JWR Articles: Film/DVD - We Have Boots | Denise Ho: Becoming the Song (Directors: Evans Chan, Sue Williams) - July 9, 2020

We Have Boots | Denise Ho: Becoming the Song

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Two recent films that delve dark and deep into oppression in Hong Kong

We Have Boots
128 minutes
Evans Chan
Four and one half stars

“No freedom for their homeland”

When Israel was in Egypt's land
Let my people go
Oppressed so hard, they could not stand
Let my people go

—Negro spiritual

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriate song to make several “appearances” in Chan’s brutally honest documentary about the plight of post-colonial Hongkongers; it’s also hard to imagine a more deeply felt performance than from contralto Marian Anderson—herself a victim of racial discrimination whose “boots” were her remarkable talent and undaunting courage.

Tellingly, the film begins with a clip of mainland China propaganda, speaking volumes about that country’s official attitude to the former British colony. Sadly, maddeningly, the U.K’s role in the present-day tragedy receives little attention or comment, but must shoulder much of the blame.

Chan has much to say about the 2014 Umbrella movement and subsequent revival in 2019. Naturally, he makes his points with the camera (and a good deal of archival footage), letting interviews with protestors speak for themselves. It is truly pathetic to see thousands of umbrella-carrying citizens, beaten, shot at and water cannoned by their own police (to serve and protect whom?). Worse still, are scenes of pro-China white shirts beating their largely black-shirted countrymen with the cops refusing to intervene. Shame on them!

At the root of it all, is the new extradition law that would permit China to have anyone (citizen or foreigners alike) sent to a near-certain show trial and guilty verdict in Beijing. Carrie Lam—with a coldness that makes Margaret Thatcher seem warm and inviting—as Hong Kong’s chief executive, is the local legislative cheerleader, who, nonetheless has been forced to “suspend indefinitely” the dreaded legislation. Look no further than Canada’s currently detained Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor for a real-time example of tit-for-tat “justice”.

Like Anderson, it is courage and relentlessness of the pro-democracy ringleaders (including veterans Benny Tai, Chan Kin-man, Shiu Ka-chun, Kacey Wong) alongside the won’t-take-it-anymore youth (notably Nobel Peace Prize nominee Alex Chow, Agnes Chow, Tommy Cheung, Ray Wong), to speak their minds, rally their supporters (in the millions) and stare down misguided tyranny.

Typically, the world has been slow to react, but if the financial powerhouse of Asia seems about to lose that role should things become so dire that Boris Johnson’s offer for three million Hongkongers the right to move to the U.K., then even Chinese President Xi Jinping might seek a face-saving way out of this mess—one of his own making. Does China want to go 0-2 in Cold War “battles”?

As to the film’s title, it also can be traced to an African-American poet, Nikki Giovanni:

We begin a poem / with longing / and end with / responsibility / And laugh / all through the storms / that are bound / to come / We have umbrellas / We have boots / We have each / other.

In music, words and deeds, it is abundantly clear that Black Lives Matter just as much as Hongkongers Lives Matter. JWR

Denise Ho: Becoming the Song
82 minutes
Sue Williams
Four stars

“Keeping silent is more terrifying”

How marvellous that my own mishear as the film began (“candle pop” certainly seemed accurate given all of the cellphone lights waving in time to the music—of course I soon realized what was meant was Cantopop) proved to be at one with the notion that massive civil disobedience might be the only way of stopping the China juggernaut in its very unmusical tracks.

Devotee extraordinaire (and to become friend and mentee) of HK diva Anita Mui, Denise Ho’s rise to stardom is coincidental with the severe political challenges in present-day Hong Kong. Raised largely in Montreal (after her parents opted to relocate, fearing that the 1989 incidents in Tiananmen Square would—sooner or later—find a “second stage” in Hong Kong), the budding songstress began winning competitions and the hearts of her adoring fans. Coming out publicly as a lesbian (much to the approval and delight of fellow collaborator and Hongkonger Anthony Wong), cemented her honesty and ability to tell the truth.

Her songs are laden with ideas and metaphors (artfully presented in italicized English on the big screen), but the voice is merely OK, sometimes being a tad flat on the top—no matter, the passion for her work is evident in every bar.

Not surprisingly, Ho did not shy away from the first Umbrella campaign (sparked by Beijing’s decree that, “Yes Hongkongers can vote, but only for the candidates that we propose.”).

A very eerie scene is the signing of the agreement between China (Zhao Ziyang) and the U.K. (possibly Margaret Thatcher’s worse blunder in office) that, apparently, would guarantee all sorts of rights for the citizens of Hong Kong for 50 years.

Not surprisingly, once Ho became involved with the protests (including arrest, but release without charge), her career tanked: no more mainland China gigs, international sponsors dropped her like a hot political potato.

Soon, instead of stadiums, more intimate venues (including Toronto’s Opera House as part of her international Dear Friend tour). Undaunted, Ho keeps up the China heat by appearing at the UN and the Capitol.

Realizing, collectively that they (the pro-democracy protesters) are not really getting anywhere, frustrations mount and violence increases on all sides (undoubtedly playing into Beijing’s hands “to bring peace and stability”…one arrest at a time).

On September 4, 2019, the unrepentant Carrie Lam announced the [temporary] withdrawal of the contentious extradition bill…

Just over two months later, the first COVID-19 case was discovered in China’s Hubei province, instantly changing the dynamics of politics and protests for all—unless ignorance really is bliss! JWR

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Directors - Evans Chan, Sue Williams
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