TEN YEARS Shook Up Hong Kong and Won Big at the Box Office. Is It Now Being Silenced?
Two films, one theater. Film A is the newest widely anticipated chapter of an internationally iconic space epic, one of the biggest series in cinema history.
Film B is a low-budget, jarringly polemical look at a society’s future, likely made for less than Film A’s collective lunch spread budget.
So, you’re asked to take a gamble on which will do better. You’d bet the house on A, right?
Sometimes, just when we think we’ve got it figured out, when we think we’ve seen it all and have the formulas down pat, the world of box office prognostication shakes up all over again.
Released in Hong Kong theaters December 17, TEN YEARS, takes a look at Hong Kong circa 2025 through a series of five vignettes. The film, armed with a budget of barely over $77,000 U.S., has both stormed the box office and become the talk of the town.
“Extras” portrays government officials as a ruthless cabal, overseeing an assassination plot tied to a National Security Law agenda. In “Dialect,” a Cantonese taxi driver is ostracized by societal oppression, as the government cracks down sharply on drivers who don’t speak the native Putonghua, or Mandarin. “Self-Immolator” features citizens who starve to death, commit public suicide, and face vicious beatings fighting for Hong Kong independence. “Season of the End” and “Local Egg” take on a couple’s obsession with the remnants of destroy homes, and ruthless governmental agriculture policies, respectfully.
Lighthearted blockbuster fare, it ain’t. Yet over the last two months, TEN YEARS, an edgy underdog if there ever was one, has blossomed into that elusive, unpredictable rarity: the true sleeper.
With its unflinching examination of difficult issues, the film has resonated with audiences at a powerful level, shocking even the film’s makers.
Now, though, TEN YEARS may be facing theatrical extradition from its country.
A Provocative Sleeper, Fueled by Fire
“HK$500,000 in cost, and more than HK$5 million in box office – ten times – can that be said to be a miracle?”, director Chow Kwun-wai posited to the Hong Kong Free Press on February 3. Per several sources, including Time Out Hong Kong, TEN YEARS outsold much-awaited STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS at Hong Kong’s Broadway Cinematheque upon release.
The impact of TEN YEARS’ sleeper success has garnered attention beyond Hong Kong. A January 21 CNN.com piece examines the film’s surprise success and resonance with audiences. Speaking to 34-year-old director/producer Ng Ka-leung, CNN writer James Griffiths notes that:
Ng said that he spoke to Hong Kongers from all walks of society for the project, and when he asked them about the future, “I saw flames in their eyes, it’s like they’re filled with energy.” “We caught that passion and decided to put it on the screen.”
An Abrupt End, Or Just the Beginning?
As of today TEN YEARS has, per a Radio Free Asia report, been abruptly removed from Hong Kong cinemas. According to the article, “movie houses in the former British colony have mysteriously dropped [TEN YEARS] in spite of massive success at the box office.”
Flames can fan in many directions. A truly provocative film, once in a blue moon, has the capability to inspire audiences, fuel discussion, and, too, create backlash. TEN YEARS has unmistakably ignited something powerful within not just Hong Kong movie culture, but society at large: For this movie, it appears, the fire is just beginning to burn.