Wu Zi-en, director of “Islander,” has uploaded the full 25-minute film noir to online platform Vimeo last week, after it became the third film in a month to have been censored by Hong Kong authorities.
The city last year changed censorship regulations to effectively ban any film that is politically sensitive or poses a threat to national security.
“Islander” follows a man and his grandson’s journey to visit the son, who has been placed behind bars as a political prisoner in Taipei. The film was selected as part of the Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival in Hong Kong, but its public screening was canceled because the film did not receive the approval in time. Fresh Wave organizers did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
Wu told media that he chose to set the film in Taiwan and during the island’s own ‘White Terror’ period, as he is worried that Taiwan may fall under the Communist Party rule. He described it as a fable about Taiwan’s imagined future.
“‘Islander’ is an imagined future [of Taiwan] under authoritarian rule. People cannot speak and think freely. Even their memories are under control,” Wu said on his Facebook page. “And now this is really happening. This film cannot be shown at Hong Kong’s Fresh Wave Film Festival. The Hong Kong government has deliberately delayed the release of the approval document. This, by default, deprived audience’s opportunity to watch and discuss the film.”
“But one should be allowed to think freely, so as film viewing,” Wu said, followed by a Vimeo link to his film, which was originally featured as part of the film festival’s highlights from Taiwan’s Golden Horse Film Festival. The other four Taiwanese shorts featured in this program were screened as scheduled.
Another short film “Time, and Time Again” did not meet Hong Kong censors’ approval either. The Hong Kong short directed by Asgard Wong tells the story about a detective haunted by the case of a missing girl. The film was inspired by cult activities following the Sewol ferry disaster in South Korea in 2014, the director told the local media, but it still did not get the green lights from the censors.
Yin Lam, the name of the missing girl in the film shares the same pronunciation as that of a girl who went missing during the 2019 Hong Kong protests and whose body was later found dead in the sea.
“Does it mean you cannot name a character Yin Lam anymore,” Wong asked, saying that he could not understand why the censors did not approve the film. Fresh Wave runs until July 17.
Another film that was banned by the censors was “The Dancing Voice of Youth” featured in the Hong Kong Arts Centre’s ifva (Independent Film and Video Awards). The film’s director Erica Kwok decided to pull the film from a July screening after she was asked by the censors to remove the English subtitles—including the part that spells “resist unjust rules”—that were allegedly seditious and incited people’s hatred against the government.
The film had already received approval under the previous version of the censorship regulations and had screened in the city in March 2021. At the time, authorities did not ask the filmmaker to make any changes.