Film’s dark vision of future Hong Kong unsettles Beijing

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Hong Kong (AP) – It’s the Hong Kong movie that Beijing doesn’t want you to see.

Made on a shoestring budget, “Ten Years” became a surprise hit with local audiences for its dystopian view of the former British colony’s future under Beijing’s rule.

The filmmakers imagine a Hong Kong in which protesters set themselves on fire, political assassinations are used to scare the population into supporting repressive laws and children are enlisted as neighborhood political watchdogs reminiscent of Mao’s Red Guards.

The film, an anthology of five short stories, each by a different director, has provoked widespread discussion and raised the ire of Beijing, with China’s Communist Party newspaper Global Times denouncing the film as “absurd.”

Protesters are seen amid clouds of smoke in a still photo from the Hong Kong movie “Ten Years.” (Andy Wong/Ten Years via AP)

It was a hit at the box office, earning more than 6 million Hong Kong dollars (US$770,000), or more than 10 times its budget.  But it abruptly disappeared from cinemas in January after an eight-week run, leading many to wonder whether pressure from Beijing was responsible.

Now the only way to see it is at private screenings at universities and community centers, where it’s often followed by a panel discussion with the filmmakers.  It’s scheduled to be shown at 30 Hong Kong venues on April 1, two days before the Hong Kong Film Awards, where it’s up for the best picture prize.

However, the organizers have reportedly indicated the ceremony likely won’t be broadcast this year to mainland Chinese audiences by online company Tencent and state-owned China Central Television, underlining Beijing’s sensitivities about the film.

“Ten Years” depicts Hong Kong a decade from now, more than halfway through a promised 50-year period in which civil liberties such as freedom of speech will remain intact as the city transitions from British to Chinese rule.

The film comes at a time of increasing anxiety about Beijing’s influence.  Such fears were highlighted by the disappearances of five men linked to a publisher specializing in juicy but hastily written titles about Chinese elite politics and by a violent clash last month between protesters and police who had cracked down on vendors selling fishballs, a holiday delicacy.

Executive Producer Andrew Choi said the project began two years ago, before pro-democracy street protests over Beijing’s plans to restrict elections that gripped the city for more than two months.

“We wanted to do a movie about Hong Kong.  Unfortunately, Hong Kong became very political in every way.  So our topic has to involve the current situation in Hong Kong,” Choi said after one recent screening of “Ten Years” organized by local pro-democracy politicians.  “I think the movie kind of hit some of the feelings for most of the Hong Kong people.”

Social worker Thomas Choi, 36, said attempts to stop the movie from being seen would backfire.  He said he became interested in the movie after reading comments online.

“Even though it’s set in 2025, the producers and filmmakers are talking about something that’s happening now.”