EIFF 2021: Faceless

Documentary Faceless, from award-winning journalist Jennifer Ngo, explores Hong Kong’s 2019 pro-democracy movement from the point of view of four young activists on the ground

Film Review by Xuanlin Tham | 02 Sep 2021
  • Faceless
Film title: Faceless
Director: Jennifer Ngo

The summer of 2019: the citizens of Hong Kong pour into the streets dressed in black, their faces hidden behind masks. Two million voices protest against the Extradition Bill that permits offenders to face trial in China with a 99.9% chance of conviction. “Withdraw the Extradition Bill! Give us back our freedom!”

Directed by award-winning journalist Jennifer Ngo, Faceless centres on the lives of four Hong Kong citizens – The Student, The Artist, The Believer and The Daughter. Alluding to the need for anonymity to avoid arrest, these names also foreground the individual lives that come together in mass political struggle.

Interviews with the four protestors reveal their stories: a desire to protect democracy for future generations, fear of what the bill means for LGBTQ+ Hongkongers, and a search for truth led by religious faith. Juxtaposing the individual against the systemic, these personal reflections are interspersed with scenes of police violence.

Faceless doesn’t soften any of its blows, and the footage of protestors being brutalised by officers in riot gear is harrowing. But the documentary also spotlights the power of grassroots mobilisation – strangers run into the fray, giving each other first aid, dousing out canisters of tear gas, and distributing protective gear. “We want to democratise the methods of resistance,” The Artist says. When they disperse for the night, protestors prepare home-cooked meals for one another, nourishing the solidarity that keeps them alive – and keeps them believing that a “Hong Kong for Hongkongers” is in their grasp.

The Hong Kong pro-democracy movement has since become a blueprint for protests in the face of racial injustice, the climate crisis, and the devastation of a global pandemic. Though it’s a difficult watch, Faceless carries hard-won hope – and it’s a necessary film in an era where grassroots organisation and international solidarity is more important than ever.

Faceless had its UK premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival

Xuanlin Tham is currently studying Politics at the University of Edinburgh. In terms of criticism, Xuanlin is interested in examining film from queer, (eco)feminist, decolonial, and more-than-human lenses. Xuanlin was part of Edinburgh International Film Festival's Young Critics Programme 2021. For more on EIFF's Young Critics Programme, click here

Read more about Edinburgh International Film Festival at theskinny.co.uk/festivals/edinburgh-festivals/film, and follow our coverage on Twitter (@theskinnymag), Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheSkinnyMag) and Instagram (@theskinnymag)

Want to receive the best of the Scottish cultural scene in your inbox every week? Sign up to our mailing list!