Ten Years has plenty to say, but no coherent way of saying it, and the five stories that make up this compilation are distractingly dissonant.
Defying expectations, this low-budget dystopian anthology film scooped up the top prize at the 35th Hong Kong film awards, and outperformed Star Wars: The Force Awakens at the cinema of its initial release. Ten Years is comprised of five stylistically and thematically varied short films, all set ten years into the future, in Hong Kong. While the film’s artistic merits are somewhat inconsistent, it clearly has accumulated great political significance, and a widespread backlash by the Chinese establishment suggests the film’s agenda has had a blistering effect.
The first of the shorts is a black-and-white conspiracy farce, depicting a pro-establishment group’s attempts to incite national panic, for the purposes of forcing through a new hard-line law. It is off-beat, ruthlessly cynical, and cheaply shot, a fun and fast opening to the collection.
“plenty to say, but no coherent way of saying it”
The second is a disarmingly opaque art-house style short, depicting a couple’s mission to collect and ‘preserve’ objects found in the ruins of demolished buildings. Its arthouse sensibilities come across as a bit pretentious, and the inscrutability is at odds with the rest of Ten Years’ material, but is a visual pleasure, yards ahead of its companion pieces. One shot in particular, of the couple standing at the glassless window of an abandoned building, with the night-lit city visible in the background, is absolutely gorgeous, and rich in implication.
Thirdly is a piece entitled ‘Dialect’, about a Cantonese-speaking taxi driver who is unable to adapt to the increasing state pressures to operate only in Mandarin. The central performance is unconvincing, and the ideas by and large aren’t developed. As with Ten Years as a whole: interesting, necessary social comments are made, albeit through pretty pedestrian filmmaking.
It is a similar story with the forth short, which is about political protest for Hong Kong’s independence. Revolving around the self-immolation of an apparent protester, the film intercuts faux news footage and interviews with crudely executed thriller material. The final short fares better, a nicely shot, small-scale tale of subversion and independence in the face of state control, with neat use of metaphor and superior acting performances.
Taken as a whole, there is something undeniably bold in this multi-pronged attack on of Chinese state influence, despite its eclectic feel and artistic inconsistency. It remains to be seen whether this sizeable contextual clout will be enough to draw in western audiences.
Image: Kwok Zune