At first glance, you may think this title is contradictory: how can a dystopia be promising? Hong Kong appears to be a miraculous metropolis trademarked by a spectacular skyline of skyscrapers that symbolize our city’s status as Asia’s financial hub. The business sector hails it as the Promised Land for investors. Yet several cyberpunk movies feature a dystopia set in Hong Kong. How can these contrasting views of this city be reconciled with each other?
Cyberpunk is a genre of science fiction characterized by an oppressed society dominated by technology. Because of the injustice that arises in a lawless society, cyberpunk is often associated with dystopia. The unusual facet of Hong Kong, chaotic visual space and the exotic, slum-like noir of urban areas, has inspired the cityscapes of many cyberpunk movies, from Blade Runner (1982) to Ghost in the Shell (the Japanese anime and the 2017 Hollywood film) to the proposed animation Dragon’s Delusion by local artist Kong Kee. These stories are set in an undesirable future where people are living in an oppressive society dominated by computer technology. It is the eccentric, paradoxical aesthetics of Hong Kong that appeal to many cyberpunk film producers.
You must have heard of the (in)famous quote from George Orwell’s 1984, ‘Big Brother is watching you.’ Orwell’s dystopian narrative is influenced by widespread concerns over extensive surveillance. It is fair to say that if utopia reflects the ideals of the contemporaries, dystopia is a reflection of their anxieties. Fear of authoritarian rule and advanced technology causes people to feel constantly watched. There is no shortage of anxieties in Hong Kong about its future, particularly now.
A dystopian Hong Kong should take credit for being the ‘beacon’ to the world. Not only do the aesthetics of the city give us this title, but Hong Konger’s sentiments do as well. Threats of Chinese control in regard to the extradition bill have caused many to fear for Hong Kong’s political independence. However, in the past few weeks Hong Kongers have inspired the rest of the world with their determination to fight. Hong Kong’s people have risen up and flooded the city center in peaceful protest. In the face of impending dystopia, Hong Kongers are fighting for a better, more promising future — perhaps a Promising Dystopia.