The Hong Kong Free Cinema Manifesto is a call-to-action that aims at uniting a new wave of Hong Kong filmmakers committed to truthfully telling the stories of our times and breaking new ground despite growing censorship and production challenges. Acclaimed documentaries and feature films like Revolution of the Times, Drifting Petals, May You Stay Forever Young and Blue Island that explore Hong Kong’s identity and collective memory or capture the 2019 protests and their aftermath are banned locally; filmmakers face increasing difficulties in securing financing or risk being blacklisted from the mainstream industry.
Against this backdrop, this Manifesto emerged in July 2022 from our shared vision for a more vibrant, resilient independent filmmaking.
Released on July 11, 2022, by Rex Ren, David Chan, Daniel Chan, and Crystal Chow at Phone Made Good Film, a Hong Kong independent film collective, the Manifesto has since been signed by more than 30 film industry professionals.
Hong Kong Free Cinema Manifesto
Freedom. Cinema is ultimately an art of freedom. Without freedom, cinema will wither and die.
Self-belief. Make films without restraint. Free from fear of consequence of the future or yoked by the past, we make only those images we believe in.
Unyielding. Do not compromise your work because of the rule of law.
Legacy. We run to the future, but we do not ignore the past. We build upon the legacy of our predecessors to forge new paths.
Roots. Wherever we are, is where Hong Kong is. No matter where we are, we have the power to faithfully tell the story of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong; cinema; manifesto.
These are three words that we must reframe in this current moment. We define them as follows:
At no other time in Hong Kong’s history have we ever needed to reckon with this question: What exactly is this place, Hong Kong? In our present moment, we are forced to accept that Hong Kong in fact is not that important in the world. Hong Kong is merely a vassal state to a nobler and more authoritative country. In such circumstances, Hong Kong does not and shall not deserve its true independent character.
And yet we fundamentally and intuitively know this to not be the case. So we dissent, resist and create.
Time and time again, miracles germinate here. Hong Kong is filled with anachronisms and paradoxes, but this does not make us feel less belonging to such a complex place. Be it films like Days of Being Wild (Wong Kar-wai, 1991) or A Chinese Odyssey (Jeffrey Lau, 1995), novels including The Drunkard (Liu Yichang, 1962), or stars such as Leslie Cheung or Faye Wong, they were all born with serendipity in this place called Hong Kong and captured the zeitgeist of the times. In this small place, we hold steadfast in our pursuit of the impossible, like the many artists who stumbled into such artistic feats before us.
Cinema expresses the artist’s vision of the world. Whether screened on a big screen in a traditional cinema or on a mobile phone from a streaming platform, a work can be defined as cinema as long as it aptly captures reality as the artist perceives it.
The challenges and risks one faces when shooting films in Hong Kong today is almost unprecedented in the city’s history. Yet in a strange way, this is also the most necessary and crucial time that we should make films in Hong Kong. We need cinema now more than ever as a critical mode of expression. We must dedicate ourselves totally into filmmaking and surrender ourselves totally to the medium. We believe that cinema, ethics, politics and life are inextricably entangled, and to produce a great film, one must also answer to all such aspects of life and philosophy.
We know that we did not appear out of thin air; we bear the name of Hong Kong cinema. Originating in the 1920s and 1930s, Hong Kong cinema was shaped by the booming period of post-war Cantonese and Mandarin films, then made distinct and iconic with the martial arts films and comedies of the 1970s. In the 1980s and 1990s, Hong Kong cinema crystallized into an important and singular national cinema. Since then, in this century, it seems that Hong Kong cinema has stumbled and wavered to maintain the strength it once held. Every single frame of our films are undergirded by this tradition of filmmaking that has evolved into different structures of feeling over the past century. It is through this understanding that we can break through and make a new generation of Hong Kong cinema.
We may ask ourselves, “The situation seems impossible. Why is no one coming to help us?”
But we must oppose this because this is a slave’s mindset. The help given by others is always partial, conditional and can be withdrawn at any time. The only person who can fundamentally bring you out of your situation is yourself. Stop worrying about gains and losses because of the opinion of others, and move forward with conviction in what you believe in. Do not be dejected because of loneliness and helplessness. When you are faithful to yourself with the work you want to accomplish, it will not be worthless.
This is a manifesto in which we dare to declare to make films with absolute conviction and take total responsibility for. We call upon our peers and contemporaries who are interested in making films to take up this mantle with us. Together, we must believe in the power of filmmaking. To believe we can make a difference, to create a future for Hong Kong with our films. We are calling for a new Hong Kong cinema, for a brighter future.
Long live cinema. May Hong Kong cinema live on.
Initiated by Rex REN, David CHAN, Crystal CHOW, Daniel CHAN
Co-signed by (in alphabetical order):
Howard AU, CHAN Hau Chun, CHAN Tze-woon, CHEUNG Pak-ming, Fanny CHONG Shuk-fong, Kiwi CHOW Kwun-wa, Vincent CHUI, Gloria HO Lok-yee, IEONG Kin-pong, Benson KOO, KWOK Zune, “Kowloon City”, LAM Hei-Chun, LAM Sum, LAU Kok Rui, Andy LAW Lok-man, Louis, Nepoleon LEE, MOK Kwan-ling, NG Ka Leung , Jas PUN Man-yat, Anson SHAM Kwan-Yin, SIU Chi-yan, Cyrus TANG Hok-Leun, WAN King-fai, WONG Cheuk Man, WONG Ching, Crystal WONG, Willis WONG Man-chak, WONG Wan-sze, Hayman YIP
Kowloon City, July 11, 2022.
Translated by Daniel Chan and Tom Cunliffe
Also see: Tiffany Sia’s essay “Reconfiguring Publics in Former and New Hong Kong Cinema” in Film Quarterly (2023) 76(4): 9-21.