Wed, May 07, 2014 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: HK director’s movie reflects the souring mood in the territory

AFP, UDINE, Italy

An undated handout photograph provided by the Far East Film Festival shows the cast of Hong Kong director Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After.

Photo: AFP

The director of a post-apocalyptic thriller that has taken Hong Kong’s box office by storm says the film has struck a chord in a city grappling with its identity under Chinese rule.

“People are getting very angry about the government. This film is their voice,” said Fruit Chan (陳果), whose The Midnight After has so far collected more than HK$20 million (US$2.6 million) at the local box office, making back more than four times its budget.

The horror-comedy is a return to form for one of Hong Kong’s few commercially successful independent directors, boasting typical Chan ingredients of ultra-violence and distinctly local, black humor.

Adapted from an online novel, The Midnight After places a group of people in a mini-bus late at night. When the bus emerges from Hong Kong’s Lion Rock Tunnel, they find the streets deserted after an unexplained calamity hits the city.

The film is rich with allusions to current events in Hong Kong, and is one of a handful of recent movies tapping into a sense of collective confusion and rising anger over where the territory is headed.

“After Hong Kong joined China, many things have changed in our town,” Chan said.

“I follow very closely what is happening and that’s why I included in my film elements that certainly have to do with politics,” said the director, speaking at the 16th Far East Film Festival in the northern Italian city of Udine.

Under an agreement between the United Kingdom and China before Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, the “one country, two systems” maxim would see the territory retain its semi-autonomous status and enshrine civil liberties that are not guaranteed on the mainland.

The mood has soured since 1997. Protest marches are a frequent sight amid perceived erosion to Hong Kong’s status, a sense of declining press freedom and fears that Beijing will row back on promises that the city — whose chief executive is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee — will see a transition to universal suffrage by 2017.

This has been coupled with a rising tide of anti-mainland sentiment as Hong Kong experiences an influx of about 40 million visitors from across the border every year, pressuring services and space in a territory of 7 million.

Chan references both issues in The Midnight After, which makes some subtle jibes at the leadership of unpopular Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) and touches on a perceived marginalization of Hong Kongers within their own city, where a soaring property market is out of reach for many.

Chan, 55, has long been one of his city’s most socially aware directors, his acclaimed Hong Kong trilogy of Made In Hong Kong (1997), The Longest Summer (1998) and Little Cheung (2000) examining the effects the handover was having on the lives of everyday people.

Chan said audiences in Hong Kong have become increasingly politicized since 1997, when his Made in Hong Kong did not chime as well with its audience at the box office as his current release.

“We were afraid that when people understood this film had to do with politics, then it might be ignored, but there’s been a great reaction to the film, many debates, many opinions raised by it. The change was not in my approach, the change was in the audience,” Chan said.

The Far East Film Festival is the second international event The Midnight After has played after it made its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. The makers are currently in discussions over international distribution.

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