Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2011

Festival Homepage

October 18th to November 18th.

The 8th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival is another superb participant in the city’s vibrant film festival calendar. There are a whopping 65 films in the line-up from all over Asia screened over the course of a month. The schedule is jam-packed with quality featuring some of the most exciting new stuff in Asian cinema. This is all nicely complimented by director’s retrospectives, cult classics, and a very interesting Taiwanese section, amongst others. Screenings will take place in three cinemas, the Broadway Cinematheque in Kowloon, the Palace ICF near Hong Kong Station, and the One in Tim Sha Tsui.

The festival opens with local royalty Johnny To’s latest film, Life Without Principle, that sets a slow-burning heist movie to the backdrop of the global recession. More than just a plot device, his film looks extensively at investment banking in an interesting spin on the genre. The films multi-strand narrative dumps a police inspector (Richie Jen, a To regular), his wife (Myolie Wu), and a banker (pop star Denise Ho) into the mixer. It looks perhaps a little slower than what fans of To have come to expect, but is definitely a film which is seeking to place itself right in the now. For the closing film fellow Hong Konger Wong Ching-Po’s live action adaptation of a Japanese anime series Let’s Go takes centre stage. The film is loosely inspired by the cult Space Emperor God Sigma about enormous robots in 2050, not, confusingly from the Japanese manga Lets and Go, . Nevertheless, it seems to be an entertaining opera of sci-fi violence. If the style and verve of Wong Ching-Po’s most recent film, Revenge: A Love Story, have made their way into this effort, fans of this kind of thing should be very excited. The gala presentation of the escapist Starry Starry Night, which premiered at the Busan International Film Festival, is another notable landmark on the calendar. It is based on the illustrated book by Jimmy Liao about two teenage outsiders who are immediately drawn to each other.

Making up part of the Cineaste section, Naomi Kawase’s Hanezu is a fantastic little film, which was in competition in Cannes this year. Set in Japan’s Asuka region, close to the city of Nara, it taps into the serenity of the countryside to tell the story of a complicated romance that forces those involved to reassess their lives. Like her previous film, the grand prix winning Mogari no Mori, it looks beautiful. Another intriguing Japanese film being screened is Himizu, an adaptation of a hugely popular teen manga. The intrigue is in the circumstances surrounding it. The film was written and about to go into production in Northern Japan when the earthquake hit. Director Sono Sion decided that he would use these characters to tell the story of the earthquake, re-writing the film around the tragedy. The shoot went ahead in the devastated region and has some incredible scenes of the sheer destruction. It must be said, though, that this is still an adaptation of the manga, violence, absurdity, and all. Nevertheless, the movie’s use of the earthquake is not gratuitous and it actually does have something to say on the crisis.

A retrospective of two Chinese directors whose careers have intertwined also stands out. Wang Xioashuai and Lou Ye marked a movement away from the conservative cinema of the fifth generation to make films that were more in touch with modern China. They have both been heavily censored, and even exiled. Xiaoshuai’s Frozen on the life of a struggling performance artist who undergoes the ultimate sacrifice for his art looks fascinating. His take on the life of migrants in So Close to Paradise illustrates the dark side of Wuhan. His latest film 11 Flowers is the centre-piece. It is the story of an eleven year old boy who by chance finds a murderer on the run in the woods, promising to keep his whereabouts secret. Lou Ye’s break-through 2000 film, Suzhou River, a noirish underworld vision of Shanghai that was banned in China is great to revisit, along with his recent Spring Fever. Despite being himself banned from entering the country, he shot it in Nanking using a cast of five actors and working with hand-held cameras [? Not characters] to avoid detection. As with Wang Xioashui, Ye’s latest work is on as well. It is the adaptation of Jie Liu-Falin’s auto-biography and was shot on location in Paris.

The up and comers of the New Talent Award section of any festival is always worth checking out and HKAFF will not disappoint with a varied collection of great new directors. The stunningly animated King of Pigs from Korea which looks back at the child-hood memories of two angry misfits could be brilliant. Its unique style and adult content mark it out as one to see. Representing Hong Kong, Tsui Shan Jessey Tsang’s Big Blue Lake about an actress returning to her hometown has been impressing audiences. The period piece, The Sword Identity, about a Chinese warrior who is mistrusted due to the foreign style of his sword did well on the festival circuit this year and looks like a solid contender for the award being handed out in the New Talent category.

The special sections are what really mark out HKAFF. The Taiwanese collection represents an industry in the midst of a boom. It consists of 15 films from this year or last with some quality pictures. The main attraction is epic Warriors of the Rainbow, the dramatization of aboriginal Taiwanese standing up to Japanese rule at the 1930 Wushe incident. It was the most expensive film in Taiwanese history at 25 million US dollars. Squished into one film when screened in the Venice film festival, it arrives here in all its two part glory. The Killer Who Never Kills is another one to look out for.. The quirky narrative centres on an assassin who never kills anyone. He befriends his targets and sets them up with alternative identities before claiming the money. However, love gets in the way in this romantic, indie comedy. Two documentaries, Cherish, on a scavenger who creates art from recycled objects, and Children From the Distant Planet, a touching piece on raising autistic children, both look like gems.

The classic Nikkatsu retrospective also looks brilliant. The great Japanese film director Seijun Suzuki worked extensively for the studio between 1956 and 1967, producing a prolific 40 films in eleven years. He became famous for surreal, peculiar yakuza films like Tokyo Drifter. The studio were constantly on his back, demanding he rein in some of his creativity. One of his films being shown, Kanto Wanderer, was a sequel that he had been drafted in to direct. Instead of toeing the line, he went the other way and made it unrecognisable from the original. The other, Branded to Kill, which is being shown at HKAFF, is the film that pushed the studio to the edge and he was swiftly fired after getting it into the can. Regardless of this, it is an absolute peach of a movie that is a must-see in the cinema. Another excellent selection is Lovers are Wet, part of Nikkatsu’s Pinky Violence Series. Pink films in Japan are soft-core pornography and were mainly made [I don’t get this original prose – was this what you meant?]by film school students. Whereas the mainstream studio output had strict limitations on the extent that creativity was accepted, if the titillation quota was met directors could be as inventive as they pleased. It led to a peculiar collection of some the best films to be made in Japan. Lovers Are Wet is a great example of this fascinating episode in Japanese cinema.

Sci-fi fans and geeks of Hong Kong will be satiated by the amusingly titled Asian Superheroes collection. It features a modern masterpiece made on a budget that you could barely buy a small car for. Invasion of the Alien Bikini from Korea has wowed festival audiences all over the world and is as exciting, stylish and quirky as sci-fi gets. For fans of weird Japanese stuff, screwball director Noburo Iguchi, who I last saw wearing nothing but sumo garb in 3 metre deep snow, has brought his Karate-Robo Zaborgar to town. It is one of those camp Japanese oddities that depite going over your head (or under it) still remains an entertaining watch. Thailand’s Red Eagle is going for the full-on Hollywood superhero thing, and from the trailer seems to pull it off a lot better than most of the stuff coming out of America.

The lengthy running time of the event from October 18th to November 18th gives festival-goers ample opportunity to take advantage of the great movies being shown. Tickets range from 60-75 dollars and are generally screened twice during the festival. The beauty of this festival is its variety. There’s an awful lot to get interested in this year, so go forth and watch.

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