Saturday, April 26, 2008

Unique/funny signs (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Ever since I moved to Hong Kong close to a year ago, I've been spotting signs that strike me as unique and/or funny -- sometimes due to the mangling of the English language that I suppose is to be expected of a society that is officially tri-lingual, at other times due to Hong Kong being more of a nanny state than I had hitherto realized that it can be, on some other occasions because of the strange juxtaposition of a sign and another piece of material culture, and on yet other occasions due to Hong Kongers displaying a distinct tendency towards the kawaii that rivals the Japanese.

Although I have been meaning for some time now to put up a whole entire photo-essay made up of pictures of these unique/funny signs, I've yet to do so -- partly because I keep on thinking that my collection of such photos remains far from complete. But this week's Photo Hunt gives me the opportunity to share a sample of the photos I've accumulated of these quintissentially Hong Kong as well as unique and/or funny signs -- and I hope that visitors to this blog will excuse the lateness of this particular post especially because they end up deriving a significant no small amount of interest in, and/or amusement from, its contents. :b

Sunday, April 20, 2008

From Wan Chai Gap to Wong Nai Chung Gap (Photo-essay)

A glance at the calendar recently got me realizing that it's been more than a month since I last went hiking while a glance at this blog's back entries got me discovering that it's also been more than a month since I last posted a hiking photo-essay; one whose pictures were taken on my last hike of 2007. So, here in late April 2008, a photo-essay documenting a 2008 hike seems way over due. Hence it being so that I'm finding some down-time in a busy period (of work but also having to move apartments, etc.) to share the following set of photos from a hike I went on with an Australian friend way back on the first day of this past Chinese New Year:-

One of the wonders of Hong Kong is discovering how near
nature and quiet can be from urban spaces like Wan Chai
(to wit, this path is but a few minutes walk down
on the greener, southern side of Wan Chai Gap)

...and again (this time without
even my hike companion in the picture! ;b)

It was Chinese New Year rather than Christmas
but some of the flora we saw on our hike
got us thinking of that end of year day instead ;)

...and again! ;)

Our 7.5 km hike route from Wan Chai Gap to
Wong Nai Chung Gap is just one of many hike possibilities
within the 423 hectare
Aberdeen Country Park
that has been called Hong Kong Island's 'back garden'

The Aberdeen Reservoirs (Upper and Lower) are
some of the Aberdeen Country Park's main features

The Aberdeen Reservoirs may not be as beautiful
as the Tai Tam Reservoirs but I still reckon
that they're worth a second look (and picture)

And this especially on a day like our hike's --
which was great for walking in that it was bracingly cool
but not so great for panoramic photography since,
as this shot looking southeast shows,
it was on the misty side! ;S

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Thirteen (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

The proverbial 'they' say that a picture says a thousand words but the two pictures -- one a close up of a building address; the other a close-up of a quartet of elevator buttons -- that I took this morning especially for this Thirteen (13) Photo Hunt entry don't say much that's interesting by themselves. But, hopefully, when I explain that over here in Hong Kong, 13 is not considered an unlucky number -- or, at least, much less so than 4, 14 or 24 -- then they might take on more meaning.

For those who don't know, Chinese dialects -- be they Cantonese (the primary language of Hong Kong), Mandarin (which people in America tend to think of as being the only Chinese language there is), Hokkien (my mother tongue), etc. -- are tonal in nature. What this means is that changes in tone make for different words and changes in meanings. In the case of the number 4, when uttered with a different tone, the word for it turns into "die/death", with 14 sounding like "certain death/definitely die" and 24 sounding like "easily die/easy death"!

Consequently, you will often find people trying to skip those numbers; with the result being that even while there are addresses -- like in my first photo -- that are marked by a 13 on them, it is so -- and now take a second look at the second photo in this entry... -- that some buildings here are officially without a 4th, 14th or 24th floor (even while still having a 13th floor)! And yes, if you're into calculating, what this means is that the 29th floor on the latter building actually is the 26th since 4, 14 and 24 are missing from it... ;b

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

One more 2008 HKIFF blog entry (4)

Part of the Edward Yang exhibit
on display in the Hong Kong Cultural Centre
during the Hong Kong International Film Festival proper

Yasukuni (Japan-Mainland China, 2007)
- From the Humanitarian Awards for Documentaries programme
- Li Ying, director

This documentary film by Mainland Chinese director Li Ying about Japan's notorious Yasukuni shrine has been both dogged by protests and controversy as well as emerged winner of an award at the 2008 Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF). Walking into a screening of the film with this knowledge (since the HKIFF award was announced midway through the fest), I must admit to having had high hopes regarding the quality of the work -- something which meant in part that I thought that it would provide quite a lot of insights and information into a place that many people evidently feel very strongly about.

