This film could not be more timely. Just days ago the Chinese government passed a repressive national security law that essentially kills the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. I was probably watching this documentary at the same time it was happening. I’ll admit, I know nothing about Cantopop music. And I’d never heard of Denise Ho before I saw this film, but I’m a huge fan now. Not for her music, though some of it is quite beautiful, but for her heroic sacrifice in the name of democracy for Hong Kong. Denise Ho: Becoming the Song is the story of her rise to stardom alongside the story of Hong Kong’s history post-British rule, the creeping power grab by Beijing, and Ho’s evolution from pop star to activist. She’s truly an inspiration.
Ho was born in Hong Kong, but her parents left in 1988, shortly after the British agreed to hand it over to the Chinese in 1997. She was raised in Montreal and wanted to be a singer from early on. She was particularly enamored of Cantopop Queen Anita Mui, and when she returned to Hong Kong in 1996, after winning a singing contest she eventually finagled her way into Hui’s circle and talked her into becoming her mentor. It was a beautiful relationship and Ho eventually became a huge star on her own. But when there were signs that Hong Kong could be losing ground to Beijing, Ho went out in the streets and used her celebrity to push the Umbrella Movement’s agenda. She also came out about the same time as a lesbian, becoming a hero in the LGBT community.
But what is inspiring about her is that she knew her activism could have a detrimental impact on her career and she did it anyway. As Beijing cracked down on the protests in Hong Kong, her very public support and presence caused her sponsors to pull out, and she was banned from performing or selling her music in Mainland China, dealing a devastating blow to her financially. But she didn’t back down. She spoke to the UN, to the US Congress, to anyone who would listen, and continued to march with the movement. She’s still performing wherever she can. And she still has a huge international fanbase, many of whom are Hongkongers who love her even more for her unwavering activism. It’s an inspiring film, well worth seeing. You’ll learn about the history of Hong Kong and about a woman who put herself on the line for something she believes in.
It’s streaming now in virtual cinemas. Check this list for one near you.