Saturday, April 18, 2015

A hiking mini-adventure in the Northeast New Territories (Photo-essay)

Every time I hike in the area around Wu Kau Tang, I find surprises in store.  On my first visit to this section of the Northeast New Territories, I came acrosss abandoned villages and beautiful purple rocks, and checked out a section of Bride's Pool that I've since never been able to locate again!  On a Chinese New Year hike one year which began at Wu Kau Tang, I finally made it to Lai Chi Wo and found that there a number of other lovely near abandoned villages to the northwest of it at such at Kuk Po.

And on one more hike that began and ended at in the vicinity of Wu Kau Tang (specifically the bus stop at Bride's Pool that the 275R only goes to on Sundays and public holidays), my hiking buddy and I did such as get lost for a time and, as a result, ended up on trails that I had hitherto never been on and saw vistas I had never previously seen, at least not from those angles! Happily, we did not have to resort to calling for help from the emergency services.  Instead, and especially after getting back to a trail that was familiar to me, we can look back at the experience and consider it an actually not bad mini-adventure in the Big Lychee! ;b

I reckoned it was going to be a good hike when I spotted 
this near-camouflaged critter before we had even got off 
the road proper on the way to Wu Kau Tang

If not for the dates inscribed on them, you'd think that 
these village houses were older than they in fact are, right?

The first big surprise of the day -- discovering that the
nearby village of Kau Tam Tso looked to have been re-inhabited!

Shortly after passing Kau Tam Tso, we took 
a wrong turn and ended up along this hilly path!

If we hadn't veered off course though, we wouldn't have 
come across this interesting looking lizard ;)

 We wouldn't have gotten to see Plover Cove Reservoir
from this particular angle and vantage point either!

After realizing that we had strayed on to a section of the 
not wanting to go along it for long, we were relieved
to find a dotted trail leading northwards and downhill from it  

It was only after we were exiting that particular dotted trail
that we saw this warning notice about going along it! :O

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sound of the Mountain -- part of the HK Cine Fan program for April and May

The serenity of the Daibutsu was missing from the 1954
set-in-Kamakura Mikio Naruse film I saw one day after the
2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival came to an end

Sound of the Mountain (aka The Echo) (Japan, 1954)
- Mikio Naruse, dir.
- Starring: Setsuko Hara, So Yamamura, Ken Uehara

The 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival drew to a close on April 6th but my film viewing -- and reviewing -- goes on, including of some fest offerings that also are being screened this and next month in the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society's HK Cine Fan program.  Most notably for me, the Mikio Naruse cinematic feast continues -- with not only with additional screenings of such as Repast and Daughters, Wives and a Mother side but other films starring Setsuko Hara and Hideko Takamine, two legendary Japanese actresses whose exalted reputations are well earned, which did not play at this year's fest!

Among these additional Naruse offerings is Sound of the Mountain, in which Setsuko Hara and Ken Uehara once more play a married couple.  In this adaptation of a novel by Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata though, their characters -- housewife Kikuko and businessman Shuichi -- reside in the lovely temple town of Kamakura (where the actress retired to in 1963 and has remained a resident) with Shuichi's parents, who are far more grateful of the care and respect that their daughter-in-law accord them than their son is of his wife.

So affectionate is Shuichi's father Shingo (So Yamamura) towards Kikuko that his wife Yasuko (Teruko Nagaoka) is moved to point out that he's not as nice towards their own daughter Fusako (Chieko Nakakita).  Even so, Yasuko herself chastises Fusako, who ran away from her husband's household on two separate occasions -- what is it with wives running away in Naruse's movies?! -- by telling her that her in-laws would treat her better if she behaved well towards them, the way that Kikuko does towards Shingo and Yasuko.

In contrast, Shuichi finds his wife wanting -- criticizing her for being too child-like, with the implication being that she's not as sexually sophisticated as he would like. Dissatisfied with Kikuko, he has an affair with another woman, and so obviously that his parents and wife know what's going on (despite his mistress living in Tokyo, where Shuichi and Shingo regularly commute to work from Kamakura).  And after Shingo -- who also happens to be Shuichi's boss -- decides to try to put a stop to his son's philandering ways, further revelations are made that really are pretty shocking -- especially in a 1954 mainstream Japanese domestic drama!

