It may have just happened in 2016, with consequences and repercussions, or inspirations and enlightenments, all too painfully felt at large to this day. However the current sharp turn of tide and successive disqualifications of candidates by returning officers on the ground of political opinion may as well have made the localist sensation, as the press generally dubs it, off the talk of the day. But the daring courage and sacrifice that our young people demonstrated and made and the tears and blood shed a short while ago will not fade away without notice. It is well recorded in an Ying E Chi film, product of a non-profit and Hong Kong Arts Development Council-sponsored independent filmmaker.
Directed by film amateur Nora Lam Tze-wing, a recent literature graduate from the University of Hong Kong (HKU), Lost in the Fumes is an Edward Leung Tin-kei documentary that centres on the 2016 Legislative Council (Legco) general election. Leung, who is currently in remand for having admitted on assaulting the police at the beginning of his eighty-day trial last month, was instrumental to the 2016 Lunar New Year uprising in Mong Kok when he was the spokesperson of Hong Kong Indigenous. That overnight rising was soon followed by Leung’s glorious defeat in February Legco New Territories East by-election and his eventual disqualification from running in the Legco general election that summer, which has proved itself to be a prelude to what is now a normality.
Lost in the Fumes, though, tells a different Leung, a different person. It plainly and painfully portrays Leung’s inner self, who struggles between ideal and reality, right and wrong, morality and righteousness, who plays guitar and smokes all the time, and lingers around HKU residential hall long after his time. Contrary to a determined freedom fighter before limelight who “fights with no reservation” and “combats systematic violence with force”, Ms Lam’s camera captured an ordinary Leung who hate and love, hesitate and wander, who fears what we fear and depresses over what burdens of all.
“During my study at HKU social and political conflicts were at its utmost height; it was virtually impossible to avoid politics,” said Ms Lam following a screening session at Lee Shau Kee School of Creativity Multi-Media Theatre, “My youth is not about romance and adventure; this is my youth.” A film lover who searched her secondary school library inside-out for a DVD of the documentary Music and Life, Ms Lam longed from an early age to capture something outside Hong Kong’s typical martial arts loop to “put the protagonist’s emotions in the centre”. That spark was reignited when Ms Lam was in Leung’s rally ahead of the 2016 Legco New Territories East by-election. “Never before had I witnessed so much enthusiasm from the audience in Hong Kong politics. I was deeply moved by Tin-kei. Maybe this was the time to record it down”, recalled Ms Lam. According to Ms Lam, out of many people whom she had approaching for filming, Leung was the one who honestly responded with a cooperative spirit. Still, Ms Lam didn’t think of Leung as a close friend, “During film editing process throughout much of 2017 I didn’t choose to contact him again for fear of mixing my emotions with what should be portrayed objectively, as political situations further deteriorated. I don’t think friends are like this.” To maintain objectivity, Ms Lam did seldom discuss politics with Leung throughout filming, another precaution of leaving the protagonist’s thoughts on his own. “Tin-kei quite often tends to reserve to himself and is afraid of embarrassment”, revealed Ms Lam, who came to understand well Leung’s mental struggle throughout the Umbrella Movement and prior to his joining Hong Kong Indigenous in May 2015, when the protagonist was living alone in a partitioned flat, facing difficulty in graduation and not brave enough to march in the occupy movement’s front line, a story seldom told by Leung himself. “A documentary director’s job is to create rooms for the protagonist to express feelings that he does not usually tell even to his loved ones”.
However, objectivity demanded by her profession does in no way suggest that Ms Lam is cold-hearted in the face of injustice, as she emotionally told Leung’s great loneliness nowadays facing the lengthy trial. Under court’s injunction on media coverage before forming a jury, few journalists are presenting to observe his trial. This is perhaps why handwritten cards by well-wishers were collected following the screening, when Ms Lam promised to find a way of getting this small comfort to Leung in incarceration.
It is reported that the once active Hong Kong Indigenous’ other iconic figures Ray Wong Toi-Yeung and Alan Li Tung-sing had fled to the UK for asylum, the youth group and many other similar post-Umbrella radical movements had as well went underground following mass arrestment and conviction. If found guilty of riot Leung himself could face up to ten years of imprisonment. But thanks to Ms Lam’s documentary, “reviving Hong Kong”, “revolution of our time” and the ideals of Hong Kong nation and preservations of our core values, whatever cost it may carry, are surely living on.
By Hongyu Wang