Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Movie gold

Two film fans on their way to today's
HKIFF screening of Once Upon a Time in China

Three cool customers (complete with sunglasses
in tribute to Wong Fei Hung's --
and Wong Kar Wai's? --
penchant for them)

In a couple of hours or so, I'll be hunkering down to watch one more movie. Although it's from a respected Hong Kong filmmaker, I'm going to go into that screening not expecting it to be in the same league as the two Hong Kong films I've viewed in the past 24 hours that were from the truly glorious Hong Kong movie half decade that was the early 1990s -- that period of time when Hong Kong was the font of movies that made film fan(atic)s of many of us throughout the world.

Last night, I viewed one of the movies that I'd rank not only among my top 5 favorite Hong Kong movies but also top 10 films from anywhere: no, not Ashes of Time (nor its Redux version); but, instead -- and showing outside of the Hong Kong International Film Festival as part of Red Mission's commemorative Leslie Cheung film programme -- He's a Woman, She's a Man.

From such as the applause that greeted Leslie's first appearance in Peter Chan's sublime romantic comedy, it was obvious that a lot of the audience members had gone to the screening to pay tribute to the late super-talented -- but still, sadly, psychologically tormented -- actor-singer. Slowly but surely, however, the movie as a whole and also the rest of its able cast (notably Anita Yuen and Carina Lau) also worked their charm on people and soon the mood turned from sorrowful -- even slightly morbid -- to one that was far cheerier and people were able to enjoy, laugh and be entertained by a tale of a fan girl who resorted to impersonating a man in order to meet her favorite singer and songwriter duo.

Since last night's was at least my 20th viewing of the 1994 movie, I really couldn't care less that it was shown without subtitles. Rather, what mattered so much more was the enormous charisma and sheer lovableness of many in its cast (not only Leslie, Anita and Carina -- yeah, one feels like one can be on first name terms with them after witnessing such open, warm performances -- but also the likes Eric Tsang and Jordan Chan) and the wonderful songs that help keep the film being a perfect 10 to me so many viewings and years on.

While still on Cloud 9, I went to an afternoon screening today of Once Upon a Time in China -- the only screening which I've taken a day off from work in order to attend at this year's HKIFF (in large part because it's the one "must see" film in the Tsui Hark/Film Workshop programme that I had yet to see on a big screen)! Among the sadly hardly large-sized audience: old HKIFF friends Peter Rist, King-wei Chu (who also had attended at last night's HAWSAM screening) and David Bordwell (AKA the three cool customers pictured above!).

Suffice to say that watching Once Upon a Time in China was like meeting up with an old friend for all four of us. At the same time, because it's been a while since I watched the movie (and there are so many different cuts of it), some parts of the film felt like new even while others were utterly familiar. Additionally, colored by the experience of watching so many other not so good Hong Kong movies since -- including quite a few by Once Upon a Time in China's director (Tsui Hark), there came a genuine realization of how truly great and extraordinary this film really is.

Filled with so many wonderful quiet moments as well as eye-catching action and star power, it's no wonder that this 1991 Wong Fei Hung movie went on to spawn so many sequels and imitators -- and propel its director and star into the cinematic stratosphere (only, alas, to end up in the purgatory that is Hollywood and, in the case of Tsui Hark, the hell that comes from working with -- and seemingly being drained of inspired creativity by -- Jean-Claude van Damme not once but twice).

I honestly wish that Tsui Hark would watch his old movies and re-discover his magic by doing so. And although Peter Chan remains big and successful, I have to say too that I don't think there's nothing for him to learn from looking back at his older movies. Works with so much heart as well as life that more than a decade on, they truly are wonderful to view.

