The plot, to begin with, is true to life.
Which is why a certain summer thriller is stirring a hornet’s nest in Hong Kong even before it’s shown. Real people are objecting to their characterization in a make-believe situation.
Overheard 3 would not be a Hong Kong crime movie without gangsters or some tyrannical organization and little people being oppressed by big people.
And Hong Kong would not be Hong Kong without people reacting to it in this way.
The movie’s sub-plot explores social conflict involving villagers who are defending their ancestral land against thugs hired by powerful developers.
The government is caught in the middle, powerless with a choice it cannot make.
The problem emerged after early screenings leaked a part of the plot in which the characters are reversed: the villagers, it seems, are being portrayed as villains.
That is an issue with a long history and has to do with a government program intended to protect indigenous land, mostly farmland, from commercial development. The land cannot be touched by private developers but the policy has not stopped indigenous villagers from developing it anyway and making a tidy profit.
Some have made a killing. In the movie, they are described as “rich people with no manners”.
Leung Fuk-yuen, chairman of Shap Pat Heung Rural Committee, vigorously takes exception to this characterization.
He said villagers may look like sacred cows under the policy but they are just as vulnerable to exploitation.
Land has been forcibly taken from them or threatened to be seized from them as happened when the government turned a village land into a country park, overriding the villagers’ ancestral rights, he said. It became known as the Sai Wan Incident.
“People think we are gangsters,” he said, adding that in fact, “we can’t even dig a hole around our houses”.
Leung cited a 1979 document under which the government allowed indigenous villagers to build hostels and run retail businesses in exchange for giving up land to become part of the country park.
“The movie trailer shows we have land and houses when we are born. In fact, we have rights but not land,” he said.
And because of an ill-defined land-use ordinance, villagers cannot build a house in a green belt or on farmland, he said.
Leung has an ongoing fight with the government over development rights to a piece of land in Yuen Long district near the border with the Chinese mainland.
Separately, the rural committee is proposing a “village in a city” plan to the government modeled on a similar project in nearby Shenzhen. The city government bought the land from the villagers, developed it into a 30-story building and reserved three floors for them to live.
“We have handed a proposal to the Hong Kong government and we waiting for their reply,” Leung said.
And the movie? One could hope it has a happy ending.
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