Cross-border tensions on social media were stirred this week after a Beijing film critic slated a Hong Kong comedy film for being a work of “cultural garbage” that portrayed mainlanders negatively.
Jia Xuanning, a 24-year-old Beijing Film Academy and Chinese University graduate, won the Hong Kong Arts Development Council ’s first ever Critic’s Prize with a scathing critique about 2012 film Vulgaria .
Jia’s 3,500 word essay titled “Gazing at the Anxiety of Hong Kong Film Through Vulgaria” won her the ADC’s Gold Prize on Monday, which came with a HK$50,000 cash reward.
“The thing I hate most about Vulgaria is that it claims to be a film produced specially for the Hong Kong people because it is what they want to watch,” Jia told reporters at the ADC awards ceremony. She said Hong Kong people deserved better films.
On Facebook, many Hongkongers were riled mainly because of Jia's mainland background, highlighting the recent rise in anti-mainland sentiment. “Hong Kong’s category-three films are just not for you [mainlanders], you should all go back and watch your category-four propaganda films about elite cadres,” said one user on Facebook.
“If [Jia] thinks all films should be interpreted by their literal meaning, then she should just look to Hollywood," another netizen wrote on Hong Kong forum HKGolden.com . "It's about time mainlanders stop thinking the world revolves around them.”
Reaction on the mainland blogosphere was mixed. One user on Sina Weibo said: "I agree partly with Jia's critique, especially the representation of mainland actresses in the film", presumably referring to Dada Chen's character.
According to the ADC's panel , Jia won because she "explored the identity of Hong Kong people and their relationship with the mainland...from a social perspective. The review not only has a strong sense of criticism, but also creativity and unique opinion, allowing readers to rethink mainstream values of Hong Kong.
Directed by Hong Kong’s Pang Ho-cheung starring Chapman To Man-chak and Ronald Cheng Chung-kei, Vulgaria’s plot revolves around a debt-ridden film producer trying trying to revamp his career with a porn film. Cheng plays a gangster from Guangxi who sports a heavy mainland accent and bankrolls the film.
Vulgaria was a critical success, raking in HK$30 million in ticket sales at the box office and six nominations for this year’s Golden Horse Film Festival. The film contains heavy swearing, a rarity in most Hong Kong films and strong adult content – points Jia did not hesitate to label "low" in her essay, according to the Apple Daily .
In the paper, Jia said Pang "proved how he could make cultural garbage entertainment successful”. She also said Hongkongers found it hard to accept how their mainland counterparts could evolve so quickly from “their poor relatives to today’s rich”.
On Facebook, actor To responded to Jia's critique by comparing film appreciation to “looking at the Mona Lisa”: “Happy people may feel she is smilingly at them genuinly, the self-abased may feel she is smilying at them mockingly. As for Mona Lisa herself, she doesn’t give a s***!”
Pang denied his film was a snub aimed at mainlanders and posted a response in defence of his film: "I think the Hong Kong spirit is embodied in freedom of speech...you think vulgarity is garbage, I think the suppression of vulgarity leads to the downfall of works of free speech." (SCMP)