Filmmakers capture Hong Kong's struggle with identity

As Hong Kong grapples with its identity 16 years after returning to Chinese rule, frustration on the streets and a nostalgia for the past is providing plenty of inspiration for the city's filmmakers.

Emotions in the former British colony run high, with tens of thousands of people marching on the handover anniversary Monday to demand universal suffrage amid concerns Beijing is increasingly meddling in Hong Kong's affairs.

Polls have shown residents see themselves as "Hongkongers" rather than "Chinese", while the use by protesters of old colonial flags has raised eyebrows in the city and tempers north of the border in mainland China.

"The relationship we have with China always affects the mood of Hong Kong," film director Flora Lau told AFP.

"We are a city which has a very distinct identity, and some of the people here feel that this identity has slipped away. On the other hand, we have new immigrants who think of Hong Kong as a place of dreams."

Lau's first feature film, "Bends", was the only production from Hong Kong to be selected in competition at the prestigious Cannes International Film Festival in May.

The film follows the relationship between a Hong Kong housewife (Carina Lau) and her mainland Chinese chauffeur (Chen Kun) "as they each negotiate the pressures of Hong Kong life and the city's increasingly complex relationship to mainland China".

"To me, Hong Kong is filled with duality and I am interested in portraying the city, which represents a sense of deterioration for some, and yet a sense of hope for others," said Lau, who attended Columbia University in New York and the London Film School.

A survey published by the Hong Kong University on Friday found only 33 percent of Hong Kongers took pride in being a Chinese national, the lowest level since 1998.

Such statistics come amid growing resentment towards mainland Chinese visitors, whose numbers are estimated to reach 50 million annually by 2015 in a city of around seven million.

Hong Kong's unpopular Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has faced the brunt of public anger, and in his first year has had to deal with shortages of maternity beds and baby formula, both blamed on the influx of mainlanders.

The city has also seen protests over the widening gap between rich and poor. Property prices have surged in recent years due to record low interest rates and a flood of wealthy mainlanders snapping up homes, while the choking smog that often hangs over Hong Kong's spectacular Victoria Harbour is seen as a sign of China's industrial growth.

"I think Hong Kong is a place that has gone through lots of changes and the people here adapt quite quickly," said Lau, whose film is set for release in the city in November.

"But the changes we went through are very different from the changes China went through over the past 50 years, and now that we are more closely related to each other, we are confronted with cultural clashes on a more day-to-day basis."

Others said the city has reacted to the rapid changes by embracing a "collective nostalgia".

"Old values and mentality seem to have disappeared so the films we now make are a reaction to these changes," said veteran director Herman Yau at the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy, in April.

Yau travelled to Europe with his film "Ip Man: The Final Fight", a production which charts the later years of the eponymous martial arts master, who counted Bruce Lee among his disciples. It is a film soaked with nostalgia for a Hong Kong the filmmakers believe has long since faded from view.

"Hongkongers were once trusting people who were not scared to leave our doors open for our neighbours," said screenwriter Erica Li. "But we have become a big metropolis and we are losing that sense."

Under the "One Country Two Systems" governing arrangement, Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous region within China, with its own currency and mini-constitution guaranteeing freedoms and liberties not seen on the mainland.

People are free to protest and speak their minds, there are no restrictions on the Internet and many lawmakers are directly elected even if the leader, known as the chief executive, is picked by a pro-Beijing electoral committee.

"Outside of Hong Kong, I would say that, from people I have talked to, not many understand the complicated political situation we have with China," said Lau.

"In my film, I have shots of the river between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and the character crossing the border, but to my surprise I have had questions about why we have a border with China."

Director Adam Wong was in Udine screening "The Way We Dance", which follows the trials and tribulations of a group of street dancers.

"It is also a film which reflects on how young people in Hong Kong today are searching for their own identity," said Wong, whose film will be released in August.

"Young people feel they are losing control of their own destiny."