As Hong Kong heads into a 10th week of mass demonstrations against a controversial China extradition bill, facing a major political crisis, high-profile local natives Jackie Chan and Tony Leung Ka-fai have publicly thrown their weight behind Beijing over the mass protests that have swept the former British colonial outpost since March.
In an interview with Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Chan said (via Variety) it is “heartbreaking and worrying for many” to witness the gripping violence of the mass unrest, and that he supported the state TV’s campaign to protect the national flag “desecrated” by protesters. Specifically, Chan was referring to an incident in which pro-democracy protesters had thrown the flag of the People’s Republic of China into the sea.
“On one hand, I needed to express my most basic patriotism as a Hong Kong citizen and a Chinese,” Chan said. “I am also one of the flag guards. On the other hand, I hoped to express our collective voice through participating in such a campaign.”
Meanwhile, Tony Leung Ka-fai took part in a pro-police rally on June 30, where he posed with a sign reading, “Support the Police,” although he did not actually speak.
The controversial move by Chan might especially come as a surprise, given that he has long been Hong Kong’s most recognizable and influential export, launching a career that would thrive while the city was still under British colonial rule (it was handed back to China in 1997). Once considered a likely successor to Bruce Lee in Hong Kong cinema, Chan instead developed his own blended style of martial arts and screwball physical comedy which proved to be box office gold, en route to making him Hong Kong’s highest paid actor.
Leung, who burst onto the international scene after appearing in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “The Lover” (1992), is also a film industry veteran, with a career that spans almost 40 years, earning four Best Actor Hong Kong Film Awards (the Hong Kong equivalent to the Oscars).
What could be motivating both actors to take pro-Beijing positions, especially Leung, could be the box office. Leung’s most recent film, “Chasing the Dragon II” was in mainland China theaters at the time he attended the pro-police rally, where it grossed $43.6 million (RMB306 million).
However, the 65-year-old Chan may have less on the line. His output isn’t anywhere as prolific as it was during his junior years, and, according to Forbes, already boasts a net worth of around $350 million.
But Chan is certainly not new to stepping into political minefields, and has often sided with mainland Chinese government stances on a number of contentious issues. For example, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, Chan spoke out against demonstrators attempting to draw attention to several grievances against the Chinese government. And in December 2012, Chan criticized Hong Kong as a “city of protest,” suggesting that demonstrators’ rights in Hong Kong should be limited.
The current movement against a controversial law has expanded into something significantly larger. The protest has evolved to millions marching through the streets. While the majority of protestors have been peaceful, it’s clear that all sides are becoming increasingly frustrated. Protestors are now demanding greater democracy, as well as an investigation into alleged police brutality against demonstrators. And Beijing has taken an increasingly firm tone, calling the protesters “arrogant lunatics” that represent a “tiny minority,” promising “imminent punishment” to those who engage in violence.