Once again, it seems almost effortless for Setsuko Hara to play the kind of woman with both inner and external beauty, whom only a callous cad and moral degenerate would not be able to appreciate.  At the same time, behind her luminous smiles, there is so much suffering, sorrow, and sufficient steel to carry out the kind of dramatic action that shows that, socially constrained as she may be -- given her being a married woman of a certain class in 1950s Japan -- she still can exert significant control over certain parts of her life and that of others.  

For his part, So Yamamura convincingly portrays a good-hearted establishment patriarch whose rule nonetheless sadly is found wanting, leading his children to stray from the respectable ways one would have expected them to follow while Ken Uehara once more manfully takes on the thankless role of a husband who doesn't appreciate having the spouse that so many other people would love to have.  In their own way, both of their characters reveal how men who appear in privileged positions still can't always have what they want, in the domestic sphere, if not professional one.  In so doing, they collectively help to paint a portrait of the Japanese family that's far more complex than the stereotypes would have it being.

My rating for this film: 8.0

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Wrapping up my 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival-ing with Pride

It felt like there were fewer foreign guests at this year's 
Hong Kong International Film Festival than previously
but its film offerings did indeed come from the world over!

Pride (United Kingdom, 2014) 
- From the Gala Presentation programme
- Matthew Warchus, dir.
- Starring: Ben Schnetzer, George MacKay, Dominic West, Paddy Considine, Imelda Staunton

After feeling emotionally devastated as a result of viewing Mikio Naruse's bravura -- but painful to watch -- Daughters, Wives and a Mother, I was in need of an psychological pick-me-up.  So a screening at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre of Matthew Warchus' feel good film based on seemingly improbable events that took place in Thatcherite Britain truly was what the doctor ordered!

Pride tells the story of a London-based group of homosexual men and women who decided to support the miners taking part in a national strike because, as Northern Ireland-born Mark (Ben Schnetzer) pointed out, "mining communities are being bullied just like we are". Standing out on the streets with buckets in their hands, they go about raising cold, hard cash to help the miners -- only to have trouble finding mining groups that'd accept their donation along with gay people willing to help the cause since, as one gay man who hails from Durham told Mark and his comrades, the miners up there were among the people who physically abused him because of his sexual orientation when he was young.

It's against the odds then that the Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners group find a mining community whose representatives not only are happy to accept their cash but also extend the hand of friendship to them.  The noble Dai (Paddy Considine), spirited Hefina (Imelda Staunton) and their fellow denizens of the Welsh village of Onllwyn are undeniably broadly drawn -- but the realization that many of the film's characters -- straight and gay -- are based on real-life people (including Sian James (played in the movie by Jessica Gunning), a miner's wife who went on to become a Member of Parliament) help to emphasize that there's a heartwarmingly genuine core there.

There's definitely drama in this tale -- with the stories of Joe (George MacKay), a shy young man from Bromley leading a double life which he tries his utmost to hide from his suburbanite parents, and Gethin (Andrew Scott), a diffident Welshman who had not been back in Wales for years until he went to Onllywyn with his lover Jonathan (Dominic West) and other members of the group, being particularly affecting.  In addition, it's not glossed over that things take place amidst the grim backdrop of a miners strike that went on for much longer than few people had bargained for -- and didn't have the outcome that many had hoped -- along with often pretty open, at times violent, homophobia.  

But there's also a lot of fun and laughter to be had in from watching Pride, including a disco dancing sequence that takes place in the Welsh village's working men's club and scenes of the Welsh women's curiosity to see gay nightlife on a visit to London.  Much of the entertainment comes from seeing people from what are essentially different cultures learning about each others' lifestyles, while a large part of what's heartwarming about the film stems from those same people realizing that the differences don't have to get in the way of their respecting and liking one another.

