Can a flashy, action-packed PR video by HK police win them new supporters?

21-Jan-2021 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

A dramatic promotional video aimed at giving a public relations boost to Hong Kong’s embattled police force is getting a sceptical reception even before its release this weekend in a city where many remain resentful about law-enforcement action during the 2019 anti-government protests.

The flashy production that shows elite officers racing to rescue people taken hostage during a simulated terrorist attack was a waste of taxpayer dollars and an attempt to whitewash the force’s past failures, according to critics. They pointed to the force’s absence during a brutal mob attack on people in an MTR station that left dozens injured that summer.

In the works since last August, the video has some of the hallmarks of a big-budget action movie, depicting heavily armed officers taking on terrorists who are threatening to carry out a range of attacks, including detonating a bomb and killing the hundreds of hostages.

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Against the backdrop of some of the city’s most iconic locations, the trailer shows squads of officers shepherding frightened residents to safety, rappelling down from a helicopter onto the roof of the convention centre and advancing on the terrorists, automatic weapons firing as thundering music climaxes.

It also features Police Commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung and his deputy Raymond Siu Chak-yee and highlights officers from the Counter Terrorism Response Unit and the Special Duties Unit.

The director, Dante Lam Chiu-yin, was behind the hugely successful Operation Red Sea, which was partly inspired by a Chinese military evacuation mission carried out in Yemen and ranks as the fifth-highest-grossing movie in mainland China.

“We hope you can appreciate the police’s professionalism on screen and feel our aspiration to safeguard the city,” the force wrote on its Facebook page as it released the trailer for the production. The cost was not disclosed.

A police source said the force hoped to display its persistence in protecting Hong Kong, despite a campaign by opponents to smear officers during the social unrest.

But whether the effort will change minds remains to be seen. A university scholar, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the matter, said people across society had already formed their own impression of the police and a promotional video was unlikely to influence their opinion.

“Those who have experience in 2019 would not believe in the film based on their own personal experience and other video clips they have already seen in the past,” he said, referring to the months-long anti-government protests that erupted in June that year in response to a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Unless there were “groundbreaking structural changes”, such as an investigation into certain controversial incidents during the unrest or a new chief executive taking office, he expected the video would only appeal to existing police supporters.

He said the video served to reinforce the authorities’ narrative that Hong Kong had been hit by home-grown terrorism, foreign influence and disinformation, three backbones of the plot. The city adopted a Beijing-imposed national security law in June last year that bans secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Former Civil Human Rights Front convenor Sammy Ip Chi-hin said the video stood in sharp contrast to how “incapable” police were in real life. He noted the force failed to deploy anything like the depicted manpower when about 100 white-clad men armed with metal poles and wooden sticks attacked protesters and commuters inside Yuen Long MTR station on July 21, 2019, leaving at least 45 injured.

Two police officers briefly reached the scene, but backed away and only intervened after reinforcements arrived 39 minutes later. By then, the attackers had fled. In response, the force said it was stretched thin by a protest on Hong Kong Island the same night. Eventually, at least 63 people were arrested over the incident, including both white-clad men and protesters.

Ip also criticised the force for using public money to win over support.

“The force is telling everyone how powerful and equipped the police are, but they could not even handle the attack at the MTR. Or are they trying to say they intended not to?” Ip said. “It’s weird that Hong Kong people have to see their professionalism only on screen.”

One of the people attacked that night was 24-year-old Calvin So, who suffered injuries to his hands and shoulders, and severe ones to his back. He described the attack as the “turning point” when some in Hong Kong began to lose trust in the police.

“The video is of no use, because one doesn’t just go around telling people to trust him in order to win that trust. Something has to be done to convince people,” So said.

The chair of the Junior Police Officers’ Association, Lam Chi-wai, said the promotional video reflected the situation officers faced in real life and was aimed at better conveying the force’s mission.

“The scenes display how world-class police training, equipment and management are,” Lam said. “I think this movie can restore people’s confidence in police if they have ever questioned the city’s law and order during the social unrest.”

In an interview with the Post last November, police chief Tang said tackling the “smearing” of the force and restoring its reputation would be among the biggest challenges ahead. Police would engage with the community more so people could gain a more thorough understanding of their work, he said.

The force will invite more than 80 guests to the premier of the video at police headquarters on Thursday before its official release on Saturday. governmental functions are exempted from the limit on public gatherings to two people introduced to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.


Category: Hong Kong

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