Hong Kong 'Rick and Morty' fans spot protest codes in new episode
The animated characters Rick and Morty present onstage at the 70th Emmy Awards in Los Angeles in 2018 KEVIN WINTER GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP

Eagle-eyed Hong Kong fans of the adult cartoon sitcom "Rick and Morty" have spotted oblique references to the city's democracy movement in the latest episode of the cult sci-fi show.

"Final DeSmithation", the fifth episode of the sixth season, aired on Sunday and featured a characteristically chaotic storyline involving an imprisoned alien making fortune cookies.

Towards the climax a series of numbers and letters flash up on the screen that, to the uninitiated, might look random.

But the codes -- GFHG19SDGM, 721DLLM and 19HK831 -- were quickly seized on by Hong Kongers who spotted and explained their significance this week on Reddit and the local forum LIHKG.

The first is widely used as shorthand for the Cantonese protest chant "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" -- a slogan that has since been declared illegal in the Chinese financial hub.

The other two reference significant dates in the 2019 pro-democracy protest movement -- namely a July 21 attack on protesters by government supporters, and police beating democracy supporters inside a subway station on August 31.

DLLM is also internet shorthand for the most popular curse in Hong Kong -- an insult to the recipient's mother -- which was frequently shouted by police and protesters at each other.

"Thank you to the producers of Rick and Morty," wrote one user under a post on LIHKG that had received nearly 5,000 upvotes.

Others fretted the episode might get removed in Hong Kong, which has embraced greater censorship since the 2019 protests.

"If this receives exposure and the company kowtows, someone might lose their job," one user wrote.

Created by Cartoon Network's nighttime programming block Adult Swim, "Rick and Morty" has become a cult hit.

The show centers around a selfish, alcoholic grandfather who takes his grandson on bizarre interdimensional adventures.

It is distributed internationally by Warner Brothers and is currently viewable in Hong Kong on HBO Go.

AFP contacted both Adult Swim and Warner Brothers for comment but did not receive a reply.

Hong Kong's 2019 democracy protests raged for months but were eventually quelled, and China has responded with a widespread crackdown that has transformed the once-outspoken city.

Censorship laws have been strengthened, with multiple films and documentaries failing to get clearance although the city does not currently have the same level of restrictions as the Chinese mainland.

© 2022 AFP