Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yesterday Today Tomorrow (film review)

Film programmers, please take heed:
There is an audience for "old" Hong Kong movies!

I know, I know... I was supposed to be back to fairly regularly reviewing movies I had seen as of a few months ago. Instead, it's been close to a month now since I last did so (for Taiwan's Monga). But as John Lennon sang, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans". And, among other things, my mother came for a visit and work has been on the stressful and tiring side lately, alas...

Still, all is not lost. For here's going ahead and serving up another review this evening -- of a film I viewed more than a month ago. So please don't mind too much if I'm on the fuzzy side as far as certain details are concerned! ;S

Yesterday Today Tomorrow (Hong Kong, 1970)
- Patrick Lung Kong, director and scriptwriter
- Starring Paul Chang Chung, Chang Yang, Nancy Sit Kar Yin, etc.

Some years ago, when I was still living in Philadelphia, I attended a Hong Kong Cinema conference at Columbia University that featured such as rare screenings of Cecille Tang Shu Wen's The Arch (1970) and King Hu's Raining in the Mountain (1979) -- and guest appearances by the likes of Cecille Tang and another ex-Hong Kong filmmaker who had migrated to the US (and was introduced as the director of The Story of a Discharged Prisoner -- i.e., the film that A Better Tomorrow had been a remake of).

Thanks to the Hong Kong Film Archive's recent Hong Kong Auteur, Lung Kong retrospective programme, I've gotten to watch more Patrick Lung Kong films in 2010 than I had watched in all of the rest of my living years combined. And over the course of doing so, I've come to realize that even this individual who last directed a film in 1979's box office failures, such as Yesterday Today Tomorrow, definitely are neither without merit or socio-cultural as well as cinematic interest.

Attacked by political ideologues when it was first released, this loose cinematic adaptation of Albert Camus' The Plague only exists in the form of a compromised, via censorship, copy that is only 72 minutes in length -- short in duration even for your average Hong Kong film. And doubtless because of it, there's a distinct lack of imbalance in proceedings that, among other things, makes a lot of characters more one dimensional than they might have been been and results in quite a few of the existing scenes that might be read as attempts to flesh them out paradoxically come across as unnecessary as well as overly-melodramatic.

For all this, however, I do believe that enough of the film exists for it to paint a pretty powerful portrait of a society that may be bustling and going great guns in certain areas but, also, possess a situation in which certain good people are not only consigned to poverty but living in squalor and unhygenic conditions that, if not dealt with, can threaten the society as a whole. (And what's even more damning is that although the film was made in 1970, so many of its points remain valid four decades later in 2010.)

Seven years after SARS hit Hong Kong (and one year after the swine flu outbreak among humans came to the territory), it really is mind-blowing to find that Lung Kong envisioned something similar happening in this forty year film about a mystery illness besetting a society and causing it to come close to a standstill; and that he "chronicled" it all so well.

At the same time, it's rather assuring to find that however strident and sensationalistic some of his social criticism can be, the Hong Kong filmmaker didn't seem to believe that people would descend to the levels of barbarism and inhumanity that was posited in such as Fernando Morielles' Blindness (2008). So that, ultimately, individual sacrifices were not in vain and hope remains for the human race general along with the affected society itself.

My rating for this film: 8

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