Plot: Five thought-provoking shorts imagine what Hong Kong will be like ten years from now.
Awards: Won Best Picture (HK Film Awards).
Rating: M18 for mature content.
International Sales: Golden Scene
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Ten Years, the hotly-anticipated anthology of five shorts from Hong Kong that the Mainland Chinese English-language newspaper ‘The Global Times’ called a "disease of the mind" makes its way to our country as part of the 4th Singapore Chinese Film Festival. It is of course banned in Mainland China, and pulled from the screens in HK (not before making nearly US$800,000 with under-the-radar screenings).
However, it continues to be celebrated in HK as a triumph of sociopolitical filmmaking, even bagging Best Picture at the HK Film Awards. The five shorts center on a common theme—how would HK be like in a decade's time? Perhaps you could see Ten Years as a companion piece to our very own 7 Letters (2015), where Singapore filmmakers looked back nostalgically to the past. Here HK filmmakers envision the future, and it is an ultra-bleak one.
Despite the anticipation and attention, Ten Years will be seen as disappointing to many. It is inconsistent and uneven in quality and substance. Two of the shorts work superbly, while one of them is decent. Then there’s a semi-passable one, and a truly appalling one.
Some brief notes about each short below:
‘Extras’ (Dir: Kwok Zune)
Ten Years starts off with a mild bang with ‘Extras’, a black-and-white short about the planning of an assassination attempt on a significant day of festivity by a political faction against the ruling party. It recalls the gritty and dark crime-thriller that HK cinema was synonymous with in the past. It rolls by very quickly, and while there are bits of dark humour, this is unsettling, in-your-face filmmaking. [B+]
'Season of the End' (Dir. Wong Fei-Pang)
This is the weakest of the lot by a mile. Two young adults who are obsessed with taxidermy and preservation have to ascertain their place in a world where there are no more historical referents. A sort of post-apocalyptic piece, ‘Season of the End’ is an experimental if highly-meandering work that is dreadful to experience. It seems to want to say something, but goes nowhere significant and proves to be too inaccessible and head-scratching to work on its own merit. [C-]
'Dialect' (Dir. Jevons Au)
A Cantonese-speaking taxi driver who struggles to find work in a city now prioritizing Mandarin as the only mode of communication is the subject of ‘Dialect’, a semi-interesting comedy that underlines the wanton discrimination and socioeconomic impact on a marginalized community. Not at all outstanding, ‘Dialect’ doesn’t quite reach its potential, and ends abruptly on a half-baked note. [B-]
'Self-Immolator' (Dir. Chow Kwun-Wai)
The most powerful short of Ten Years is also the most directly political. The pseudo-docudrama ‘Self-Immolator’ paints a HK under the dictatorship rule of China. There is unrest and violence, but a case of self-immolation in front of the British Consulate-General sparks greater clarity (or is it confusion?) in the undersieged city. Both a cry for freedom and a quest for truth—or conspiracy theory, this is potent filmmaking exhibiting remarkable urgency and agency. [A]
'Local Egg' (Dir. Ng Ka-Leung)
A store selling 'local' eggs for many years can do so no more after the last chicken farm is forced to close in a bid by China to politically delocalize Hong Kong. What comes out of ‘Local Egg’ is a father-son drama that explores the dangerous notion of patriotism. This is largely an excellent short that says something about the perils of regarding, above all else, the State as righteous. [A-]
Verdict: An uneven anthology of five shorts that envision Hong Kong in a decade’s time, ranging from the dreadful to the superb.
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