As it turns out, however, I came away feeling rather disappointed. Frankly, I don't think it's all that well made a film and if not for its very intriguing and majorly emotionally charged subject matter, surely wouldn't have attracted all that much attention and kudos. Alternatively put, the decision to focus on what it does is daring indeed, to be sure, but its treatment actually feels rather lazy and designed to push emotional buttons rather than be thoughtful and enlightening.

Consequently, I feel like an opportunity's been lost here; one that, in the wake of all the controversy this work has engendered, may be damagingly denied to other and/or future filmmakers. At the same time though, will not deny that the film most definitely has got its share of truly emotionally raw and powerful moments -- notably when the relatives of some individuals (including Aboriginal Taiwanese but also pacific Japanese Buddhists) go to Yasukuni to officially petition for the removal of their ancestors' names to be removed from Yasukuni's rolls, only to be met by intransigence on the part of the Shinto shrine's representatives, and also when two protestors who disrupt a major ceremony at Yasukuni are actually attacked by angry Yasukuni Shrine supporters -- one of whom, in the bargain, goes into a disturbingly virulent anti-Chinese tirade upon mistakenly assuming that the protestors are Chinese rather than actually Japanese.

My rating for this film: 6.0

High Noon
(Hong Kong, 2008)
- From the Eric Tsang: Filmmaker in Focus programme
- Heiward Mak, director
- Starring Lam Yiu-sing, Sham Ka-kei, Anjo Leung, etc.

With a 23-year-old debutante director at its helm and a cast of unknowns for the most part (with the only person I was familiar with being Anjo Leung, the star of Magic Boy), I'm not sure whether this Hong Kong youth movie will be getting a local theatrical release. If it does, one big reason for it happening will undoubtedly be because it's backed and produced by Eric Tsang, a pretty big wig in the Hong Kong film industry as well as a great character actor and comedian.

One more 2008 Hong Kong movie whose main characters are a septet of disaffected youth as well as the HKSAR chapter of a "Growing Up Trilogy" of films whose other chapters are set and made in Mainland China and Taiwan, that which apparently originally went by the title Winds of September -- The Hong Kong Chapter is one of a growing number of movies I've seen recently that make me feel old -- or, at least, from a completely different generation as well as mindset from the principals in the picture. For while once upon a time, I actually related with the protagonists of Rebel Without a Cause and The Catcher in the Rye, the ironic fact may well be that as I've grown older, I've become less embittered and cynical about life in general!

Consequently, quite a bit of the angst and alienation in this admittedly technically okay work ends up striking me as so, well, unnecessary as well as uncalled for. So much so that it leaves me feeling impatient with the younger generation as they are being represented in contemporary Hong Kong cinema; particularly those among them with quite a bit to be thankful for and look forward to yet seem to find it so much easier to be ungrateful, filled with a sense of hopelessness and exude -- and often act upon -- self-destructive tendencies... :S

My rating for the film: 6.5

In summation: If my HKIFF experiences had ended with these two works as the final films viewed, it would have felt like quite the shame -- given that I did view my share of really good works earlier on. Fortunately, as I've previously mentioned, although the 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival officially drew to a close on April 6, its The One and Only Edward Yang programme (which comprises a complete retrospective of the late Taiwanese auteur's films) continues through to May. So this past Sunday, I was able to have the privilege plus pleasure of catching back-to-back screenings of A Confucian Confusion (1994) and Mahjong (1996), and I further look forward to checking out at least a couple more Edward Yang films in the near future! :)

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Twist (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Before anything else, my apologies for this Photo Hunt entry being later than usual. And here's going ahead and apologizing in advance for going to be later than usual to visit others this time around (although, once again, I promise that I will do so eventually, even if not in the next 24 hours!). The short story is that there are problems with my apartment, so: a) I've been out apartment hunting for the greater part of today; and b) my building's electricity will be temporarily (i.e., for only a few hours, I trust!) cut tomorrow... :S

