Monday, April 20, 2009

Still about movies viewed at the 2009 HKIFF!

Shelf for free leaflets and programmes
over at the Hong Kong Film Archive

Before continuing with my review of 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival, here's acknowledging that the 2009 Hong Kong Film Awards took place last night. Unlike The Golden Rock, however, I neither watched nor blogged the event 'live'. Rather, I spent yesterday evening taking in yet another movie -- the Oscar-winning Departures (Japan, 2008), actually.

After learning the results, I have to say that I disagree with the event's voters' choice of Best Picture winner. On the other hand, am rather gratified to see my three favorite Hong Kong movies of last year having garnered, among them, the prizes for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, Screenplay and Action Design. :)

But now, here's going back and focusing some more on the HKIFF and movies from another territory along with a different era of Hong Kong cinema:-

Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly (Indonesia, 2008)
- Part of the Indie Power programme
- Edwin, director
- Starring Ladya Cheryl, Carol Genta and Pong Harjatmo

Ever read art theory and/or about the ideas of a certain artist, been impressed by them but, then, been utterly disappointed when you view the product of that theory and artistic effort? This is an experience I had more than once during my art history student days. And one that I had in relation to this film about the Indonesian Chinese ethnic minority by a baby-faced (but actually 30-something-year-old) Indonesian Chinese filmmaker that must have had one hell of a press kit to have prompted the favorable and interesting advance press that it's received.

Before the screening of the film that I attended, HKIFF big wig Jacob Wong came out and bigged up the work as well as introduced its director. After the screening, the director took part in a Q&A session that produced answers that often left the somewhat hostile audience surprised and more skeptical than previously.

In between, we were 'treated' to a viewing of a work that was as full of incomprehensible images (including some seconds which were deliberately out of focus and even more seconds that were inadvertently so) along with multiple excruciatingly bad renditions of Stevie Wonder's I Just Called To Say I Love You that -- I am not exaggerating and I don't know what it says about me but it really is true! :S -- ultimately came across as even more excruciating than a long scene in which a blind ethnic Chinese man gets gang raped by two ethnic Indonesian men.

Frankly, whatever points this absurd(ist) film that its maker openly stated was not meant to be a commercial work gets is due to the interesting and strongly political aims it purportedly has, albeit ones gleaned through what I've read about it and the director's statements rather than the film itself. Put another way: the film's subject matter really deserves of a far better work than this effort from this director whose artistic pretensions -- or plain failings -- look to have got in the way of his serious message.

My rating for (the ideas supposedly contained within) the film: 4.0

It's Always Spring (Hong Kong, 1962)
- From the In The Name of Love: The Films of Evan Yang programme
- Evan Yang, director
- Starring Julie Yeh Feng, Helen Li Mei, Kelly Lai Chen, Zhang Hui Xian and Roy Chiao

Aaaaaaah! So much better!! What can I say other than this music-filled charmer of a drama about two nightclub singers who both want to be number one -- neither of whom actually are all that nasty, despite the possession of that strong ambition -- was the perfect panacea to the hateful Indonesia film of the night before!!!

While taking in a screening of this 1962 work, I got to realizing how much film really is sound as well as sight -- and how good music can help make a movie (just as terrible music can help mar a work). And although I have to agree with Brian (who reviewed this movie some years back on his site) that there are Cathay productions with better scores, this work still undoubtedly has its musical moments -- and a marvelously mesmerizing singer as well as actress in Julie Yeh Feng.

More than incidentally: I had seen the leggy presence that is Julie Yeh Feng before in such gems as Our Sister Hedy (1957), Sun, Moon, Star (1961) and -- of course! -- Sister Long Legs (1960) but this was the first time I got to see her on a big screen. And oh my, what a major treat it was (and so much so that Helen Li Mei -- who also happens to have had her singing dubbed -- really paled in significance)!

At the same time, here's also reporting that I belatedly got a greater appreciation of a couple of Cathay's younger male stars. For whereas I previously was prone to dismiss Kelly Lai Chen as but a weedy wimp, he comes across in this movie all sincere when playing a character with enough heart to care very much for his sister even while being in love with her professional rival. And the more I see of Roy Chiao, the more I realise that the muscular male is no mere big dumb and insensitive lug -- which is good since he had an even more prominent role in the next movie I saw at the fest... ;)

Before writing about that, my rating for this film: 8.5.

Happily Ever After (Hong Kong, 1960)
- From the In The Name of Love: The Films of Evan Yang programme
- Evan Yang, director
- Starring Lucilla You Min, Roy Chiao, Lee Ying, Wang Lai, Liu Enjia and Ma Hsiao-Nung

Remember the jokes in the early days of Cecilia Cheung's emergence that she looked like -- if there ever could be such a thing! -- the lovechild of Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk? Well, for those imagination-filled Hong Kong movie fans, it really will be hard to not think that Vicki Zhao Wei and Lucilla You Min are not related when feasting your eyes on either of the two.

