Thursday, November 17, 2016

HK at the Roxie: Yellowing

During these over-heated times, we should stop to look at what genuine democracy protests look like. Starting in late September 2014, HK students spontaneously came together to occupy key locations in Hong Kong’s business district. They were not motivated by sour grapes or misplaced loyalty to an office-seeker. Instead, the students were demanding Hong Kong’s right to choose their own candidates without the threat of Beijing’s veto and for the right of universal suffrage.

They were disorganized and na├»ve, because they were so very young. Most of the protestors were college students, but there were high schoolers there too. We will meet many of the idealistic young Hong Kongers and consequently start worrying for their safety during Chan Tze-woon’s remarkably immersive documentary, Yellowing (trailer here), which has not so mysteriously been frozen out of HK theaters, but screens this Saturday at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater, presented by the Northern California Hong Kong Club.
At twenty-seven, Chan was one of the older cats seen at Umbrella protests sites, in his case primarily the Admiralty and Mong Kok. He quickly earned the trust of the yellow-ribbon wearing protestors, most notably including “Rachel Senior,” an extraordinarily camera-friendly first year law student. No doubt, his tendency to grab his camera and run into tear gas helped establish his credibility. Things are already looking pretty ominous by the time sixteen-year-old “Rachel Junior,” arrives at Mong Kok, which Chan clearly implies was the more dangerous occupation site. Frankly, seeing her there is as distressing as it is inspiring.

Through his lens we see the disorganized chaos of the Umbrella Movement. Although there were rival organizing committees, the real decision-making process was decentralized in the extreme. Yet, we watch as supply stations, tent cities, and even makeshift study halls are spontaneously organized. We also witness the HK police’s violent crackdown, on which Chan several times found himself on the receiving end.

Thanks to Chan, the Umbrella Movement is no longer faceless. They are just kids, but they are also Hong Kong’s future. Unfortunately, the older generations really hung them out to dry. Had the protestors more closely followed the revolutionary blueprint of Dr. Gene Sharp, they would have had more senior citizens in their front lines and more protest signs written in English. Of course, they were contending with erroneous accusations of foreign funding right from the start. Several times we hear volunteers cheekily distributing water and supplies “provided by a foreign power.”

Be that as it may, the Umbrella protests were eventually swept aside, defeated by a combination of many factors. The Rachels and their friends deserved better. Viewers really do feel a strong rooting interest in them personally, over and above their just cause. Yellowing is fly-on-the-wall observational in its approach, but unlike the God’s eye-swarming masses perspective of some of the Ukrainian Maidan documentaries, it is also acutely intimate. Viewers will be ready to go to the barricades for these young idealists by the time it concludes, but that begs the question why some many HK “grown-ups” turned their backs on them. One of the year’s best, Yellowing needs to be seen by Hong Kongers, so hopefully many will be sufficiently gutsy and open-minded to attend its guerilla screenings. Very highly recommended for all audiences, in all nations, Yellowing screens this Saturday afternoon (11/19), at the Roxie in San Francisco.