On "Snake Eaters" by Gina Marchetti



Jericho Li, an MA Communications student at Baptist University, escorts us through Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po in this cellphone video shot with the assistance of veteran filmmaker Quentin Lee.  What would have been Jericho Li’s group video assignment in Multi-Media Journalism has become a document of the impact of Hong Kong’s 2019 Anti-ELAB protests on herself and the neighborhood of Sham Shui Po.  Although the proposed bill allowing extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China has also been scrapped, protests continue to roil the territory.  Student-led demonstrations on many of Hong Kong’s university campuses came to a climax in mid-November with standoffs with the police at Chinese University, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Baptist University and the University of Hong Kong.  Polytechnic University endured a siege that lasted from November 17-29, 2019. 

On November 13, Baptist University suspended face-to-face instruction and moved to online teaching for the remainder of the fall term.  Undaunted, Jericho, with the help of director Quentin Lee, continues with her video portrait of Sham Shui Po sans her group members.  In the process, the short film metamorphoses from a class project to dual portrait of a female media student and a grassroots district in turbulent times.  Sham Shuii Po is one of the poorer districts in Hong Kong known for its population of mainland Chinese working-class migrants, elderly residents, and the desperately poor “cage” dwellers who live in notoriously cramped subdivided flats.  However, like other traditional neighborhoods in Hong Kong, it also can be considered a “shopping paradise” for electronic goods, computer equipment, secondhand gadgets and inexpensive street food. 

While the divide between the privileged graduate student and the working poor of Sham Shui Po would seem to be unbridgeable, Snake Eaters goes beyond the town/gown, young/old, poor/privileged divide to uncover the range of sentiments that unite and divide the neighborhood.  The politically “blue,” generally supportive of the current government, closer ties to the People’s Republic of China, and strong police enforcement of public order, and “yellow,” representing the protesters whose “five demands” call for the resignation of the current Chief Executive, an independent inquiry into police misconduct, elimination of the term “rioter” to criminalize demonstrators, amnesty for those arrested during the protests, and the resumption of the legislative process that would eventually lead to direct election of the Chief Executive and all members of the Legislative Council, can both be found in Sham Shui Po.   The district has seen its share of violence during the current protests.  For example, on October 10, 2019, there was an incident involving the beating of a taxi driver after his vehicle drove into a crowd injuring a woman.  Although Sham Shui Po exhibited an even split between yellow and blue district councilors before the November 24, 2019, elections, a landslide victory for the pro-democracy camp saw the yellow-sympathizers take 22 of the 25 seats. The Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood (ADPL), part of the pan-democratic opposition, took the most posts.  Snake Eaters gives us a sense of the political tenor of the neighborhood and a deep appreciation of the anxieties and precarious economic circumstances of its residents.  However, it also provides insight into their unique ability to persevere in the face of difficulties and maintain their cultural identity and integrity.

In the first few moments of the video, we glimpse Jericho adjusting her camera and walking through the lively but impoverished neighborhood.  Quentin Lee (producer, director, cinematographer, and editor) and Jericho Li (co-producer and presenter) interview a cross-section of the district’s residents, including many senior citizens, artisans, and small-business owners.  While some of the district’s elderly residents are illiterate, there is no dearth of talent in the neighborhood.  One vendor, Mr. Hung, who has a background in electrical engineering and radio communications, specializes in used stereo equipment (reminiscent of the shop in which the cop and crook moles played by Tony Leung and Andy Lau encounter each other in Infernal Affairs).  At first Jericho does not seem to process the fact that the elderly man lives in Shenzhen and asks if he plans to move to China.  Puzzled he reminds her that he, indeed, lives across the border in Shenzhen and commutes on a discounted senior citizen train ticket to Sham Shui Po to do business.  The porousness of the border makes life considerably easier for the elderly who can enjoy a higher standard of living in the PRC. 

