides. A documentary is the first step to provide information for the audience to have their own conclusion. Given such a complex historical and political background that the story is set in, in the City on Fire, I believe this documentary will be a good starting point for the audience to arrive at their own synthesis.
There is also another film called ‘City on Fire’ from 1987, directed by Ringo Lam. It is said that this crime-thriller inspired many films made by Tarantino thereafter. A maverick undercover cop infiltrates a gang of Hong Kong jewel thieves but is wounded when the robbery turns into a massacre. Trapped in their hideout, the gang seek to unmask the traitor in their midst.
For those who are going to watch the latest documentary this Tuesday, I recommend you to also watch Ringo Lam’s noir classic under the same name. The 1987 gang thriller paints a very good picture of the city of Hong Kong and its brutal reality – it’s a dog-eats-dog society.
A question that I often ask myself and in my daily practice. When a city is on fire, a city that you love, how can film diplomacy help to mediate conflict? What I mean here is to prevent more conflict to occur. Choosing a side is not the strategy that myself will take. Taking a side or encouraging people to take a side is a simplistic way to conclude a complex debate, just as Brexit. Building meaningful conversation and debate involves more efforts, thoughts and labours of love. Conflict mediation is something that I am still learning. I was never part of any group when I was a teenager going to school in Hong Kong, cinema was my only friend. I hope you can appreciate that my view is only mine and that I am prepared to accept that this non-binary view is not going to be in favour by any side.
My belief is this. Hong Kong will thrive again and the city will continue to act as an important bridge between the East and the West, between Greater China and the world.