Still, at the risk of seeming ungrateful, at the very least, I will thank them -- and those people who worked with them on these and other great films -- for having at least helmed these incredible works that truly have stood the test of time. And, I hope, won themselves new fans at these two recent screenings.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Encountering Yasmin Ahmad

Remember my writing on this blog about how I sometimes forget to take photographs of food because I devour the delicious stuff before me before it occurs to me to me that I ought to make photographic records of them? Well, the cinematic equivalent happened today at the ninth Hong Kong International Film Festival screening I attended.

What happened is this: As I hurried to the theatre to go watch Talentime (Malaysia, 2009), I spotted its director-scriptwriter, Yasmin Ahmad and a man who I later found out was her husband (who also has a small part in the film) lingering outside on the street. Then, again, as a friend of mine and I waited in the queue to get into the theatre, I noticed that the two had walked into the cinema lobby.

Part of me wanted to fish out my camera and take photos of them there and then but they seemed to be enjoying their anonymity at that point -- and it seemed like it would be an invasion of their privacy to take shots of them doing such as buying stuff from the concessions stand. So I figured I'd wait for the Q&A session that I knew my favorite Malaysian filmmaker would be taking part in after the show, only to find that: for one thing, the lights hadn't been lit up to an optimal level for photograph-taking and; for another, I was too engrossed answering a question of my own along with listening to the rest of the Q&A.

Towards the end of the Q&A session (which we were informed could only last for 12 minutes in the cinema due to the tight screening scheduling), it was announced that Yasmin would continue to entertain questions outside the cinema. Whereupon my friend and I took it upon ourselves to take up that invitation and go up to talk to her.

A wonderful chat ensued, one that ended with her thanking us for watching and liking her movies -- and pecking both of us on each cheek. And only after we had walked away did I realize that... my goodness, I forgot to take a single photo of Yasmin!

So, instead of a photo, here's showcasing an award-winning commercial by Yasmin to commemorate Malaysia's 50th birthday (that -- as one has come to expect of her work -- humanely deals once more with inter-ethnic relations):-

(P.S. Like I told Yasmin, that ad made me cry and laugh -- albeit in a good way -- as did Talentime today! I wonder: how many of those of you who deign to watch it will have a similar reaction to mine? ;b )

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Hands (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Once upon a time, the only examples of my writing that could be seen on cyberspace were Hong Kong movie reviews (over at Hong Kong Cinema: View from the Brooklyn Bridge) and contributions to Asian film-related discussion (Mobius Home Video Forum). And although I started this blog in part because I wanted to share other interests and passions with my friends and friendly others, I remain very much a Hong Kong film fan(atic) along with world cinema follower.

What with the Hong Kong International Film Festival currently in full swing (and my having a planned agenda of 24 films to view over a period of approximately three weeks), I almost decided to not take part in this week's Photo Hunt before I realized that I have Hong Kong movie-themed photos that would be perfect to show off this week: i.e., I hereby present a couple of sets of prints of the hands of my very favorite actress of all time, the great Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, along with Tsui Hark, the director-producer of many of her best films -- and for whom she looked to have served as an inspirational muse.

More than incidentally, Tsui Hark and his Film Workshop (whose 25th anniversary is being celebrated this year) is the subject of a special commemorative programme at the 2009 Hong Kong International Film Festival. Also, earlier this week, Mr. Tsui received a special award "for outstanding contribution to Asian cinema" at the Asian Film Awards -- presented to him by Ms. Lin. :)

Oh, and if you haven't seen any of their films but now have some interest in doing so, here's hoping that the following reviews of Peking Opera Blues, Swordsman II and Dragon Inn will get at least a few of you interested in viewing the movies for yourself!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quick thoughts on day 5 of the HKIFF

Life-size cardboard cut-outs of
The Sniper's three stars

Two of the movie's stars (Richie Ren in the middle
and Huang Xiaoming on the right)
with director Dante Lam (over on the left)

Five films in five days. That currently is my Hong Kong International Film Festival viewing record. Not insane by film geek standards but, then, I've also not taken a single day off from work thus far into the festival!

