Archive for May, 2017

Cinémania: 2017 Hong Kong International Film Festival part one

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Human horror, Mon Mon Mon Monsters, 2017

I’ve been in Hong Kong for more than a month now on the second leg of my Fulbright Fellowship for Love Boat: Taiwan and I’ve been taking advantage of as much of the city as I can. I scheduled my visit to coincide with the start of the Hong Kong International Film Festival and I managed to catch a whole slew of screenings during the run of the festival. HKIFF has a full slate of international offerings but as an Asian film fanperson I focused mostly on films from that region, with a couple of notable exceptions.

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Koo jai, Hong Kong International Film Festival opening night, 2017

I started my HKIFF journey as a press member on the red carpet for the opening night film, Love Off The Cuff. The event was surprisingly not that glamorous, in part because the latest crop of Hong Kong movie actors don’t have the shine of the legendary performers of yore. Although Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yu, and Louis Koo added some star power, somehow Elena Kong and Stephanie Au are just not in the same league as Maggie Cheung, Chow Yun-Fat or Andy Lau.

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Susan Shaw Siu Yam-Yam kills it, Hong Kong International Film Festival opening night, 2017

The awesome Susan Shaw Siu Yam-Yam killed it on the red carpet, however, showing the young ones how it’s done.

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Anthony Wong Chau-sang up close and personal, Hong Kong International Film Festival. 2017

I also got to breathe the same air as Anthony Wong Chau-sang a bit later in the festival, so that was pretty exciting. Anthony’s definitely got some presence, and I was amused to note his beautiful manicure with clear glossy nail polish. Alas, Francis Ng was not among the stars making an appearance at the festival this year so my fangirl day of reckoning still has to wait.

Here are capsule reviews of some of the films I saw:

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Jimmy & Cherie continued, Love Off The Cuff, 2017

Love Off The Cuff, 2017, dir. Pang Ho-Cheung,This is the third installment of the popular franchise that started with Love In A Puff and continued with Love In The Buff. The film is the further adventures of Cherie and Jimmy, the on-again-off-again couple played by Miriam Yeung & Shawn Yue. Here the pair have settled down and cohabitated, but as usual they deal with issues in their romantic relationship. The film is somewhat loosely structured and banks a lot on chemistry between the two lead actors, which fortunately is very strong. Miriam and Shawn feel like they know each other intimately and they’re very comfortable together onscreen. The movie includes a lot of Pang Ho-Cheung filmmaking tics, including fantasy sequences, big rubber monsters, vulgarity and profanity, poop jokes, condom jokes, blowjob jokes, pubic hair jokes and jokes about Miriam Yeung’s glorious colored hair. Unlike Love In The Buff, which was partially set in Beijing, this film very rooted in Hong Kong, as expressed in the abundance of local slang and the familiarity with Hong Kong’s everyday culture.

The film’s need to create dramatic tension relies on a questionable misunderstanding that hinges on Cherie’s ongoing relationship anxiety, but after many years together, what seemed realistically cautious seven years ago now just feels neurotic and needy on Cherie’s part. Jimmy character has grown but Cherie’s character is stuck and unable to move on. The movie also suggests that her anxiety is all based on her ticking maternity clock, which feels a bit retro in the 21st century. All in all the film is not quite as fun and kicky as the first installment and not as complex and angsty as the second, but it’s still pretty amusing.

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Bad romance, 77 Heartbreaks, 2017

77 Heartbreaks, 2017, dir. Herman Yau

77 Heartbreaks features a similar couple dynamic to Love Off The Cuff, featuring a responsible woman fed up with her childlike boyfriend. I had a bit of a hard time believing that the lead pair in the movie really dated for ten years, since Charlene Choi seems really young and Pakho Chau looks like he’s a 24-year-old skateboarder, not a lawyer in his thirties. Herman Yau’s direction is professional and assured, of course, but the film doesn’t stray far from romantic dramedy conventions. In a brief performance Anthony Wong Chau-Sang boosts up the few scenes he’s in, making the movie come alive, but otherwise the film is somewhat glossy and superficial. Sadly, since I had jet lag I nodded off during the most important part of the movie, which was an extended cameo by Francis Ng. Sometimes I just can’t catch a break.

Soul-Mates

Just kiss already, Soul Mates, 2016

Soul Mates, 2016, dir. Derek Tsang

This is a Hong Kong-China co-production that feels Taiwanese, except without the unrestrained sexuality of the best Taiwanese romantic dramas. The film includes a very circumspect love triangle, including hints of curiously muffled same-sex attraction. No lesbians wanted in this co-production, despite several scenes where the two leads discuss bra sizes and scrutinize each other’s boobs in the bathroom. I wanted to tell the girls to just kiss already, but there is no actual consummation of their very close relationship. Both of the young actresses are quite good, and the two won a rare (unprecedented?) shared Golden Horse award for Best Actress for their performances.