Anyways, to the photos -- that hopefully show not only how hilly, green and natural still much of Hong Kong is but, also, how many of the paths on which I hike through the Hong Kong countryside tend to twist and turn. As it turns out, they are all from different hikes in different parts of the territory: with the top-most picture being taken in the New Territories (specifically, the section of Ma On Shan Country Park where I found myself genuinely fearing for my life!); the middle snap having been taken on my walk from Tung Chung to Tai O over on Lantau Island; and bottom shot having been taken in Tai Tam Country Park, near the Tai Tam reservoirs, over here on Hong Kong Island.

All of which serves to remind me that it's been a while since I went hiking in Hong Kong, a state of affairs I hope to remedy after I successfully move apartments within the next few weeks! ;)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Another four films viewed at this year's HKIFF (3)

Q&A session after the screening I attended of
All's Right With The World (see below) -- with, from left to right,
HKIFF Programme Manager Bede Cheng,
documentary film director Cheung King Wai
and the social worker he called upon to share the spotlight

Encounters at the End of the World (USA-Germany, 2007)
- From the
Master Class programme
- Werner Herzog, director

- documentary

Yes, I do watch non-Asian movies -- and not just for work either! In this case, it's a documentary film set in Antartica by German master filmmaker Werner Herzog. Antartica. Master filmmaker. I can see people thinking that, invariably, this means that the work is about penguins and is serious in tone. But although penguins do figure in the film, the focus really is more on the people (scientists, support staff, etc.) who have chosen at least part of their lives in the world's coldest as well as southern-most continent. And, again, while portions of this work are serious, sometimes even sad, other parts are really quite humourous indeed.

Shot on high definition video, some of the cinematographer could have been better and there were times when the film felt like it was (screened) out of focus. At other times though, the sheer amazing visuals offered up by Antartica more than made up for this. Also, the commentary and stories told on camera -- by people about themselves but also others, including others of the world's creatures -- truly are compelling indeed.

My rating for the film: 7.5

Candy Rain (Taiwan, 2008)
- From the Young Taiwanese Cinema programme
- Chen Hung-I, director
- Starring Niki Wu, Kao I-Ling, Karena Lam, Sandrine Pinna, Waa, etc.

Touted as "the hipper, female version of Happy Together", Candy Rain is an anthology of four lesbian romances that comes with a killer soundtrack that I most definitely would like to own in the form of a CD. As for the stories tenuously linked together by women in all four of them having mysterious packets of candy delivered to their apartment, one has to say that they are an uneven mix, ranging from forgettable to actually moving.

Fortunately, rather than saving the worst for last, the worst came early in the film. More specifically, the first vignette centering on a small town girl who becomes lovers as well as the room-mate of a friend from home now living in the (relatively) big city of Taipei lacks pace and urgency and generally feels too art-house-y. But after the film segues into the second story (this one about an amusingly fussy cook (Sandrine Pinna) and the older woman (Waa) who she meets on-line and then in person, not only did the mood lighten up but the characters also became more intriguing and involving.

The third story, about Spencer (Niki Wu) and Summer (Kao I-Ling), a happy couple forced to separate when Summer feels obliged by her family to get married and have children, is by far the strongest of Candy Rain's quartet. Genuinely moving and with content that feels substantive, it ends on a very intriguing note indeed. After which director Chen -- who is male, by the way -- looks to have opted for an exaggerated approach to counter-balance the previous realistic drama with a tale of a Ricky (Karena Lam) who calls herself a masochist -- and to prove it, gets herself into relationships in which she gets beaten up by her lovers... especially after they find out that she's been two- or even three-timing them. But when it all seems really cartoony, the mood changes again before the generally interesting work finally comes to an end.

My rating for the film: 6.5 overall (but 8.0 for the story of Spencer and Summer)

All's Right with the World
(Hong Kong, 2007)
- From the Humanitarian Awards for Documentaries programme
- Cheung King Wai, director
- documentary

In the minds of many people, Hong Kong is a shopper's paradise. But what if you don't have money? And trust me, even in Asia's World City, there really are poor people. Who do what to can, but invariably struggle, to ensure that -- to paraphrase this documentary film's title -- it's alright in their world.

