Netizen Voices: On Kiwi Chow’s “Revolution of Our Times” Golden Horse Award Win

On November 27, Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai’s “Revolution of Our Times” was crowned best documentary film at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival. The award provided a moment of celebration for the film’s subjects, the millions of Hong Kong residents who took to the streets in 2019 and 2020 to protest the draconian new National Security Law, and served as a recognition of their hard-fought struggle. The win also served to spotlight increasing film censorship in Hong Kong, as the Chinese government shunned the film festival and mentions of Chow’s award were deleted and censored on Chinese social media. Kathleen Magramo from the South China Morning Post described how Chow shared the film’s success with all Hongkongers in his acceptance speech:

Chow accepted the award in a pre-recorded video message and said he dedicated the film to “Hongkongers who have a conscience, justice and who have cried for Hong Kong”.

“I cried many times when making the film and many times I found comfort, vented my anger and hatred, and faced my fear and trauma through this film,” the 42-year-old director said.

“To those who have remained in Hong Kong, myself included,” he said, choking back tears, “and to those to have emigrated overseas, or those who are in prison, even though you may not have the opportunity to see the film, I really pray to God that the mere existence of this film can give you solace and an embrace.” [Source]

Producing such a film was a dangerous act for Chow, who kept his project secret for two years. Given the fact that it documents anti-government protests, the film challenges Hong Kong’s National Security Law and the newly-passed Film Censorship Law, which punishes anyone screening films that run “against the interests of national security” with up to three years in prison. Even the title of Chow’s film could be considered a provocation, as Hong Kong courts have equated the mere use of similar slogans with “inciting subversion,” and have sentenced offenders to up to seven years in prison. (In order to shield himself from any prosecution or legal liability, Chow sold the film’s copyright and original materials to a friend overseas.) Most recently, the screenings of two other films at Hong Kong’s Ground Up Student Film Festival were cancelled when Hong Kong’s Office for Film, Newspaper and Article Administration (OFNAA) refused to grant a certificate of approval.

Nonetheless, Chow was determined to complete his film and present it to the public. The documentary premiered this summer at the Cannes Film Festival, where its last-minute inclusion at the end of the festival took the audience by surprise. In an interview with Kelly Ho from the Hong Kong Free Press, Chow described his desire to honor the protesters and the risks they were facing:

“I did not want to resign myself to fear. I think that is very shameful. My documentary was people-based. All of my interviewees – whether they showed their faces or not – were taking immense risks. If I hide, how ugly and shameful is that?” he asked.

[…] Chow recalled how one suffered an emotional breakdown in front of him while they were trapped in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which was besieged by riot police for two weeks in November 2019.

The tearful protester, who was a “team leader,” hugged Chow and said he could not find any way to leave the university. Police had said those who walked out of the Hung Hom campus would be arrested for rioting, which is punishable by 10 years in prison.

“I hugged him back and I cried too. I was like a vent for his emotions. Another protester said he had a lot of secrets and he could not tell anyone. But he wanted to let people around the world know, through my lens,” Chow said. [Source]

A video post by CDT Chinese described how the sacrifices of the protesters gave Chow courage to continue in his work:

Is Chow afraid that “Revolution of Our Times” will bring trouble upon his family? He admits that he is afraid, but says that he also has faith in his beliefs. “My faith is such that I don’t even fear death, so I agree with the belief expressed by the self-immolator in [the film] ‘Ten Years’: ‘I don’t ask whether something is all right or not all right; I ask whether something is right or wrong.'” Chow is also grateful to his family for always supporting and standing by him: “Actually, they don’t talk about me bringing trouble upon them, but rather, they provide me safety in their midst.”

[…] While filming the protests, Chow suffered injuries on many occasions, but the protesters would often stand in front of him to help shield him from attacks. This led the filmmaker to a sudden realization: “It wasn’t as if I went out onto the streets because I had courage; it was the whole process of being out there on the streets that gave me courage.” In his concluding words, he says he wants to tell the regime, “You can’t use me to spread fear, you can only use me to emphasize how very courageous the people of Hong Kong are.” [Chinese]

CDT Chinese documented the film’s censorship from mainland Chinese social media and the internet, and compiled netizen reactions to its success at the festival:

Domestic media has maintained a uniform silence about this year’s Golden Horse Awards ceremony in Taiwan, with no related news reports. On the major social media platforms in China, terms related to the event, such as “Golden Horse Awards,” “Golden Horse,” and “Chow Kwun-wai” [the director’s name in Chinese] have all become sensitive words. On Weibo and Douban, a keyword search for “Golden Horse Awards” yields the message: “In accordance with relevant laws, regulations, and policies, search results cannot be displayed.” On Douban, listings and content related to the Golden Horse Awards cannot be updated, and many Douban users were banned for posting Golden Horse Awards-related content. Of the few surviving posts, most use homonyms or emoticons to replace sensitive terms such as “Golden Horse Awards” or “Revolution of Our Times.”

