An unusual five films picked up ten or more nominations for the Hong Kong Film Awards, with court room drama, “The Sparring Partner” picking up 16. But the event was partially overshadowed by a row over “To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self,” a documentary feature.
“To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self” is a warm portrait of six girls at a Hong Kong school that was made over a period of ten years. It was co-directed by the veteran Mabel Cheung, who has tackled thorny historical subjects in “The Soong Sisters,” and was producer of 2010 hit “Echoes of the Rainbow,” a nostalgic elegy to old Hong Kong.
The film played at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in August last year and was released theatrically earlier this year. But it was withdrawn from the city’s cinemas this week after one of the youngsters featured in the film published a complaint in a newspaper, saying that she had not agreed to the film’s public exhibition.
Cheung, who is herself an alumnus of the school in question, says that consent forms were signed at the beginning of production and again later. But she also said that she assumed responsibility for the problems and apologized.
The film has two remaining HKFA nominations – for best directing and best editing – but it has been withdrawn from nomination from the best picture race.
Hits “Warriors of Future,” “Detective vs Sleuths” and comedy “Table for Six” have 11 nominations each. “The Narrow Road” picked up ten.
“Where the Wind Blows,” which was Hong Kong’s Oscars contender picked up eight nominations. It was directed by Philip Yung, who also produced “The Sparring Partner.”
In the second half of last year several Hong Kong films were propelled to surprising box office success after COVID controls were wound down and audiences appeared to rediscover and embrace local issues.
Another courtroom drama film, “A Guilty Conscience” this week became the highest-grossing Chinese-language film of all time in Hong Kong. The film has grossed HK$82.4 million ($10.6 million), according to data from Hong Kong Box Office Ltd., an industry association.
While Cheung said that she will not attend the HKFA ceremony, William Kwok Wai-Lun, co-director and editor of “To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self,” said that he would participate.
“The life shown in the documentary is wonderful and moving,” he was quoted as saying in a statement from distributor Golden Scene. “During the 10-year production process, the events and experiences behind the camera are also unforgettable and precious.”
The Hong Kong government is now threatening to get involved in the row. The Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data said that it could issue new guidelines on film production. “We are very concerned about the incident, especially because it involves the personal data privacy of minors,” said Privacy Commissioner, Ada Chung. Her office has written to the school asking for information.
The decade that the film tracks has been one of the most politically and socially turbulent in Hong Kong’s history. It witnessed civil disobedience on a massive scale in 2014 and 2019, a government crackdown and the introduction of the wide-ranging National Security Law. Education matters, including changes to text-books and the curriculum and the role of teachers in pro-democracy protests, have been a recurring theme throughout