Of the five I've seen, only one of them has disappointed -- and probably due in large part to my high expectations for it. Even then, Shinjuku Incident -- one of the 2009 HKIFF's two opening offerings -- had genuinely entertaining as well as inadvertently funny moments.

At the same time though, it's with some sadness that I've noticed that I've actually more highly rated the three non-Hong Kong films I've viewed thus far to the two Hong Kong offerings that make up my viewed quintet. Also, find it rather ironic that it was a German documentary that chronicles an orchestra's tour of six Asian cities -- rather than a Hong Kong movie per se -- which presented views of Hong Kong that weren't only visually stunning but actually got me feeling once again how very privileged I am to actually currently reside in this city of great energy and life.

Still, it's early days yet -- so hope springs eternal that I'll find some gems among the Hong Kong cinema offerings I'll be taking in over the course of the HKIFF, like I feel I already have among the fest's offerings that hail from other parts of our large, diverse and often very interesting world.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

HKIFF 2009

It's not delayed; it's upon us --
the 2009 HK International Film Festival, that is!

The 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival kicked off last night. And although -- *sob!* -- I failed in my bid to get a ticket to the sold out screening of Ashes of Time Redux, I did manage to get tickets to 24 other HKIFF screenings. So here's providing this blog's readers with advance warning that I'll be a tad busy over the next few weeks.

At the same time, also want to point out that on the left-hand section of this blog is a section entitled Most recently viewed movies that I will be regularly updating. (And for the record, I've viewed two films -- namely, Shinjuku Incident and Still Walking -- shown as part of this film fest already!). If you see anything of interest that you want to discuss, feel free to do so on this entry's comments thread. Also, yes, when I get the chance, I will try to provide short write-ups of the HKIFF movies, etc. like I did last year (albeit probably with fewer photos of the stars because this year, I didn't apply for a press pass -- and, instead, fully intend to exercise my rights to being a film fan(atic) this time around!).

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Yellow (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

Yellow is a colour that sometimes has negative connotations in the West -- leading to it being so that being called yellow is an insult that means that one is a coward. In Imperial China, however, yellow was the color associated with royalty, and the Yellow Emperor being the label bestowed onto the legendary ruler credited with having achieved immortality (and his wife, Empress Lei Zu, with having discovered that silkworms make silk and inventing the silk loom).
And yellow also is the color of royalty in Malaysia, the home of nine sultans who take turns being king (really!) as well as my native land.

The recent actions of the Sultan of Perak has helped create political turmoil in his state and country at large. But it is to more peaceful times that this Photo Hunt's entry largely hark back to: that is, some time last year when two friends and I visited Perak's royal town of Kuala Kangsar and spent time doing such as checking out its beautiful mosque and -- the building in the above photos -- Istana Kenangan, an old royal palace turned state museum.

A wonderful example of old Malay architecture, its relatively newly painted coats of yellow, black and white (the colours of Perak) may be what initially catches the eye but what really takes the breath away is the knowledge that not a single nail was used in its construction. Built in the traditional Malay way on stilts to deal with flooding, it also happens to have the symbolic distinction of being shaped like a keris, the wavy Malay sword whose aesthetic beauty belies its deadliness as a weapon.

With floors of wood and walls of woven sliced bamboo, it can seem on the less than solid side -- and I had to laugh as my two friends did such as literally knock on each step before putting their weight on them as we ascended the stairs up to the palace/museum! Suffice to say that the building really is pretty sturdy -- as well as surprisingly modest looking inside, especially compared to its outside (hence my preference for taking photos of its exterior over its interior!).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On movie fans, plush toy lovers and anime as art

It's a fish, it's a stuffed toy...

...It's a Ponyo plush!

Maybe I'm just plain lucky... but while more than one friend here in Hong Kong has lamented to me that there are few fellow movie fans to talk to at work, I have had no such problem both at my previous and present place of employment. As an added bonus, I also have a fair few colleagues who are likely to gasp and oooh and aaaah when presented with the sight of such as the Ponyo plush I bought from a street vendor for HK$20 (~US$2.50) a couple of days ago and took to the office to use as a stress-busting device today.

