Hong Kong has been in the international news a lot over the past year, first because of our protests and lately because of the government’s clamp down on our democratic institutions. What hasn’t made the news is that everyday life here hasn’t changed all that much since then. Of course, the pandemic has hit some sectors of our economy very hard (though some will pin the blame on the protests), but we’ve been very successful at managing the situation thanks to universal mask wearing, social distancing and rigorous hygiene that began at the end of January. Today, everything is open (with restrictions) and we only have a couple of new cases of infection reported each day. If there are a few things you can say about Hong Kong people, it’s that we’re pragmatic and resilient. Give us a bunch of lemons and we’ll make lemonade.
SUK SUK cinematographer Leung Ming-kai/梁銘佳 and his wife, Kate Reilly, have written, directed and produced an anthology of three fictional and one documentary short films with the unbearably long title of MEMORIES TO CHOKE ON, DRINKS TO WASH THEM DOWN that looks at the lives of some of the everyday people here who turn lemons into lemonade.
MEMORIES’ first film, FORBIDDEN CITY, tells the story of an old Chinese woman and her patient Indonesian helper, both immigrants to Hong Kong who live in the quiet, middle class suburb of Yuen Long, far from the bright lights and noise of the big city. On this day, the old woman decides she wants to head downtown to meet up with some of her friends but the helper is under strict instructions from the woman’s son not to take her far from their flat. Fortunately, the helper is both smart and resourceful and is able to find a way to make everyone happy. In TOY STORIES, two young adult brothers meet up at their mother’s soon-to-be-sold toy shop in the working class district of Shamshuipo. While one of them hints at the financial burdens he has being married with a child, the other has ideas to keep the business and turn it around.
In the third film, YUEN YEUNG, a local high school economics teacher and an American NET (Native English) teacher (played by Reilly) bond over Hong Kong’s after-school snack culture. Yuen Yeung is a coffee and tea concoction that is very popular with the locals but here it takes on even more meaning as the pair discuss life, goals and nostalgia over the course of the school year. Finally, IT’S NOT GONNA BE FUN profiles the free-spirited Jessica Lam Sin-tung (林倩同) as she runs for a seat in Shamshuipo in 2019’s District Council elections. In any other year, Lam wouldn’t stand a chance of winning but emotions are high and anger against pro-establishment candidates is strong. Will Jessica become Hong Kong’s AOC?
Leung and Reilly have created a nice snapshot of contemporary Hong Kong life that will probably appeal more to Hongkongers, resident and overseas, than anyone else. Unfortunately, the stories are a little rough around the edges and there isn’t much to tie them all together other than the obvious. Of the three fictional stories, only FORBIDDEN CITY seems complete but the other two certainly provide a good foundation for expansion into feature length films on their own. The documentary on Lam doesn’t fit in at all and might best be served as an illustration of what many young people are thinking these days… not that anyone in power cares to listen.
MEMORIES TO CHOKE ON opens today (November 19th) in cinemas in Hong Kong. It’s not perfect but it’s still worth checking out especially if you want to support the home team.
Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, November 20th, 8:30 am HK time!
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