Yellowing: A memo of HK’s Umbrella Movement, A letter written to Taiwan Sunflower Movement

Author: Wood Lin
Date: 28 October, 2016

Selected for Taiwan International Documentary Festival and selected for the prestigious Golden Horse award is Hong Kong documentary, Yellowing. Within the Chinese-speaking world, it is a recent one-of-a-kind social movement documentary.

Young director Chan Tze Woon documents his observations participating in the Umbrella movement and tells a heartfelt story about the young generation's mixed feelings of love and concern towards their home. Just as film theorists, David Bordwell, writes, "You feel proud of the young people of Hong Kong wile watching this heartbreaking, hopeful film. As often happens, the students were both righteous and right.”

On the screen, fireworks shoot across the skies, which is immediately followed by the police teargasing the crowds of Occupy Central on September 28 2014. This stark juxtaposition is the opening scene of Yellowing, with these two different events taking place in the same time and space. The director also inserted his own personal home videos, presenting the Hong Kong he knew as a child. Yet when we fast-forward to the present day, we witness Hong Kong's largest social movement to date, with over 100,000 people protesting in the streets fighting for "True Universal Suffrage".

Director Chan Tze Woon, born in 1987, brought along his camera as he joined the social movement and met a group of young activists. These activists each contribute to the movement with unique methods, and the film is a visual diary of their revolution day after day. During the movement, they stepped forward to the front lines to face off with the police. But more often, they assembled teams to work on the logistics and provide resources. They built make shift classrooms on the streets, providing a space for debating with people of different backgrounds. They contemplated the goal of the revolution, their own frustrations, and what they imagined the future of Hong Kong to look like. Whether it's their hopeful spirit, their despair towards threat of the establishment, and their fear after witnessing violence, all of it is captured in the film. 

In other words, Yellowing doesn't tackle the issue as a conventional documentary would. Rather the director shows us the movement through the eyes of a participant, giving us an inside look of the protestor's psyche. The documentary comprises of twenty memos. Each memo resembles a narrative essay, which allows us to understand each aspect of the documentary, including the conflicts in value, political stance, and generation gap. The director dove deep and fearlessly recorded the participants' thoughts and confusion towards the movement. Through presenting a wide spectrum of emotions from multiple angles, the film avoids the traps that exist when discussing a complex issue. The spectrum covers all human emotions: struggle, speculation, frustration, naiveté, conflict, reflection, laughter and tears, and it shows the audience a more personal and warm side of the movement. What is political is also personal, and it becomes a matter that concerns every person.

In the film, one line, "Since we were born in a cage, does that necessarily mean we'll live in a cage forever?", exemplifies the courage and determination of the people to fight for democracy and freedom under the pressure of the Communist Party of China. This self-consciousness is experienced by every character in the Yellowing, and it becomes an important force that drives their personal growth throughout the movement. When people are willing to take ownership of their lives and  have the wisdom to defend their homeland, they are not just living out universal values, but they are echoing the spirit of Hong Kong's Lion Rock.  

Director Chan Tze Woon states in his work, "On September 26, 2014, when the police advanced, I was pushed to the front, caught between the police and students and avoided being arrested. Within an hour, I got to know the students on the front line. I saw courage and ideals that I myself did not posess or had somehow lost long ago. Later, these students and I experienced the whole umbrella movement together. 20 years ago, CY Leung had condemned the Tiananmen massacre, Donald Tsang also sang in concert in support of democracy in China. So much has changed in twenty years. As we approach the fifty-year deadline, Hong Kong faces an ever-threatening environment. I don't know whether the people involved in the movement can continue to hold on to their beliefs and stay the course, so this documentary acts as a memo.”

After Yellowing was completed, audiences filled the numerous independent venues that screened the film in Hong Kong. It was also announced that the film had been selected for international film festivals. Following the umbrella movement, more directors are making films that tackle the topic of Hong Kong politics. This includes Hong Kong Film Award for best film, Ten Years, Director Liang Ying's A Sunny Day, young directors Lam Tze Wing and Wong Chun Long's documentary, Road Not Taken.

Raise the Umbrellas, and even Milkyway Image's Trivisa and more have reshaped Hong Kong cinema as we know it. The ending credits of ‘Yellowing’ roll, "Because the future of Hong Kong belongs to us, we can not bear to see her fall. "This assertion is a declaration of love from both the protesters and director. 

For the Taiwanese audience, especially after the Sunflower Student Movement, they will be amazed seeing many situations mentioned in the film, which are "so far, yet so close". In fact, Yellowing is not solely a memo of Hong Kong but also a letter written to Taiwan.