 

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Looking for peace, Mad World, 2016

Mad World, 2016, dir. Wong Chun

A drama that follows the relationship between a bipolar man and his long-estranged father, the film features excellent performances by Shawn Yue and Eric Tsang as the son and father. The film sustains its intensity throughout and is bleak and unrelenting without being oppressively so. Although there are several opportunities to do so the film never veers into melodrama, instead opting for a relatively unsensationalized look at mental illness and its stigma in Hong Kong. Charmaine Sheh also quite good as Shawn Yue’s girlfriend who self-medicates with Jesus.

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Passionate and relevant, I Am Not Your Negro, 2016

I Am Not Your Negro, 2016, dir. Raoul Peck

Wow, mind blown—-a passionate, relevant, important piece of work.. This is amazing documentary stitches together Hollywood movies, archival footage, news footage, and the brilliant words of James Baldwin. Although Samuel L. Jackson’s reading of Baldwin’s words is excellent, the real Baldwin matches him with his fiery, intelligent, and articulate appearances, most significantly in a clip from the 1960s from The Dick Cavett Show. Given the horrific state of affairs in race relations in the U.S. right now, this film was almost too much for me to watch since it’s so, so relevant. Technically the film is a gem, with some really nice use of archival footage and Hollywood movies.

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Untold and unseen, The Salesman, 2016

The Salesman, 2016, dir. Asghar Farhadi

This is another brilliant drama from Asghar Farhadi, who won his second Oscar for Best Foreign Language film for this one. As in A Separation (2011), in this film Farhadi does an impeccable job demonstrating moral ambiguity and the impossibility of clearly delineating between good and bad. I love his use of architecture and the metaphor of a crumbling building to signify the shaky ethical grounds we all stand on in day-to-day life. Farhadi is the master of the untold and the unseen, allowing the audience to fill in the blanks and speculate about the events of the narrative. This is smart, smart filmmaking, grounded in strong and passionate performances from the lead and supporting cast. What seems like a family melodrama becomes a metaphor for the moral and ethical challenges we all face in daily life.

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Wacky, What A Wonderful Family, 2016

What A Wonderful Family, 2016, dir. Yoji Yamada

Veteran Japanese director Yoji Yamada’s slapstick comedy looks at the exploits of a wacky Tokyo family as they face an emotional crisis in their midst. The house was full with about 1500 people when I saw this and the audience loved this shtick, which was replete with poop jokes and a very slightly morbid sense of humor. This is probably not surprising coming from a territory that spawned Chicken and Duck Talk and Stephen Chow, as this film was a Japanese version of classic Cantonese comedies, with its focus on interpersonal foibles and bodily functions. More TV sitcom than deep cinematic experience, it was nonetheless a crowd-pleaser.

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Realization, Cinema, Manoel de Oliveira and Me, 2016

Cinema, Manoel de Oliveira and Me, 2016, dir. João Botelho

This is a really nice essay film about the great Portugese director Manoel de Oliveira which was directed by one of Oliveira’s protégés. The film mixes up archival footage, and other cinematic flotsam in a fascinating and often unexpected way, seamlessly integrating into Oliveira’s own film work It concludes with a realization of Oliviera’s last unfinished script, a poignant rumination on the bitter life of a young prostitute.

 

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Burning silhouette, 1981

Ana Medieta short film programme, 1971-81, dir. Ana Mendieta

This program featured several short films by the late lamented Cuban artist Ana Mendieta. It’s nice to see some old-school experimental film/performance art in a major film festival so hat’s off to HKIFF for including this. The shorts showed a good range of Mendieta’s work, which only accentuates the tragedy of her early death (by falling out of a window after an argument with her husband, sculptor Carl Andre). Mendieta’s work is very kinetic, so seeing film documentation of her performances is very satisfying, especially those works involving fire. There’s something utterly fascinating about watching things burn.

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Cruelty, Mon Mon Mon Monsters, 2017,

Mon Mon Mon Monsters 2017, Giddens Ko

My film festival viewings ended with the world premiere of Giddens Ko’s newest film and it did not disappoint. A teen drama cum horror movie, this is a harrowing piece of work that touches on bullying, peer pressure, and the depths of human inhumanity in a seemingly ordinary secondary school. Although this is clearly a commercial genre film Giddens manages to work up some truly horrifying moments of teenage cruelty. The conclusion of the film is a mic drop to end all mic drops. This one is destined to make a sensation all over the Asian box office.

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May 14, 2017 at 4:44 am Leave a comment


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