The Brief Life of “To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self”

The Brief Life of “To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self”

2023-04-19 by Wendy Lau


(Source: Courtesy of Golden Scene Co. Ltd.)

“To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self”, is a coming-of-age documentary, commissioned by Ying Wa Girls School. It was pulled from cinemas after its short life on screen – 4 days altogether.

What has happened? Let’s dive in.

Despite the film’s brevity on screen, back in January, “To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self” received Best Film Award by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society (HKFCS). The film, continues to earn more fame and came under spotlight on 16th April, it won the Best Film Award at 41st Hong Kong Film Awards (HKFA), despite the controversy earlier.

The film was also nominated for best director and best film editing. At the ceremony, no clips from the film were played, Mabel Cheung, the director, was absent, co-director William Kwok went on stage to receive the award.

(Photos: Film Poster)

Mabel Cheung, the director of “To My Nineteen-Year-Old Self” is an alumna herself from Ying Wa Girls School. In the film, lives of 6 schoolgirls were followed since 2011 till 2019, which spans about 10 years in length.

The dispute has started as one of the 6 girls, Ah-Ling (who played a significant part in the film) (later joined by another) has claimed that she hasn’t agreed to the shooting over the years. Ah-Ling followed up by writing 10,000-word article published on media.

The documentary film was initially commissioned by Ying Wa as part of the school’s reconstruction project on fundraising. The film only meant for internal circulation and wasn’t intended for commercial purpose. Olympic medal-winning cyclist Sarah Lee Wai-sze also expressed her complaint that her part in the film was not consulted before the public viewing. She thought it was for internal use only.

Later, following the dispute and the film’s subsequent withdrawal from screening, Mabel Cheung made a public apology. She offered an apology to Ying Wa Girls’ School, to the students who featured in the documentary, and to others who helped with the production over the past decade. “I’ve discussed with the school … we think people are more important than the film,” Cheung said. In another occasion, she noted, “these are students I’ve loved dearly.  I sincerely regret the difficulties brought about by the project.”

(Photots: HKCNA)

To the people who have watched the film within the 4 days, they said they were impressed. They felt it’s so real and honest. To those who couldn’t make it, this could be a pity. The film takes a decade in the production, and this fate is certainly unfortunate to the crew, to Ying Wa, and to the audiences.

As one of the curious audiences, we would wish the matter could be resolved differently. What if Ying Wa, the school girls were sufficiently informed, thoroughly consulted and consents acquired? What if all parties involved were adequately compensated, say, with shared revenue from the film? Through honest talk and sincere negotiation, maybe? 

(Photos: Courtesy of Golden Scene Co. Ltd.)