[…] @生命面包超人: [This award] belongs to every Hongkonger who has a conscience, loves justice and has shed tears for Hong Kong.

[…] @匿名网友: Listening to Director Chow’s speech, I was choked up the whole time. We can’t pretend not to be afraid, but in the midst of fear, we can do our best to tamp down our fear.

@yuan: In the Chinese-speaking world, mainlanders suffer from a lack of ceremonial occasions to remind people that ideals and freedoms have eternal value and are worth pursuing and upholding. [This] shows us the existence of the individual, affirms the value of the individual, and confers glory on the individual.

[…] @封我号的biss: The government of this “powerful country” is so fragile.

@虚室生白198408: I want to cry but I can’t. I grieve for my country—some of our compatriots have teamed up with the exploiters, to shoot bullets at their fellow countrymen.

[…] @linxiao1700: I’m not from Hong Kong, but every time I see photos from that time, I cry.

@vanesa: Thanks to director Chow for leaving Hong Kong this valuable historical record.

@陆皓东: This is history, this is the historical record! Let it be passed down through the generations, so that the world knows what happened in Hong Kong in 2019, and knows what the people of Hong Kong faced. Thanks to Mr. Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai and his team for their hard work and dedication! 

@许德谦Jeff Shu: The darkest skies have the brightest stars.

[…] @G KY: Thank you Taiwan, and thank you Golden Horse Awards! When I heard online that “Revolution of Our Times” had won the award, and heard the applause, and heard the cheers of Hongkongers, I couldn’t help but weep. I hope this documentary will be seen not only in Taiwan, but by all people who aspire to a free and democratic nation. I cannot forget what I saw, in person or online: the historical pain of the people of Hong Kong.

@一个爱吃爱煮的人: When I heard the host announce that “Revolution of Our Times” was the winner, I couldn’t hold back my tears. Thank you, Director Chow, and “Gayau” [“Add Oil”], Hongkongers.

@马特top10: I hope that more and more films like this will pierce the wall and awaken the world. [Chinese]

The Chinese government did not share the public’s enthusiasm. The government’s film regulator has urged actors, directors, producers of mainland Chinese films to boycott the festival ever since one director called for Taiwan’s independence in her award acceptance-speech in 2018. Responding to Chow’s award this week, the Global Times grumbled that “the Golden Horse Awards have become a pathetic tool kidnapped by politics, completely betraying the original aspiration of providing tasteful products for the public.” Among the films that won Golden Horse awards this year, many  touched on themes related to the Hong Kong democracy protests. Oiwan Lam from Global Voices described how Beijing’s political pressure paradoxically turned the spotlight on independent filmmakers unafraid of tackling sensitive issues

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.

[…] 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 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.” [Source]

Other forms of visual entertainment and culture in Hong Kong show signs of increasing censorship by the Chinese government. At the November opening of M+, Hong Kong’s new museum of contemporary and visual art, numerous works of art were censored from the museum’s online catalog and physical exhibits. In late November, Chan Ho-him and Primrose Riordan from the Financial Times reported on Disney’s deletion of a Simpsons episode that references Tiananmen Square, after the launch of its streaming service in Hong Kong:

The missing episode called Goo Goo Gai Pan features the American cartoon family flying to China to adopt a baby, with a visit to Beijing’s Tiananmen Square showing a large sign standing in the square saying: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”

First aired in 2005, the episode guest-starred Lucy Liu and also showed Homer Simpson saying the former Chinese Communist party chair Mao Zedong was a “little angel” who killed millions.

[…] A check by the Financial Times on Saturday found that all the episodes of season 16 of The Simpsons were available on Disney Hong Kong except for episode 12, which contained the scenes in question. [Source]

Translation by Cindy Carter.

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