teenager should not feel personally responsible for saving his homeland’s
values and way of life, but this is the role Joshua Wong has voluntarily
assumed. As the founder of the student activist society Scholarism, Wong has
challenged the Mainland Communist Party’s plans to impose Party indoctrination
in Hong Kong schools and its relentless efforts to undermine the “One China Two
Systems” promise of HK democracy. Viewers will see what genuine democracy
protests look like and how perilously high the stakes can in Joe Piscatella’s
documentary Joshua: Teenager vs.
Superpower, which screens during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.
promote obedience, the Education Bureau of Hong Kong proposed, at the Mainland
Party’s behest, the ominous sounding Moral and National Education (MNE)
curriculum, which was essentially Communist propaganda combined with criticisms
of democratic forms of government. In response, the not quite fifteen-year-old
Wong founded Scholarism and began coordinating a campaign of protests and
outreach. Rather remarkably, the Mainland’s dedicated servant HK Chief Executive
CY Leung gave a bit of ground, making the MNE curriculum voluntary, at each
the partial MNE victory may have given Wong and Scholarism too much faith the
Mainland’s political puppets would listen to reason when presented with the
overwhelming will of the people. Tragically, that would not be the case during
the 2014 Umbrella Protests.
say the Western media’s coverage of the 2014 demonstrations was inadequate
would be a gross understatement. Frankly, Piscatella’s documentary is crucially
valuable just for its lucid step-by-step chronicle of the Umbrella movement—so named
because the demonstrators (the vast majority of whom were high school and
college students) deployed umbrellas to combat police tear gas. For 79 days,
the students hung tough—and when the police shock troops started using
military-style tactics against them, the normally rail-thin Wong launched a
dangerous hunger strike.
in Chan Tze-woon’s more verite (but equally valuable) Yellowing, the one thing that immediately strikes viewers of Teenager is just how shockingly young
Wong and his Scholarism colleagues look. Both films will make you wish you
could travel back in time to the Admiralty and Mong Kok to protect them. What
is nearly as significant in Teenager is
how explicitly and ardently Wong and his classmates identify as Hong Kongers,
follows a pretty standard documentary playbook, utilizing media footage and
talking head interviews. However, many of his commentators are unusually
insightful and honest in their analysis, such as the journalist who describes
the current Beijing-Leung strategy as the shrinkage of One China-Two Systems to
One China-1.9 Systems and then to 1.8 Systems, and so on.
Even though everyone really ought to know how
the Umbrella Demonstrations turned out, viewers will still get caught up in Teenager’s narrative. It is a highly
compelling, emotionally involving film by any standards. There is no false
optimism, but Piscatella leaves the audience with some hope, once Wong explains
how he and his fellow activists have learned from the mistakes of 2014. If you
want to protest, protest Xi Jinping and CY Leung (frankly, this film could very
well be why the festival was hacked). If you want to see a great doc, make
every effort to see Joshua: Teenager vs.
Superpower when it screens again this afternoon (1/22) in Salt Lake and
Wednesday (1/25) and Friday (1/27) in Park City, as part of this year’s
Labels: Documentary, Joshua Wong, Sundance '17, Umbrella Protests