Connecting a diverse group of ethnic Chinese people (some of them Hong Kong born, others of them migrants from elsewhere, including Thailand and Indonesia as well as Mainland China) and their stories by asking them about their happiest Chinese New Year, documentary filmmaker Cheung King Wai goes on to get them to pour their hearts out to the camera and this film's audience in a way that is revelatory but still never exploitative.

Viewing the film and listening to the tales of woe and struggle that are candidly told, I must admit to thinking more than once along the lines of "there but for the grace of God go I". At the same time, if I ever were to find myself in the situation, if only I could be as admirably stoic and able to remain hopeful against all odds like a couple of this film's interview subjects...

My rating for this film: 7.0

I Just Didn't Do It
(Japan, 2007)
- From the
Auteurs programme
- Masayuki Suo, director

- Starring Ryo Kase, Koji Yakusho, Asaka Seto, Masako Motai

Some twelve years ago now, Masayuki Suo made the sublime Shall We Dance...? (which Hollywood later produced a completely unnecessary and way inferior remake of that, unfortunately, many movie goers have no idea is a remake). Remarkably, when he finally made a film again (in 2007), it was this serious courtroom drama that's sad rather than heartwarming, and pretty condemning about the Japanese legal system which presumes that an accused is guilty rather than innocent and provides very few safeguards for the possibility that someone has been wrongly accused.

In this movie's case, the accused is a young man who stands accused of having groped a schoolgirl on board a crowded train. The first lawyer he sees tells him to plead guilty since the crime only carries a small fine but the young man insists that he is innocent, so why should he say otherwise? A logical query, you might think, until the film proceeds to show you how much he will have to pay in terms of time and psychological distress as well as financially just to plead his case.

Full of details and good acting, this 143 minute film doesn't have a single moment that doesn't feel unnecessary. At the same time, it most definitely is not a feel good work, so those who wish to be guaranteed that there will be light at the end of a long tunnel should give this dramatic offering a pass. And should it not be obvious, no, I don't think this is a film that is going to get remade by Hollywood any time soon -- something that, frankly, I think is a very good thing indeed!

My rating for the film: 8.0

Woman warrior, heavenly queen and more bc magazine article links

Figure in Penang's Hainanese Temple
of a Hokkien mortal turned goddess
worshipped in predominantly Cantonese Hong Kong
and Macau, among other places!

A new issue of bc magazine appeared in selected Hong Kong establishments (e.g., Starbucks outlets, Cosmos Bookstore, Kubrick (the Broadway Cinematheque's bookstore), several bars and restaurants) yesterday but it's only today that it's available on line. And yes, I wrote my share of the articles and other bits in it, and here are links to them:-

i) Woman Warrior -- arts feature on the HK Dance Company's Mulan;

ii) Heavenly Queen -- feature article on Tin Hau (AKA Ma-Chor, Matsu, etc.), goddess of the sea;

iii) A Scottish Tragedy in Hong Kong -- arts feature on a production of Macbeth here in the Fragrant Harbour;

iv) A Taste of Thai -- my second food feature ever!;

v) Review of Three Kingdoms: Resurrection of the Dragon;

vi) Review of Run Fatboy Run (An English language movie that should not be confused with Sylvia Chang's Run Papa Run!);

vii) Review of Escape from Huang Shi; and

viii) The Editor's Diary for April 10 to 30.

Also, will take the opportunity here to thank Brian for his kind permission in allowing us to make use of his review of Chocolate (and thereby save me a bit of extra work)... :)

Monday, April 7, 2008

Four more films viewed at the 2008 HKIFF (2)

This part of the Avenue of Stars - Hand Imprint Ceremony 2007
highlights reel happened to be playing on a screen over at
the Avenue of Stars just a couple of hours or so before
the world premiere of Sylvia Chang's
Run Papa Run... ;b

Run Papa Run (Hong Kong, 2008) - From the Galas programme
- Sylvia Chang, director
- Starring Louis Koo, Rene Liu, Nora Miao, Liu Yihan, Shaun Tam, Ti Lung, Amy Tu, Shaw Yin Yin, Lam Suet, Michael Chan, etc.

