Sunday, November 23, 2008

Six Hong Kong movies

The past lives on in memories and cultural references

There was a time early on in my 'born-again' Hong Kong movie fan phase when I got to thinking I might never watch a non-Hong Kong movie fan again. Then, just a few years later (and ago), I got to worrying that I was running out of Hong Kong movies to watch...

Still, despite the downturn in film production and the cries about the death of Hong Kong cinema (which have been made for some years now), I've not stopped being a Hong Kong movie fan. Not even after moving to the Fragrant Harbour itself -- a move that, somewhat ironically, does seem to have considerably cooled the cinematic ardor of more than one person I know, including a fair few whose writings had helped me on my way to Hong Kong film fanaticism.

At the same time, as I've mentioned before, it's not like my movie viewing habits have not changed since coming to Hong Kong. Most notably is it being so that I hardly watch any movies (from Hong Kong or elsewhere) on video any more.

One reason for this is that being in Hong Kong makes me want to be out and about in my Movie Mecca a lot, you know? A second, sometimes related reason is that thanks to such as the Hong Kong Film Archive as well as myriad film festivals (among those currently ongoing are the Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival, the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival and the Hong Kong Lesbian and Gay Film Festival), I've got plenty of opportunity to see a diverse selection of films on the big screen.

So it actually was a bit of a shock for me -- who does watch a lot of non- as well as Hong Kong movies these day -- to realize that, as of today, the six films I've most recently seen all happen to be Hong Kong films. (To be sure, others would be more shocked, I think, by the fact that these six films have been seen in a period of just eight days... and it's true that that is way above average for most people as well as for me usually! ;b)

Since that no longer is that usual a thing, I figured that I'd should commemorate this with a blog post about that sextet of movies. So, without further ado:-

Ballistic (2008) -- The third cinematic offering of the year for suddenly prolific director Lawrence Lau (AKA Lawrence Ah Mon), this set-in-Taiwan crime drama-thriller with strong political themes and overtones will get Hong Kong movie buffs with long memories thinking Island of Greed (1997). In this case, however, the new surely triumphs the old in terms of the quality of the filmmaking and acting (by a cast led by Simon Yam who shows how he knows how to act, not just overact like in Johnnie To's Sparrow). And while it's quite obviously the case that certain concessions had to be made in order to try to make the film more commercially appealing, my sense is that certain scenes and messages still can't help but hit home -- especially for those with a familiarity of Taiwanese (presidential) politics.

My rating for the film (on the scale): 8 (And this despite watching the film in unusual surroundings which necessitated that the screening be temporarily halted for a few times.)

Citizen King (2008) -- I have to admit to having wanted to watch this film because of it having some cool faces from the past (notably the great Gordon Liu but also the criminally under-used Farini Cheung). But while they really are fine in it, there's no doubt that the two people who caught my eye the most while taking in this dramedy about a frustrated Hong Kong actor who smells a chance to head to Hollywood and decides to go for it for all it's worth are star and co-director Johnson Lee and Brian Burrell. Shot on what must have been a not at all substantial budget, that which might well be described as a darker version of My Name is Fame (2006) still actually turns out to have quite a bit of substance.

My rating for the film: 7.

Magazine Gap Road (2007/8) -- Watching this Nicholas Chin-directed movie about a woman whose past comes back to haunt her at the Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival made for an interesting experience. Truth is, despite that its Tuesday screening having been its Hong Kong premiere, I've seen it twice before and also did such as read its script (and -- full disclosure -- wrote its publicity copy). Despite not having been directly involved in its making, I still felt I knew quite a bit of the details surrounding the movie, the choices made regarding particular shots, music, etc. All in all, it made for a viewing experience that was quite memorable and, I can but hope, I will be able to repeat in the future.

No rating for this film (Sorry but I really can't give one for this film!)!

July (2004) -- There are people who think that Hong Kong movies and Hong Kongers are never politically-minded. Well, this Tammy Cheung documentary shows how much of a lie/fallacy those assumptions are. A moving record of the massive July 1, 2003 protest march staged against an anti-subversion bill (aka Article 23), some sections of it feels like history, others a still pertinent contemporary rallying call (even though Cheung's avowed style is to be less directly didactic than most other documentary filmmakers). Above it all, I came away with a sense that there really is a distinct Hong Kong people and that many of them are not going to easily become Chung Kwok Yan any time soon.

My rating for this film: 7.5

Eternal Love (1966) -- Like Hong Kong cinema, the death of Cantonese opera has long been heralded but it seems to continue to have its fans. Back in 1966, an attempt was made to popularise and modernise the traditional art form with a film starring some of the biggest teen stars of the day in Connie Chan Po-Chu and Josephine Siao Fong-Fong. The result was a fascinating romantic work that I found watchable (even if rather puzzling in its ultimate treatment of the stories' 'baddies')... even without English subtitles (like was the case with the version of it that I saw)!

My rating for the film: 7

Princess Chang Ping (1975) -- Before all that slow mo 'heroic bloodshed', two-hand gun-action, Mexican stand-offs and increasingly annoying doves, John Woo actually made a Cantonese opera film that centered on a real life female historical personality. Though made later than Eternal Love, that whose cast is comprised of The Young Phoenix Opera troupe actually is more traditionally styled -- especially with regards to it music and musical cues. And while I've read that it has its critics, it clearly also has its fans as can be seen by it being it being the first film I've ever witnessed getting a hearty round of applause at its Hong Kong Film Archive screening yesterday.

My rating for the film: 7.5


Sreisaat said...

Oh, how I envy you! You live in a place where there are plenty of film events for movie buffs like you :)

YTSL said...

Hi Sreisaat --

I take it that you're a fellow movie buff? (Especially if not, much thanks for reading this lengthy blog lost and commenting on it too!) :)