Monday, April 9, 2018

A 42nd HKIFF report that includes a big Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia-related rave and rant!

All of these 42nd Hong Kong International Film Festival
tickets have now been used up!

The 42nd Hong Kong International Film Festival officially came to a close last Thursday, April 5th, with the world premiere of Yoji Yamada's What a Wonderful Family! 3: My Wife, My Life.  Unlike at such as the screenings of fest opener Omotenashi or Kazuo Hara's The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On, no one associated with the film put in an appearance before or after the screening -- which, I must admit, came as somewhat of a surprise since the work was being screened in public for the very first time ever.  (And yes, I know no guest appearances were announced but there have been instances in the past when, to the great delight of the assembled audience, filmmakers have turned up unannounced for a screening of one of their films.)

So I reckon that there's some validity to the suggestions that have been made about this year's HKIFF having had less star power and presence than previous editions of Asia's oldest film festival; with things not being helped by there having been very few, if any, world premieres of Hong Kong movies at this year's fest.  On a related note: this year's Hong Kong Panorama program looked to have been one of the smallest and least star-studded in decades.

On a brighter note: the likes of Werner Herzog (whose films -- among them, Aguirre, the Wrath of God, were showcased in the HKIFF's The Estatic Truth of Werner Herzog program, and who gave a Master Class after the screening of his Into the Inferno) and Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia (this year's Filmmaker in Focus) were around to lend star power to the event; with the Face to Face seminar with the actress some friends and I have taken to calling "The Great One" having been this year's most anticipated event of the fest.       

Another grouse I've heard more than once was that there weren't that many films that interested them.  I, on the other hand, ended up attending 22 HKIFF screenings, more than in the past few years (where I've averaged around 15-16 screenings over the course of the fest).  This was in no small part due to 14 films starring Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia being screened during the festival; and despite my having viewed all of them before (and a good bulk of them on a big screen), I still went ahead and re-viewed four of them at this year's HKIFF -- and if I had known earlier that the version of Outside the Window that was screened at the fest was a longer one than that which I viewed on VHS tape some years back, I most definitely would have added it to my HKIFF viewing schedule!

While I did generally enjoy viewing all my HKIFF picks this year, the absolute highlights of this year's fest for me were my re-viewings of the films starring the woman who remains my favorite actress of all time.  To be sure, my latest viewing of Cloud of Romance (1977) has not caused me to change my rather low opinion of the Taiwanese weepie.  But it turned out to be quite the treat to watch it in a cinema with folks who were very obviously fans of Brigitte Lin fans (and who, I was intrigued to see, includes people decades younger than me, people decades older than me, men and women, non-Asians as well as Asians)!

In addition, while I've seen Peking Opera Blues (1986) and Swordsman II (1992) on a big screen before (the former in Washington, D.C., New York (twice!) and Hong Kong (twice -- maybe thrice! -- now!!) and the latter at the predecessor of what's now become the New York Asian Film Festival and at the Hong Kong Film Archive), the versions screened at this year's HKIFF appear to have been remastered and possess amazingly clean and clear visuals.  And thanks in part to everything being so much clearer to see, I cannot overstate how expressive Brigitte Lin's face gets shown to be in Peking Opera Blues and how powerful her eyes are; and I really am telling the truth when I say that Asia the Invincible's stares were so intense that the sense that her eyes were boring into me actually resulted in my physically recoiling in my seat during this latest viewing of Swordsman II

About my only major gripe about these films is that their English subtitles still leave much to be desired.  Meanwhile, my most major gripes about this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival involve the fest's Brigitte Lin: Filmmaker in Focus catalogue being in Chinese only (rather than bilingual Chinese-English as was the case for its previous publications covering the likes of Eric Tsang, Herman Yau and Edward Yang) as well as the Face to Face with Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia seminar (whose moderator, more than incidentally, was Nansun Shi) having been predominantly in Mandarin (with no English translation being provided unlike, say, in the case of the Kazuo Hara Masterclass)!

I didn't realize that the HKIFF's Brigitte Lin book would not have any English in it until I went to get a copy of it -- at which point, I asked the HKIFF staff at the counter whether they realized that Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia does indeed have fans outside of Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China and Macau.  If they had not known this prior to the fest, they really should know now.  Because I've no doubt that there were non-Chinese Brigitte Lin fans at every screening of a Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia film at this year's HKIFF.

Just at the screenings that I -- a Hong Kong permanent resident but also a Malaysian citizen -- attended, there were friends from Canada (Cloud of Romance), Japan (Peking Opera Blues and Swordsman II), South Africa (Swordsman II) and South Korea (Cloud of Romance and Red Dust) present.  And I know that my Canadian friends also went to the HKIFF's screenings of Outside the Window and Ghost of the Mirror, my Japanese and South Korean friends likewise also attended the screenings of Outside the Window, and an English friend went and checked out Starry is the Night.

I suppose I should take consolation in the HKIFF having finally decided -- 24 years after her last screen appearance -- to honor Brigitte Lin with a retrospective program that did contain worthy selections (all of which did have English subtitles).  And the inclusion of Red Dust, in particular, did make me very happy indeed since it had been one of those Brigitte Lin movies that I had hankered for years (decades, actually!) to view on a big screen but hitherto had not been able to do so.  (This is particularly so since this multi-Golden Horse award winner -- including a long overdue Best Actress accolade for its female lead -- is not available on DVD, for some inexplicable reason).

To be honest though: If I didn't have Akiko Tetsuya's The Last Star of the East: Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia and Her Films to re-read to help satisfy my thirst for matters Brigitte the past couple of weeks, I would have been filled with serious rage at the Hong Kong International Film Festival folks -- for essentially whetting my appetite and allowing me some nibbles but not allowing me to partake of the whole Brigitte feast they had put on.   Thank goodness someone realized that there are non-Chinese speaking Brigitte Lin fans out there.  But isn't it sad that it appears to need someone to be one in order to know of the existence of what I'm sure are actually thousands of others?!

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