For decades, Hong Kong’s film industry has captivated audiences worldwide with ballet shoot-em-ups, epic martial arts fantasies, choppy comedies and shadowy romances. From now on, under orders from Beijing, local authorities will examine this work with the aim of protecting the People’s Republic of China.
The city government announced on Friday that it would start block the distribution of films which are deemed to undermine national security, marking the official arrival of Chinese-style censorship in one of Asia’s most famous film centers.
The new guidelines, which apply to both domestically produced and foreign films, are the latest sign of how Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous Chinese territory, is being reshaped by law. on security promulgated last year to quash anti-government protests.
With the blessing of the Communist government in Beijing, the Hong Kong authorities have modified school programs, books pulled from the library shelves and moved to overhaul of the elections. Police arrested pro-democracy activists and politicians as good as a leading newspaper publisher.
And in the arts, the law created a atmosphere of fear.
the updated rules announced Friday to require Hong Kong censors planning to distribute a film to monitor not only violent, sexual and vulgar content, but also how the film portrays acts “which may constitute an offense endangering national security.” .
Anything that is “objectively and reasonably likely to be perceived as endorsing, supporting, promoting, glorifying, encouraging or inciting” such acts is a potential ground for deeming a film unfit for showing, the rules now say.
The new rules do not limit the scope of a censor’s verdict to only the content of a film.
“When considering the effect of the film as a whole and its likely effect on those likely to see the film,” the guidelines say, “the censor should take into account the duties to prevent and suppress an act or activity involving endangering national security “.
A Hong-Kong government statement said Friday: “The regulatory framework for film censorship is based on the principle of balancing the protection of individual rights and freedoms on the one hand, and the protection of legitimate societal interests on the other.
The vagueness of the new provisions is in line with what critics of the security law say is its ambiguously defined offenses, which give authorities ample leeway to target activists and critics.
“How do you raise funds,” asked Evans Chan, a filmmaker who has had problems filtering their work in Hong Kong. “Can you openly crowdsource and say it’s a film about certain points of view, certain activities? “
Even feature film directors, he said, will wonder if their films will break the new law. “It’s not just about militant cinema or political cinema, but the overall cinema scene in Hong Kong.”
At its peak in the decades after WWII, the city’s film industry enjoyed enormous influence in the film world, producing popular genre films and nurturing writers like Wong Kar-wai. and Ann Hui. The influence of Hong Kong cinema is visible in the work of Hollywood directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, and in blockbusters such as “The Matrix”.
More recently, the political turmoil in Hong Kong has sparked a great deal of interest in artists and documentary makers, although their work has at times struggled to be shown to the public.
A screening of a documentary on the 2019 protests was canceled at the last minute this year after a pro-Beijing newspaper accused the film of encouraging subversion. The University of Hong Kong urged his student union to cancel the screening of a film about an imprisoned activist.
The screening went as planned. But a few months later the university said he would stop collecting dues on behalf of the organization and stop managing its finances as punishment for its “radical acts”.