Updated: Oct 14, 2021
Image of Hong Kong ''Opposition''
From the Queen to the Chief Executive (Dir. Herman Yau Lai To; 2001) is Herman Yau's greatest film because it actually touched the real political issue, perfectly created the typical image of the Hong Kong opposition and provided alternative to Kung fu action flicks in general.
''At Her Majesty's pleasure'' is this film's main topic. In the ex-British colony Hong Kong, young offenders unlimitedly had been prisoned for their committed crimes before their term of imprisonment is settled. It caused that these young offenders who needed ''Her Majesty's pleasure'' to be released ended up endless sentence or longer sentence than adult offenders.
It is an abstracted ''human rights'' issue in the prison during the historical transition. This abstracted view on social issues is opposition's feature until today. Like one of the protagonists, a lawmaker Liang Zhongqin (Stephen Tang) who is a fictional avatar of the real opposition figure Leung Yiu-chung gives up the labor movement for the working class, instead he finds this abstracted human rights issue among the young offenders in prison.
Some lawmaker in this film opposes Liang Zhongqin and the mainland girl Cheung Yue-ling (Jing Ai) says: ''Yes, these prisoners are seriously thinking about the law and their own rights but they do not even think about how their victims' families feel on their committed crimes.'' This is a powerful dramatic line on human rights abstractionism of the opposition parties of Hong Kong. Herman Yau beautifully dealt with this political conflict.
ACT1: Braemar Hill murders occurred on April 20, 1985. Five local young gangsters killed the British couple on Braemar Hill. The protagonist Zhang Youming (David Lee) is one of them and "detained at Her Majesty's pleasure" for their crimes. Another protagonist the mainland girl Cheung Yue-ling (Jing Ai) who moves to the dreadful city Hong Kong with her mother to live with her father in law tries murdering her mother after her sex affair with her father in law is found. This incident leads her to be independent from the family. Inciting Incident is that Cheung Yue-ling visits Shek Pik Prison to interact with the writing contest champion, prisoner Zhang Youming for curiosity and respect. At the end of ACT1, Cheung Yue-ling goes to find some help from local lawmaker, such as labor rights lawmaker Liang Zhongqin (Stephen Tang) to solve these young prisoners' unsettled term of imprisonment.
ACT2: Labor rights lawmaker Liang Zhongqin (Stephen Tang) and his assistants are not willing to take the case. After repetitive failures of labor demonstrations and Cheung Yue-ling's persuasion, Liang Zhongqin decides to help these young prisoners who "detained at Her Majesty's pleasure."
Midpoint: Liang Zhongqin and Cheung Yue-ling call parents of these young prisoners who "detained at Her Majesty's pleasure" to take actions. Then they face conflicts with other citizens, lawmakers who oppose and misunderstand their political attitude toward prisoners' human rights issues. At the end of ACT2, Cheung Yue-ling loses faith in her political stance when her study on the Braemar Hill murders at library. Liang Zhongqin also fails to appeal for revision of the regulation on young prisoners at Legislative Council of Hong Kong before 1997.
ACT3: The colonial Governor of Hong Kong, Christopher Francis Patten is unable to respond to the requirements of these young prisoners, and Hong Kong returns to China. The 1st. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa refuses reduced sentences or release of these young prisoners by his executive order. Cheung Yue-ling returns home to live with her mother.
In fact, this ensemble film is a total tragedy for both characters and box office however young prisoners who suffer from the unsettled term of imprisonment get someone who really concerns their difficulties, it is purely a positive thing. Herman Yau's direction is remarkable on this issue that he refused any individualist approach to this material which could only focus on one case like The Untold Story (1993). The form of ensemble drama was precise for this social drama. Moreover, Herman Yau broke the taboo of Hong Kong filmmaking on this film that describing politics is a taboo but Herman thinks that it has to be faced with when you need to film your society. (1)
Some technical achievements must be mentioned for this film. One is flash cut of Braemar Hill murders in which Herman Yau used the flash cut to stage the killing scene in a second. It is rarely seen in film editing on the exposition sequence at the beginning of the film. Unlike Kung fu films, there is no reaction shot for killing the British couple. The other one is a sound cut at the library in which Cheung Yue-ling reads details of the Braemar Hill murders, Herman Yau put screaming sounds of the victims from the killing field. It is quite effective and shocking. These creative solutions are psychologically contagious and effective.
Finally, the real prisoner was released by the 1st. Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in 2004. (2)
This film is really artistic work which rarely seen in the contemporary films in Hong Kong. It should be released as 4K-remastered Blu-ray in the near future.
(1) 邱禮濤, ''寫在《等候董建華發落》拍攝完成後三個,'' Hermanyau.com, 2001年1月27日,
http://www.hermanyau.com/cfromQtoCE.htm accessed on July 29, 2019.
(2) ''等候18年董建華終於發落 寶馬山雙屍案少年犯中秋回家,'' Apple daily, 2004年09月21日,
https://hk.news.appledaily.com/local/daily/article/20040921/4321522 accessed on July 29, 2019.
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