Remembering Hong KongChae Byung-gun
The author is an international, diplomatic and security news director of the JoongAng Ilbo.
From the 1980s to the early ‘90s, movies rom Hong Kong were popular in Korea. I’d never been to Hong Kong, but I had to be quiet in conversations with peers without knowing about movies like “A Better Tomorrow” and “A Chinese Ghost Story.” All notable Hong Kong actors started in the “Better Tomorrow” series, and Korean men in their 20s at the time raved over it.
What made Hong Kong movies so popular? They had something Korean movies didn’t have.
During the military regime, Korean films and popular arts were created in an age of forbidden rules with layers of taboo. Political criticism and cultural imagination were restricted, and it was a time of frustration and invisible limits on reason and emotion. In retrospect, young Koreans felt the unrestricted freedom of emotion in Hong Kong movies in our own monochromatic world.
But Hong Kong movies are in decline. Among the many reasons, the critical cause was the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. The year 2000 was the start of “cultural obedience.”
As Beijing’s grip tightened, resistance to keep the original Hong Kong continued through democratization protests, but they ended in vain. Hong Kong is now a part of China that has to follow the lead of the Communist Party. Especially after the National Security Law, criticism of the system and self-repentant arts and culture have lost their place in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong National Security Law stipulates that diversion from the state, subversion, and collusion with foreign powers are subject to punishment. In other words, questioning the system is “divergence from the state” and a documentary on democratization protests by international human rights groups is punishable for collusion. On July 2, the biggest festival of China and the centennial of the Chinese Communist Party, Xi Jinping said that the central government fully controls and governs Hong Kong and Macau.
Art and culture stimulates humans with creativity for something new. Creativity stirs your emotions the moment you hear or see it. Creativity begins with resistance, challenging authority and a desire for diversity. The biggest enemy of art and culture is monism combined with a distorted or stubborn belief, such as nationalism or racism.
Can contemplation on political and social authority be found in Hong Kong films in the future? It is practically impossible. The Hong Kong authorities announced on June 11 that they would begin censorship on films harming national security. In addition to violent, sexual and vulgar content, threats to national security will be subject to censorship and be restricted from distribution.
Artists in Hong Kong are applied not only legal and ideological controls but also social controls. Patriotic Chinese people demand filmmakers revealing the pains or problems of China apologize. The actors in the Hong Kong films playing masculine characters either express their support for China on social media or remain silent on sensitive issues.
The memories of Hong Kong as “Fragrant Harbor” from the 1980s is quickly disappearing into the past.