Returning Hong Kong a Lost Archive
Author: Louisa Wei
Date: 14th March 2017
On the 8th of March, I went to Sir Run Run Shaw Hall in The Chinese University of Hong Kong to attend the premier of "Vanished Archives". The 1400-seat theatre was almost packed full, the audience was separated into different groups. Everyone had their eyes glued to the screen over the two-hour screen time, it was a very unique experience over my sixteen-year stay in Hong Kong.
For someone who studied filming, I immediately recognized two individuals from the Hong Kong New Wave: Screenwriter Philip Chan and film director Yim Ho, their role back in 1967 were respectively an inspector in training and a student of Heung To Middle School. As Chen Kaige's debut "Yellow Earth" became a hit in Hong Kong, Yim Ho's "Homecoming" was critically acclaimed in mainland, the two movies in 1984 both bloomed outside their fields, and "Vanished Archives" gave both a deeper meaning.
The Arduous Search of History
What Law and I have in common is, it's our first time filming sensitive history documentaries, and we both went over our estimated time. It took us four years to complete the version for public screening. In fact, after debuting "Storm Under The Sun" in Holland late 2007, I spent another year and a half to reedit a new version for Hong Kong International Film Festival in April of 2009. I recognize her hardships during researching and editing. As a newsperson, I could feel her desire to uncover the truth. Which is why she would take three more years than originally planned to research, when faced with different perspectives of the incident.
In my opinion, this documentary is one of the most complete depiction of the 1967 leftist riots. In a few recent documentaries directed by Evans Chan and Chan Wing-Chiu, the riot was left as a background event. This time on the other hand, the whole incident is presented from cause to resolution, narrations and descriptions from witnesses narrates the frenzy, confusion and fear as if it was yesterday. "No.1 Chung Ying Street" written by Derek Chiu and Tse Oh-Sheung and published by Flintstone Culture, gave me my first glimpse of the riot through a script and narrated historical facts; "Vanished Archives" took in all the historical scenes I've seen, to take us back to the past with filming techniques. As Law was tracing news reports of the incident, she placed leftist newspaper reports such as Ta Kung Pao, Wen Wei Po with Ming Pao and other smaller papers, to emphasize the wrestle between leftists and rightists in Hong Kong back in the sixties.
As someone was curious about the title, Law explained when she first started filming, some related documents have seemingly vanished from government agencies. Couple guests provided interesting additional info on the subject. Founder of Flintstone Culture Shek Chung Ying mentioned, fourteen students from Belilios Public School were left with criminal records after the incident. During a trip back to the school, they were welcomed by the principle, yet there are no attending records of them, since the records were all sent to the police force back then, afterwards those records were nowhere to be found. These are actual vanished documents. Another guest Chu Fuk keung, was the Head of Government Records Service, he announced that before 1997, there are double copies for every government document, one of each were sent to Britain, so any file before 1997 wouldn't vanish. If you can't find it in Hong Kong, there's got to be an identical one in Britain. It's a different story post 97.
The Disappearance of the documents
Most researchers in history know, history couldn't be washed away amongst the folks no matter how the government manipulates information. Memories of the mass won't be left behind. Remarkable interviewed subjects include renown newsperson- former Ta Kung Pao Deputy Chief Editor, former Chief Editor of New Evening Post Law Fu, former Chairman of Hok Yau Club, Chinese Communist Underground Party member Leung Mo Han, "The Seventies", "The Nineties" founder Lee Yee, acclaimed leftist film worker Liu Yat Yuen and former Underground Party member, Waterworks Inspector at the time of arrest Lau Man Sing. Law Fu and Leung Mo Han apologized in the film, during the screening Law also urged leftist rioters to apologize to victims.
From videos and interview scripts, I could tell Law is shocked to know Zhou Enlai's involvement in the incident. From numerous documents, she paid close attention to Ng Dik Chau's notebook, which recorded the former Prime Minister's orders. In a scene Ng Dik Chau's daughter Ng Fai recounted her father's work in Hong Kong from 1948 to 1962. He was a Consultant of China Merchant Capital and the Head of Wen Wei Po, but in the meantime he's been running the Chinese Communist Party Hong Kong Division since 1955, and was Liao Chengzhi's right hand, up until Zhou Enlai called him back to Beijing in 1962. (I was a recognized literary critic during the war of resistance, while carrying out research on 1955's country-wide criticism target Hu Feng, I've noticed Liao Chengzhi who directly report to the Prime Minister has been in charge of Hong Kong works since the war of resistance, and the two visits to Hong Kong by Hu Feng were both planned by him. Hu Feng met the Prime Minister multiple times before 1949, but he never realized the order for criticism came directly from the highest leader himself. Ng Dik chau evidently couldn't be protected by the Prime Minister either later on, the Prime Minister's views must match the party's.) Law is certain that Ng Dik Chau stopped 8400 cane knives from getting in the hands of protestors, or else casualties would be much higher than the current numbers.
During a post screening sharing session with Ching Cheong, some audiences are resentful with the way he defined "leftist". Ching Cheong praised Law's efforts in dispelling hostility. The first two audience speakers are both victims of the incident. Some leftists argued that Law completely disregarded the Anti British Rule Movements. Law also brought up a few sharp questions: If former Director of Federation of Trade Unions Yeung Kwong could receive a Grand Bauhinia Medal, does that hint the government's acknowledgment on the leftist riot he led? Moreover, some rioters back then now occupy high positions, what are their views on the roles they played back then, should they offer an apology to the victims? These are questions worth pondering about, but could asking questions and building discussions help on healing the scars of history?
Mending of the scars
People have memories of their personal experiences, and in every society there's always someone that tries their hardest to preserve historical evidence. I remember during my research on Hu Feng, there are two particular things that shocked me: Seeing modern literature masters such as Mao Dun, Ba Jin, Guo Mo Ruo, Cao Yu, Zang Ke Jia all pointing their fingers and criticizing a literary critic that I haven't heard of, I found it ridiculous; I borrowed books from the fifties on criticizing Hu Feng from Hong Kong University and Chinese University, and there are stamps that read "Discarded by Shanghai Library" on them. Are they overcorrecting, or attempting to cover things up? These books aren't secret documents, 2000 people related and suffered from the Hu case will not be taken out of history by discarding them. The government's decision will never represent the mind of the folks.
Documentary makers carries a big responsibility after choosing a historical subject: which position should we take? Should we have our own opinions? When interviewed subjects want us to speak for them, our hope to uncover the truth, clashes with the trust they give us when they tell us their personal experiences, could we find a middle point that satisfies both? Documentaries could bring out multiple sides of a story, and is the best media for historical storytelling. That's why I don't think Law should be concerned with the film festivals approval. For the Director of the festival, this film might be too clustered with information, and in turn lack expression of art, but this deeply resourceful film will definitely garner a fair amount of audiences. More importantly, it recovers a once vanished archive of Hong Kong.
Taken from Ming Pao's passage
Photos are credited to I-Care Film Festival