Thursday, April 12, 2007

My 2007 HKIFF viewing experiences (5)

(Continuing from yesterday and the three days before it...)

Sway (Japan, 2006)
Global Vision entry
● Miwa Nishikawa, director
● Starring Joe Odagiri, Teruyuki Kagawa, Yoko Maki, Masato Ibu, Keizo Kanie

Around the time that I went into the screening of this mystery drama involving sibling rivalry along with a possible murder, I realized that, without going out of the way to do so, at least four of the films on my Hong Kong International Film Festival viewing schedule this year had been directed by females. Upon emerging from its screening, I felt that I could state with utmost certainty that that which was Japan's sole feature film entry at last year's Cannes Film Festival is the best by far of this diverse group (whose other entrants include efforts from Mainland China, Malaysia and Hong Kong).

Something else that I reckon is that Sway is most cleverly and aptly titled. For one thing, a key fateful event in this intriguing film takes place on a swaying bridge. For another, the title also can to be taken as referring to the way in which opinions, including those of the offering's main character, can swither or even swing from one point to another.

And that's by no means the end of it with regards to the cleverness of the movie's conception and execution either. Rather, there's also the sense one gets that what could easily have been a drama of limited scope -- set as it is in a small town for the most part and involving just a few individuals -- has come to be "readable" as "a meditation on choice, guilt, memory and identity that is truly about contemporary Japan" as a whole (Cf. its description in the 31st HKIFF's Programme & Booking Folder, 2007:43).

Granted that I am not the best person to judge but the film additionally struck me as having provided some very perceptive portraits of a Japan that's more socially heterogenous than many people are apt to assume (even if the social divisions are not ethnic but, rather, along rural versus urban and traditional plus community-oriented versus more modern plus individualistic lines).

Best of all though is that it made me care for more than one character's situation and see their points of view, even if they diverged and even were apt to seemingly change from day to day; a state of affairs which -- as I was reminded time and time again over the course of this festival -- is not always easily achieved, by non-fiction and fiction filmmakers alike.

My rating for this film: 8.0

I Don't Want To Sleep Alone (Taiwan & Malaysia, 2006)
Master Class entry
● Tsai Ming-Liang, director
● Starring Lee Kang Sheng, Chen Siang Yi, Norman Bin Atun, Pearly Chua

Unbeknownst to many people, including those who consider themselves avowed Asian film fans, Tsai Ming-Liang actually hails from Malaysia (in particular, Kuching, Sarawak) rather than Taiwan. However, it was only last year that he returned to his native land to make his first film there.

That which is set entirely in Kuala Lumpur admirably differs from the film festival favorite's previous works in terms of such as the variety and mix of languages that can be found in what dialogue there is in the work. And it isn't the only thing about this offering that I could recognize with some relish as being particularly Malaysian. (As an aside: Just you try to find a Malaysian film which doesn't have scenes of people eating! ;b)

At the same time though, such as the effort's languid pace and extended shots along with the tendency of more than one character to opt for silence over conversation, even when one would think that it'd be far more normal to utter some sounds and words, is unmistakeably Tsai Ming Liang rather than Malaysian per se.

Consequently, I think it only fair to suggest that a viewing of this film requires a large amount of patience; something that many in the audience whose screening I attended appear to have, as they gave the work a generally positive reception. On the other hand, there also were a few walkouts.

Additionally, a friend of mine was moved to admit that she felt that the experience of viewing this effort had been akin to torture for her. And while I wouldn't go so far, let's just say that my rating of the film plainly shows that my own opinion of the offering is closer to hers than to that of its fans!

My rating of this film: 4.5

Cold Blade (Hong Kong, 1970)
● Hong Kong Film Archive's Restored Treasures entry
● Chor Yuen, director
● Starring Melinda Chen Man-ling, Kao Yuan, Ingrid Hu

I could have imagined it but I thought I heard several sharp intakes of breaths at the start of the screening of this martial arts offering. In any event, one got the sense that those of us in the Hong Kong Film Archive theatre that evening were a privileged lot indeed since we were going to be among the few people to have been treated to a viewing of a movie that's been rarely seen for a number of years now.

The first of Chor Yuen's Mandarin language martial arts offerings is quite a bit more stylized than those which I'd previously seen courtesy of Celestial Films' still on-going re-release of the Shaw Brothers classics. So much so, in fact, that I'd vouchsafe that this is a work that one should not see for its sometimes frankly quite clunky-looking action alone.

Instead, what is more likely to capture one's interest and captivate is that a lot of the film's general style as well as plot-twist-filled content can seem like an in utero version of what would gloriously come from this legendary director. Similarly, this landmark effort looks to anticipate many a later memorable work of some of the actors (among them Chen Kuan Tai and Paul Chu Kong) who only have supporting roles to play in this movie.

As for the thespians who hold center-stage in this now thirty-seven- year-old film, I really am not familiar at all with Melinda Chen Man-Ling, Kao Yuan and Ingrid Hu. All of which goes to show that, for all of my coming close to having viewed one thousand Hong Kong movies over the past ten years, I still have a ways to go and much to learn about the cinema that I love.