As this blog's readers know (especially after the discussion on this entry's comments thread), I've got a lot of time for Sylvia Chang, whether as an actress, singer, scriptwriter, general entertainment personality or film director. A major multi-talent, if there ever was one, Tempting Heart (1999) -- which she helmed, scripted and had a small role in -- comes very close indeed to breaking into my top 10 Hong Kong movies list.

So, it'd be safe to say that Run Papa Run was one of the most anticipated movies of the 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) for me, and getting to see Sylvia Chang and many of the movie's stars in the flesh before the screening of this film that I attended looked like it'd be a great prelude to an entertaining evening out. But, in retrospect, my hopes may have been pitched too high. Put another way: I am obliged to report that Sylvia Chang's first directorial effort since 20:30:40 (2004) proved to be on the disappointing side -- and particularly since this story about a doting father who tries to hide his being a Triad from his largely loving daughter started off okay but felt like it ran out of steam and inspiration about two-thirds into the movie, so that the last 20 minutes of the work -- which I've heard had not been in the original script -- was actually quite painful to watch.

Another general problem with the movie is that it's so focused for the most part on Louis Koo's character that it wastes the talents of many of its cast who, frankly, are better actors than him. In particular, Rene Liu and Ti Lung are wasted in their parts as Koo's character's wife and father-in-law respectively. At the same time, there's no denying that it was nice to see three generations of actors and also multi-generational families featuring in this movie that worked best as a comedy but sadly became rather clunky when it inexplicably turned melodramatic and preachy on us.

My rating for the film: 6.0

Kabei - Our Mother (Japan, 2008)
- From the Galas programme
- Yoji Yamada, director
- Starring Sayuri Yoshinaga, Tadanobu Asano, Bando Mitsugoro, Dan Rei

Veteran director Yoji Yamada is best known for his long-running Tora-san series of movies but I have to confess that until Kabei, I had only been personally familiar with movies from his recent 'Samurai Trilogy' (e.g., the mesmerizing Twilight Samurai and even more enthralling The Hidden Blade). So this drama set in late 1930s and early 1940s Tokyo for the most part was my introduction to his non-samurai-focused work -- and after viewing it, I can but say that I really do looking forward to seeing more films by this Japanese master filmmaker.

A humanistic paean to motherhood that also is quite the heartbreaking indictment of war-mongering and the suppression of dissent, it's guaranteed to get one tearing up -- at the end upon finding out the long-held wish that someone finally deigned to voice out on her deathbed, if not before. And yet, it also has its scenes that induce laughter (sometimes slap-sticky, other times borne out of sheer relief) as well as moments that provide testimony that less really is more by showing that the simple can be so very beautiful and impressive.

My rating for this film: 8.5

Days of Turquoise Sky
(AKA Kurus) (Malaysia, 2008)
- From the Asian Digital Competition programme

- Woo Ming-jin, director

- Starring Mislina Mustapha, Namron, Carmen Soo

Sitting in the HK Science Museum Lecture Hall waiting for the film to begin, I happened to look to my left and discover that the gentleman in the next occupied seat to me happened to be none other than director Lawrence Lau (City Without Baseball; Besieged City; My Name is Fame; Queen of Temple Street). And after the film ended, the South African -born helmer, my German friend and I had an interesting discussion about this modest but still interesting work from my home country. Yet one more of those sorts of experiences outside as well as inside of film screenings that makes the HKIFF such a special event to me.

One of the things we discussed was how this was the kind of movie that appears to reward (more) those with insider knowledge and/or familiarity with its cultural millieu. One reason being that the devil is in the details and for another, it being so that what otherwise might seem to lack a cutting edge and controversial bits may -- when viewed from a native angle -- actually be quite bold in including certain depictions along with making certain statements.

Like quite a few other recent art-house type Malaysian films which have got this strain of Malaysian cinema being compared to the Taiwanese New Wave, Days of Turquoise Sky is slow-paced, under-stated and often depicts lives which seem to be rather trivial, yet say quite a bit about the society in which these lives are being led. At the same time, unlike with certain recent -- and, sadly, to my mind, much more critically acclaimed -- examples, this originally made-for-TV work also still feels happily unpretentious. All in all, then, a respectably competent and solid piece of filmmaking, even if by no means super gripping nor attention-grabbing.

