Written by: Adam Vaughn | July 1st, 2020
Denise Ho: Becoming the Song (Sue Williams, 2020) 3 out of 4 stars.
Director Sue Williams (Death by Design) brings the story of Cantopop star Denise Ho, her beginnings and inspiration that brought her to fame, her controversial exclusion from Hong Kong’s radio airstreams, and her part in the protests and uprisings in China against the Communist government. Immediately, Williams ties Denise Ho’s stardom to the protests, with scenes of Ho marching with thousands of Hong Kong citizens, her arrest, and the startling events of police vs. protestor. This theme holds an intense, emotional mood for the documentary that brings the tone together.
I respect and was very much moved by the presentation of Hong Kong’s revolutionary events (I predict that this film will have much relevance to a modern American audience). What I also found very fair was the film’s depiction of police actions and protest consequences, highlighting events as they played out, rather than delineating the police as “evil” or pushing a narrative through visual representation. This is reinforced by a diverse choice of interviewee subjects, including city officials, members of Denise Ho’s management and team, and protestors who were a part of the events.
As a reviewer with little prior knowledge of Denise Ho, I found Becoming the Song very informative, not only tracing Ho’s career path leading to her fight for democracy, but also on an intimate level. Learning who inspired her, what challenges and pressures she faced as an LGBTQI activist, and how her success impacted her and her family. The film very much humanizes and paints her character in an emotional way.
I did wish that Williams could have better mixed the blend of Denise Ho’s artistry and the revolutionary events of Hong Kong. To me, there were many abrupt transitions between the two themes, and it became hard to focus on Denis Ho’s individual journey as an artist while staying invested in the story of the Hong Kong protests. While I enjoyed and was impacted by both stories, I was conflicted attempting to follow two such well-researched and documented stories.