Film Reviews

Hot Docs Review: ‘Hong Kong Moments’

An exceptional portrait on both sides of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy ‘umbrella demonstrations’

Courtesy of Hot Docs


Hong Kong Moments
(Hong Kong/Germany, 90 min.)
Dir. Bing Zhou
Program: Special Presentations

Were you blown away by the mammoth “umbrella demonstrations,” undertaken by pro-democracy forces last year to protest Beijing’s new extradition law? See this exceptional portrait of seven people on both sides of the struggle. It is a remarkable exercise in compassion that will make you think.

Zhou puts the focus on subjects with disparate experiences during the hostilities. Ray the cabbie is distressed by the degree of protester violence; Peter Yip is a young police officer facing new demands on the job; An Bao is a protester committed to resisting Beijing’s colonial rule and to maintaining the integrity of the one country two systems paradigm; Jocelyn Chao is running on the pro-democracy side against incumbent Benny Yeung in the upcoming District Council elections; Nok Lee acts as a medic for the injured protesters and Kate Lee, who operates a popular teahouse, and opposes the protesters’ violent confrontations.

Zhou’s genius and that of his editors lies in his ability to demonize none of his subjects. They all have in common a love for their country and crave stability. None of them, including those who are pro-Beijing, is a bad person. Indeed, when Lee’s teahouse loses business and she is harassed online for her views, you feel the same discomfort as when Bernie Sanders’s supporters trashed Hillary Clinton so mercilessly: not okay. And Chao’s victimization by internet trolls, makes it clear that no matter what side you’re on, misogynists will go on the attack.

While he’s at it, Zhou portrays the astonishing creativity of the protest. Like America’s Occupy Movement, it is leaderless and encourages activists to make their own choices about how to participate. Ever clever, they put up barriers to lead police to think that’s where they’ll demonstrate only to leave bewildered cops at those locations while the protesters take up positions elsewhere.

The conflict in Beijing is generational with old-school Hong Kongers decrying pro-Democracy radicalism while younger people are seen yearning for real independence. It was the police overreaction that prompted protesters to set fires but at a certain point, blame is not the issue. The vicious standoff doesn’t get anyone anywhere. But remember: Chief Executive Carrie Lam did rescind the extradition bill and the pro-democracy candidates decimated the opposition in the District Council elections.

Aerial shots of the massive demonstrations–some of them from newscast –are impressive. But so is the way Zhou’s team insinuates itself into the action, catching candid conversations and arguments, the intrepidness of journalists covering the conflict and the anxieties of people unsure of Hong Kong’s future.

Beijing has just tabled a new law intensifying security measures designed to derail the pro-democracy movement. So this film is not a history lesson. The conflict continues.

Hong Kong Moments screens at Hot Docs’ online festival beginning May 28.

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival.

Susan G. Cole is a feminist, playwright, the author of two books on violence against women and a long-time cultural commentator. The former Entertainment Editor at NOW Magazine remains the books editor there and, as a member of the Toronto Film Critics Association, continues to contribute film reviews. @susangcole

View all articles by Susan G. Cole »