Thursday, April 4, 2013

What I viewed at the HKIFF and beyond on April 1st, 2013

Floral tributes aplenty for Leslie Cheung
by the Mandarin Oriental
 A rainbow colored Leslie Cheung-themed stencil
in the underpass near the Mandarin Oriental

On the 10th anniversary of Leslie Cheung's untimely death, I wrote a blog entry about two Hong Kong International Film Festival offerings I had viewed the previous day before heading out for lunch and to view two more HKIFF offerings.  On the way to view the first film that day at City Hall (where, one year earlier, I had viewed He's a Woman, She's a Man), I passed by the Mandarin Oriental Hotel to view the floral tributes that I knew would have been put up by the side of the hotel from where the late singer-actor leaped to his death on April Fool's Day, 2003.

After viewing my first film that day, I headed to the Mandarin Oriental -- this time to have some drinks with a friend in the hotel's Captain's Bar.  In the underpass between City Hall and the hotel, I spotted some Leslie Cheung stencils and heard a busker singing Leslie Cheung songs.  Suffice to say that his fans still remember Leslie and mourn his death -- even while they also know that life still does go on.

And now to writing about the two movies I saw this past April 1...

Nobody's Child (Hong Kong, 1960) 
- From Restored Classics program
- Bu Wancang, dir.
- Starring Josephine Siao Fong Fong, Wang Yin, Butterfly Wu, Chen Yan Yan, Lo Wei

Born in 1947, the star of Nobody's Child, Josephine Siao Fong Fong was nine years old when Leslie Cheung (1956-2003) was born.  And it was when she was just age 11 that she took on the starring role of this Chinese language film adaptation of French novelist Hector Malot's Without Family (aka Nobody's Boy) that changed its protagonist into a female and was finally given a theatrical release in 1960.

The sad story of a girl abandoned in wartime, then lovingly raised by a peasant woman (Chen Yan Yan), only for her husband (Lo Wei - who would go on to direct The Big Boss) to decide to sell off the child a few years later, it also details encounters that the young lass  has with some good-hearted people -- including a street performer (Wang Yin) whose troupe included a clever monkey and three cute dogs, and a lady (Butterfly Wu) who may or may not have been the girl's biological mother.

Melodramatic it may be but Nobody's Child also is surprisingly unconventional -- particularly when it comes to the story's trajectory. Also surprising, especially given the period during which it was made, is how much of the film was shot on location -- and in snowy Hokkaido as well as equally rural areas of Hong Kong.  All in all, it's a gem of a movie -- and it really is great news that a 16mm print of this cinematic offering was digitally restored and new 35mm as well as digital prints created for screening purposes.

My rating for this film: 8.5

A Legend or Was It? (Japan, 1963) 
- From the Keisuke Kinoshita: Four Hidden Gems program
- Keisuke Kinoshita, dir.
- Starring Kikue Mori, Kinuyo Tanako, Go Kato, Shima Iwashima, Tsutomu Matsukawa

In the Japanese film pantheon, Keisuke Kinoshita (1912-1988) is usually placed below acknowledged masters like Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa.  But starting with Twenty-Four Eyes (which I will forever be indebted to Fred Rappaport for introducing me to more than 10 years ago now), I have yet to view a film directed by Kinoshita that I have not liked.

Set during the dying days of the Second World War, A Legend or Was It? is the Kinoshita film I've seen with by far the darkest view of humanity. However, this does not mean that I was unimpressed by this powerful work about the horrific developments that ensue after the daughter of a Tokyo family that had evacuated to rural Hokkaido rejects the marriage proposal of the local headman's son after learning that, over the course of his military service, he had been party to the gang rape of a woman in China.

Devastating and thought-provoking in content, it also is technically impressive -- and creative, including the decision to have its tale unfolding in black and white in between bookends consisting of bucolic scenes shown in color  Also pretty amazing was how lean as well as mean the film was -- in that it managed to depict so much drama despite having a running time of just 83 minutes!  All in all, there were a number of reasons why I found myself exclaiming "Holy shit!" immediately after this tense and taut film came to an end.  In short: the experience of viewing it on a big screen was amazingly intense, and it truly is one amazing work!

My rating for this film: 9.5


The Fragrant Harbour said...

How coincidental we had drinks in the Captain's Bar! Or did Leslie want us to be there...?

sbk said...

Hi ytsl,

Wonderful photos but so sad.

YTSL said...

Hi "The Fragrant Harbour" --

I wonder how many people in the Captain's Bar that day knew of Leslie... (since so many of the people there appeared to be non-Hong Kongers...)

Hi sbk --

Seeing all those tributes brought a lump to my throat for sure. But I really liked the busker singing Leslie songs. That made me happy as well as think of Leslie -- seeing as he was singing songs from "He's a Woman, She's a Man" when I passed by.

The Fragrant Harbour said...

I think it was only us having our tribute...

YTSL said...

Hi again "The Fragrant Harbour" --

Maybe there were people on the 24th floor. But personally, I'd find that too morbid... :S

Samson said...

The Way We Dance scores 9 out of 10!? Are we going to get to see a review here?

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

Yes, a 9. It was surprisingly excellent!

Re a review: we shall see... after all, I still haven't written one for "Closing Curtain"!