Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sorta 2010 HKIFF report

A reminder that many of the HKIFF
film screenings
are Hong Kong,
often also Asian and even world, premieres

In response to popular -- okay, some -- demand, here's going ahead and sharing my thoughts on two films that officially had their world premieres at the Hong Kong International Film Festival but which I got to view some days before the fest's official start, and a third Hong Kong movie -- one that's part of a Hong Kong Film Archive programme that's connected with the HKIFF but actually began one day before the HKIFF and is scheduled to run through to May:-

Love in a Puff (Hong Kong, 2010)
- From the Galas programme
- Pang Ho Cheung, director
- Starring Miriam Yeung, Shawn Yue, Cheung Tat Ming, Roy Szeto, etc.

Pang Ho Cheung is one of those Hong Kong filmmakers who seems to blow hot and cold. He started his career with a wonderful bang with You Shoot, I Shoot! (2001) and I also highly rate Trivial Matters (2007), his last film before this romantic comedy about two smokers who meet while having a smoking break one work day. But some other efforts have not impressed as much, even while possessing interesting premises.

For the first fifteen minutes or so of the film, I thought that Pang had another winner. But, as it so happens, what was supposed to be the stage-setting comedy prelude turned out to be the very best part of the movie.

Ironically, once the male lead appears in the movie, things start to go downhill. Or, rather, things became less than great once the movie turns its focus from fun banter among relative strangers brought together by a shared addiction to trying to convince that Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung's characters have reason to be mutually attracted to each other for reasons other than their being played by those two stars.

Call me unromantic but sorry, I just can't buy why Miriam Yeung's character could and would so easily walk out of a five year live-in relationship (and shared space in a very nice Mid-Levels apartment, to boot!) to spend time with an unhappy guy who had just been two-timed by his girlfriend. Even if he looks like Shawn Yue (since he's played by that actor!). Hang out with him casually or be a friend: yes. But definitely no re love blossoming -- and so quickly to boot. In short: too much puff and not enough huff made for a sadly disappointing film that could go up in smoke for all I care.

My rating for this film: 5.5

Crossing Hennessy (Hong Kong, 2010)
- From the Opening Films programme
- Ivy Ho, director
- Starring Jacky Cheung, Tang Wei, Paw Hee Ching, Maggie Cheung Ho Yee, Andy On, Danny Lee, Mimi Chu

Its director-scriptwriter wrote the scripts for such as Comrades, Almost a Love Story. Its two main stars are a Cantopop Heavenly King and the woman who caused a sensation with a scintillating performance in Lust, Caution. The supporting cast includes such as last year's Hong Kong Film Awards Best Actress winner. Its two producers (Bill Kong and Nansun Shi)'s previous productions include Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Peking Opera Blues.

So small wonder then that this romantic comedy about a man and a woman who live and work on opposite sides of Hennessy Road, a well known thoroughfare that cuts through Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, was (is) an eagerly awaited movie for many people, including myself. And this even more so post viewing the trailer -- which has been playing in Hong Kong cinemas for some time and is unusually well made by Hong Kong movie trailer standards. All this despite Ivy Ho's maiden directorial effort (Claustrophobia) being one of those works that disgruntled some movie goers enough to cause them to openly grumble while exiting the cinema after a screening of it.

Watching this sophomore directorial effort from Ivy Ho, the distinct impression one gets is that she's still a work in progress as far as being a helmer is concerned. On the negative side of the equation, it seems like Ho thinks more in terms of words than visuals -- with the result being that her film is not as visually interesting as it ought to be. Far worse is her choice of music. (In one scene, the music was so inappropriate that I actually thought I was hearing sounds that were coming in from the theater next door!) And while I like that the film is set in Hong Kong and contains many locations I can recognize, it compares less than favorably to such as the also set-in-Wan Chai -- and often criminally under-rated -- Crazy 'n' the City with regards to conveying a real sense of place and community.

On a more positive note, she definitely manages to assemble a good cast and provide them with interesting dialogue as well as place them in intriguing set-ups She also knows how to create colorful supporting as well as main characters -- and although it definitely would have added to the movie if those played by Paw Hee Ching and Andy On had been more likeable and less one dimensional, this meant that the likes of Maggie Cheung Ho Yee and Mimi Chu had their best film roles in years (and took the opportunity to make a nice impact).

My rating for the film: 7

Prince of Broadcasters (Hong Kong, 1966)
- From the Hong Kong Auteur, Lung Kong programme
- Patrick Lung Kong, director
- Starring Patrick Tse Yin, Chan Tsai Chun, Wong Wai, Ha Wa, Lydia Shum, etc.

It's been over 30 years since Patrick Lung Kong directed a film. And there's no doubt that his first directorial effort, which was made close to four and a half decade ago, shows its age in certain ways -- including melodrama being laid so thickly that it threatened to get me giggling inappropriately at certain points in the movie.