A lovely, lovely film with many scenes that put a smile on my face and got no small amount of tears of joys flowing down my cheeks, this inspiring movie also prompted me to go online afterwards to find out more about the production but also the true story and real life people that inspired this work. And how wonderful it was to be able to find videos like this and this, and to realize that beyond making people feel good, actual concrete good did come out of the efforts of a group of gays who decided to reach out to -- and support -- people different from them in some ways, yet also similar in what really counts: having a big heart.

My rating for this film: 9.0

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Daughters, Wives and a Mother at the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival

The yen for Yen -- and the trouble it causes -- is one of 
the main themes of the second Mikio Naruse drama which
I viewed at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival

Daughters, Wives and a Mother (Japan, 1960)
- From the Mikio Naruse, 110th Anniversary programme
- Mikio Naruse, dir.
- Starring: Setsuko Hara, Hideko Takamine, Tatsuya Nakadai

One day after I viewed Mikio Naruse's Repast at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, I checked out another drama directed by the late Japanese auteur -- this one, the first ever work of his that I've seen in color (rather than the more usual black and white).  As it so happens, this 1960 work also stars Setsuko Hara and has Ken Uehara in the cast.  And it felt like a case of "deja vu all over again" when, early on in Daughters, Wives and a Mother, her character says -- though only jokingly this time -- that she's run away from her marital residence back to her mother's.

But the further along one goes into this offering, the more obvious it becomes that this later work is quite a different proposition from the 1951 film; starting with such as Setsuko Hara sharing top-billing this time around with fellow A-list -- and Naruse's favorite -- actress, Hideko Nakamine, and Ken Uehara having a much less significant role in what's actually a pretty large ensemble piece (that includes so many characters that I have to admit to having problems to keeping them -- and their relations to one another -- straight!).
With even the small role of an old man in a park -- who provides further proof that things aren't always as they appear to be as far as families are concerned -- being played by Tokyo Story's Chishu Ryu, Daughters, Wives and a Mother clearly is a more ambitious work than normal even while still falling into the category of domestic drama.  
Complex plot-wise as a result of its featured family being an extended one (with a mother-in-law having a part to play in the proceedings along with a widowed matriarch, her young grandson, her many adult offspring, their significant others and, in one case, a daughter-in-law's uncle), the film's concerns nonetheless ultimately boils down to money and how it almost invariably negatively affects the relationships that people, even those who are biologically related to each other, have with one another. 
Among the very few people in the picture who's neither a schemer nor self-centered personality is, almost inevitably, the character essayed by Setsuko Hara; with even the one portrayed by Hideko Takamine not coming out smelling roses from the whole affair.  This is not to say though that Setsuko Hara's character is guaranteed a happy ending; and arguably worse is that she may have ended up making a great sacrifice for nought due to another female character making her own major sacrifice to try to ensure a better (chance for a more positive) future for a loved one.
Such was the emotional devastation I felt at the conclusion of the film that I couldn't get up immediately and, instead, just sat in my seat watching the end credits (which were in a script I can't read) roll.  Going beyond sad (and a place where tears could flow and make one feel better), this cinematic work is undeniably a masterpiece in showing how callous humans can be, and how people's loved ones may end up being the most capable of disappointing and hurt them. 

My rating for this film: 8.5

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

From the Lady Maclehose Holiday Village to Sai Sha Road via Kai Kung Shan (Photo-essay)

I'm in the mood to write less and look more at photos this evening. So here's postponing my continued Hong Kong International Film Festival reviews coverage for a day in favor of putting up one more hiking photo-essay -- this one chronicling an unusually warm spring day out in the western portion of the Sai Kung Peninsula.

The majority of this particular hike was along Stage 3 of the Maclehose Trail.  But rather than start at Pak Tam Au, my hiking buddy and I began our trek at the Lady Maclehose Holiday Village, only joining the trail named after the lady's husband, Sir Murray Maclehose, close to marker M060 and then following it to Stage 3's end point at Sai Sha Road.