About the only colleague who had negative reactions to the sight of my little Ponyo was an Englishwoman who only moved to Hong Kong a few months ago. Like another European friend, she's been shocked to find that in this part of the world, the kawaii like of Hello Kitty and co have fans among adults as well as children, and males as well as females.

When Ponyo On the Cliff By the Sea played in cinemas here, I managed to persuade that same European friend to take in a screening of the film with me. Still, minutes before we entered the theatre at the Broadway Cinematheque, she felt compelled to talk about how she couldn't quite believe that she was going to be viewing what she labelled as "a children's movie".

In the theatre, before the lights went off, I enquired whether she could see any children in the audience. As she looked around, she realized that there wasn't a single child in the theatre that evening. And that, instead, every single person taking in the Ponyo screening was, in fact, an adult. (And, also and not coincidentally, Asian.)

There is a school of thought which posits that anime comes out of an artistic tradition that stretches back to the Japanese woodcut tradition that counts the great Hokusai among its members. Another school of thought has it that anime came about -- or became particularly popular -- in Japan at a time when the country was in an impoverished state and its filmmakers craved to exercise their imagination and create science-fiction and fantasy films but lacked the budget to do so.

In any event, two things became clear to my European friend post watching Ponyo. Firstly, anime -- even kawaii anime -- isn't just for children. And secondly, it really isn't all that far-fetched to consider anime to be art. Especially anime that comes courtesy of the genius that is Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli (and which boasts enchanting music courtesy of composer Joe Hisaishi)!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dinner at the Tung Po Seafood Restaurant (Photo-essay)

My mother left Hong Kong yesterday. In the one and a half weeks that she was here, we did such as go on a couple of hikes, take in a Hong Kong Chinese Orchestra concert and Stan Lai's latest play (which I wrote about for a newspaper whose website, unfortunately, requires a subscription to read), and also watch two Arsenal games 'live' on TV with a few fellow Gooners (over the course of which we were witness to Arshavin's fabulous first goal for the Gunners).

More pertinently for the foodies among this blog's readers, we also ate out every night. And while we had more than one good meal together this visit, the best dinner we had by far was the one we had last Friday at the Tung Po Seafood Restaurant on the Cooked Food floor of Java Road Market which serves far more than just seafood -- and which has previously been 'discovered' by the webmaster of the 'hip' Hong Kong Hustle and, before him, one Anthony Bourdain.

Frankly, I'd rate this meal as being among the top three I've ever had in Hong Kong. It was that good. Yet, miraculously, I actually managed to remember to take photos of what two friends, my mother and I consumed that evening *before* we dug into and devoured the dishes. So prepare to feast your eyes on the following photo-essay...!

Before the food was served, there first came
beer (Carlsberg lager) in Chinese porcelain bowls!

The delicious fried fish dish that
my Hong Konger friend specially ordered
because, she said, it's really hard to cook

Next up: fried frittered prawn balls
served with a light vinegary sauce
on a boat-shaped dish!

Want a closer look?
I'm only too happy to oblige! ;b

Pork knuckle paradise!
Seriously, this fried pork knuckle dish
was out of this world taste- and texture-wise

After all that fried food,
here's a vegetable casserole for balance
-- and yes, it was a tasty dish by itself too!

What's this hidden by all the lotus leaves?

None other than a heaping portion of lotus leaf rice
that, frankly, we wouldn't have ordered
if we had known beforehand how large it would be!

Satisfied? If not, here's pointing out that Mr. Bourdain can be seen eating -- and with great relish too -- at the Tung Po Seafood Restaurant near the end of this videoclip and also at the beginning of this other videoclip. (Also for those thinking of checking out the place: it's physically and aesthetically spartan but rest assured that it does have an extensive English language menu to peruse! :b )

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Four (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

What do these two photos for this week's Photo Hunt entry have in common? Not that much, really, besides their both having been taken on trips outside of Hong Kong and each containing four objects I'd like to draw your attention to.

