Friday, July 28, 2017

Political and cinematic associations at the 2017 Hong Kong Book Fair

A selection of books for sale at my favorite booth at
this year's Hong Kong Book Fair

My four book haul for this year

Before I went on my most recent trip out of Hong Kong, I made sure to spend some time at this year's Hong Kong Book Fair.  Having discovered last year that bargains abounded at this annual event (and, also, that there are more booths selling English language books than a look at the fair map would have one thinking), I was undeterred by the prospect of super packed halls and ended up joining the crowds gathered at the relevant sections of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on the first day of the fair.

As I walked along the place, I got to noticing a distinct lack of political tomes being hawked this year in contrast to just one year ago.  Kudos, then, to the folks at HKU Press for overcoming fears and opting against self-censorship to go ahead and continue selling as well as publishing books such as Stein Ringen's The Perfect Dictatorship: China in the 21st Century (which prompted one review that includes the following summation: "Stein Ringen shows how the Chinese state has used both fear and material inducements to build a “controlocracy” of a size and complexity unprecedented in world history. Perfect as a dictatorship, but brutal, destructive, and wasteful") and 2012's Liu Xiaobo, Charter 08 and the Challenges of Reform in China (originally priced at HK$195 but marked down to HK$80 at the fair).

Along with that Liu Xiaobo book, I bought Chan Siu Jeung's East River Column: Hong Kong Guerillas in the Second World War from the booth whose publisher is part of the same University of Hong Kong whose graduates include Sun Yat Sen, Anson Chan and Umbrella Movement activist Yvonne Leung.  After spending some three hours at the book fair, I only came away with another two books -- that, like with the one on the East River Column -- actually have some cinematic associations!

Of the trio, the book with the most obvious film connection is Shusaku Endo's SilenceFirst adapted into a movie in 1971 by Masahiro Shinoda, it also was adapted for the silver screen last year by Martin Scorsese (who supplied an introduction for this English language edition of the 1966 Japanese book). The American filmmaker's Silence was screened in Hong Kong earlier this year but I was loath to watch it: not only because it's 161 minutes long but, also, because it's been given a different (Hollywoodized?) ending from the novel.  So I'd prefer to watch the 1971 film but, in all likelihood, am more likely to end up reading the the book rather than viewing a film adaptation of it; this especially since I now own a copy of it!

As for Fannie Flagg's Can't Wait to Get to Heaven: it's the author rather than the book itself that has a movie connection.  Back when I was still living in the US, I saw a film adaptation of Fannie Flagg's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe that quickly found a place in my heart, prompted me to get the origininal soundtrack on cassette tape (yes, it was that long ago!) and -- truly! -- made me pine to sample some fried green tomatoes (something I only managed to finally do a few years ago).

As for East River Column: I'd actually heard about the valiant resistance group that's this book's subject some years back and have done such as hiked in areas of Hong Kong where its members hid out.  And if I had more easily made the connection between the East River Column and the Dongjiang guerilla unit spotlighted in Ann Hui's Our Time Will Come, I'd have more quickly realized that the Hong Kong film doyen's latest offering is much less of a Chinese propaganda movie than its official poster made it look like it'd be and, instead, be one of those archetypal -- and laudable Ann Hui movies where "ordinary heroes" (and heroines) abound!

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