Glasgow Film Festival: Hong Kong Mixtape and the Real Cancel Culture

In 2020, China imposed Hong Kong’s National Security Law, making it virtually illegal to protest in the city. 47 politicians who opposed the law were arrested amid widespread protests.

Hong Kong Mixtape is a documentary about the law’s impact on Hong Kong’s art scene and how the ban on certain words, phrases, symbols and gestures has effectively marginalized its artists.

Conceived as a personal essay by director San San F Young, the film explores her journey as an artist and how her original home has shaped her craft over the years. We start with her personal point of view and go into the different experiences of her subjects. The documented artists each have their own experiences, but most of them come to the same conclusion – it’s time to go.

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The art that lined the streets of Hong Kong is slowly fading. All that remains on the walls is a no-smoking sign, an ironic banality in the chaos. “And just like that, everything we’ve done is illegal,” Young states.

One interesting aspect is how hip hop plays a role in Hong Kong’s counterculture. We see Luna, the rapper, lay down rhymes that would almost certainly flag her for disagreement. A dance troupe performs a hip-hop-infused routine, incorporating “illegal” hand gestures in front of slogans that are widely known to be banned. Across continents, hip hop maintains its countercultural status, a commentary on the impact of postcolonialism in transporting cultural values.

While the documentary beautifully conveys the power of art and its importance as a pillar of free speech, it tends to overstate art’s usefulness as a vehicle for change. The simple narrative of a world-changing song no longer applies in a world that now rejects grand narratives. A work of art can indeed trigger profound personal changes that can lead to positive changes in the world, but it is a trap of radical art to believe that society in general can be transformed by the individual.


More effective are the artists’ stories and how they process China’s deliberate curtailment of their right to creative expression. An artist talks about his need to leave Hong Kong and reflects on how his family would feel. His mother would think he must have done something wrong when he left. Showing how intergenerational our perspectives can be, his mother trusts China’s intentions when the more liberal generations view his actions as illegitimate.

Young does a fantastic job of chronicling the change in mood in Hong Kong during this period. Once public anger subsides and acceptance sets in, the crowds on the streets seem more likely to bow their heads and move on than be vibrant and engaged members of society. Young is beginning to notice that more and more of her social media feeds are being propagated as people she knows start parroting lines from China. The TV plays China’s national anthem and startles Young with its volume.

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This shift in mood is aided by the film’s elegant style, with beautiful yet foreboding shots of the city paired with more extravagant bits of visual flair.

The announcement of Hong Kong’s death may be premature, but it has clearly lost an important piece of its soul. Restricting free expression, whether by a political or creative voice, strips the color of society, leaving nothing but black and white.

That’s a lesson the UK could certainly take on board at this time. That Britain has supported Hong Kong protesters only to turn around and try to play the same game with its own citizens shows that this is not just a story taking place somewhere far away. Something much more universal is happening and Hong Kong happens to be an example of that. Glasgow Film Festival: Hong Kong Mixtape and the Real Cancel Culture

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