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The Hong Kong International Film Festival

The Hong Kong International Film Festival

The 21st Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Christian Gaines

Two powerful contemporary dramas from China – Yim Ho’s “Kitchen” (Hong
Kong) and Tsai Ming-Liang’s “The River” (Taiwan) opened the Hong Kong
International Film Festival with substance, daring and style. Tsai’s
film skillfully explores the motives of a dysfunctional Taipei family as
it deals with illness, incest and homosexuality. Yim’s film stars the
super-hot Jordan Chan (star of “Young and Dangerous III” and “Queer Story“, both playing at the HKIFF), in this poetic and deftly-executed story.

Other outstanding Chinese fare in the program included Zhang Ming’s “In Expectation” from China (which was withdrawn with no explanation at the
last minute) and Chang Tso-Chi’s “Ah Chung” (Taiwan). A real treat turned
out to be the Closing Night screening of a brand new print of King Hu’s
The Valient Ones“, deposited at the Hong Kong Film Archive just a month
before his unexpected death in January of this year. Intricate Kung Fu
and sword play sequences abound in this rare, 1975 Cinemascope classic.

Although the Hong Kong film industry is presently going through some
hard times, you wouldn’t know it from the traditional Hong Kong Panorama
section at the HKIFF. Although many of these films have already been
released to Hong Kong audiences, the section provides an excellent
perspective on which Hong Kong films have achieved critical or
box-office success at home. Naturally, the urban action genre is well
represented with films like Gordon Chan’s “First Option“, Cha Chuen Yee’s
Once Upon a Time in a Triad Society 2” and Andrew Lau’s enormously
successful “Young and Dangerous III”. Also evidenced was an impressive
selection of landmark films from the Hong Kong industry in the last 50
years, to compliment the upcoming intensive 3 day seminar on Hong Kong

Especially enjoyed by Film Festival delegates was the exhilarating
Lifeline” by Johnny To, a “Backdraft“-style firefighter epic with glossy
production values, high (melo)drama and stunning action sequences. Other
Hong Kong standouts include Peter Chan’s”Comrades, Almost a Love Story” (which garnered 9 of the 11 nominations at the recent Hong Kong Film
Awards), and Shu Kei’s insightful “A Queer Story“. The English title of
the film can be misleading in its directness: what sounds like American
fringe cinema offering is actually a quite accessible and instantly
disarming tale of a closeted affair between two Chinese men of different
ages. Think “Wedding Banquet” or “It’s My Party“: this film touches on some difficult issues with great appeal.

Given the current zeal with which the China Film Bureau has revamped
their censorship and approval doctrine, the HKIFF was reticent this year
(and given their experience in previous years) to guarantee a large
slate of films from the Peoples Republic of China. In addition to Zhang Min’s debut feature “In Expectation“, only two other films from mainland China made an appearance this year: a documentary about a Chinese urban committee, “No. 16 Barkhor Street“, and a wry and at times hilarious political comedy from Huang Jianxin (“The Wodden Man’s Bride“; “Back to Back, Face to Face“) “Signal Left, Right Turn“, which premiered at Vancouver ’96, about a resourceful incoming class at a government driving school.

Highlights in the impressive Asian Visions section included the daring
[Focus]” from Japan’s Satoshi Isaka (which played in the World Cinema
section at Sundance in January), the riveting “A Petal” (1995, South
Korea) by Jang Sun-woo as well as Hong Sang-soo’s “The Day a Pig fell into the Well” (1996, South Korea). Other standouts included the
breathtaking “Suzaku” (1997, Japan) by Naomi Kawase and the sweetly
subversive “Saint Clara” (1996, Israel). The Global Images section carried
a score of films from outside Asia, and the HKIFF was complemented by
special tributes to the recently deceased Filipino auteur Ishmal Bernal,
and to the vastly underrated Mexican filmmaker Arturo Ripstein — I had
to catch “The Realm of Fortune” (1985) one of the best of Ripstein’s
darkly romantic epic tales.

As evidenced by the enthusiastic crowds at almost every screening I
attended, it is clear that the HKIFF is very much a film festival for
the 6.2 million people who live in Hong Kong.

[Christian Gaines is the director of the Hawaii International Film Festival and travelled to the Hong Kong and Singapore International Film Festivals and reported for the Sundance Channel web site, who graciously allowed indieWIRE to run excerpts of those reports. See the full text of those reports at indieWIRE’s Singapore festival excerpt is here.]

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