The four young activists in the documentary Faceless remain anonymous, but their courage and determination shine brightly nonetheless. They represent a generation willing to risk everything in their fight for a democratic Hong Kong.
‘If you want to grow,’ the anonymous activist known as The Believer says towards the end of the documentary Faceless, ‘you move forward despite confusion and uncertainty. You don’t persevere because there is hope, you have hope because you persevere.’
The last few years, the people of Hong Kong have demonstrated an unbelievable level of perseverance. When Hong Kong was freed from British colonial rule in 1997, it was agreed that it would be governed by the principle of ‘One Nation, Two Systems’. This meant that although Hong Kong was to become part of China, it would get a pathway to democracy, a separate local government, free speech and independent courts.
However, the last few years have seen many attempts by China to curtail the freedoms of Hongkongers. In 2019, more than one million people took to the streets during months-long protests against the Extradition Bill, that would allow extraditions to mainland China.
In Faceless, Jennifer Ngo’s impressive account of the protests, we follow four young participants, who all remain anonymous behind masks. They are simply known as The Student, The Artist, The Believer and The Daughter. And although they are very different individuals, they are equally determined to fight for democracy in Hong Kong.
The Artist is a young woman who goes out at night to fill the walls of the Hong Kong streets and subways with her guerrilla art. ‘We have no choice,’ she says. ‘We don’t know what else to do.’ For her, the fact that she is queer is an extra motivation to oppose Chinese rule. The Student went to the protests as a photographer. He was raised to stay out of politics: ‘My parents want me to ignore the outside world,’ he says, ‘stay a-political.’
The Believer is a young man who finds strength in his Christian faith. ‘Faith should not be confined within the walls of a church. It should manifest its power in society and on the streets,’ he says. ‘I believe many Hongkongers now realise that if we don’t stand up to protect our home, nobody else will.’ The Daughter has that pseudonym because her father is a police officer. ‘My father and I have different political views,’ she says. ‘As a police officer, it’s hard for him to grab the concept of civil disobedience.’ Her choices in life put her at odds with her father, and she is heartbroken about it.
Despite the massive protests of the last decade, the Chinese repression of Hong Kong continues to grow almost daily. On 1 July 2020, Beijing passed a National Security Law for Hong Kong, which drastically curtails democratic and personal freedoms. ‘I feel like the survivor of a citywide disaster,’ a downhearted Student says at the end of Faceless. ‘I feel like there’s nothing I can do. Technically, there’s no PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder], because there’s no “post”. The trauma continues.’
The Daughter is more optimistic, however. She dreams of a day when the protesters no longer need to hide themselves. ‘One day,’ she says, ‘we’ll no longer need to cover ourselves. We’ll finally see each other’s faces. We’ll all count 3, 2, 1 and tear off our gas masks. Then we’ll say: “Oh, that’s who you are!”’
Faceless is shown at the Movies that Matter Festival 2022. The four activists from the film will not be able to come, but Hong Kong human rights defender Samuel Cho will visit to talk about the situation in Hong Kong.