From the Queen to the Chief Executive

Reviewed by YTSL

The existence of this 2001 Herman Yau helmed effort first came to my attention when I read about the socio-political drama’s having been yanked out of its Hong Kong International Film Festival opening slot (in favor of Yon Fan’s undoubtedly more visually lush and less controversial “The Peony Pavilion”).  After viewing this well made – and, more importantly, genuinely moving – work, the fact of the action having arisen from a bureaucratic technicality (with the authorities objecting to its already having had its international premiere elsewhere in the world) seems rather ironic; what with this very personal feeling offering being one which seeks to focus attention on the sorry plight of seventeen juvenile offenders who had been sentenced under a problematic ruling that caused them to be “detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure” (i.e., for an indefinite period of time) and continue to be victims of ill thought-out legal regulations in post Handover Hong Kong.

The makers of FROM THE QUEEN TO THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE take the stance that “Juvenile offenders are not trash”, “Human rights are not meant to be stepped on” and “Prisoners are humans too”.  Some people might hold such opinions to be rather self-evident but there are others who do not.  Among the latter group are those who believe that only “animals” commit the more heinous crimes of murder and gang rape that certain of this film’s incarcerated juvenile offenders were found guilty of having been involved in carrying out.  There also are those who share the expressed sentiment of one of the prison guards in this movie that not much mercy ought be tendered to the jailed individuals who haven’t spared sufficient amounts of thought for the families of their victims as well as felt real remorse for having committed the criminal acts that caused them to land in their trying situation.  Whatever their reason for having the viewpoint on this matter that they do, it is illuminating to (additionally) learn that:  Despite evidence for 1 in 4 Hong Kongers apparently being and/or related to convicts and/or ex-cons, an estimated 60% of the East Asian territory’s populace are in favor of there being a death penalty; and that in lieu of such not currently existing in the HKSAR’s legal books, the most damning sentence there probably entails being “detained at the Chief Executive’s discretion”.

In electing to make a case for why “We object to endless imprisonment”, Herman Yau and co. were therefore swimming against the tide of popular local opinion.  To their credit, they -- who include scriptwriter Elsa Chan, executive producer Nam Yin and presenter (i.e., producer?) Charles Heung -- didn’t try to bring people over to their point of view by going for the easy option of focusing FROM THE QUEEN TO THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE on a wrongly incarcerated innocent and/or entirely saintly activists.  Instead, the film’s three all-too-human major characters – two of which are based on real life persons -- are:  A youth who was involved in the perpetuating of a particularly brutal as well as infamous set of crimes (David Lee gives a sensitive portrayal of Cheung Yau Ming, AKA prisoner #67544); someone whose childhood experiences -- some of which took place in “wooden shack district”, post her arrival from Mainland China – are the sort that often lead to people being unhappy for all of their life (Ai-jing deserves to be commended for her mature performance as Cheung Yue Ling); and an idealistic activist, liable to neglect his family in favor of stubbornly taking up unpopular causes as well as seeing to mundane welfare matters (Stephen Tang is very convincing as Councillor Leung Chung Ken).
Cheung Yue Ling first learns of the existence of Cheung Yau Ming after he bests her in a writing competition.  Curious as to what this fellow would be like in person upon learning that he was a Shek Pik Prison inmate, she goes and pays him a jail visit.  Although he – who had (already) been incarcerated for twelve years at that point in time -- had not had much practice talking to a female, conversation is easy between the two Open University students until she asks him how long more he will be a convict.  Unable to provide a concrete answer, he initially does not give any answer.  Only later, does he tell her – in a letter -- of his – and twenty-two others – being in a purgatory-type limbo situation.  After doing some independent research on the matter, Yue Ling goes to Councillor Leung Chung Ken and makes him aware of the particular plight of the juvenile offenders “detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure” (along with the human rights violation that arose from the existing bureaucratic legal system making it illegal for them to appeal against not having fixed term sentences).
With only six months remaining of the existence of the legislative body of which he is a member (due to its being due to be abolished and replaced by another upon Hong Kong’s ceasing to be a British Crown Colony), Councillor Leung realizes that there is not much time left for him to be able to act to remedy the uncertain situation of the detainees.  Enlisting the aid of the prisoners’ families, he goes and publicly campaigns for the length of the youths’ prison terms to be specified by Governor Chris Patten (the Queen’s chief decision-maker in Hong Kong).  Over the course of doing so, Councillor Leung is made aware – by his staff members (none of whom are particularly enthused about his deciding to champion this particular cause bar for his new assistant, Yue Ling), wife, child, constituents and fellow councillors – that this particular cause is not one that many people feel sympathy for.  It doesn’t help that that instead of looking at the juvenile inmates and thinking that “there but for the grace of God go I” (the way that Yue Ling does), a large number of their fellow humans are more likely to think that a minimum of twenty years of jail time may already be much better than the committers of (often deadly) violence deserve.
Prior to viewing FROM THE QUEEN TO THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE, I did not know one thing about the specific situation that this film’s cast and crew look to have considered their duty to cast light on.  Neither did I possess any knowledge of the bloody events that really did take place on Braemar Hill back in 1985 (that this piece of investigative cinema did not shirk from detailing).  Herman Yau and co.’s achievement lies not only in making this (re)viewer aware of them but also caring much about the people whose lives they impact.  Unless they are terribly uncaring of others, I have little doubt that others who do decide to check out this admirably humane as well as generally praiseworthy offering will be similarly impacted.

My rating for this film:  9.

I just want to add a second very strong recommendation for this film. Hong Kong film is not particularly well known for delving into social and political issues, but this small budgeted but powerful film shows no hesitation and a great deal of heart in taking on an issue that certainly is not an easy one to come to grips with. The film approaches it in a restrained, near documentary fashion, but still manages to create empathy for all the characters and generates a massive emotional punch by the end. It is as of this writing (9/01) my favorite HK film of the year.

My rating for this film: 8.5

DVD Information:

Distributed by China Star

The transfer looks quite weak - almost muddy at times with no sharpness and dull colors.


Cantonese and Mandarin language tracks.

8 Chapters

The subtitles are Chinese or English or none.

There is a trailer for this film - but for no others.

There is a 3-minute Making of section with no English subs.