My rating for the film: 7.0

Mongol (Kazakhstan-Russia-Germany-Mongolia-Mainland China, 2007)
- From the Galas programme
- Sergei Bodrov, director
- Starring Tadonobu Asano, Sung Honglei, Khulan Chuluun

The first of a conceived trilogy of historical bio-pics of the great Mongolian leader, Genghis Khan, this epic film that was Kazakhstan's official Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee has a Russian director, a Japanese lead actor heading a multi-national cast that includes a respected Mainland Chinese thespian along with Mongolian actors and Kazakh and Kyrgyz stunt riders, plus stunning Central Asian scenery lensed to great effect by Sergey Trofimov and Rogier Stoffers.

With dialogue that's largely in Mongolian (surprising considering its multi-national cast but all the admirable for being so) and a de-glammed, even gritty and downright brutal, look and feel, the sense is that authenticity was very much an aim. At the same time, room also appears to have been made for some flights of fancy and imagination which help keep the historical work exciting and interesting as well ensure that it is a far cry from being stolid or stodgy.

Although Mongol has a running time that's over 2 hours, it still can feel truncated at times due to abrupt transitions and there most definitely is a sense that there's plenty left to depict of Genghis Khan's life and exploits in the two more envisioned works to follow. All in all, got my appetite whetted sufficiently so that I really am hoping that I'll get a chance to check out the films that continue this colorful tale of a larger-than-life figure who founded what remains the largest contiguous empire in history -- and on a big screen too!

My rating for the film: 8.0

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Films viewed at the 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival (1)

Some more evidence, if it be needed, that Hong Kong
is a land of movies (and movie lovers)

The 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) officially got underway a little less than three weeks ago on March 17th. Today, it officially draws to a close -- even though, actually, there will be associated HKIFF screenings into May of such as the films of Taiwanese auteur Edward Yang (some of which I've already got tickets for and am very much looking forward to checking out -- for the first time, with English subtitles and on a big screen).

Like I mentioned in an earlier blog entry, this year, circumstances have ensured that I've been to fewer HKIFF screenings than in the previous few years. (And, indeed, today, I've got two classical music concerts to go to, so won't be taking any more HKIFF screenings!) At the same time, even though this was a busy week at work, I still did manage to take in another two screenings to bring my HKIFF viewing total to date to fourteen films.

Also, again as mentioned previously, I also saw two films -- Lawrence Lau's Besieged City, and Lawrence Lau and Scud's City Without Baseball -- that officially had their world premieres at the HKIFF ahead of the film fest. Since those two films are due to have theatrical releases soon, I'll leave off commenting about them for later. But in the meantime, here are some thoughts about the first four films I viewed at this year's HKIFF (with comments re the other ten coming up soon -- I promise!):-

Sorrows of the Forbidden City (Hong Kong, 1948)
- From The Epic Times, Simple Stories: The World of Zhu Shilin programme
- Zhu Shilin, director
- Starring Zhou Xuan, Shu Shi,
Tong Yuek Ching and Hong Bo

The programme notes for this Ching Dynasty court drama that was made one year before the Communists came to power in China and established the People's Republic of China describe it as "a historical epic that actually changed history, having played a key role in the development of the Cultural Revolution." Further research yielded a quote from Yingchi Chu's Hong Kong Cinema: Coloniser, Motherland and Self that told of the Communists having "accused the film of insulting the Boxer Rebellion and praising the British imperialists as reformists modernising China. In the early 1960s, in spite of the film having been banned in China, Mao Zedong launched a national debate to condemn the film... The national debate was one of the triggers of the Cultural Revolution" (2003:11)

For my part, while I could see that there were portions of the film that were less than positive about the Boxers and their rebellion, I didn't see British imperialists being praised for being reformists. Also, if anything, it seemed that the film contained the same message as that supposedly being hawked early on during the Cultural Revolution: That old -- particularly in the form of the manipulative Empress Dowager Cixi and her cabale, notably her double-faced eunuchs and conniving ladies-in-waitings, was bad and reforms and change were needed for the greater good of the people and country.

