Ten Years, a film which portrays a dystopian future Hong Kong under tight Chinese Communist Party control, has been a hit in Hong Kong and abroad, selling out cinemas, sparking discussions and being screened at international film festivals. But Chinese state media has criticised the film and that has aroused new concern about mainland influence over Hong Kong despite a "one country, two systems" formula meant to preserve the city's autonomy.
Ten Years is a series of five short films packaged as a feature-length show. Set in the year 2025, the film includes scenes of a self-immolation in front of Hong Kong's British Consulate and an assassination attempt in a city election. The scenes, while fictional, underscore tension simmering between mainland China and the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
The film has been nominated for Best Picture at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Hong Kong's equivalent of the Oscars, with the winners due to be announced on 3 April. Its makers say their project began before pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in late 2014 that exacerbated longstanding concern in the city about creeping mainland control.
Ten Years Producer Andrew Choi said: "I think it kind of reflects that the China government doesn't really understand what Hong Kong people are thinking. And I think they should watch the film and get a better understanding of what the Hong Kong people are feeling right now, instead of just banning all the screenings and even the film awards."
China's state-controlled Global Times denounced Ten Years in a January editorial as absurd and pessimistic and accused it of being a "thought virus". Soon after, screenings of the film stopped in Hong Kong cinemas. Cinema operators told the film-makers they could no longer show it because of scheduling issues. But some people doubted that explanation.
Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts, School of Film and Television Chairman Shu Kei said: "Ten Years has been breaking all kinds of box office records. Almost every single show at any theatre it was being shown, [it] was full. But even with that smashing record, suddenly the cinema would tell the film makers that 'no, we are not going to book the film'."
One of the five directors, Jevon Au, said that before the controversy surrounding Ten Years, he had believed in one country, two systems, whereby Hong Kong retains a high degree of autonomy and upholds freedoms not enjoyed on the Chinese mainland.
"I still believe in one country, two system. But nowadays I really doubt it. That's my thought. I really doubt. Hong Kong is not really part of China. Not, it's really part of China. And the two system does not work. I believe freedom of speech," said Au.
Just days before the Film Awards, speculation is swirling that the show will not be broadcast in the mainland because of the Best Picture nomination for Ten Years. Media in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the United States have reported that state-run China Central Television and the Chinese social media and online entertainment company Tencent, which have the rights to broadcast the awards, have decided not to beam it to the mainland. Ten Years was made on a budget of HK$500,000 (£45,600, $66,000) by an essentially volunteer crew. It made more than HK$6m (£553,000, $800,000) in box office receipts.