Hong Kong’s movie industry is in the midst of a long-lamented decline. The industry peaked in the late 1980s and early 1990s, making directors like John Woo international stars. Since then, it has suffered a huge drop in output and profits as Hollywood and mainland China drew bigger audiences and lured away Hong Kong’s talent.
But a recent, little-advertised Hong Kong film, Ten Years, has been a surprise hit. The movie is a collection of vignettes that imagine a dystopian Hong Kong 10 years in the future, as Beijing’s growing influence over the city entails mandatory Mandarin language for residents, fake, fatal, terrorism incidents to scare the citizens, and a ban of the word “local.” In one segment, a Hong Kong resident self-immolates.
Hong Kong viewers tell Quartz they, and many others in the audience, have left packed screenings in tears, because of the frightening similarities between the movie and what’s happening in Hong Kong now. Time Out Hong Kong described it as a “nightmarish,” “frightening” must-see for Hong Kongers. The South China Morning Post said it served as “a reminder of the power of independent, intelligent film-making as a vehicle for social and political critique.” China’s state-backed Global Times, meanwhile, called it a “virus of the mind.”
But after just two months, the film is no longer screening anywhere in Hong Kong. Some theater owners say the move (link in Chinese) has nothing to do with self-censorship, but it seems hard to justify for economic reasons.
Though the movie played in fewer than 10 theaters at its peak, and only had a run of eight weekends, it made nearly HK$6 million, more than 10 times what it cost to make. The movie outperformed the new Star Wars film in at least one theater when it opened (both movies opened in the same week), and bested the Disney blockbuster in box office earnings in Hong Kong in three of the past four weekends, even though it played in far fewer theaters.
Star Wars is still playing in several cinemas this week, but after showing on one screen this past weekend, Ten Years has gone.
When Hong Kong restaurant Daimanya offered free tickets to the film for patrons in a Feb. 7 private screening, thousands of people responded on Facebook. The restaurant had to choose 97 of them, and when it tried to set up a second screening, the cinema where it held the first stopped responding to messages, a restaurant spokesman told Quartz. The restaurant has no “political stance,” he said. “We are supporting the creative arts made in Hong Kong.”
Although Ten Years may no longer be watchable in Hong Kong, it may be shown overseas soon.
International rights for Ten Years have been picked up by distributor Golden Scene, Variety reports. The distributor specializes in bringing artsy and independent films to Hong Kong and screening locally-made movies overseas.