Thursday, March 31, 2011

Two more movies viewed at the 2011 HKIFF last Sunday

The Blue House -- an Wan Chai tenement building
that has been in danger of demolition but now
has been classified as a Grade I heritage building

Not so long ago, I'd have tried to not let a day go by without a film screening when the Hong Kong International Film Festival was on. These days, however, I'm of the mind that it ca be good to have a short break in the middle of the festival -- and today was such a day. So in lieu of taking in a HKIFF screening this evening, I instead had drinks and dinner with friends -- and now am back home writing this catch-up entry... what with my having already viewed six movies between now and viewing When Hainan Meets Teochew earlier this past Sunday, including the following two...!

Pina (Germany, 2011)
- From the Master Class programme
- Wim Wenders, director
- Starring members of the Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch

For those who didn't already know this: I am not a fan of 3D movies -- and, in fact, contrived to only view one 3D movie the whole of last year. Nonetheless, when I found out that Wim Wenders (whose Buena Vista Social Club I loved -- even while having been left cold by his earlier acclaimed Wings of Desire) had made about a 3D film about legendary dance choreographer Pina Bausch (1940-2009) and her Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch company (whose astounding Vollmond (trans. Full Moon) I had seen being performed at the Hong Kong Cultural Center a few years back), I just had to see this movie when it was screened as part of the 2011 Hong Kong International Film Festival...

...and let me state outright that Pina did not disappoint and made for quite the viewing experience. Interestingly, although I was acutely aware at the start of this visually sumptious movie that it was in 3D (not least because I had to wear a pair of 3D glasses on top of my regular spectacles), this technological state of affairs got so natural that I ended up not noticing the work's 3D effects all that much. Instead, what left much more of an impression on me were the dance sequences that Wim Wenders creatively filmed outside of the usual stage space -- with the performances that took place in a quarry, on public transportation and by a busy road side coming across as particularly innovative and exhilarating.

In a conversation with a friend who had attended the same Sunday afternoon screening as me, he vouchsafed that Pina was not a particularly good introduction to Pina Bausch since the film didn't provide much background to Pina Bausch the person as well as professional and also her dance troupe and dance style/choreographic innovations.

Alternatively, he took my point that one possible measure of the offering's effectiveness and success would come from whether it made its audience more inclined to check out a Pina Bausch-choreographed dance work -- and I will personally say that this movie did leave me kicking myself for not having got a ticket to a Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch show at the recent Hong Kong Arts Festival and vowing to go see another of its shows the next time the troupe comes over to perform over here in the Big Lychee.

Something else that I took from this beautiful looking movie is that even while Pina Bausch's premature death is a major tragedy for the artistic world, it really does look like the Tanztheatre Wuppertal Pina Bausch can go on without its founder and major, influential inspiration. In addition, this film helped me to see members of the troupe as interesting individuals in their own right -- and when I next view a performance by this company, I know I will be watching and looking out for certain individuals in it even while still appreciating the performance of the troupe as an often quite breathtakingly amazing unit.

My rating for the film: 8.5

In the Face of Demolition (Hong Kong, 1953)
- From the All for One and One for All: Union Film programme
- Lee Tit, director
- Starring Ng Cho Fan, Cheung Yin, Tsi Lo Lin, Bruce Lee, etc.

Early on in my born again Hong Kong movie-hood, I realized that Hong Kong movie makers often reference the works of their predecessors (cf. Stephen Chow's entertaining Kung Fu Hustle (2004) and Eric Tsang's family-friendly 72 Tenants of Prosperity (2010) vis a vis Chor Yuen's seminal The House of 72 Tenants (1973)). So when I viewed Peter Chan Ho Sun and Lee Chi Ngai (AKA Chi Lee) He Ain't Heavy, He's My Father (1993), I figured that those who made it were inspired by past movies too -- and not just Hollywood's Back to the Future at that.

Still, it wasn't until I viewed In the Face of Demolition that I realized that Tony Leung Kar Fai's He Ain't Heavy, He's My Father's character's motto and ethos of "All for one and one for all" -- one which was initially rejected by his son, only for the younger man to later see the error of his ways -- came from that 1953 Union Film that has been defined by the Hong Kong Film Archive publicist as having been "a film that defined a generation".

A drama largely set in a tenement that is home to many families as well as individuals, In the Face of Demolition richly depicts how these groups and people variously deal with living in poverty and on the brink of disaster -- with some coping quite a bit more nobly and better than others. In particular, one can't help but come away from a viewing of the movie wishing that one could be as admirable in trying circumstances as the character essayed by Ng Cho Fan who, even when unemployed and in debt, is looked up to by many others and lives up to their trust in his humanity but also strong sense of communal responsibility.

At the risk of sounding callous, however, I found myself unable to empathize with all of the occupants of the tenement that was in not particularly good physical condition -- and thus wasn't the safest of places to be in when such as a typhoon comes near Hong Kong. In particular, too many of the characters seemed to be too fiscally careless -- or at least overly generous in sharing out whatever cash and commodities they came into possession of.

Consequently, even while I applaud many of the characters' communal spirit and ethos, I also thought that they sometimes deserved some of the problems that came their way. So if this Union Film production was actually trying to preach the nobility as well as virtues of altruism and sacrificing for a larger whole, it seemed that it didn't completely go the right way in propagating its message -- which is a pity since there nonetheless is little doubt that its well meaning makers most definitely had their heart in the right place.

My rating for the film: 7


Samson said...

I totally agree. Many really popular Hong Kong movies (like John Woo's A Better Tomorrow and Wong Jing's God of Gamblers) have been inspired to a great extent by older HK films.

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

This referencing is something that makes me want to delve deeper and deeper into Hong Kong cinematic history -- and Hong Kong and Chinese history and culture in general. Is it the same for you and others? :b