My rating for this film: 7.0

Bubble Fiction: Boom or Bust (Japan, 2007)
Gala Premiere entry
● Yasuo Baba, director
● Starring Hiroshi Abe, Ryoko Hirosue, Hiroko Yakushimaru, Kazue Fukiishi

Twenty. That was the number of times, believe it or not, that I counted the audience at the sold-out screening of this screwball time-travel offering were moved to not only roar with laughter but actually loudly applaud in reaction to something that they had gleefully seen unfold on the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's Grand Theatre's massive screen! And yes, many of a time, I was moved to join in both the enthusiastic applause as well as the gleeful laughter.

Before moving on to discussing the film itself, let me make clear that in all of my years of movie going, I had never before witnessed such a massive outpouring of love for a cinematic production before. Also, that while there's a good chance that I myself would not love this effort so much if I hadn't chanced to be part of that wildly appreciative audience on my final evening of 2007 HKIFF-ing, it seems somewhat churlish to even make this admission for the terrific crowd-pleaser of a movie really did give me so much joy on the night.

In the cold light of day, this zany offering's story-line and conceit can sound stupid: i.e., it centers on a bubbly bar hostess who gets enlisted by gray-suited officials from Japan's Ministry of Finance to go back some seventeen years in time to save Japan as well as her mother (who, she belatedly finds out is actually a genius inventor of such as a time machine!).

However, the exceedingly fun as well as funny film thoroughly excels not only in inserting amusing pop culture references galore into its proceedings and poking fun at itself plus its main characters but, also, at putting a lot of heart into unlikely people and things.

For all this though, what ultimately makes this standout movie work so well has to be the bravura performances of its main actor and actresses; the former of whom gets hilariously called upon to play not one or even two but three different incarnations of his character, and the latter of whom are able to marry kawaii-ness with feisty-ness to a highly attractive degree, irregardless of whether their ostensible role in the work is that of a single-minded single mother or ditzy debt-ridden daughter. :)

My rating for this film: 9.

(A note to my readers: Should you not have realized it, thus endeth my 2007 HKIFF viewing report! Also, here's stating for the record that, despite what Blogger seems to think -- and has counted over in the Labels section of this blog, I really have not posted as many as 36 times about the HKIFF up to this point!!! ;D)


Anonymous said...

It is such a weird, but good, feeling to see pictures of yourself, Shelly Karcier, and others on Bordwell's blog. I've only been reading your blog for a few months even though I had been reading your reviews for quite some time before that -- years maybe -- on View from the Brooklyn Bridge.

And now you are less of a voice in the limbo of cyberspace.

Seriously, your trip sounded like a lot of fun.

I think I would probably have lost my cool if I had seen certain celebrities in person.

What's HK like for finding non-bootleg DVDs? Are the street vendors the only option or are there -- as I imagine it -- stores where I can just walk in and get my fix of HK legal dvds with English subs?


Willow said...

Thanks for sharing your movie reviews. I wonder how you keep your thoughts straight from viewing so many movies in one week. Are you immediately and furiously scribbling notes once you exit the theater? haha. Guess you're the kind who can manage a few details and impressions.

btb, Glenn, there are plenty of legit media stores to make your DVD or music purchases in HK. There are even Blockbuster stores. Although I didn't seek them out, I don't even think I've seen any street vendors. Perhaps too dangerous? Right. When did that ever stop them?

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

I felt rather weird, even if somewhat good, myself when seeing my photo on David Bordwell's blog. Weirder, actually, than when I meet up in person with people who've I previously only known in cyberspace (like David Bordwell and Shelly Kraicer)... ;)

Also, yes, my recent Hong Kong trip was a lot of fun. :)

And this not least because it's a Mecca for non-pirate DVD (and VCD) shopping! Put another way: Street vendors are hardly the only option (BTW, cf. my blog post entitled "Hong Kong movie haunts" for places to shop for DVDs, etc. -- though, alas, UFO is no more. Also, from what I gather, Blockbuster pulled out of Hong Kong sometime back.)

Hi Willow --

"Thanks for sharing your movie reviews. I wonder how you keep your thoughts straight from viewing so many movies in one week."

You're welcome re the reviews and as for helping keep my thoughs straight, having such materials as a HKIFF program catalogue help!

At the same time though, my memory starts fading after some time has passed. Hence my feeling that it'd be best to write up my thoughts post haste before I forget them!

"I don't even think I've seen any street vendors."

I've only ever seen these in the context of street markets (e.g., over at Temple Street) over in Hong Kong.

Something else to add is that since the prices of legit DVDs start from HK$18 (with US$1 = HK$7.80) and come out as early as 3 weeks after a film's theatrical run, the incentive for buying a pirated video version is lower in Hong Kong than many other places.

Anonymous said...

this one and "My 2007 HKIFF viewing experiences (4)" are both linked to us. (

YTSL said...

Hi "mad dog" --

Thanks for linking and here's letting you know that you do seem to have sent quite a few visitors my way. :)