TArtist Ai Weiwei is shaping up to be a fiercely productive documentary maker, with two other film credits this year: Vivos, about the kidnapping of protesting students in Mexico, and CoroNation, about the spread of Covid-19 in and from Wuhan. But here is your dynamic and visually stunning Cockroach. Aside from everything else, it’s a spectacular action movie that begins with a jaw-dropping shot: a Hong Kong protester on a rooftop is cornered by police and, in an attempt to escape, tries to climb down the unstable scaffolding in the front of the building, with other protesters at street level shouting their alarm. The result is amazing.
Cockroach is about the passionate pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, which was sparked by the introduction of the Fugitive Criminals Amendment Bill by Hong Kong’s pro-Chinese government in 2019, exposing protesters to extradition to Mainland China and effectively destroying that 50-year minimum of judicial independence and autonomy promised to the people of Hong Kong in the 1997 handover. “Cockroaches” is how the protesters feel they are viewed by the Chinese authorities: their proud sense of Democratic independence is viewed as ridiculously irrelevant by an increasingly belligerent national government, and the same is true of human rights. A banner proclaims that they are on the same path as Tibet and the Uighurs, and that all of Hong Kong will be a scorched earth monument to Beijing’s new obsession with alpha dog nationalism.
Ai has an extraordinarily daring team of camera operators filming 4K digital video, right in the middle of the sick violence on the streets and flying overhead with drones. (This use of drones, which is becoming a cliché in all types of film and television production, is perfectly justified, with impressive aerial shots that give an idea of the scope of the protests and the dramatic and tragic dimension of the imposed tyranny. ) The staggering scenes of violent repression show you something that the late night TV news shows don’t show much, and perhaps nothing now that Covid has flooded our attention: the Hong Kong protests are the most important mass protest since Paris 1968, or perhaps Paris 1832.
The protesters have been galvanized by the brutal and chilling imposition of brutal and inhuman power, and the protesters are very often apolitical types who have been deprived of what we perhaps take very lightly: their freedom. They have to wear black clothing and masks (sometimes gas masks) to avoid being identified or inhaling tear gas, and they strangely look like an anti-police army, which is also wildly anonymous. A couple of shots show the strange label affixed to the butts of the officers’ rifles: “LESS LETHAL.” Will they tire, sometime soon, of their phasers-at-stun approach and smash some other rifles marked “MOST LETHAL”?
Cucaracha is easily as good as Human Flow, Ai Weiwei’s excellent 2017 film about migrants, and it is something to set alongside Cheryl Haines and Gina Lebrecht’s 2019 documentary Ai Weiwei: Yours Truly, about the installation that he so directed. remote in the Alcatraz prison building, while under house arrest in Beijing. The cockroach has the same spectacular visual sense and the same fierce commitment.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.