But watching this romantic drama about a playboy media personality who falls for a nice schoolgirl from a powerful and wealthy family, only to have his sincerity doubted by his lady love's father, I generally found myself charmed by much of the proceedings. And wondering -- and lamenting -- why oh why contemporary Hong Kong filmmakers don't have the kind of great opening, establishing shots like those found in this work. (If nothing else, many of the outdoor shots act as valuable historical records some years down the road of what Hong Kong used to look like.)

Something else that I appreciated quite a bit about the film is how nicely drawn were the scenes of Patrick Tse Yin's character at work recording the radio plays in which he starred and those scenes that fleshed out Chan Tsai Chun's school-going millieu -- the latter of which allowed supporting actress Lydia Shum to shine by infusing the movie with some fun comic relief.

On a more serious note, I also think it commendable how quite a bit of social commentary, politics and contextualizing was added to the mix to make the overall story less simplistic and more meaningful, even while staying entertaining. As such, the film makes for an interesting socio-cultural document several decades on as well as a movie that remains watchable after all these years.

My rating for the film: 8


Anonymous said...

Thanks for obliging me, YTSL. Looks like I will need to lower my expectations a notch with regards to Love in a Puff and Crossing Hennessey. Which is never a bad thing, because if I do end up liking them more than you, it will be a pleasant surprise. ;)

Prince of Broadcasters sounds fun. And since I sometimes like my melodrama extra thick, I'm sure that I'd love it. I think I can get it on VCD (albeit without subs).

Thanks again for the reviews!

Glenn, kenixfan said...

Yes, thanks from me too.

I was never that jazzed about Love in a Puff so you kinda confirmed what I was afraid of. And I guess Miriam's presence is not enough anymore to get me interested in a HK film.

As for Crossing Hennessy, I am still quite interested in seeing not least because I am staying near those locations once again in April while the film will be in theaters, LOL!

What's the word on the street about Tang Wei's Cantonese? The press makes it sound like it's good.

sbk said...

Hi ytsl,

And your fans cheered!!! Can you hear us??? Thank you, thank you, thank you for indulging us!!

All this effusiveness and I've only briefly glanced at your current posting. Now I'll read it.

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

Yes, I definitely will acknowledge that expectations can have quite an impact on how one will approach and view a movie. Also, yes, best to go in with lowered expectations for both "Love in a Puff" and "Crossing Hennessy".

Re "Prince of Broadcasters": it's a really talky movie. So really would recommend that you wait to see it with English subs. Have you seen other Lung Kong movies yet?

Hi Glenn --

Re Miriam: I am once of those people privileged to have met her and it frustrates me that her characters are often so much more simple-minded than the real her. Acting wise, I think she acquits herself well in "Love in a Puff". Indeed, whatever chemistry there is between the main characters I almost entirely ascribe to the people essaying them.

Re "Crossing Hennessy": Last time, you mentioned you stayed in Causeway Bay. Although Hennessy Road does go through Causeway Bay, much of the movie is actually set in Wan Chai (with bits of it elsewhere like Chai Wan, The Peak and Hong Kong Park).

Re Tang Wei: Her Cantonese sounds fine to my admittedly not all that sensitive ears. But she does speak quite a bit of Mandarin in the movie too -- so it seems pretty established that her character is a Mainland Chinese transplant.

Hi sbk --

Thank you to you (and duriandave and Glenn) for the thanks and hope the comments were worth the wait. To be honest, don't think they're as good as they would have been if I had written about the films closer to when I viewed them but better something than nothing at all in this case, right? :)

(And yes, do please read!!!)

Anonymous said...

To answer your question, I've seen The Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967), The Window (1968), and Teddy Girls (1969) -- all with subs at the HKFA. And I liked each one, in spite of the often excessive melodrama and didacticism (which is actually harder for me to stomach than the melodrama).

YTSL said...

Hi duriandave --

Have seen two of the Lung Kong films that you've seen and am due to watch "The Window" as part of this year's HKIFF. Interesting that you find the didactism hard to stomach -- have to say that I respect Lung Kong's efforts to make his films be more than just pure entertainment and also think that often times, the social messages are what yields valuable information of Hong Kong when he made those films.

Anonymous said...

YTSL, I don't mind social messages, it's just that Lung Kong comes from the "preachy" tradition of Cantonese melodrama which often delivers its message directly from the mouth of one of the film's characters.

I might be misremembering, but I think in Teddy Girls there was such a speech by the head of the girl's reformatory school, and in Story of a Discharged Prisoner one by a cop or judge.

Anyway, it's probably just a kneejerk reaction against the voice of authority, no matter how well intentioned it might be! ;p

YTSL said...

Hi again duriandave --

Thanks for clarifying re your preachy gripe. Sounds like you're a real rebel whereas I'm generally okay with benevolent authority! ;b