When your usual way of life is threatened by forces that are too powerful and big for you to battle, what would you do? Would you sit in a corner and allow these forces to overwhelm you, or would you push back and try to fight it, no matter the cost? This is the main theme of a new docu-drama called Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower, which premiered in Netflix on Friday, May 26. It tackled the events that have unfolded in Hong Kong — which has existed as an independent territory of the People’s Republic of China — now that it has been handed back to the Chinese after the British relinquished their hold on the territory back in 1997.
Hong Kongers who were used to Western systems of governance that allowed social and political freedom are worried about how their lives will be impacted after communist China regained control of the city.
For instance, Beijing promised that Hong Kong will live under the “one country, two systems decree.” This decree would supposedly pave the way for a gradual transition of power to the Chinese authorities and ensure that Hong Kong would still function with autonomy for the next 50 years. However, new rules that set to undermine Hong Kong’s existing freedoms have already been put in place, such as the National Education program — which its critics called pro-mainland propaganda — due to its censorship of historical events like the Tianenmen Square Protests in 1989, in which students spearheaded massive demonstrations to protest the state of the government then, and which led to the massacre of many young lives. The National Education program also graded students based on how loyal to the state they are deemed by their teachers.
The main character is 15-year-old Joshua Wong, a small and scrawny teenager who is gifted with the excellent talent of public speaking. He used this talent to express his views regarding Hong Kong education, and how its standards should be set without interference by Hong Kong — now Chinese — authorities.
“I want to know, where are the adults? No matter what the price, we can’t dump this on the next generation. This generation must complete our mission!”
Wong’s shouts were evident of his beliefs, making him the voice of the people who were too young to be aware of the curtailment to their freedoms or were too scared to speak up in protest of such restrictions.
“We demand the government withdraw National Education. We can’t have Communist China dictating what is taught in Hong Kong schools,” Wong said, noting that mainland China is propagating “brainwashing curriculum.” (Related: Hong Kong citizens protest against government brainwashing while American citizens embrace Communist ideals.)
The documentary followed Wong’s actions and the rise of the movement that he founded in 2012 called Scholarism as it gained international fame. The reactions and responses of Beijing-backed Hong Kong chief executive CY Leung — who was appointed by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 — to Scholarism and Wong’s movements were also recorded.
Wong, for all his activist efforts, has been thrown in jail in Thailand, banned in Malaysia, and was physically hurt at the Hong Kong International Airport. However, he refused to give up, saying, “It’s still necessary for us to move on and continue to strike, to be ready to fight for democracy with the involvement of the young generation, especially since we are the generation born after the Handover.”
Joe Piscatella, the director of the documentary, captured Wong’s struggles and hardships beautifully – from the powerful rally speeches to the violent clash with policemen to the heartfelt behind-the-scenes interviews; one is riveted by a teenager’s quest for social justice, for personal identity, and for fighting for what he believes is right.
Piscatella, who presented a play-by-play historical documentary, said the film can appear as interesting as a no-nonsense, well-sourced, and highly-researched news report, but that its emotional takeaway is heavy, as it is something that can tug at people’s heartstrings.
Wong is, as some people will say, a modern-day revolutionary. One interviewee compared him to Joan of Arc, saying, “The youngster who can see the world clearly, and is not as jaded as adults, comes into a complicated adult conflict and clarifies. Wong fits that template. He is taking on literally the largest country in the world. He did it because it was the right thing to do. There was a sense of innocence that actually made people identify with it. That innocence also made the parents’ generation somewhat ashamed that they had to leave these young kids to be fighting out there for this.”
In an interview with GQ.com, Wong said his favorite superhero is Spiderman and that his favorite quote from the movie is “With great power comes great responsibility.” With an idol who believes in putting others before one’s own self-interests, and having been compared to a woman-turned-knight who brimmed with passion for a cause, it is no wonder Wong is a superhero in his own right.
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