January 7, Published on Coconuts Hong Kong
What’s the legacy of Umbrella Movement? It’s a question many have asked since the protesters ceased to occupy Hong Kong’s streets over a year ago. Thousands of demonstrators went back to their daily lives, while others continued to fight on.
For his part, celebrated local playwright Chan Ping-chiu chose to write and direct “Waking Dreams in 1984” in an attempt to make Hong Kong think about its history and how it’s reflected in our current political situation.
Chan, a famous Hong Kong theatre producer as well as the artistic director of On and On Theatre Workshop, has produced dozens of experimental and abstract plays in the past; this is the first “realistic” play in his 30-year career.
According to Chan, the play is not meant to persuade the audience to take any stance, but instead intends to invite people to look at the present through the lens of fictional characters living in the past.
The play is set in the 1980s, when Hong Kong’s booming economy caused the discontent-driven social movements of the 70s to lose steam. During this time, Hong Kong’s socio-political environment was heated: students led movement after movement, whether against corruption or Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands.
In the play, two brothers, who lived through this turbulent age, meet again after a long separation, reuniting in a newly progressive era when everybody is eager to make their fortunes. The elder brother, Ho, is striving for success in the film industry, while the younger one, Hei, can’t help but reminisce about the ideals they fought for a decade ago. Of course, conflict between the two is inevitable.
“It was really difficult to find suitable actors for the roles of the two brothers,” said Chan.
But the current actors Chu Pak-hong and Leung Tin-chak, two of the most popular theatrical stars in Hong Kong, finally met Chan’s expectations, bringing the subtleties and unique temperaments of each character to life.
Chan himself participated in the student movements of the 70s. He says the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests reminded him of his personal experiences as an activist, so he picked up the scripts he had written over three decades ago and adapted them into a play that hits just short of the three-hour mark.
“But I’m not stuck in the past,” insists Chan, “and I’m not just talking about young people.”
The playwright believes that history always repeats itself, and that we have much to learn by examining the past. With the recent “Internet Article 23” protests, the HKU council controversy, and the mystery of the missing booksellers, Hong Kong’s social struggles are alive and well, just as they were in the 70s.
Chan hopes the play’s characters will enlighten modern audiences about social movements, old and new.
What: Waking Dreams in 1984 (Cantonese only)
When: Jan 8 – 10 (7:45pm on Friday Jan. 8; 2:45pm, 7:45pm on Saturday Jan. 9; 5pm on Sunday Jan. 10.)
Where: Hong Kong City Hall Theatre (Google Maps)
Price: HKD120 – HKD240
Photos/Words: Briony Lin