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‘Who’s Afraid of Nathan Law?’ Review: A Vivid if Bleak Update



Joe Piscatella’s 2017 “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower” supplied a reasonably exhilarating view of youth activism, because it charted one Hong Kong scholar’s spearheading public opposition to mainland China’s more and more heavy-handed takeover. The can-do optimism that documentary left viewers with is on life assist within the director’s follow-up, which shifts nominal focus to one among Joshua Wong’s fellow protest leaders. However largely “Who’s Afraid of Nathan Law?” observes the gradual crushing of a pro-democracy motion that not way back had promised to have interaction Beijing in real dialogue. This equally skillful if far more downbeat sequel ought to observe its predecessor to large journey on the pageant circuit, then broadcast and streaming publicity. 

Legislation was a school freshman when he first met then-high faculty college students Wong and so-called “princess of democracy” Agnes Chow. The trio grew to become maybe essentially the most identifiable faces in a largely youth-driven trigger that rose up initially in objection to new Communist minders’ decrees in direction of academia, then broadened and gained steam as yea extra restrictive insurance policies have been launched. It grew to become quickly clear that Beijing had little intention of granting Hong Kong residents the relative autonomy they’d been promised. 

The documentary’s first third principally retraces the sooner movie’s occasions, wherein resistance atypical for this tradition spiraled into huge marches involving one, then two million members. For some time, it appeared the “Umbrella Movement” (named for members’ selection of protection towards pepper spray) would possibly actually make the mainland monolith rethink its course. 

Alas, that turned out to be a false hope. Apparently afraid that giving an inch on Hong Kong would possibly show a “launching pad for a democratic revolution in China,” as one observer right here places it, Get together management clamped down with unprecedented bodily pressure, elevating queasy fears of “another Tiananmen Square.” 

Thought-about by some “the brains” of the youth motion, Legislation ran for a Legislative Council seat at age 23. Although his marketing campaign was scoffed at, he gained, turning into the youngest such winner ever. However the hopes that pro-democracy forces would possibly thus have the ability to create change from inside have been promptly dashed when Beijing’s appointed figures invented a brand new rule they used to retroactively disqualify all political opponents from workplace. 

Then legal guidelines have been launched threatening these even suspected of dissent with mainland extradition, inflicting one other large uproar in addition to heightened violence between protestors, police and (it was rumored) gangsters employed to tough up agitating residents. The notorious 2020 Nationwide Safety Legislation additional launched “all the instruments of a police state [to] put Hong Kong in handcuffs,” says Chris Patten, the territory’s final Governor below British oversight. 

Journalists have been now brazenly focused, protestors labeled “terrorists,” and their leaders threatened with deportation, imprisonment or worse. Bookending “Afraid” are scenes that present the quietly well-spoken Legislation (speaking English, like practically everybody right here) being interviewed in some empty constructing inside, whereabouts unknown for safety causes. He has trigger to worry kidnapping. Extraordinarily broad latest decrees would rubber-stamp that or another technique of placing “radicals” on trial for absolutely anything that might be construed as anti-state, punishable by incarceration as much as “life.” There’s a easy motive Legislation is the principle determine right here: Chow and Wong, in addition to many different activists who didn’t flee in time, are both in jail or muzzled post-release. Overt defiance has been largely, and actually, exiled.

As in “Joshua,” all that is instructed in a fast-paced combine of private memory (together with from choose exterior press and political figures), handheld cellphone footage, and worldwide TV information reportage. The sum impact is simply as partaking — solely quite than thrilling religion within the particular person’s skill to generate change, the course of historical past right here reveals individuality floor below by a seemingly omnipotent state. On the finish, Nathan Legislation remains to be an lively voice of resistance, however admits struggling “survivor guilt” even in remaining at liberty to take action. 

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