by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: 少年/Facebook
ALTHOUGH THERE have been several short fiction films about the 2019 Hong Kong protests, such as “Night is Young” and “Lost Pearl,” May You Stay Forever Young (少年) is perhaps the first full-length fiction film to address this tumultuous time in recent Hong Kong history. Given increasing censorship in Hong Kong, as with protest documentary Revolution of Our Times, May You Stay Forever Young could only see nationwide theatrical release in Taiwan. The film was in the running for “Best New Director” and “Best Editing” at the 58th Golden Horse Awards. Though it won neither, it did win the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema award at the Golden Horse Film Festival in 2021.
The film takes place in July 2019 and focuses on a group of young Hong Kong protestors’ attempt to stop one of their own from taking her own life. In particular, a phenomenon that began to take place during the 2019 protests was young protestors taking their own lives by jumping off buildings, driven by a sense of despair about Hong Kong’s future–but also a hope that their deaths could have some impact on the protests.
May You Stay Forever Young is not a perfect film, featuring a cast large enough that not every character can be fully fleshed out and an ending that is perhaps too reliant on deus ex machina. Nevertheless, the film has a strong script, managing to carry on character interactions in a naturalistic manner.
No particularly compelling character emerges from the film’s narrative. YY, the young college student who hopes to take her own life, is presented as innocent but also willing to stand up for her beliefs. YY is perhaps supposed to be a character representative of Hong Kong young people as a whole.
The film’s characters may aim to be a representative sampling of various protestor archetypes. Ah-nan, the main character, is a brash and aggressive “frontliner”. Two other characters, Brother Fai and Sister Fai, a pair of siblings, are “parents”—referring to drivers that ferry protestors needing to escape from clashes with police with their cars. Another character is a social worker, seeing as social workers played a key role in the Hong Kong protestors. Nevertheless, these characters may more aim to represent Hong Kong society as a whole rather than to stand out in their individuality.
May You Stay Forever Young is able to capture well the dynamics of Hong Kong society during the 2019 protests, in which participants were easily recognizable by their black clothing, and society fragmented into those supportive of protestors and those against them. Likewise, young protestors that were active in the demonstrations were often operating anonymously, without revealing their true identities, and participating despite disapproving or unsupportive parents.
Indeed, May You Stay Forever Young also documents the dynamics of the nameless crowdsourced mutual aid networks that played a key role during the protests. In the course of this, protestors were often passing on information through Telegram groups about police movements, to try and pass on needed protest supplies, and etc. In the case of protestors thought to be at risk of suicide, this often proved similar.
May You Stay Forever Young suggests that protestors have, in some way, found a family among themselves even when driven out by parents or facing a hostile society. The film also suggests the splits among protest participants between the more aggressive frontliners and peaceful demonstrators in some scenes, notably in a scene where the group tries to break down a door, but also depicts the spirit of cooperation between protestors willing to engage in the use of violence and those who were not.
To this extent, one can point to a thematic overlap between May You Stay Forever Young and some of the protest documentaries on the 2019 protests. Taking Back the Legislature, for example, also concerned itself with the issue of collective decision-making versus the decisions of individuals to sacrifice themselves for a greater cause regarding the attempted occupation of the Hong Kong Legislative Council on July 1st, 2019. This is spotlighted with regards to YY’s suicide attempt, as well as the choice of the protagonist group of protestors to focus on searching for YY instead of traveling to participate in direct protest actions taking place concurrently.
Otherwise, May You Stay Forever Young maintains a steady sense of pacing, even if the film’s conclusion may fall into melodrama, and its young protagonists are excellently acted. A particular accomplishment of the film is mixing actual footage of the Hong Kong protests into fictional footage from the film’s storyline, and more stylized scenes set during protests that would have been infeasible to film in an increasingly authoritarian environment.
As a film concerned with such recent events, then, May You Stay Forever Young stands out by situating its plot as an event that occurs as part of the larger macrocosm of the 2019 protests, zooming in on a small group of individuals in the larger historical tableau. The film is significant as a fictionalized depiction of this moment in time, then.