On a less political note, this historical work contained amazing performances by several cast members (notably the actress-singer I later realized was the legendary Zhou Xuan but also the less well known Shu Shi and Tong Yuek Ching) and had a very compelling story and well-written script of the sort that later sumptuous works on the same subject by the Shaw Brothers' costume drama specialist Li Han-Hsiang too often lacked. So while I wouldn't go as far as Brian in proclaiming it the best film I saw at the HKIFF, it still made for a great start to this year's HKIFF for me.

My rating for this film: 8.5

Fine, Totally Fine
(Japan, 2007)
- From the Global Vision programme
- Yosuke Fujita, director
- Starring Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, Yoshino Kimura and Yoshinori Okada

I like a whole range of films but if there's any one kind of film that I have come to realize that I like most, it's that which is genuinely quirky as well as full of warmth. And that is precisely what this inspired first feature offering from Yosuke Fujita is.

On the surface, it's a piffle of a movie, with hardly any major dramatics and, also, no bad guys, no scenes involving sex or eye-catching violence, etc. And its three main characters (a trio of 20-something-year-olds; two male, one female; one, an actually pretty harmless horror aficianado, the second a nice guy hospital administrator who feels there must be more to life than what he currently has, the third a clumsy artistic type) are neither major achievers nor majorly delinquent folk as well.

But in this film, the seemingly trivial and mundane can become very interesting, and individual eccentricities provide the grist for absolutely hilarious storylines and guffaw-inducing visual gags. Utterly good natured and without a mean bone in its body, this is the kind of movie that gives Japanese cinema -- and, I'd even venture to say -- Japanese culture a truly good name.

My rating for this film: 8.5 once more.

Hollywood Chinese
(USA, 2007)
- From the Filmmakers and Filmmaking programme
- Arthur Dong, director
- With appearances by Nancy Kwan, Wayne Wang, BD Wong, Joan Chen, James Hong, Ang Lee, Lisa Lu, Christopher Lee, Luise Rainer, Tsai Chin, Justin Lin, etc.

Less angry and negative on the whole than I must admit to having expected, this documentary on Hollywood's depiction of the Chinese by Chinese-American filmmaker Arthur Dong is interesting and enlightening but also often sad. With appearances by a whole bunch of luminaries, some of whom are more politically culturally aware as well as insightful than others, it nonetheless is far more than just a 'talking heads' type of show.

Something that I think is particularly telling is hearing the likes of Joan Chen and James Hong speaking English fluently and articulately, than beholding -- as well as recalling -- the pidgin English that comes out of their mouths in many a movie they've appeared in. Another revelation is seeing Nancy Kwan in excerpts from movies like The World of Suzie Wong and Flower Drum Song and also out of the movies and realizing how Caucasian she looks, at least to these ethnic Chinese eyes!

At the same time, however, I found myself wishing that this film had gone further in making some of its points. For example, I really do think it would have been useful -- especially for people who aren't familiar with her overall filmography -- to be informed, after hearing Lisa Lu talking about how in Hollywood, pretty much all the roles she got was as a bargirl, that over in Hong Kong, this same actress has played -- and won a Hong Kong Film Award Best Actress prize -- an empress (The Empress Dowager) and matriarch of a family of woman along with male warriors (14 Amazons), an aristocratic widow (The Arch), and so much more.

My rating for this film: 7.0

The Home Song Stories (Australia, 2007)
- From the Gala Presentation programme
- Tony Ayres, director
- Starring Joan Chen, Qi Yuwu, Joel Lok and Irene Chen

At last year's Golden Horse Awards, Joan Chen caused a stir by winning the Best Actress for her The Home Song Stories performance, and thus preventing Ang Lee's Lust, Caution -- which she actually also had appeared in -- from sweeping all the major prizes. Not having seen Tony Ayres' film at the time, I too was quite shocked; not least because Tang Wei had turned in a genuinely great performance in the Ang Lee passion play.

But now that I have done so, I defintely have to agree that Joan Chen deserved that award and so much more. With few scenes in this drama that centers on a woman with two children, yet just not prepared to be your average domesticated wife, left undominated by her, she is a commanding and utterly charismatic presence in this film -- playing the sort of character that, in the hands of another actress, could so easily devolved into a one-dimensional negative part.

