Monday, April 9, 2007

My 2007 HKIFF viewing experiences (2)

(Continuing from yesterday...)

After This Our Exile
(Hong Kong, 2006)
Hong Kong Panorama 2006-2007 entry
● Patrick Tam, director
● Starring Aaron Kwok, Goum Ian Iskander, Charlie Yeung, Kelly Lin, Valen Hsu and Qin Hailu

Patrick Tam completed his last directorial effort of the 20th century, the fatalistically romantic My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989), he worked as an editor or art director on just four more films -- including Wong Kar Wai's Days of Being Wild and Ashes of Time (1994) -- before effectively going into exile in Malaysia.

And several years would pass before the now Malaysian citizen went on to add another film credit to his name (as editor for Johnnie To's Election (2005)) -- and one more before this respected "Hong Kong New Wave" auteur came out with this triple Golden Horse awards (including for Best Picture) winner that was shot entirely in Malaysia even while having a cast that includes individuals who hail from Hong Kong, Holland, Taiwan and Mainland China.

Thus far, only the shortened-by-40-minutes version of this substantive but stylistically spare drama -- whose screenplay took ten years to complete -- has made it onto home video as well as been screened in Malaysian cinemas. Consequently, one of the major attractions of attending this year's HKIFF for me was the opportunity to view the full 160 minute length "Director's Cut" of this film on a big screen.

To say the least, I did not feel let down at all by this compelling father and son drama -- and this even though it stars one of my least favorite Hong Kong actors in Aaron Kwok. Something else that truly amazes me about this deliberately paced work is how it is that after viewing its full length version, there isn't a single scene in the mature offering (for which Patrick Tam has co-scripting and art directing as well as full directorial and sole editing credits) that I think ought to be completely eliminated or even shortened.

My rating for this film: 8.5

Undercover (Hong Kong, 2007)
Hong Kong Panorama 2006-2007 entry
● Billy Chung Kiu Hung, director
● Starring Shawn Yue, Sam Lee and Monie Tung

As it so happens, the next HKIFF screening I went to took place pretty much immediately after the conclusion of After This Our Exile as well as in the same venue as it. Consequently, it was hard not to think back and compare the film I had just viewed with the latest Hong Kong crime drama that centers on a troubled individual who has led a double life as an undercover cop whose world premiere I ended up attending that same day.

Much as I wish that it was otherwise, the bald truth of the matter is that this shot-on-digital video offering can't help but suffer quite a bit in comparison. And although its two male stars actually are ones whose movie appearances I often do look forward to seeing, their sturdy (in the case of Shawn Yue) and charismatic (in the case of Sam Lee) presence just couldn't make up for their characters being caught in a story that's tired, hackneyed and unneccessarily possesses the kind of misogynistic overlay that tales about heng tai don't really need to have (and, to my mind, would be far better to not possess).

My rating for this film: 4.5

Love Conquers All (Malaysia, 2006)
Asian Digital Competition entry
● Tan Chui Mui, director
● Starring Coral Ong, Stephen Chua and Leong Jiun Jiun

This Malaysian indie effort has a reputation for being a favorite with film festival juries. Prior to its HKIFF appearance, it already had won the "New Currents Award" (for Best New Asian Filmmaker of the Year) and FIPRESCI Prize at the 2006 Pusan Film Festival along with a Tiger at the 2007 Rotterdam International Film Festival. And true to form, it triumphed once more in Hong Kong; this time walking away with the Asian Digital Competition's Golden Digital Award (i.e., first prize).

After getting a personal taste of it, I've come to the conclusion that there are three distinct categories of films: i.e., in addition to commercial movies and arthouse films, there also are those artsier than arthouse works which I'd separately class as "film festival fare". On a related note: The sense I definitely get is that these kinds of offerings really aren't for the likes of me.

Put another way: I wasn't impressed by this effort's acting, cinematography, editing and musical choices, never mind story and other content. Also, I didn't feel any sense of tension or empathy for the main characters. Would you after seeing a pretty young woman who's told early on by a male stranger -- who she ends up falling for and sleeping with -- how pretty young women get easily led down the road to prostitution against their will proceeding to get shown easily being led said road against her will?

In a nutshell: In a film festival that appears to have had too many films with stupid protagonists, this work's main character gets the prize for being the dumbest of them all. Consequently, color me extremely unimpressed -- by her and, also, Love Conquers All as a whole.

My rating for the film: 2.0

Four Moods (Taiwan, 1970)
Li Han-Hsiang, Storyteller entry
● Bai Jingrui, King Hu, Li Xing and Li Han-Hsiang, directors

● Starring Peter Yang Chun, Li Lihua, Chen Chen, Jiang Qin and others

Like John Woo, the late Li Han-Hsiang is remembered these days as one of Hong Kong cinema's biggest auteurs. However, as with more than one now vaunted Hong Kong filmmaker, he also had a spell in Taiwan, during which he got into financial trouble.

To help him get through his dire straits, three of Taiwan's top directors in Bai Jingrui, King Hu and Li Xing decided to band together with Li Han-Hsiang to make a movie that would consist of four separate stories, each of which would be directed by one of this quartet of auteurs. The result was this omnibus offering with four stylistically plus substantively different segments that could stand alone if not for the fact that each of them is less than an hour, maybe even forty-five minutes, in length.

As I understand it (since the opening credits were not translated into English), the first segment was directed by Bai Jingrui. One of the movie's three stories which feature a ghostly presence, it feels very experimental due to its being entirely dialogue free even while also quite traditional as a consequence of featuring a traditional, even if percussion-heavy, accompanying soundtrack!

Early on in the second segment that was directed by King Hu, I worried that I'd be viewing one more dialogue free celluloid tale. Fortunately, after five minutes or so, there came some dialogue. And after a few more minutes, there came to be the kind of action that one has come to associate with King Hu and think that he is a genius at choreographing. And, to say the least, it all made for a very enthralling section of film indeed!

