China Behind

dir. Cecile Tang Shu Shuen

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Banned for over a decade by the Hong Kong government, Cecile Tang's gripping tale of a group of Mainlanders trying to flee the Cultural Revolution has since been hailed as an important precursor of the Hong Kong New Wave.


Highly influenced by the French New Wave and presaging many aspects of the Hong Kong New Wave to come, the films of Cecile Tang stand apart from the kung-fu and Chinese opera films that dominated seventies Hong Kong cinema. One of the most exciting discoveries of this series, Tong's second film China Behind — banned for over a decade by the Hong Kong government, on the grounds that it would "damage good relations with other territories" — follows a group of Mainlanders as they desperately try to flee from a China in thrall to the Cultural Revolution. Narrowly escaping capture as they set out, the fugitives are willing to do anything — including a long, death-defying swim — to reach freedom. But what they find when they reach the haven of Hong Kong is a far cry from their dreams of liberty; the final passages of the film are a damning and powerful indictment of both the socialist and free-market "utopias" that defined the ideological landscape of the century just past. "One of the earliest films to deal with the clash of Communist and capitalist ideals that would inevitably manifest itself with the 1997 handover[;] the moral degradation and spiritual disenchantment of its characters reveal the dehumanizing effects felt [on] both sides of the border" (Edmund Lee, Time Out Hong Kong).