FESTIVALS: Let's Love Hong Kong, 24th Edition Showcases Style, Violence, and Visuals
by Erika Young
Hong Kong is everything a great film-going city should be: compact, accessible
and suffused with light, heat, and sound. Whether bouncing over the waves on the
Star Ferry toward your next venue or eating noodles at a table full of film critics,
scholars and professionals all debating the films they've just seen, this year's 24th
International Hong Kong Film Festival (April 12 - 27) featured a light
feeling of small-town, friendly informality that makes it more personable than most.
Surprisingly, the Opening Night and Closing Night films turned out to be some of the
weakest of the 200+ films programmed. Lawrence Ah Mon 's locally-produced " Spacked Out ,"
a "Kids "-like drama following four young girls through the streets of Hong Kong, was
gritty, realistic, and based on its leads -- high-pitched, self-involved performances
which ran the risk of alienating the audience right along with the adult figures in
the movie. Similarly, Closing Night film 'A Chance To Die ' (Taiwan/Japan), Taiwanese
director Chen Yi-wen 's eagerly awaited follow-up to the charming car-theft comedy
"Jam ," turned out to be an interminable slog through an endless number of Taiwanese
But the rest of the festival still had plenty to offer. Stylization was the name of
the game this year, with Lou Ye 's "Suzhou River " leading the pack. A well-made
German/Chinese co-production featuring double identities and shady street deals
against the kaleidoscopic waters of Shanghai's Suzhou River, this film got critics
invoking the words 'Vertigo ' and 'Alfred Hitchcock ' more often than if Hitchcock
himself had still been alive. "A lot of people have talked about the similarities
to Hitchcock and Hong Kong's Wong Kar-Wai ," producer Nai An said, somewhat wearily,
during the Q&A. "[The director] believes that he has never intended to make a film
that is totally original that no one has ever made before. He believes that the
most important thing is to make a film that reflects his personal feelings."
Stylization, in fact, was the only word to describe the films in the Asian Visions
and Age of Independents programs. From kids on motorbikes ("Eating Air ") and flaming
pools of gasoline ("Attack The Gas Station "), to minced penis ("6ixtynin9 ") and
neo-nazi video diaries ("The New God"), this year's selection of alterna-cinema
left no theme of youthful anarchy unturned. Particularly notable for their assured
sense of direction: Kiyoshi Kurosawa 's 'Charisma ' (Japan), a sepia-toned tale of
psychosis in the forest, and Sabu's "Monday " (Japan) with its fantastic visuals,
flamboyant acting, and whacked-out humor.
For really fantastic visuals, however, the Border Crossings in Hong Kong Cinema
section was the series to watch, for its dazzling Scope-O-Rama presentation as
well as its refreshing historical perspective. '60's-era films such as "Song of
Orchid Island ," "The Black Falcon " and "Trapeze Girl " screened in spectacularly
epic proportions with thumping, James Bond -style chase scenes; long shots of
'natives' dancing on island beaches; and plucky female trapeze artists swooping
across the Big Top, ending always, over the credits, with the cheerful tagline
"Another Shaw Brothers Production."
Especially enjoyable was the 1965 Hong Kong/U.S. co-production "Murder Case In
Chinatown ," filmed on location in Hong Kong, New York and throughout the U.S.
A weasel-like drifter takes up with both a widowed Laundromat owner and 'another
woman,' with murderous consequences. No subtitles; none were necessary. Magnificent
night shots of a bustling, brightly lit 42nd Street, hand-painted Chinese Laundromat
interiors and a touch of pensive melodrama, together with a panoramic road trip from
Niagara Falls to San Francisco and the most fluent-in-Cantonese, Irish-American beat
cops ever to come out of the Bowery, all added up to an impressive, and thoroughly
enjoyable, Chinese-American production.
Hong Kong Panorama 99 - 00 showcased all of the past year's mainstream action films
and dramas, and most were quite good, particularly the Milkyway Image productions
"The Mission " and "Running Out of Time ." Yet big-budget actioners such as "Gen-X
Cops " and "Purple Storm ," so recently touted as Hong Kong's clarion response to
Hollywood's big-budget call, disappointingly turned out to be little more than
youth-pandering, CGI-saturated, crap-dialogue action.
