Hong Kong director says protests could suddenly calm

Venice (AFP) –


Hong Kong's prince of sensual cinema praised the territory's love of freedom Monday but said he hoped unrest there could calm as quickly as it did after an anti-colonial revolt in 1967.

Veteran director Yonfan hailed Hong Kongers' deeply engrained democratic spirit as he premiered his new love story, "No. 7 Cherry Lane", at the Venice film festival.

The animated movie is set during the 1967 riots when leftist leaders inspired by China's Cultural Revolution sparked large-scale strikes, riots and bomb attacks in which 51 people died.

That unrest led to major reforms by the then British colony's rulers which are often credited with helping to transform the territory into one of the so-called Asian Tiger economies.

Yonfan, 71, said the 1967 clashes -- which also lasted several months -- mysteriously faded as quickly as they had erupted.

The filmmaker, who moved to the city from Taiwan as a teenager, said Hong Kong had taught him what liberty was.

"There was martial law in Taiwan at the time and I did not know what was the meaning of the word 'freedom'. But in Hong Kong I literally smelt the air of freedom. There is freedom in the wind that blows from the ocean," the master added.

"It was marvellous," Yonfan told AFP. "Then in 1967 there was a force coming from the north (the Cultural Revolution) and then you started having riots and Hong Kong was turning upside down.

- 'Pandora's Box' -

"The police and British troops tried to calm the situation but they were not very helpful. But strangely after six months this force (of revolt) disappeared," he added.

"I was 20 years old at the time. I had gone through the British system of education there and I was never taught about human rights and democracy," said the maker of "Lost Romance" and "Peony Pavilion".

"Fifty-two years later there is another unknown (energy) coming from somewhere that in the name of human rights and democracy and has turned the whole of Hong Kong upside down. I just hope that this force also disappears as it did in 1967 and Hong Kong can be back to normal."

But Yonfan warned that a "Pandora's Box has been opened. All the violence, all the evil things have come out. But I also believe there is hope inside the box for Hong Kong."

While he insisted that his film -- which took seven years to make, with every frame hand-drawn -- was in no way meant to be prophetic, the director admitted that "history tends to repeat itself".

Hong Kong is a "wonderful place", Yonfan told reporters, even praising its censors for being enlightened enough to allow young people to see his tale of a love triangle between a young man, a single mother and her teenage daughter.

Over the weekend the city witnessed some of the worst violence in decades as protesters lobbed bricks and petrol bombs at police, who responded with tear gas, water cannon and baton charges.

A protest movement that began opposing government plans to allow extraditions to China has morphed into wider protests against the Beijing-backed territory's unelected leadership.