Tony Ayre's semi-autobiographical work feels so very painfully personal and true, making it the kind of movie I'd consider a masterpiece and am very glad to have viewed yet probably won't want to watch again. Part family drama, part immigrant story, it is seriously compelling, containing a truly memorable performance and also good work by all else involved.

My rating for the film: 9.0

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Glass (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

There is a Hong Kong movie called City of Glass whose story takes place in London along with Hong Kong. A look at the photo at the top of this Photo Hunt entry, among other things, should leave one will little doubt that the film's title refers to the filmmakers' beloved home town rather than the British capital. For while I've spent many entries of this blog trying to show that Hong Kong isn't just filled with soaring concrete and glass super structures, it's also true enough that this East Asian territory possesses its share of such.

And so much so that it can feel too ordinary for the most part to take pictures of the admittedly beautiful skyline like that which can be viewed from the promenade near the Hong Kong Cultural Centre and Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier on a clear (air) day. Instead, as can be seen by the two other photos in this entry, I often derive more fun and satisfaction these days from taking what I hope are interesting photos of reflections on the glass fronts and walls of buildings (be these prominent landmarks like the famous Bank of China Tower in Central or a neighborhood skyscraper!)... ;b

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Remembering Leslie

A poster that has been put up in
more than
one MTR station in recent days

On April 1, 2003, while Hong Kong was in the grip of SARS, singing and acting legend Leslie Cheung played a majorly cruel April Fool's Day joke on himself and those who loved, cared about and/or looked up to him: He took his own life by jumping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Central.

Leslie (as his fans and so many others routinely referred to him -- either that or "Gor Gor" (Elder Brother)) was only 46 years old when he died. Sadly, it was revealed in the days after his untimely death that he had been suffering from depression for some 20 of those years.

Whether he intended for it to be this way, Leslie now will stay forever young in the eyes and minds of people who remember him. And there are many, as can be seen by there continuing to be commemorative events staged this year as well as previous years. (As an example, there was a memorial screening of Days of Being Wild earlier today at a local cinema and there will be another one tomorrow evening -- but I can't bring myself to go to view it as it's the one Leslie film I've been unable to watch from start to finish since his death. It's just too depressing, especially given the intrusion of real life into that reel-ity.)

Rather than end on a sad note, however, here's going ahead and quoting the following largely celebratory comments by Brian in the Leslie Cheung entry of the Hong Kong Cinema: View from the Brooklyn Bridge's Actor Index, the bulk of which were written when Leslie was still very much alive:-

Having spent some time in earlier pages extolling the pouty lips of some of my favorite female stars, I guess it is only fair to do the same for Leslie! His Days of Being Wild perpetual pout was splendid – though not as intriguing as his boxer short dance in front of the mirror (wonderfully parodied by Francis Ng in Those Were the Days). Leslie is a trip. In every way imaginable except officially, Leslie has admitted to his homosexuality – Who else would (have the nerve to) have a concert tour in which he dressed in various womanly outfits and sang “I am What I am?”. Or there is my favorite quote from him while filming Happy Together when Tony Leung Chiu-wai complained about having to make love to Leslie in take after take – “now you know how I have felt all these years”!

For most romantic leading men, this would be instant career suicide – but not for Leslie. He is too much of an institution in HK (and the rest of the Chinese diaspora) and he is bigger than his sexuality – he is bigger than just about anyone in HK – an enormously popular singer for two decades and one of the bigger box-office draws for years. People -- including grandmothers along with their teenage and preteen grandchildren -- just love Leslie...

As the lead in the wonderful
A Chinese Ghost Story [in 1987], Leslie reached the top ranks of romantic leading men in HK and this was only strengthened over the next couple of years with roles in A Better Tomorrow II and Rouge. One thing that I like about Leslie is his willingness to take chances and in 1990 he played the self-absorbed but oh so attractive male lead in Days of Being Wild. It is a tough role – a not very likable character that still manages to evoke your sympathy – and Leslie was fabulous – and deservedly won the Best Actor award for it...

He was more than a legend – he was loved - "Gor Gor"... to everyone. It was more than his music, it was more than his films that inspired this affection – it was simply him – his outrageousness, his charm, his quick smile, his outbursts – his boyish looks that barely aged had made him Hong Kong’s own son.

Hope you're resting in peace, Leslie, wherever you are.