In fact, there really were whole scenes and minutes during this Lucilla You Min star vehicle -- about an angel of a maiden who accedes to a man's request to pretend to be his fiancee in order to please his supposedly dying father -- when the very movements as well as visage of this utterly lovely star from a previous golden era of Hong Kong cinema seemed to presage those of the also attractive contemporary actress.

One reason why I had time to think such thoughts when watching this film is that I've viewed the movie (albeit, then only on DVD) before. Another is that it has a truly simple -- one might even say "simple" -- plot, complete with plot-lines, twists and conceits so improbable that characters in the work are apt to actually remark that this is so out loud!

No matter, really, as this is a movie that just is happy to get by on its charms and the charisma of its main actress. And after seeing her in action, I'll challenge pretty much anyone who deigns to give this work a spin to argue that this is not enough to entertain and create a sense of well-being that will follow you out of the cinema -- so much so that even if you won't be happy ever after, you'll still be smiling for a while at the memory and just the good feeling that the work engenders. :)

My rating for the film: 7.0


Glenn, kenixfan said...

Those Cathay films sound good. I hope those are all on DVD already.

Peter Chen had a nice long career with both Cathay and the Shaw Brothers studios, I'm beginning to realize -- more than a decade.

He reminds me very much of Fred Astaire when he got older -- after the Ginger Rogers pairings.

Anonymous said...


Glad I didn't have to sit throught Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly! Sounds like the kind of film I'd be tempted to leave midway through.

I wish I could have seen It's Always Spring on the big spring with you. Although it's not one of my favorite Cathay films, I did enjoy it quite a bit.

I agree with you about Li Mei in this film. She wasn't quite as magnificent as I was expecting. Even her double-entendre "Selling Wonton" song failed to sizzle for me. Yeh Feng, of course, is a magnificent singer, and it really showed.

I love the finale on the boat, with Yeh Feng dressed in a white tux and top hat and Li Mei barefoot in a sarong-like dress.

Also agree with you about Kelly Lai Chen and Roy Chiao. I had the same first impressions as you, but both slowly started to grow on me as well.

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

Yup re the two I reviewed -- along with "Our Sister Hedy", etc. -- being out on DVD. Unfortunately, quite a few others aren't... so really would urge you to snap up what you can.

And sorry, it's Kelly Lai Chen in "It's Always Spring", not Peter Chen Ho. Still, I think you'd laugh at a description I just read last night in a HKIFF book describing Peter Chen Ho as *Ginger Rogers* to Grace Chang's Fred Astaire... ;b

Hi duriandave --

Yeah, I should learn to walk out of bad movies. But I always want to give movies a chance -- or, at least, feel that I can only honestly opine that a movie is bad if I see all of it!

And yeah, am still not sold on Li Mei (just like I really haven't been that sold on Lin Dai). Brian liked the wonton song but I love the "Woh Ai Ni" ("I Love You") song more -- and more when Julie Yeh Feng sang it!! :)

Anonymous said...

Actually, I am a big fan of Li Mei because of her performances in Between Tears and Laughter and For Better, For Worse (and because she's that kind of sexy and sophisticated older woman type that I like). But I must admit that she didn't really shine in It's Always Spring, and the less said about the laughable Death Traps, the better.

Brian said...

There is a cd of Julie out there that is very good. I picked up one of her Shaw films while in HK - The Warlord and the Actress - and was curious how many other Shaw films she made - it looks to be about 7 according to HKMDB - The Shepard Girl, Warlord and the Actress, Pink Tears, Poisonous Rose, The Joy of Spring, Farewell My Love and Unfinished Melody. As far as I can tell two of these never made it to dvd - Poisonous Rose and The Joy of Spring. Joy of Spring looks to have an astonishing cast - maybe a bunch of cameos? I get the impression that none of these are as good as many of her Cathay films. Of course, a bunch of her Cathay films never made it to DVD.

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

Where did you find the Julie Yeh Feng CD and Shaw Brothers films? Hong Kong Records? Hmm... must go look over there then!

And re some films not making it to DVD: Have to say that it's the missing Cathays that I notice more! (And yes, as far as comedies and melodramas are concerned, I think the Cathay ones generally are better than the Shaws).

Anonymous said...

I'll second the recommendation on the Yeh Feng CD. She has a wonderful voice.

As for her Shaw films, I've seen all 5 that have been released and quite like them. Obviously, they are not the same type of films that she made at Cathay. The Shepherd Girl, a folk song musical, is excellent; and so is The Warlord and the Actress. And the three melodramas she made with director Chun Kim -- Pink Tears, Farewell, My Love, and Unfinished Melody -- are all good if you like old-fashioned soapy tearjerkers... which I do!

YTSL said...

Hi again duriandave --

Hmmm... am not a major fan of Shaw style soapy tearjerkers -- so think I'll try to find the two other Shaw Brothers movies starring Julie Yeh Feng first!