So much so that I was somewhat sad to see that section come to an end and be followed by a segment directed by Li Xing that was fairly interesting but no where near as distinguished as the King Hu effort that had preceded it. Also, for all of this third section of Four Moods having a vengeful man as its main protagonist, it featured far more melodramatic emoting than actual action and was not helped by having one of those plot twists that this viewer could see from a mile away (but the main character failed to do for some time).

Finally, there came the section of the movie which was helmed by Li Han-Hsiang. Unlike all the other works which I've previously viewed, this one didn't feature an elaborate set or pretty costumes. While some might rue this state of affairs, my own sense was that the work was all the better for this being so. For it seemed that, for a change, its helmer focused here on making his piece's two main characters into likeable ones and its admittedly powder-puff story -- one that's largely comedic even while also having supernatural elements -- into one which turned out to be altogether quite delightful plus entertaining to behold. :)

My ratings for the different sections of this film: 4.5 for the first segment; 8.0 for the second; 6.0 for the third; and 8.0 for the last (but by no means least; and one which caused me to wear a big smile on my face as I exited the Hong Kong Film Archive theatre that I viewed it in :) ).

(To be continued tomorrow...)


GoldenRockProductions said...

I realized I should proofread my comments.

Anyway, thanks for the review. I got tickets to see the 160-minute cut of After This, Our Exile at the San Francisco International Film Festival as well, so I'm glad you liked the director's cut. I myself am a little worried about the extra 40 minutes, but since the storytelling (especially towards the end) felt rushed at points that I think 40 minutes may be well-warranted after all.

YTSL said...

Hi goldenrockproductions --

Thanks for reading my review(s). Also, would be interested to know what you think of the 160- vs 120-minute versions of AFTER THIS OUR EXILE. So please report back here or write something on your own blog about it after you've seen the Director's Cut, okay? :)

eliza bennet said...

What are the differences in the director's cut? (I don't know if the version I have is the shorter or the longer one)

I'm not particularly impressed with this film. Aaron was not a dissapointment (even though everyone else acted better)

YTSL said...

Hi "eliza bennet" --

Like I sought to point out in my post (but evidently not too successfully!), only the shorter version of the film currently exists on video. From what I gather, the shorter version is most definitely less impressive. Hence my avoiding viewing it and waiting instead for this rare chance to view the lengthier -- by 40 minutes! -- "Director's Cut".

eliza bennet said...

Oh sorry I missed that comment.

To be honest the shorter version didn't give anything to me and I certainly am not eager to watch 40 minutes more of the same thing - but reading your positive thoughts made me curious.

YTSL said...

Hi again "eliza bennet" --

FWIW, I think that AFTER THIS OUR EXILE is the kind of film that works so much better on a big screen than small one. It's all rather deceptive since it can come across like a mere small-scale domestic drama. Yet watching it in the environment that I was able to do, I found myself very much appreciating a lot of its cinematic qualities.

Edmund Yeo said...

Oooh, another negative review of Love Conquers All. Welcome to the club! I think you are the only reviewer besides me in Malaysia who didn't laud this film as a masterpiece.

I had wondered repeatedly what the hell was I missing, or whether my mind had been numbed so long by mainstream fare, and other visual candies that I've became highly incapable of enjoying a film like this already. Lots of soul-searching occurred after that, with me wondering whether I should change my own filmmaking style and the likes.

Director Tan Chui Mui's nice though, she did email me and thanked me for my (somewhat negative) review. I almost felt ashamed for being so harsh with it.

Edmund Yeo said...

To me, the bright point of the film was its realistic depiction of everyday Malaysian life. But other than that... I just couldn't 'get' it. I AM intrigued with what TCM can offer in the future though, can she reinvent herself totally? Bring her style to a post-apocalyptic sci-fi film? Hm.

YTSL said...

Hi Swifty --

"Oooh, another negative review of Love Conquers All. Welcome to the club! I think you are the only reviewer besides me in Malaysia who didn't laud this film as a masterpiece."

Get the feeling that this might be because many, if not the vast majority, of film reviewers in Malaysia have met Tan Chui Mui and found her to be a nice person... ;S

"To me, the bright point of the film was its realistic depiction of everyday Malaysian life."

You mean the bits of about going to a pasar malam (night market), riding a motorcycle without having a license, etc.? If so, agreed with that but OTOH, would most females get into a car with a man whose name they didn't know (at least that seemed to be the case at that point in the movie), etc.?

Also, is CHUNGKING EXPRESS considered a movie with which Malaysian man can successfully woo females? I'm wondering about this since noticing references to that Wong Kar Work in both SEPET and now LOVE CONQUERS ALL. But surely, at best, this only is the case in reel rather than real life? ;S

Edmund Yeo said...

Ah, and also the part where some Indian dude will sell you lottery tickets during the middle of a meal in a restaurant.

But yeah, the protagonist was an idiotic bitch.

YTSL said...

Hi again Swifty --

Hmmm, while I would agree with you that LOVE CONQUERS ALL's protagonist was idiotic, I'd not go so far as to label her a bitch... :S

Anonymous said...

we've linked this post again:

YTSL said...

Hi "mad dog" --

Thanks for the "heads up" re this. In turn, here's letting and please note that this was by no means my last post on the HKIFF. :)

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
YTSL said...

To anonymous --

I wish that I could believe you when you wrote that you loved my blog. However, based on everything else that followed that line, it seems that you're only seeking free advertisement for your website -- one unrelated to movies, I may add -- and that you haven't read my blog as closely as you had sought to imply.

So, unless you really can show me otherwise, I consider your post to be spam and deleted its contents.