As with the other section of this stage of the Maclehose Trail that my friend and I had gone on on a previous afternoon, we found that it passed through really beautiful countryside -- with the high point literally and figuratively being 399-meter-high Kai Kung Shan (Rooster Hill).  I don't think my hiking buddy and I will ever forget the steep ascent up it -- and also that there was a distinct lack of shade atop the hill that very sunny afternoon!  At the same time, as we both agreed, this was another satisfying and enjoyable hike -- the kind that I love that I can go on in "Asia's World City"! ;b

     Hooray for wide, unpaved hiking trails that are well sign-posted! ;b

 The bald patches on the terrain attest to landslides
being regular occurrences in this area

 The sight of Kai Kung Shan was intimidating but it was the realisation
that we had to go down into the valley before we could start our 
climbing up that was the real bummer at that point in the hike! ;b

The stoney, rugged trail leading up to Kai Kung Shan -- 
all I'll say is that I would have liked to have gone down it less!

Looking back from near the top of Kai Kung Shan, 
you get a lovely view and a feeling of accomplishment
at having already come this far along the trail :)

There's no trigonometrical station atop this hill, but
this sign suffices to confirm that I was indeed atop it! 

A view of where the Sai Kung Peninsula meets

On the way down the hill, we spotted the kind of spider
that lives on the ground, spins webs that are super dense,
and are nowhere as big as the Golden Orb Weavers ;b

Monday, April 13, 2015

Naruse's Repast at the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival

The bustling city of Osaka -- albeit a less contemporary version 
than what's pictured above -- is where Mikio Naruse's Repast is mainly set

Repast (Japan, 1951) 
- From the Mikio Naruse, 110th Anniversary programme
- Mikio Naruse, dir.
- Starring: Setsuko Hara, Ken Uehara, Yukiko Shimazaki

Born in 1905, Mikio Naruse (who passed away in 1969 at the age of 63) is not among the "big three" of Japanese master director but has connections to all three of them in that Akira Kurosawa was an erstwhile assistant of his, and Naruse's works are often compared to Yasujiro Ozu's -- because many of them are domestic dramas, and some of them (like Repast) star Setsuko Hara, the luminous actress looked upon as Ozu's muse -- and Kenji Mizoguchi's, this time due to their frequent focus on female characters.
Naruse's first adaptation of a novel by female writer Fumiko Hayashi is indeed a domestic drama that stars Setsuko Hara -- as a woman who's arguably more spirited and less serene than the ones she usually essayed in Ozu's films.  Michiyo (Setsuko Hara) married her husband Hatsunosuke (Ken Uehara) some years ago in Tokyo, where they lived for the first years of their marriage before moving to Osaka.  And whereas they had been a happy couple early on in their marriage, things are less happy now in Japan's second largest -- and less culturally sophisticated -- city, where Michiyo's not only far away from her family but also feeling that married life has lost its spark.
Apart from Hatsunosuke for many hours in a day to his work, Michiyo spends a lot of time cleaning and cooking -- and scrimping by doing such as buying less tasty foreign rice rather than better tasting but more expensive Japanese rice for their meals.  And even when Hatsunosuke is home, they hardly talk anymore, with his preferring to do such as read the newspaper at meal times rather than look at and chat with his beautiful wife.

Matters are made worse after Hatsunosuke's spoilt niece, Satoko (Yukiko Shimazaki), appears at the doorstep one day -- telling the couple that she's run away from home because she doesn't want to marry yet (even though a man's already been chosen for her)!  When Hatsunosuke indulges her, Michiyo feels -- perhaps somewhat jealous and definitely even more neglected.  After some time, Michiyo decides to take a leaf from Satoko's book -- and packs her bags and effectively runs back to stay with her mother (the taste of whose rice she's dearly missed) and other relatives back in Tokyo!
Inevitably, because Michiyo is played by Setsuko Hara, one can't help but take her side -- and sympathize with her lot: one that involves no small amount of domestic drudgery.  At the same time, it's still quite the shock to see a Japanese wife circa 1951 leave her husband, even if only for a time and to go back to her mother!  But therein lies Naruse's strength -- in that he sees and therefore portrays women in his films not as saintly paragons or conniving bitches but actual humans. 
As for Ken Uehara: although his role is a secondary one to Setsuko Hara's, it's also instructive -- in that one sees a salaryman whose distinct personality comes out in the choice of shoes that he proudly bought and wears to the office, and who comes to learn that a wife should not be taken for granted, and definitely should not be looked upon merely as his personal, live-in cook! :) 
My rating for this film: 8.0

