The makers of the transferring however uneven Hong Kong protesters doc “Blue Island” appear to battle with how they need to dramatize their human topics given the hostile (or at minimal, unfriendly) working circumstances that led them to crowdfund their film. “Blue Island” begins with a dedication to the two,645 nameless crowdfunding backers who made the film doable, which hints at the issue of constructing a film like “Blue Island” in up-to-date Hong Kong. Nonetheless, the clever parallels that director Chan Tze Woon attracts between up-to-date and now middle-aged pro-democratic Hong Kong protesters typically appear insubstantial given the film’s thinly drawn narrative of historic occasions.
The perfect viewers for “Blue Island” may already be so well-informed that they don’t must know way more about pro-democracy protests in 1989, 1990, 2014, and 2019. However, Chan’s film would in all probability nonetheless have benefited from a larger sense of journalistic rigor. This isn’t only a matter of asking extra follow-up questions (although, frankly, most documentary interviewers ought to): the testimony of older Hong Kong protesters might both be higher contextualized with extra background info or extra thoughtfully juxtaposed with conversations with youthful protesters.
Chan reminds viewers of some elementary parallels that unite Hong Kong protesters, each by means of on-screen textual content and on-camera interviews. One consultant intertitle tells us that, in 1989, “nationwide crackdowns” resulted after 1.5 million Hongkongers protested in solidarity with the pro-democracy mainland Chinese language; the mainland authorities’ retaliation is likened to the passage of the Nationwide Safety Legislation in 2020, one yr after Hong Kong residents protested the passage of the Extradition Legislation. Additionally: the flight of fifty,000 Mainlanders to Hong Kong, some 50 years in the past, is in contrast with the exodus of 90,000 Hong Kong residents following the passage of the Nationwide Safety Legislation.
These clearly drawn parallels between the previous and the current are most meaningfully developed when Chan presents youthful protesters in (literal) dialog with their predecessors. In a concluding scene, Gen Z protester Kelvin Tam sits in a jail cell and talks with Gen X demonstrator Dr. Raymond Younger about their respective emotions and beliefs. “Time will slowly erode your ideals,” says Younger, talking extra clearly and immediately than in lots of prior scenes, the place he visibly struggles to elucidate his heavy and sophisticated feelings. Tam’s response is even higher, if additionally too temporary: “Even when we’re just filming, I’m terrified. Isn’t that messed up?”
Tam and the present era of Hong Kong protesters are the true coronary heart of “Blue Island,” so it’s particularly exhausting to see their tales get much less—or possibly simply much less significant—display time than older demonstrators. It’s attention-grabbing to listen to of us who protested within the Nineteen Eighties or fled the mainland within the Seventies work together with Chan and his crew, like when Chan Chak-Chi—who grew to become an exile from China in 1973—notes the temper, throughout the Cultural Revolution, was “not so fervent.” It’s not as thrilling (or rewarding) to see Chan cut back dissidents like Kenneth Lam to their present discomfort. Lam struggles to place on his eyeglasses and in addition drinks an excessive amount of wine at a reception after he tells us that “When we were young, we dreamt of a better world.”
In the meantime, youthful protestors—a few of whom had been born just lately because of the mid-to the late Nineteen Nineties—are decreased to highly effective, however ungenerous summaries of their experiences. In a later scene, dozens of protesters sit and both have a look at or previous the digital camera whereas on-screen textual content tells us what they’ve been accused of. Some have been charged with “obstructing the police” (a district councilor) or “rioting” (a YouTuber); many are blamed for “conspiring to subvert state power.” These defendants are recognized both by their professions and what they do in life: excessive schooler; a musician; an actor; health club proprietors; a nurse; scholars. I want I knew extra about them.
“Blue Island” options a variety of nice footage, however a variety of it both doesn’t hold collectively or stream seamlessly from one episodic scene to the subsequent. There’s no query that Chan’s hit on one thing potent and important when he notes the basic similarities between varied Hong Kong protesters, nevertheless it typically looks as if there’s so much more that he might have requested or proven to us, and it’s only some follow-up questions away.
I perceive why Chan needed to incorporate a lot of footage of his older on-camera topics, however, I additionally want he’d pressed them for extra considerate responses. I additionally want “Blue Island” to honor the efforts of its youthful on-camera topics by giving them a deeper focus. I’m certain Tam doesn’t imply to be important of Chan or his crew when he says, “It’s not tiring to insist that I did no wrong. But it’s exhausting to keep telling people I’m ok.” That final line is unintentionally damning, and it shouldn’t be.