Jericho moves on to interview Mr. Look, over eighty years old, who runs a clock repair store with a fifty-year history.  He shares his plans to close down his shop and complains about protesters interfering with public transportation and destroying street lights.  Indeed, demonstrators target Hong Kong’s MTR mass transit because of their belief the company allows police to control the system in order to make arrests—citing an incident that some feel led to fatalities at Prince Edward MTR station on August 31, 2019.  Some members of the movement also target “smart” lamp posts they believe are used for surveillance.  Elderly and disabled people, who rely on the MTR and adequate lighting to get around the city, have been hit hard by this aspect of the protests.  Also, as Mr. Look points out, the deleterious impact on Hong Kong’s commercial sector has been significant.  A young man running one of Sham Shui Po’s ubiquitous electronic shops concurs that the MTR vandalism and boycotts have had a negative impact on his business, but he feels the inconvenience can be tolerated in support of the cause.

Snake Eaters also shows the support the movement enjoys from other local entrepreneurs.  One café, for example, displays Pepe the Frog to signal its “yellow” political sympathies.  In fact, viewers in the United States may be dismayed to find Pepe used as a mascot by protesters in Hong Kong.  Although linked to Donald Trump and the alt-right since 2016, Pepe predates these associations and Hong Kong’s youthful protesters seem largely unaware of the cartoon character’s racist overtones.  (For more background on Pepe, see this short video produced by Bloomberg–https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2019-09-17/why-is-pepe-used-in-hong-kong-protests-video).

The video ends with two portraits of traditional artisans based in Sham Shui Po.  The first crafts paper models of everyday objects, including clothing, watches, televisions, telephones, household appliances, automobiles, and even entire houses, to burn during funerals so that the dead can enjoy these objects in the afterlife.  The last vignette profiles Ms. Ling, the proprietress of a restaurant specializing in snake stew.   She reminisces about larger families making the snake meal a multi-generational affair and proudly gives the filmmakers a tour introducing the various snakes and their medicinal properties.  Jericho samples the snake stew and concludes the video by modeling a living specimen as a scarf.

Snake Eaters does a superb job of acknowledging the impact of the current political turmoil in Hong Kong on the territory’s grassroots population.  More than a touristic presentation of what may appear to be Hong Kong’s old-fashioned and “exotic” culture, funerary rituals, and cuisine, Snake Eaters takes a careful look at Hong Kong citizens, their cross-border lives, and their economic concerns.  Jericho Li does this at a time when other student journalists from Baptist University literally risk their lives to bring news of the ongoing protest to the public.  To cite one example, on December 15, 2019, an undergraduate student reporter from Baptist University Students’ Union Editorial Board sustained a serious eye injury from a tear gas canister while covering the demonstrations.  Jericho Li shows us another side of the story and its impact across generations, gender, class, occupation and status in the HKSAR.

Snake Eaters does a superb job of acknowledging the impact of the current political turmoil in Hong Kong on the territory’s grassroots population.  More than a touristic presentation of what may appear to be Hong Kong’s old-fashioned and “exotic” culture, funerary rituals, and cuisine, Snake Eaters takes a careful look at Hong Kong citizens, their cross-border lives, and their economic concerns.  Jericho Li does this at a time when other student journalists from Baptist University literally risk their lives to bring news of the ongoing protest to the public.  To cite one example, on December 15, 2019, an undergraduate student reporter from Baptist University Students’ Union Editorial Board sustained a serious eye injury from a tear gas canister while covering the demonstrations.  Jericho Li shows us another side of the story and its impact across generations, gender, class, occupation and status in the HKSAR.

Snake Eaters does a superb job of acknowledging the impact of the current political turmoil in Hong Kong on the territory’s grassroots population.  More than a touristic presentation of what may appear to be Hong Kong’s old-fashioned and “exotic” culture, funerary rituals, and cuisine, Snake Eaters takes a careful look at Hong Kong citizens, their cross-border lives, and their economic concerns.  Jericho Li does this at a time when other student journalists from Baptist University literally risk their lives to bring news of the ongoing protest to the public.  To cite one example, on December 15, 2019, an undergraduate student reporter from Baptist University Students’ Union Editorial Board sustained a serious eye injury from a tear gas canister while covering the demonstrations.  Jericho Li shows us another side of the story and its impact across generations, gender, class, occupation and status in the HKSAR.

About the author:

Gina Marchetti’s books include Romance and the “Yellow Peril”: Race, Sex and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction (California, 1993),From Tian’anmen to Times Square: Transnational China and the Chinese Diaspora on Global Screens (Temple, 2006),Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s INFERNAL AFFAIRS—The Trilogy (Hong Kong: Hong, 2007),The Chinese Diaspora on American Screens: Race, Sex, and Cinema (Temple, 2012),and Citing China: Politics, Postmodernism, and World Cinema (Hawaiʻi, 2018).



