Hong Kong director of documentary on 2019 protests hits out at ‘self-censorship’ after cinema chain scraps romance drama rescreening

A Hong Kong director known for his controversial documentary on the 2019 anti-government protests has hit out at “self-censorship” in the city, calling a decision by a cinema chain to abruptly cancel the rescreening of one of his films “absurd”.

MCL Cinemas on Tuesday afternoon announced the cancellation of the special showings of Kiwi Chow Kwun-wai’s Beyond the Dream, a romantic drama released in 2019, at its Tsim Sha Tsui outlet. It offered refunds for the two sessions, previously set for June 15 and 28, but did not cite any reasons for the move.

Chow said the rescreening had been a welcome surprise that he learned of from the film’s distributor.

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He said he believed the original decision to show the film was for commercial reasons and he suspected it was related to the resurgence in popularity of actor Terrence Lau Chun-him, who also featured in recent blockbuster Twilight of the Warriors: Walled In.

Lau’s performance in Beyond the Dream won him plaudits and a number of awards.

The film became the highest-grossing domestic film in Hong Kong in 2020 amid the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But Chow said he heard from the distributor on Tuesday morning that MCL had scrapped the rescreening without providing a reason.

He said he had encountered similar situations in recent years since the release of his 2021 documentary, Revolution of Our Times, about the 2019 social unrest. The film was released internationally but not locally.

Addressing the latest cancellation, Chow said he had not been invited to any post-screening sharing sessions and his name was not used in marketing materials, adding he believed the chain might have felt under pressure to cancel the showings.

“It is absurd – they are even afraid of such a romance film,” he said.

“Behind it is a kind of sadness – that Hong Kong can practise self-censorship to such a degree.”

A still from Beyond the Dream (2019), which became the highest-grossing domestic film in Hong Kong in 2020 amid the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Handout

He added that he felt his road ahead would be very difficult.

MCL declined to comment further.

Chow sold the copyrights to his documentary on the protest movement before it was unveiled in a surprise screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 2021.

He said at the time he would avoid screening it in Hong Kong to prevent what he saw as potential risks to the safety of his team, interviewees and cinema operators after in the wake of the Beijing-imposed national security law.

A host of screenings for the film sold out in Vancouver, home to a large number of Hong Kong-born residents, in 2022. It also won the prize for best documentary at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards.

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