‘Denise Ho: Becoming the Song’ Review: Pop With a Message

“Denise Ho: Becoming the Song” is an inspiring documentary driven by an unwavering belief in the ability of people — particularly young people — to create the world they want to live in. The film, directed by Sue Williams and available through virtual cinemas, maps the life and career of the Cantopop singer Denise Ho, who has used her platform to become one of the more influential pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. Her story may be of particular note at this moment, as China’s new security law imposes more restrictions on the region.

Ho’s parents left Hong Kong for Montreal in 1988, four years after Britain and China settled on a joint-agreement that would hand the territory over to China in 1997, but allow it to retain autonomy. They feared Beijing’s encroachment and wanted to raise Ho and her older brother in a different environment. In Montreal, Ho became inspired by Anita Mui, an early Cantopop star (often referred to as the Madonna of the East) who was also a pro-democracy activist and nurtured the values Ho says made her the person she is today.

Ho moved back to Hong Kong in 1996 after winning a singing competition there. But success did not come immediately: “The record companies, they just didn’t know what to do with me and I wasn’t ready to conform to what they expected,” she says in the film. Ho spent the next couple of decades trying to lean into her full self, a journey the film parallels with Hong Kong’s continued fight for self determination. She eventually came out as lesbian, joined the pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 and faced both arrest and significant commercial backlash as a result. These setbacks didn’t stop Ho, who with grace and humility leaned on community support to continue making music to galvanize those around her.

The film does an excellent job of introducing the pop star to unfamiliar audiences, contextualizing her activism and, more broadly, examining the role art can play in shaping our beliefs.

Denise Ho: Becoming the Song

Not rated. In English and Cantonese, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 23 minutes. Watch on KinoMarquee.com.

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