Note: The movie "Revolution Of Our Times" can now be seen online at Vimeo.
By Elaine Dunn | December 2022
A movie banned in China and Hong Kong broke all box office records within 14 days of its release in Taiwan. It became the highest grossing non-Taiwanese Chinese language film on the island. Then-President Tsai Ing-wen even tweeted her endorsement of it. Not only that, many of Taiwan’s high-ranking officials also attended private screenings of the film.
The Hong Kong pro-democracy protests may have subsided, but its story will live on in a 152-minute, riveting documentary titled “Revolution of Our Times.” The title is taken from a popular slogan used during the 2019 protests, “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”
Directed by award-winning Kiwi Chow (“Ten Years: Self Immolator”), the documentary just concluded its 20-city tour that began with an appearance at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival as the “surprise documentary.”
The film covers months of major protests where millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets protesting the extradition bill that would erode their right to a transparent legal system established under British colonial laws. (The bill, if passed, would have allow ed the extradition of Hong Kongers to China for “political crimes.”) In addition to capturing significant events such as the assault on the Legislative Council Complex to the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Chow also weaved in interviews with protesters and other Hong Kong residents. It documented what it was like in the “front lines” of the protests, the protesters’ struggle for freedom and democracy that proved to be one of the largest social movements in the region in recent years!
Note: The movie "Revolution Of Our Times" can be watched now online at Vimeo.
The irony is that the documentary is banned in Hong Kong (and mainland China). The phrase, “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” is deemed illegal under the National Security Law as it is “capable of inciting others to secession.”
Hong Kong was once known as “the Hollywood of the East.” It prided itself on the freedom of speech. But after the handover in 1997, Beijing has imposed more and more restrictions on personal freedom of the Hong Kongers. Incidents of films, music, art and press coverage being censored with increased frequency in recent years indicated Hong Kong’s freedom is fast diminishing, and making the city feel more like China in many ways.
Hong Kongers have been fighting for freedom and democracy for at least the past half-century. However, with Beijing’s increasing encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy and openly reneging on the “50 years hands-off” agreement, Hong Kongers’ fight now against the strong arm of Beijing is ever more critical. Their resistance resonates with freedom lovers worldwide. Telling the story of this grassroots movement against oppression right as brutal beatings were taking place, rubber and real bullets were flying and water cannons were blasting away is quite remarkable. The on-the-ground footage even captured protesters dying -- including one being shot point-blank in the chest – emphasized how protesters in this leaderless movement acted and reacted on the fly.
The film crew followed seven teams of protesters around for months, each with different stories and perspectives. The protesters self-organized themselves into groups such as the Valiants, the Shield Men, the Smoke Controllers, the Map Team and the Driving Team, and employed gaming tactics in strategy and communication. Their stories painted a comprehensive picture of a versatile movement.
Chow’s “Revolution of Our Times” won countless awards at international film festivals, and serve to inspire many to continue their fight, especially those who fled Hong Kong after 2019. A Hong Konger now living in the UK said, “To continue the spirit of the protests is important ‘so the world and those remaining in the city can see that overseas Hong Kongers will carry on their fight even though we are far away.’”
Chow feels “every single participant is a brave soul. Masked demonstrators on the front line are allowed to speak their mind through the medium of a documentary. The audience is unable to see their faces, but they can enter their hearts and allow the protestors to present their brave, yet fragile souls.
“In 2019, the Hong Kong people rebelled against the proposed extradition bill to amend the ‘Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.’ And in 2020, the regime replaced it with the more dire ‘National Security Law.’ Living under fear, the interviewees had to wear face masks, the production staff had to remain anonymous, and we will have to live with the fact that this documentary cannot be screened publicly in Hong Kong due to heavy monitoring by the government.
“We have lost contact with some of the interviewees in the film, some went into exile, and some are serving sentences in prison. The people of Hong Kong have indeed given up a lot during this tumultuous period. And as a film director, it is my responsibility to take the risks and document the resistance.”
One young protester’s reason for participating in the protest said it all, “I did these things because I wanted to tell the government that Hong Kongers will not be silenced because of money or oppression. I will not let anyone rob me of my freedom. I will not let anyone take away my freedom of thought. I will not let anyone take away my free will.”
The Wash., D.C.-based Hong Kong Democracy Council, whose mission is to “build, empower, and strengthen the diasporic network of Hong Kongers in the U.S.,” hosted public screenings to create awareness of the struggle for freedom of Hong Kongers. In addition to Taiwan and Cannes, the documentary had also been shown in Australia, Canada and the UK. In the U.S., the film was screened in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.
As Chow said, “It was not the times that chose us, but we chose to change the times.”
Note: The movie "Revolution Of Our Times" can be watched online at Vimeo.