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Revolution of Our Times, Kiki Chow (2021)
Revolution of Our Times, Kiki Chow (2021)Via IMDb

Critics push back against Hong Kong’s crackdown on ‘subversive’ films

Those that violate the new censorship law – which claims to ‘safeguard national security’ – will face up to three years in prison and $130,000 fines

As part of a broader crackdown on public dissent, Hong Kong authorities have announced a ban on films that supposedly violate the region’s national security interests, or contain scenes deemed too “subversive”. 

The censorship law follows a draconian national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong last year — in response to the region’s massive pro-democracy protests in 2019 — that effectively outlawed all forms of public dissent. That legislation, which critics claimed was aimed at crushing opposition, criminalised any act of “secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces”.

The new film censorship law, meanwhile, was approved in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (whose former opposition members are either imprisoned or in exile) and gives the city’s administration power to revoke a film’s licence if it is found to “endorse, support, glorify, encourage, and incite activities that might endanger national security”.

Those that do violate the guidelines will reportedly face up to three years behind bars and fines of up to $130,000 (or £95,000), besides their films being pulled from public screenings.

According to Radio Free Asia, pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Luk has accused former pro-democracy lawmakers of using film and other creative industries to “promote fear, harm the country and vilify Hong Kong”. Luk specifically calls out the 2015 film 10 Years – which depicts a dystopian Hong Kong under Chinese rule – as “an example of these speculative attempts to vilify Hong Kong and create alarm”.

“It has incited a lot of people, especially young people, to feel despair or anxiety about their future,” he adds, echoing claims that the film inspired widespread unrest that led to the mass protest movement. “They went on to do a lot of irrational things in 2019, even illegal or violent acts.”

Unsurprisingly, critics of the bolstered film censorship powers warn of their impact on the region’s filmmakers, and their negative effects on creativity and freedom of expression. Kiki Chow – who chronicled Hong Kong’s 2019 protests in the documentary Revolution of Our Times, which premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival – tells Reuters: “It will worsen self-censorship and fuel fear among filmmakers.”

“Adding national security clauses to the bill is clear political censorship,” adds Kenny Ng, an associate professor at Hong Kong Baptist University’s Academy of Film. “It’s heavy-handed. The film industry will need time to adapt.”

Alongside the film industry, China has previously targeted gaming to curb pro-democracy protests. In particular, the country reportedly cracked down on sales of the Nintendo Switch game Animal Crossing: New Horizons in 2020, after it became an unlikely home for Hong Kong activists amid the coronavirus pandemic.