Hong Kong films in International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR)

This year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) is dedicating a programme in its “Perspectives” section to Hong Kong films by both established and upcoming filmmakers that examine the political, social and economic tensions underlying the city’s current turmoil. Nineteen films are included under the title of “Ordinary Heroes: Made in Hong Kong,” with six directed or co-directed by women filmmakers, including Home, and a Distant Archive (Dorothy Tsz Yan Cheung), If We Burn (James Leong and Lynn Lee), Kin’s Hair (Chang See-Wan and Chan Kwun-Chung), Lost in the Fumes (Nora Lam), Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down (Ming Kai Leung and Kate Reilly), and Ordinary Heroes (Ann Hui).

With nearly 330,000 admissions and over 2,400 film professionals attending, IFFR is one of the largest audience and industry-driven film festivals in the world. The 49th edition of IFFR will take place from January 22 to February 2, 2020.

For details, please visit: https://iffr.com/en/programme/2020/a-z?section[82509]=82509

Jenny Suen on The White Girl: An Interview

One of Hong Kong’s most talented and esteemed cinematographers (Christoper Doyle) paired up with his trusted producer (Jenny Suen), as a team they wrote and directed The White Girl, one of the finer films to have come out of Hong Kong in years. Hong Kong isn’t really overflowing with female indie directors, so I couldn’t pass on the chance to ask director Jenny Suen some questions about her first feature film directly. If you’re still on the fence about watching The White Girl, do read on and let yourself be convinced.

Niels Matthijs: The White Girl is a film that works on multiple levels. There’s the plot and the characters on the one hand, the Hong Kong allegory on the other. Was it conceived that way from the start, or did it grow into that during production? Also, are both layers equally important to you, or was one written in function of the other?

Jenny Suen: To an audience a film is only what they see on the screen. To a filmmaker a film is a life. The choices are a reflection of how we live: location, language, budget… and most importantly, the people you choose to share that with. I started to work on it back in 2013 after I moved back to Hong Kong. So the film is a result of me trying to understand this place and what this “home” means to me after years of living abroad. Hong Kong is disappearing. Our way of life is under threat. What is the point of giving a story as grand of a stage as a silver screen if we don’t have the courage to tell the grandest story of our times?

To read the full interview, please visit https://www.onderhond.com/blog/white-girl-interview-jenny-suen

The Palgrave Handbook of Asian Cinema among Top 25% most downloaded ebooks

We’re happy to announce that The Palgrave Handbook of Asian Cinema, put together by the Department of Comparative Literature, HKU‘s very own Gina Marchetti and Aaron Magnan-Park, as well as Tam See Kam (University of Macau), is among the top 25% most downloaded eBooks in the Palgrave eBook Collection in 2019. Thank you for your continuous support! https://www.palgrave.com/gb/book/9781349958214

[EXTENDED DEADLINE 31 DEC 2019] CFP Paper Submissions: Asian Women Filmmakers on Global Screens: Networks, Circuits, and Community Connections (27-28 March 2020)

March 27 and 28, 2020
Center for the Study of Globalization and Cultures, Faculty of Arts, University of Hong Kong

Women filmmakers are severely underrepresented in general film distribution (theatrical and auxiliary), film festivals and awards: a phenomenon that adversely affects the visibility of female filmmakers from Asia. However, there has been little concrete investigation into the mechanisms that underpin the status quo. Through engaging international specialists on women in film, this conference seeks to dissect the system, pinpoint the weak spots and identify a possible remedial course of action toward improving the situation of women filmmakers.  The goal of our conversation will not only be to increase knowledge on these matters but to make practical recommendations to the film industry, film festivals, and other institutions.

This conference brings together academics and practitioners to create the opportunity for engagement between communities within the Asian region and beyond. Our objective with this conference is to bring together female academics and practitioners (many of whom have academic credentials as well) for a discussion that focuses on the pitfalls in women’s careers in cinema, aims to identify specific problem areas, and produces concrete remedial recommendations that will then be disseminated to the wider international community.

