Wednesday, April 11, 2007

My 2007 HKIFF viewing experiences (4)

(Continuing from yesterday and the previous two days...)

Before the Flood (Mainland China, 2004)
- Crossing Boundaries: Fiction and Documentary in Contemporary Chinese Cinema entry
- Li Yifan and Yan Yu, co-directors and editors
- Yan Yu, cinematographer 

This 150-minute-length documentary with Sichuanese dialogue (rather than Mandarin, as would be normally expected of a Mainland Chinese film) was first screened in Hong Kong at the 2005 Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF).  At this year's fest, it's been placed in a special section along with Jia Zhangke's Still Life -- which I viewed and was blown away by last November -- and Dong.

Filmed, like those two works by Jia, in the ancient walled town of Fengjie after orders were passed for its population's evacuation and the town's abandonment (on account of that which was immortalied in verse by the celebrated Tang Dynasty poet, Li Bai, being one of several locales that will be submerged by the flood waters after the completion of the Three Gorges Dam), it makes use of a camera that was able to unflinchingly record a tremendous lot, including quite a bit of anger, frustration, hopelessness and misery on the part of more than one hapless member of the local community.

To say the least: this is not an easy film to watch.  After all, we're talking here of a non-fiction portrait of a place where -- to quote the film's co-director, Li Yifan -- "[p]overty and unemployement prevailed, social justice and civic rights were often forgotten ... [and] people [were] dog-fighting each other by all kinds of means" and "each attempt of my camera failed to spot the resumption of human dignity before the flood" (The 31st HKIFF's catalogue, 2007:306).

All in all, I was not surprised to learn that this work has never been shown north of the Hong Kong-Mainland China border.  At the same time, I'm hardly going to count this omission against it -- and would agree with those who consider it a priceless record as well as a rather damning indictment of a contemporary situation that seems far from fair, especially from the viewpoint of the majority of those who have been captured on film in this documentary effort.

My rating for the film: 7.5

The Go Master (Mainland China & Japan, 2006)
Galas cum Master Class entry
● Tian Zhuangzhuang, director
● Starring Chang Chen, Ayumi Itou, Akira Emoto, Keiko Matsuzaka, Sylvia Chang

A couple of notes about the information provided about this biopic of Chinese Go legend Wu Quingyuan in the 31st HKIFF's Programme & Booking Folder and website before proceeding to properly discuss the film: Firstly, although Sylvia Chang gets second billing there, she's actually only in this work for about five minutes; and secondly, although Putonghua (AKA Mandarin) is listed ahead of Japanese in the languages section, there's more Japanese than Mandarin dialogue in this latest offering from Mainland Chinese auteur Tian Zhuangzhuang.

Moving on: what I found here was a quiet, austere work that has its compelling and sublime Zen moments. With the kind of camera work that's hardly quick but makes up for it by successfully capturing and imparting a lot of interesting details, this viewer felt like she was given enough to mull, contemplate and appreciate. Consequently, I never felt that there was a truly dull moment in this deliberately paced film.

At the risk of sounding thick or dull though, I have to admit to having also felt puzzled by more than one scene whose background I would have appreciated being more explicitly spelled out. On a related note: Certain depicted developments caused me to wonder about, and even question, the wisdom of the biographical film's supposedly admired protagonist more than perhaps should have ideally been the case.

Consequently, I have to admit that I generally was less impressed by this offering than I actually had expected to be; and this not least because Tian Zhuangzhuang may well be the Mainland Chinese director that I tend to rate the most highly. On the other hand, Taiwanese actor Chang Chen continues to impress for his ability to essay the wide range that characters that I've seen him portray over the past decade, including in works as disparate as Happy Together, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Betelnut Beauty and Silk.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Walk In (Hong Kong, 1997)
Director in Focus: Herman Yau entry
● Herman Yau, director
● Starring Danny Lee, Dayo Wong, Wu Chien Lien, Ada Choi, Yu Li, Law Koon Lan, Yvonne Yung Hung

When I walked into the Hong Kong Science Museum Lecture Hall that played host to this movie's HKIFF screening some ten minutes before the show was scheduled to start, I expected to see other people in it besides the screening's designated ushers. However, it was not until about a minute before the film started that other audience members appeared and, ultimately, there still only ended up being a grand total of six people in the not all that small hall!

As one of the ushers pointed out to me, it's not as though this offering's not already out on DVD in Hong Kong. After having experienced the sheer pleasure that was to be had from viewing this multi- or trans-genre effort on a big screen though, I just want to emphasize that those who opted to forego taking in this screening actually missed out on viewing one of the more fun and unabashedly entertaining movies in this year's HKIFF program.

Especially for a work that starts off with what appears to be a serious suicide attempt, this cinematic effort -- which also has its share of well filmed action -- sure is capable of eliciting a whole lot of hearty laughter; much of which is due to the antics of stars Danny Lee (who's much more well known for serious cop roles than that which he essayed here), Dayo Wong (in an uncustomed role as a policeman as well as a swain of a policewoman) and the truly cute Ada Choi (in a role that she looked to have made into something far more substantial than it probably had been written as being).

Still, the greatest delight by far that someone like me got from viewing this movie stemmed from beholding a host of familiar faces -- who, sadly enough, now rarely are to be found gracing the latest Hong Kong films -- on a big screen once more. However weird it may sound, when this happened, I found myself wanting to reach out and greet them like you would old and dear friends as well as treasuring, more than ever, the precious opportunity bestowed by way of this screening of seeing them at least one more time.

My rating for this film: Originally a 7.5 but now -- and yes, you can at least partly blame it on a strong case of nostalgia! -- a 9.

(To be continued tomorrow...)


duriandave said...

YTSL, I just saw your happy face over at David Bordwell's blog. :D

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

Reckon that my expression looks more smirky than happy on account of my being unused to being photographed as I hang around in between screenings at the Hong Kong Film Archive.

But what the hell: The way I see it, it's a wonderful honor to be pictured in the same blog entry as the likes of Ti Lung, Li Cheuk To, Simon Yam, Jupiter Wong, Shu Kei, Lisa Lu (doesn't she look great still?), etc., etc. :)

steve said...

Herman Yau must be the only director who has brought Danny Lee back to the big screen since the last 10 years...

YTSL said...

Hi Munin --

Herman Yau does seem to be the rare director to give Danny Lee a starring role in the past 10 years but Dante Lam has had Danny Lee in a few of his 21st century films (e.g., NAKED AMBITION (2003).

just me said...

Hi ytsl,

I LOVE WALK IN. :D and bet you probably know the biggest reason why I like that film. :)


YTSL said...

Hi "just me" --

A wild guess: You love WALK IN because someone with the initals ACSF is in it... ;b