The first photo is of four beautifully hand-carved eggs on exhibit at the little gem that is the Miniatures Museum of Taiwan over in Taipei while the the second is of four very yummy coconut-and-egg combo tarts that I came across while in Macau on a food feature assignment. Almost needless to say, I definitely recommend sampling both if you ever get the chance to do so! :b

Monday, March 9, 2009

From The Peak down to Admiralty (Photo-essay)

Never hike alone in Hong Kong. That's what more than one Hong Kong hiking book and experienced hiker told me. This is because Hong Kong's countryside -- with its many snakes (including pythons and cobras), wild dogs, monkeys, IIs (illegal immigrants who rob!), etc. -- can be a hazardous place for the solitary hiker.

Fortunately, I've found my share of friends to go out hiking with since moving to Hong Kong and usually can find at least one to go off walking with. Still, one beautiful Sunday last December, I had a yearning to go on a hike but no friend available to do so with me. At which point, I decided to risk going it alone on a walk that was closer to civilization than usual -- one that took me from The Peak down to Admiralty, largely along the Chatham Path and Central Green Trail that criss-crosses the Peak Tram's route:-

The Peak Tower -- not the usual kind of structure
one expects to see near the beginning of a hike, right? ;b

The Peak Tower from another angle --
this time with a tram also in the picture

A classic view from the Peak

A less usual view -- from one of the
intermediate tram stations that the Peak tram
never seems to stop at anymore

Part of the paved (and multi-stepped) trail
that's "green" more for the environmental information
to be found on signs along the way than anything else

A view from a lower elevation than previously
of portions of the skycraper city below

A shrine spotted along the way, complete with
hanging ornament partially constructed
out of a common plastic bowl!

Near journey's end -- under a bridge not far from
the Peak tram terminus at the bottom of Hong Kong
Island's highest hill/mountain

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Space (This week's Photo Hunt theme)

With 7 million people living on 1,108 square kilometers of land, Hong Kong is considered to be one of the most densely populated parts of the world. And if you find yourself in Mongkok or Causeway Bay on a Sunday (or Admiralty MTR station during rush hour), you most definitely will feel that space -- to even do such as walk about or into -- is at a premium.

Despite all this though, Hong Kong actually is far from being a concrete jungle. Look carefully around even in the more built up parts of the territory and you'll come across green spaces -- including on rooftops.

As for wilder green spaces, those who have seen my hiking pictures on this blog should realize full well that the Fragrant Harbour also has a lot of space that has been designated as country or marine parks -- with the result being that more than 70% of Hong Kong actually is countryside rather than urban space and "Asia's World City" consequently is one of the easiest places to go commune with nature that I've been in. :)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Old as well as new movies

In 2008, I had the privilege of viewing
six films by the late Edward Yang

Wow, that was quick! Less than 48 hours after the deadline for submitting lists of top ten movies (and DVDs) viewed in 2008 for the Mobius poll, William Wilson had tabulated the results and put all submissions from Mobians up on the website. (Mine can be seen under my real name -- and for those who are unsure, YT are my first two initials! -- way down on this page.)

