Director Chan Tze-woon filmed more than 1,000 hours of on-the-ground footage over 67 days in 2014 during the “Umbrella Movement” protest in Hong Kong. The guerrilla filmmaking style allows audiences to get a real sense of being part of the protest. It feels like you are marching with them, sitting with them and waiting with them. Waiting for change.
It has been nearly 20 years since British colonial rule of Hong Kong ended and the Chinese government assumed control. In a 1984 agreement between China and Britain, China agreed to govern Hong Kong under the principle of “one country, two systems” and to preserve a high degree of autonomy for its citizens.
The Chinese government promised direct elections for the Hong Kong chief executive by 2017, but China’s top legislative committee ruled in 2014 that voters would only be able to choose from a list of two or three candidates selected by a nominating committee. Democracy activists called this a “sham democracy” and argued China would be able to screen out any candidates it disapproves of. They took to the streets to protest.
Through Yellowing, Chan delivers the experience of the protest to audience members. Whether it is the action-packed punch he suffered from a police officer, an inspiring roadside chat with a 16-year-old girl in a school uniform who has joined the movement or the complicated process of constructing a study area complete with Wi-Fi and whiteboards, audiences are able to get a real sense of the day-to-day lives of these students camped out on the streets.
It is clear that the film is originally intended for a Hong Kong audience. There is little explanation of the locations and areas where the protests are taking place, the significance of the buildings they are trying to surround, and who the key players of the movement are. Non-Hong Kongers may find themselves lost at times.
But the protesters’ strong sense of idealism, passion and commitment for justice is loud and clear, and absolutely infectious.
I was born and raised in Hong Kong. I was eight years old when my mother asked me, “What do you think about immigrating to Canada?” I dismissed her. “Don’t make such ridiculous jokes,” I said. My friends, my family, my school, my entire world were in Hong Kong. But we left. We got on a plane and came to Canada, and I could barely understand why.
As I watch this film 20 years later, I wonder if my family had stayed in Hong Kong, whether I, too, would have been standing alongside the young men and women at the front lines of this protest amidst tear gas, pleading with police officers to understand our desire for a fair election and true democracy.