This follows our successful local summit devoted to women in Hong Kong film higher education (November 2018) and a follow-up on HeForShe male allies (May 2019).  In addition, it supplements information on our website/database devoted to Hong Kong women filmmakers active since 1997(https://hkwomenfilmmakers.wordpress.com/) as well as our directory (https://sites.google.com/view/hkwfhighered/home) on men and women involved in promoting gender equality in film education in Hong Kong.

Professor Dina Iordanova, University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and Professor Soyoung Kim, Korea National University of the Arts will deliver keynote speeches. In addition, Meaghan Morris, Professor of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney will be our special guest.

If you would like to present a paper, please send us a title, 250-word abstract, brief bio, and contact information by December 31, 2019. We also welcome self-nominations for delegates to the conference. We are, unfortunately, unable to provide travel and accommodation; however, there is no registration fee and some meals/refreshments will be provided for registered participants.

All correspondence should be sent to Gina Marchetti and Christine Vicera at viceracn@hku.hk with “Asian Women Filmmakers 2020 (Paper)” in the subject line. We will send out notifications of acceptance by January 15, 2020, and open registration after that date. 

First aid workers from Hong Kong 2014 protests front lines have stories told in new documentary

  • In Mong Kok First Aid, filmmaker Mavis Siu documents the experiences of voluntary frontline first aiders during 2014’s violent Mong Kok street protests
  • One speaks of how they used mobile phone torches to examine injuries, ranging from open head wounds to extensive bruising on protesters’ bodies

For the full article, please visit SCMP

Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2019: from Lion Rock to My Prince Edward, 12 exciting new Hong Kong films to see

A still from Many Undulating Things.

The upcoming Hong Kong Asian Film Festival features an impressive slate of Hong Kong films made by new or emerging filmmakers with a clear affinity for the city. The list includes female filmmaker Pan Lu’s film Many Undulating Things (2019).

For the full article, please visit SCMP.

Martial arts star JuJu Chan on role in Netflix’s all-Asian Wu Assassins

  • Chan plays the femme-fatale bodyguard of a triad boss, a role she considers unique given most ‘top enforcer’ characters in films are men
  • The actress, who has previously acted alongside Donnie Yen and Max Zhang, always does her own stunts and even helps choreograph set pieces

There’s a bit of an Asian-American movement happening in Hollywood right now.

The breakout success of Crazy Rich Asians has led to more Asian-American representation on US screens big and small, including the critically acclaimed family dramedy The Farewell; the much-buzzed-about Always Be My Maybe; and beginning next week on Netflix, Wu Assassins, a contemporary crime drama that combines martial arts and supernatural elements.

The show stars an all-Asian cast headlined by Indonesian actor Iko Uwais of The Raid fame, and includes Hong Kong-born JuJu Chan Yuk-wan, whose role was specifically crafted for her.

“I initially met the crew to talk about [another] role,” recalls Chan, 30, who split her childhood between Hong Kong and the US. “But after realising my martial arts background and ability to do my own stunts, they wrote an entirely new role for me.”…

To read the full article, please visit SCMP

PUFF September 2019 Program: On oppression, resistance & role of media

This September, PUFF will present a program of films that addresses many of the topics related to our current events thus hopefully will help us make more sense of them – the idea of oppression and resistance; the role of media censorship, fake news, the use of media for political and personal gain.

September 4th, 2019 (Wed)
8PM – 10:45PM
Eaton KINO 1st Floor Eaton Hotel 388 Nathan Road Hong Kong

Burkinabè Rising Brazil, USA / 1h 12m / Documentary
(directed by Lara Lee, 2018)
Burkinabè Rising showcases creative nonviolent resistance in Burkina Faso. A small, landlocked country in West Africa, Burkina Faso is home to a vibrant community of artists and engaged citizens, who provide an example of the type of political change that can be achieved when people come together. It is an inspiration, not only to the rest of Africa but also to the rest of the world.

Mary Mother
Afghanistan / 19m / Drama
(directed by Sadam Wahidi, 2016)
Mary’s only son and young man of her family is serving for military in Kunduz province. One day she hears the news of fall of Kunduz province to the hand of Taliban on radio, since the authorities have no news of her son, she decides to start her own journey to Kunduz.

Get tickets at: https://www.puff-festival.org/