16 February 2019
Legislator Lau Wong-fat (left) says he is not as handsome as actor Kenneth Tsang.
Legislator Lau Wong-fat (left) says he is not as handsome as actor Kenneth Tsang.

Film explores highly charged ‘ding uk’ drama

In Hong Kong, where property is a perennial source of political drama and public outrage, one wonders why our film studios have not come up with a movie about the government’s highly sensational, if controversial, Small House Policy — until now.

“Overheard 3″, coming soon to theaters near you, is a crime-thriller flicker about this longstanding government policy that allows male indigenous villagers to build “dink uk” (literally, a house for a male descendant) on free land in the New Territories. The theme doesn’t sound very exciting. But leave it to the creative geniuses of Alan Mak and Felix Chong, who wrote and directed this movie, and expect another memorable two-hour entertainment of the same caliber as the award-winning “Infernal Affairs” which they also co-wrote.

The movie is said to make some references to the Heung Yee Kuk, the lobby group of these indigenous villagers, with the plot showing a group of unscrupulous guys who use illegal and violent means to obtain rural plots and turn them into luxury housing developments.

Lau Wong-fat, a legislator representing the Kuk constituency, declined to comment on the movie, noting that he seldom goes to the cinema. The only observation Lau would give is that he is not as handsome as Kenneth Tsang, the actor who is supposedly portraying him in the film.

Leung Fuk Yuen, chairman of Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee, another group representing the indigenous villagers, said the movie is giving out a lot of false information. For example, his hairstyle. But he grants the need for the filmmakers to embellish the storyline for commercial purposes.

The only real thing about him in the movie is that he is always “overheard” by someone over the phone, Leung says, although he hastens to add that he has never committed any crime.

The film producers say the movie has nothing to do with the real Heung Yee Kuk, but they admit that it touches on the criticisms about the Small House Policy.

Introduced in 1972, the policy grants an indigenous male villager who is over 18 years old the right to build an abode measuring 2,100 square feet in designated sites in the New Territories. Such a right is guaranteed by the Basic Law.  

Most Hong Kong residents, who are not indigenous villagers, find the policy utterly discriminatory. Many of them have to spend their entire life to buy a 600 square foot apartment while the villagers, most of whom are no longer residing in their places of origin, get free land where they build a luxury apartment and then sell it.

The policy is also adversely affecting property prices, encouraging haphazard residential development, and contributing to the destruction of country parks, critics say.

In 1990, Citizens Party founder Christine Loh, then undersecretary for the environment, proposed to amend the law so that female indigenous villagers could have the same right to build ding uk. Although fighting bravely for gender equality, she had to give up her advocacy after some rural people threatened to harm her.

Terence Chong Tai-Leung, executive director of the Institute of Global Economics and Finance at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, believes the policy has run its course after being implemented for four decades.

To avoid hurting the property market, the Hong Kong government has tried to slow the construction of ding uk. It now approves only about 1,000 applications annually. However, it seems nothing else can be done in the short term unless Beijing allows the Basic Law to be amended.

As for those who are not indigenous villagers, they could cool their heads by watching the movie.

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Chief reporter at EJ Insight

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