Hong Kong Digital
is a recurring series of movie reviews by John Charles -- associate
editor / film reviewer for Video Watchdog magazine and the author
of The Hong Kong Filmography.
From The Queen To The Chief Executive
Herman Yau Lai-to. Image courtesy China Star.
Who would have believed that Herman Yau Lai-to, the man responsible for such irredeemable Category III stomach churners as THE UNTOLD STORY and EBOLA SYNDROME, would one day helm a socially relevant semi-documentary about the plight of young offenders doomed by an uncaring system? Adapted from a book of the same name (though with some name changes and a fictional character added to help mould the narrative), FROM THE QUEEN TO THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE reminds viewers that one of the most notable human rights violations to be found in Asia was born not of Communist China but the supposedly democratic Great Britain.
David Lee Sheung-man. Image courtesy China Star.
In 1985, Cheung Yau-ming (David Lee Sheung-man) was one of five miscreants involved in the brutal murder of a white couple. As he was still a juvenile, the court ordered that he be "detained at Her Majesty's pleasure," a clause in British law allowing the government to imprison young offenders for an indefinite period. The film picks up in 1997, with Yau-ming (now 28) being paid a visit by a girl named Cheung Yue-ling (Ai Jing). During his years behind bars, Yau-ming developed an interest in literature and emerged as the winner of an Open University writing contest. Yue-ling was the runner-up and, interested in learning more about the person who beat her, began corresponding with Yau-ming. With only six months to go before the Handover, Yau-ming and 22 other prisoners hope to have their sentences determined soon, fearing what might happen should the decision about what to do with them become the province of incoming Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.
Ai Jing. Image courtesy China Star.
Idealistic councillor Leung Chung-ken (Stephen Tang Shu-wing) takes up their cases but faces a mountain of indifference, from both the average citizen (many of whom feel no compassion for murderers, no matter what their plight) and his fellow politicians (who cannot understand why Chung-ken risks incensing millions of people for the sake of 23). Some of the offenders are helped before governor Chris Patten leaves office but the question of what will happen to the others remains and the change in leadership that follows accomplishes nothing.
There is a common thread here of severe domestic problems having contributed significantly to the situations that got these youths in hot water. Such family difficulties also extend to those fighting the injustice (Chung-ken's dedication to his job is tearing his family apart and Yue-ling suffered abuse as a little girl that drove her to commit a truly callous act), helping to make them fully rounded characters and not just angelic do-gooders. The film does indulge in some regrettable melodramatics but ultimately emerges as a worthy and occasionally poignant undertaking, well-acted by all, and directed with commendable sincerity by a filmmaker few would have guessed had it in him.
Stephen Tang Shu-Wing (centre with megaphone). Image courtesy China Star.
Stephen Tang and Ai Jing from the documentary
feature included on the disc.