December 17, 2020
Pro-democracy activists and police clash on the streets, captured vividly in this daring, dynamic and visually stunning documentary
Cockroach review – Ai Weiweis spectacular portrait of Hong Kong protests
The artist Ai Weiwei is emerging as a ferociously productive documentary film-maker, with two other feature credits just this year: Vivos, about the abduction of protesting students in Mexico, and CoroNation, about the spread of Covid-19 in and from Wuhan. But here is his dynamic and visually stunning Cockroach. Apart from anything else, it’s a spectacular action movie that begins with a shot that had me gasping: a Hong Kong protester on a rooftop is cornered by police and, in an attempt to escape, he tries climbing down the unstable scaffolding on the front of the building, with other protesters at street level screaming their alarm. The result is heartstopping.
Cockroach is about the passionate pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, which was triggered by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill by the pro-Chinese Hong Kong government in 2019, exposing protesters to extradition to the Chinese mainland and effectively destroying that minimum of 50 years’ judicial independence and autonomy that the Hong Kong people were promised at the 1997 handover. “Cockroaches” is how the protesters feel they are seen by the Chinese authorities: their proud sense of Democratic independence is seen as laughably irrelevant by an increasingly belligerent national government – and the same goes for any Human Rights. A banner proclaims that they are going the same way as Tibet and the Uighurs, and the whole of Hong Kong is going to be a scorched-earth monument to Beijing’s new obsession with alpha-dog nationalism.
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