Mountains and their Phantoms >

The Cold Mountain (2022-) >

Tree of Malevolence (2024)

Sextuple-channel video installation (Super 8 film transferred to digital, colour, sound)

 

“How evil do you have to be to plant a tree?”

Tree of Malevolence unfolds how ideas crystallised into ideologies, and collective banality resulted in evil deeds. Inspired by human intelligence life stories during the Cold War, the project unveils the complexity of human nature and individual agency under collectivism. 

In the multi-channel video installation, an enigmatic narrator ‘Y’ murmurs in the shadow, proceeding with her fragmented and anachronic narratives along with her missions in Hong Kong and the Canton Fair in Guangzhou. The Fair was the foremost and only occasion open to international traders in the planned economy era. Among the guests from Hong Kong, Macau and foreign countries, ‘Y’ was assigned to take charge of the country’s first-ever urban greening campaign in a public square facing the newly built Fair Centre, where the historical southern Canton city gate was once located. At the gateway to the world, ‘Y’ disguised her counterintelligence duty as a forestry officer, she had to change her name to many aliases, comply with political stances that are ever unstable, and work with anonymous fellows who could be her adversaries. As Y’s voiceover suggests, one may not intentionally do evil, but what causes such collective karmic retribution? Y’s struggle, which was against her protocol as an agent, the multiplexity of humanity urges me to question: what makes a human a human in dire strait.

When thinking about and being entangled in the dilemma between ideology and identity, a series of interviews conducted many years ago goes adrift in my mind. ‘Y’ and her partner were both undercover intelligence officers across British Hong Kong and Mainland China. Their life story came to me through the mouth of their descendant, which manifests itself and grants me the agency to face humanity. Interweaving personal testimony, interview transcript, creative writing and archival records, the research-based project unearths individuals dissolved in the reclamation of unfulfilled promise. Tree of Malevolence is a prelude to its mother project The Cold Mountain (2021-).

 

Credits:
Director and writer: LEE Kai Chung

Cast (Voice acting Talents)
Y: Wendy WO
The Old Lady: C
The Newspaper Reader: LIANG Jian-hua
‘I’: LEE Kai Chung

Production
Cinematography: LEE Kai Chung
Super 8 film: Kodak Ltd.
Super 8 film development and digitalisation: Gauge Film (UK)
Research Assistants: CHING Ue Wa, April LIU

Post-production
Editor, Colourist: LEE Kai Chung
Translation (Chinese- English): Bill LEVERETT
Chinese copyediting: SHEN Jun

Sound
Sound effects, mixing and voice-over recording technician: LEE Kai Chung

The project is commissioned by Tabula Rasa Gallery.