Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Revolution in Our Times: Hong Kong History as it Happened (Tragically)

7.4 million Hongkongers have lost their freedom and the younger generations that protested were beaten, battered, and arrested without just cause by the Hong Kong police. Yet, it has all been remarkably well documented, for those who have not chosen to turn a blind-eye. Recent documentaries like Days Before Dawn and We Have Boots have done excellent work recording the street protests and the violent tactics used to suppress them, but the shocking brutality exposed in this film surpasses them all. Your heart will ache and your jaw will drop after watching Kiwi Chow’s Revolution in Our Times, which opens Friday in New York and Los Angeles.

Chow previously helmed “Self-Immolator,” an astonishingly bold contribution to the narrative anthology film
Ten Years. That was a biting critique of what was then the creeping specter of Mainland oppression. In Revolution, he took to the streets and the safe houses, shooting protesters guerilla-style, as they manned barricades and fled from raging police detachments. He provides plenty of context, but essentially picks up with the later “Extradition Bill” demonstrations rather than going back to the original 2014 Umbrella protests.

Most of the subjects he follows are young “Valliants,” the more confrontational protesters, rather than the self-described “Non-Violents” led by Benny Tai. Although their voices are distorted and their faces are pixelated, for their own protection, viewers will come to care about them very much, especially as they increasingly come under literal fire. Some of this footage is especially raw and shocking, but one of the biggest takeaways from Chow’s doc is the respect Tai expresses for the Valliants, acknowledging just how much they risked for freedom.

There are indeed some remarkable scenes, such as aerial footage of the “Be Water” styled protesters, seen from above as they retreat and disperse over a dozen or so city blocks, to keep ahead of advancing police shock troops. However, viewers should brace themselves for video of the vicious 721 Yuen Long train station attack, conducted by white-shirted (suspected Triad) gangs with the obvious collusion of the HK cops. Independent journalist Gwyneth Ho was there and reported on the carnage as it happened, getting severely beaten for her troubles. Fortunately, she survived to address on-camera the attack and the events that led up to it.

There are indeed some immediate takeaways from
Revolution. Senior HK officers Li Hon-man and Yau Nai-Keung should be subject to Magnitsky sanctions for dismissing, dissembling, and white-washing the Yuen Long rampage, as we see from their pressers incorporated in Chow’s doc. Secondly, all members of the HK police should be denied U.S. visas, based on the scale and coordination of their brutality.

I have seen a lot of documentaries covering the Hong Kong protests, but I was still absolutely shocked by some of the violence Chow and his mostly anonymous crew captured through their lens. Yet, what is really striking is how young the democracy protesters are and how committed they are to the cause of freedom and self-determination for Hong Kong. It is an altogether chilling yet still inspiring viewing experience that will make you want to raise your voice and join in the singing of “Glory to Hong Kong” at the conclusion. And it is all true, because nobody could stage what Chow and company record. Very urgently recommended,
Revolution of Our Times opens Friday (12/10) at the Stuart Cinema in Brooklyn and Laemmle Noho in LA.