Sunday, April 12, 2015

2014's The Moment at the 2015 Hong Kong International Film Festival

Three Golden Horse statuettes and other prizes won by 
Film Festival's Filmmaker's in Focus on public display that year

The Moment (Taiwan, 2014)
- From the Filmmakers and Filmmaking programme
- Yang Li Chou, dir.
- Featuring Charlie Chin, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Sylvia Chang, Stanley Kwan, Ang Lee, Chen Kuo Fuo, Fruit Chan, Wei Te Sheng, etc.

Two years ago, as part of the Golden Horse Awards' 50th anniversary celebrations, documentary filmmaker Yang Li Chou was commissioned by Taiwan's Ministry of Culture to make a film about the prestigious Chinese language film awards that have been won, over the years, by film personalities and cinematic works from not only Taiwan but also Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore and -- in the case of cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and The Home Song Stories' Tony Ayres -- Australia.

As expected, The Moment makes copious use of footage from past Golden Horse Award ceremonies and film clips from Golden Horse Award-winning works.  It also features cool interviews with filmmakers, actors and actresses past and present, including Charlie Chin (whose present aged look is quite the shock, both when juxtaposed with clips from his 1970s romances and also when compared to how his frequent co-star, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, looked when making appearances at such as the 2013 Golden Horse Awards ceremony), Hou Hsiao Hsien (who's always surprisingly amusing, given how serious many of his films are), Ang Lee (who recounted how emotional he was when receiving his first ever film award -- a Golden Horse for 1992' Pushing Hands), and director Stanley Kwan and a few other Golden Horse Award-winning Hong Kongers.

Unexpectedly though, director Yang Li Chou's documentary is far more than the awards fluff piece that I thought it'd be -- and actually would have been happy enough for it to be, given that a number of my favorite film folks and films have been honored with Golden Horse Awards over the years.  Put another way: I'd have been perfectly satisfied to see and hear about those worthy honorees in such a way that got me remembering and appreciating them anew.

But the Taiwanese documentary filmmaker actually took the opportunity with The Moment to properly introduce his audience to the Golden Horse Awards by chronicling its history and, along the way, communicating fun facts like the film awards having got its name from Kinmen (Golden Gate) and Matsu (Horse Ancestor), two islands in the Taiwanese Straits, and its awards ceremony being held annually on former Taiwanese ruler Chiang Kai Shek's birthday.  

Even better was The Moment also containing a related and relevant discussion of the history of Taiwanese cinema in a way that was thoroughly enlightening as well as interesting, and helped me to understand how and why it came to be so that it would spawn very different films at different times such as propaganda films featuring heroic Kuomintang soldiers, Chiung Yao romances starring "the two Lins and two Chins" (Joan Lin Feng Chiao, Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia, Chin Han and Charlie Chin), low budget Chu Yen Ping actioners, Taiwanese New Wave realist dramas and contemporary commercial hits on subjects as diverse as a high school baseball team (KANO) and romantic coming-of-age tale (You Are the Apple of My Eye).

A love letter to Chinese language cinema, this documentary additionally spotlights film fans along with film professionals  In so doing, it adds emotional layers and historical context to its narrative, and also some moments that amuse -- not least because the film geeks among us will surely relate to some of the feelings that the interviewed film fans disclose their having had over the course of their cinematic viewing.  Finally, on a personal film geek note: I'll readily admit that I was hoping to glimpse my favorite actress of all time in this documentary and did feel amply rewarded by being treated to a few old film clips featuring The Great One and also archival footage of her gracing Golden Horse Awards ceremonies (including the 50th anniversary edition in 2013)! :)