With the coronavirus occupying the news cycle, six months of protests in Hong Kong are no longer the biggest headlines about China. But the stories and spirit of the city are dominating the screens at Metrograph, as the indie theater dedicates February to local Hong Kongers’ voices.
The series, To Hong Kong w/ <3, features ten films that reflect the love and drama of Hong Kong as well as its young people’s passion in preserving the city’s unique identity. Selections run the gamut from documentaries like Lost in the Fumes (2017), about Wuhan-born politician and activist Edward Leung, to classical narratives like Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996), an epic romance set in Hong Kong ten years before the handover where the protagonists fall in love and, after twist and turns, reunite in Manhattan.
The tribute seems to echo a broader trend in New York of centering Hong Kong. It started when Hong Kongers took to the streets in June to protest the extradition bill, which would have allowed for criminal suspects to be sent back to mainland China for trial (the bill was formally withdrawn by Hong Kong’s legislature in October). Since then, we’ve seen lively discussions and debates on Hong Kong’s social issues, given its colonized history and unique political and social standing. Institutions and universities have held scholarly talks and panels. Local bookshops and activist centers like Bluestockings and Brooklyn-based Verso Books have hosted events where members of Lausan, a collective online publication, shared their leftist perspective on the issues in Hong Kong. At a discussion at Columbia last year, students from both the mainland and Hong Kong engaged in peaceful dialogues about history, law, and identity.
“This is essentially a love letter to Hong Kong, to introduce to people what Hong Kong is really about, its identity and culture and aspiration for a democratic framework,” said Katherin Cheng, the co-programmer of the Metrograph series. As a native Hong Konger living in New York, she found herself constantly having to explain Hong Kong’s history to virtually every American she meets. “I find that Hong Kong’s history and status and which country it’s attached to is confusing to Americans…[Through this cinema] I just want to tell Americans, ‘This is what Hong Kong is, you can decide if what Hong Kong people are asking for is reasonable and justified.’”
Every Saturday this month, Metrograph will screen one to two films from the series. Each is led by a short introduction or followed by a panel discussion. Panelists range from professors, journalists, students, and participants of the 2014 Umbrella Movement.