In a direct contrast to such market-driven vehicles, the Three Great Characters
seminar discussed actors Lau Ching-wan , Anthony Wong Chau-sang and Francis Ng
Chun-yu both as leading men, and as character actors. In an industry where
production money is tight and the fight for good roles is even tighter, Ng
came away with the most accolades, for his versatility and attention to
technique. "Not too many actors can change a bad script into a good one,"
critic Thomas Shin said. "Francis Ng is one of them."
Sadly, all three actors went unappreciated at Sunday's 19th Annual Hong
Kong Film Awards , 'the' week's glamorous, yet surprisingly personable,
presentation of stars stars stars. Some surprises, but nothing new --
the awards, like the American Oscars, are a cross between a feel-good
popularity contest and a bona fide merit system. Major wins: Helena
Law Lan , at 64 the oldest to win Best Actress, took home the gold
despite her career of late as the ghost 'granny' from beyond the
grave, and pop singer Andy Lau aced out the "3 Character Actors"
(Lau, Wong and Ng) featured in the Festival, for Best Actor
("Running Out of Time ").
Still, the Awards were an experience like no other. Where else
in the world can stars be so unguarded, in both personality and
broad-chested security? Exit the bathroom and run headlong into
newly Awarded (Best Action Choreography, 'Purple Storm ') action
director Stephen Tung Wai , clutching his statue and looking
bleary-eyed amidst the dry-ice smoke floating in the air. Get
stuck in the crush of security outside the door to the post-Awards
banquet, and actor Roy Cheung Yiu-Yeung gallantly ushers you in on
the spur of the moment, with a pleasant wave to you as he heads
off to his table. (For the complete awards list, check out the
A number of films on new release also sparked with particular interest:
Andrew Lau Wai-Keung 's "Sausalito " re-teamed Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai
Ming for a dot-com romance in San Francisco; "Tell Me Something," the
very cool-in-parts serial-killer-horror-psycho-gore thriller starring
Korean heartthrob Han Suk-kyu (just go ahead and say his name aloud);
and "Twelve Nights ," first-time director Aubrey Lam Oi-Wah 's Romance,"
based on Ingmar Bergman 's "Scenes From A Marriage ." Sort of a Bergman for
the masses, this film stars up-and-coming actress Cecilia Cheung and singer
Eason Chan , both surprisingly effective as a couple whose relationship spans
a rocky twelve nights
One of the promotional packets at the Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum
advertises director Yau Ching 's first feature, "Let's Love Hong Kong ."
Let's love Hong Kong, indeed. How can one help but not love Hong Kong?
For Hong Kong is colorful smoke over the harbor during hot, muggy nights;
Hong Kong is squeezing into your subcompact bedroom, fluorescent light-bar
ablazing. Hong Kong is the cashier at the convenience store up the street
in Mid-Levels, who greets you with a beaming smile, throwing her arms wide.
"Hello! You are back!" She looks at your chocolate-bar selections over
your shoulder. "Is that your lunch? Are you on a diet?"
Everything in Hong Kong is an experience, which makes the city a natural for
film. What better place for a film festival, and celebration of its art?
BEST FILM: "Ordinary Heroes " (dir. Ann Hui )
BEST DIRECTOR: Johnnie To Kei-Fung ("The Mission ")
BEST ACTOR: Andy Lau Tak-Wah ("Running out of Time ," dir. Johnnie To )
BEST ACTRESS: Helena Law Lan ("Bullets Over Summer ," dir. Wilson Yip )
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Ti Lung ("The Kid ")
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Carrie Ng Ka-Lai ("The Kid )
BEST NEW ACTOR: Cecilia Cheung Bak-Chi ("Fly Me to Polaris ")
BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: Arthur Wong Ngok-Tai ("Purple Storm ")
BEST ACTION DIRECTION: Stephen Tung Wai ("Purple Storm ")
BEST EDITING: Kwong Chi-Leung ("Purple Storm ")
BEST SCREENPLAY: Sylvia Chang Ai-Ka , Cat Kwan Ho-Ming ("Tempting Heart )
BEST ART DIRECTION: Man Lim-Chung ("Tempting Heart ")
BEST COSTUMING: Ng Lei-Lo ("Purple Storm ")
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: Kam Pui-Tat ("Fly Me to Polaris ")
BEST ORIGINAL SONG: Sing Yu Sum Yuen ("Fly Me to Polaris ")
BEST SOUND: Tsang King-Cheung ("Purple Storm ")
[Erika Young is a San Francisco writer who hopes that next year,
the entire cast of "Cheap Killers " will get her into the banquet hall.]