The Crossing (Guo Chun Tian, 过春天) is a coming-of-age movie set in Hong Kong directed by Bai Xue, a young mainland Chinese director. Peipei, the main character of the movie, crosses the border daily between her home in mainland China and her school in Hong Kong. Trying to save funds for a Christmas trip to Japan with her best friend, she accidentally embarks on smuggling career, or in other words, parallel trader. Crossing, for Peipei, is not only a daily physical activity, but also a struggle to find her identity between these two societies. What distinguishes The Crossing from other coming-of-age movies is not only its touching on social issues such as cross-border students and parallel trading, but also the way the director chose to present Hong Kong: it reveals the changing mainland Chinese perception of Hong Kong.
Mainstream Chinese commercial movies usually portray Hong Kong as an Asian version of Las Vegas, a hub of money, desire, and prosperity. This is not the case in The Crossing, in which the perception of Hong Kong is more complicated. Instead of focusing on flashy prosperity, the film is more “down-to-earth”, with even a sense of sympathy, as the focus has been shifted to social problems such as inequality that might find more resonance in mainland China. Indeed, Chinese netizens have frequently expressed sympathy with their Hong Kong counterparts on the sky-scraping level of real estate prices and long working hours. In the movie, the director successfully captures the more subtle characteristics of young people in Hong Kong: occupied by part-time jobs, fascinated with travelling (especially to Japan), and sent abroad (especially the UK) for university education if born into an upper-middle class family.
However, this new perception is still highly depoliticized. In the case of The Crossing, depoliticization was a deliberate choice. In an interview, director Bai Xue emphasized that she sought to avoid touching on any politics in her movie. As a result, unfortunately, the Hong Kong she presented, became unreal. In the fall of 2014, Mong Kok, at one point during the Umbrella Movement, was as crowded with protesters as Admiralty/Central was recently. The top of Kowloon Peak, where the youths dated in the movie, was not empty but had a giant yellow banner saying “I want a real referendum”. In the North District, conflicts between parallel trader and local residents have never been rare.
By removing these scenes, the movie presents a falsely peaceful and tranquil image of the city. What also becomes unrealistic is the story itself, that of a cross-border teenager performing parallel trading. The director tried to demonstrate Peipei’s struggle with her dual identity crossing the border, but this cannot be completed without taking all those socio-political dynamics into consideration. As a high school student in Hong Kong, Peipei could not have avoided talking about the strike in the Umbrella Movement. As a parallel trader, she would have been likely to hear complaints from her neighbors when the narrow roads got blocked by other parallel traders with suitcases. Peipei, a cross-border child who was searching for her own identity, would have undoubtedly been influenced by the escalating mainland-Hong Kong conflicts and the deepening misunderstanding across the border.
A depoliticized perception of Hong Kong will not be helpful to facilitate mutual understanding. Recently, following the 2019 anti-extradition protests, an article spread on WeChat and other Chinese internet platforms titled, “Is Hong Kong Still a Hopeful City? (香港这座城市还有救吗？)”, has gained extremely high popularity, with 100,000+ page views in two days. The author is not a professional propagandist for Chinese communist party media but another young Chinese who spent one year in Hong Kong for his master’s program. He attributed the “hopelessness” of the city and “riots and instability” to the insufficient basic education, extreme social inequality, and collusion between the government and real estate businessmen. I was surprised to see how many people believed these questionable arguments in mainland China. Then I realized what was absent in this article: a serious discussion on politics. The author, as well as his millions of readers in China, are so used to a depoliticized discourse that they are unable to understand that young people in Hong Kong would simply fight for democracy, liberty, and the rule of law. All they are able to do is try to attribute the protest to those plausible but inaccurate apolitical sources.
This article echoed another recent mainstream perception of Hong Kong in mainland China: that of a declining city. Shenzhen’s 2018 GDP surpassed Hong Kong for the first time in history, further strengthening such beliefs that the prosperity of the city is now past. Many on the mainland might not believe that their counterparts in Hong Kong do not value GDP growth as they do, but something else, less familiar to mainland students and filtered by the Great Fire Wall: referendum, freedom of speech, judicial independence, and “genuine democracy”. Not knowing events like the Great Escape, the 1967 Leftist Riot, the MacLehose Reform, and the Umbrella Movement, the new generation of mainland Chinese don’t have the context necessary to understand the construction and evolution of Hong Kong identity.
Perhaps a movie like The Crossing related to Hong Kong that needs to be publicly released in mainland China must be depoliticized. But for those who seek to truly understand Hong Kong, they should be aware that such an image is purified and distorted. It is true that there are millions of Hong Kongers struggling with similar issues just as they do from youth problems to social inequality. However, there are also millions of people struggling with the issues censored and blocked in mainland China that requires a little more extra effort and investigation. Everyone should be aware that it is impossible to understand Hong Kong and the people who live there when leaving out politics.
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Zilu “Luna” Zeng
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- Film Review: “The Crossing” A Depoliticized Hong Kong - July 9, 2019