To complete the 2008 films list-making, here's figuring that might as well -- for the record and good measure -- produce a list of top ten old(er) movies that I viewed for the first time in 2008. So here it is, in order of the year of the films' original release:-

Battleship Potemkin (Russia, 1925) - Sergei Eisenstein, director

Ivan the Terrible (Part I) (Russia, 1944) - Sergei Eisenstein, director

Sorrows of the Forbidden City (China, 1948) - Zhu Shilin, director

Festival Moon (Hong Kong, 1953) - Zhu Shilin, director

Burmese Harp (Japan, 1956) - Kon Ichikawa, director

A Street of Love and Hope (Japan, 1959) - Nagisa Oshima, director

Mud Child (Hong Kong, 1968) - Chen Jingbo and Chu Fung co-directors

In Our Time (Taiwan, 1982) - Tao Teh-Chen, Edward Yang, Ko Yi-Chen and Chang Yi, directors of one episode each in this anthology

A Confucian Confusion (Taiwan, 1994) - Edward Yang

July (Hong Kong, 2004) - Tammy Cheung

Oh, and should it not be amazing enough that I got to see all these wonderful films over the course a single year, here's also pointing out that I got to view every single one of them on a big screen over here in Movie Mecca! ;)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Movies on my mind

Soon it'll be film festing time in Movie Mecca again!

Even more so than usual, this past weekend felt like it passed by in a blur. One big reason why was that I spent a good part of it looking through the 33rd Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF)'s bumper programme booklet trying to figure out not only what I wanted to see but also how I could possibly fit the screenings into my schedule.

In the end, I managed to figure out how to watch 23(!) movies over the course of the film fest and not die of exhaustion -- or take more than a day off from work. Then, early on Sunday, the first day that bookings were entertained (for other than the privileged holders of a particular credit card), I went ahead and made my bookings... and now can but hope that I managed to get tickets to all those screenings of the movies that I made bookings for.

(Sadly, those movies do not include such as the wondrous Peking Opera Blues, amazing Swordsman II, delightful Shanghai Blues and Green Snake --because they all have only been accorded single weekday early afternoon screenings! So much for the HKIFF's paying tribute to, and commemorating the 25th anniversary of, Film Workshop. And for myself, I just console myself with my having gotten to see all those cinematic gems at least once on a big screen already.)

Then, in the final hours of the weekend, I compiled my list of top ten movies viewed in 2008 for the annual Mobius poll. This is not the place or time to reveal all that much about that list which I hope will make an appearance -- along with many others -- on the Mobius Home Video Forum's Arthouse, World and Hollywood Cinema discussion board. However, I do feel obliged to state how sad a state Hong Kong cinema looks to be in when only three films on the list I made for Mobius also appeared on my top ten 2008 Hong Kong movies list.

Still, hope springs eternal -- and I really do have high hopes for the Hong Kong movies I hope to get to view at the HKIFF: movies like Derek Yee's The Shinjuku Incident, Ann Hui's Night and Fog and -- it finally is making an appearance in Hong Kong!!! -- Wong Kar Wai's Ashes of Time Redux!!!!!!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

From Shui Hau to Shek Pik Reservoir, Part III (photo-essay)

For those who've were wondering post checking out my second Shui Hau to Shek Pik Reservoir photo-essay, I did go on another Lantau Island hike last Sunday -- and while it was foggy when my party met at the Central ferry pier, at some point in the hike, it all got so clear that there were blue skies and so much sunshine that I actually got sunburnt!

Almost needless to say, I took lots of photos that I want to share. In the meantime, here's putting up the third and final set of pictures from my November hike on Hong Kong's largest island -- one which started off with a quite scary accidental encounter with a fierce dog while looking for the start of the trail but ended up having far more positive things and sights to get the adrenaline pumping... ;b

An example of the beautiful blue skies
sometimes do appear over Hong Kong...

But because I can't take blue skies for granted
I've (also) become appreciative
of such as bright colored berries

...ditto with interesting shaped leaves

...and the wild flowers that I really do have a lot
more pleasure spotting and just plain appreciating
than the domesticated varieties of flora

Nonetheless, the plain fact of the matter is that
it's views like this one that really make
the exertions that go into a hike feel truly worthwhile!

Journey's end: Shek Pik Reservoir

Zoom lens help make these magnificent peaks
appear closer than they really were

My camera's zoom lens couldn't make
the quite aways away Tian Tan "Big Buddha"
look much bigger than it looks here though! ;)