Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Another HKIFF 2011 Report (this one written in less than an hour!)

Singaporean director Han Yew Khang (left) speaks
in Mandarin and the HKIFF's Bede Cheng
does the translation (into English) duties

As I begin writing this entry, I'm aware that it's just about two hours before another HKIFF screening that I've got a ticket for begins -- and also that I'm five films behind in my reportage. Still, before I get into writing about another movie I viewed at the ongoing Hong Kong International Film Festival, here's going on the record and stating how pleased I have been to find quite a few filmmakers (and, in the case of Hi, Fidelity -- cast members) have been present at the screenings I attended.

Adding to the pleasure has been the presence of people to interpret remarks made in Cantonese or Mandarin into English (or, when applicable, English into Cantonese) -- something which hasn't always been the case (as was so a few years ago at the HKIFF screening of High Noon). So thank you, HKIFF -- and especially Bede Cheng and Joanna Lee for their sterling efforts thus far. :)

But now on to the reviewing:-

When Hainan Meets Teochew (Singapore, 2010)
- From the Global Vision programme
- Han Yew Khang, director
- Starring Lee Chau Min, Tan Hong Chye, Yeo Yann Yann

In an e-mail exchange with a friend shortly after watching The Ditch, I told her that I rued not having more comedies on my HKIFF viewing list. At the same time though, it wasn't exactly as though I was spoiled for choice with regards to offerings in that genre -- something that a film prof acquaintance over here for this year's HKIFF from Australia noted just last night. And thinking about it some more, it really can seem to be so that comedies don't often get screened at film festivals -- and, as Peter Chan Ho Sun has observed (in Miles Wood's Cine East: Hong Kong Cinema Through the Looking Glass (Fab Press, 1998)), don't seem to get much respect from critics -- nor come awards time.

Perhaps it's because humor can seem to be more culture specific than other human emotions. (I still recall the authors of Sex & Zen & A Bullet in the Head: The Essential Guide to Hong Kong's Mind-bending Films (Fireside, 1996) issuing a cautionary warning against checking out the comedies of Stephen Chow and those movies whose video covers had people with big heads on them!) And the Australian film prof I spoke to last night told me that he had been left cold by a comedy from Singapore that he and I had viewed a few days back.

On the other hand, to judge from the audience reaction, the humor of When Hainan Meets Teochew appeared to be much appreciated by the mainly Hong Kong (with a smattering of Singaporeans and others) audience I viewed the movie with. And I definitely feel that I owe A Nutshell Review's Stefan S at least one drink for bringing this title to my attention. (So Stefan, next time you come over to Hong Kong... ;b)

A feel-good gender-bender of a movie, When Hainan Meets Teochew's main characters are a Hainanese woman who could easily be mistaken for a male based on her physical appearance and a Teochew man who believes he is a woman who just happens to have a male body. After a kerfuffle over a prized bra (which turns out to belong to the Hainanese woman's beloved ex) leads to the Teochew man being ejected out of his apartment, the Hainanese woman takes him in as a lodger -- and become good friends.

As to whether they can become more than good friends: interestingly, while the Hainanese woman does appear to be an out and out lesbian, the Teochew man appears more ambivalent with regards to which gender his life partner should be from. Alternatively put, what he really would like is someone with whom he can be happy with -- and sex as well as gender may not be a factor in the equation at all.

In a similar way, When Hainan Meets Teochew appears content to be a fun movie without being an outright comedy (since it does have some dramatic sections as well) and also appears in two minds as to whether it wants to insert actual romance into the proceedings. Rather, it seems content to throw what could be described as conventional romantic comedic elements into the proceedings (including a mother who wants her daughter to have someone to look after her rather have her daughter have the role of the looker-after, and an ex-lover who returns to the apartment to add twists, friction and spice to the Hainan woman and Teochew man's sex-less apartment sharing arrangement) and then play around with them in unconventional ways.

All in all, I found this offering to be entertaining -- as well as often surprising, especially given that it actually received funding from a Singaporean government body! Also pretty funny -- but also poignant in part, given the relationship depicted in the movie between the Teochew protagonist and his father -- was the writer-director Han Yew Khang's revelation during the post-screening Q&A session that Lau Chau Min (the female whose character is known as Hainan Boy) is actually his film company's production manager and Tan Hong Chye (the man whose character is referred to as Ms. Teochew) actually is a wardrobe stylist and costume designer -- with the implication being that their characters' reel lives are based on the two individual's reality!!

My rating for the film: 7.5


Samson said...

Sounds like another interesting film you've seen at the HKIFF! I've only seen a couple of Singaporean comedies before (both from director Jack Neo), and can still remember laughing quite a lot while watching them (especially I Not Stupid). Somehow I don't think this one is coming to a cinema near me any time soon, and so I'll make a note to look for it on DVD.

Brian said...

Just caught up on your thus far reviews. Thanks for bringing us thoughts on some films that sort of fall into the obscure never to be heard of again category as these films rarely get much coverage. Keep watching and reporting.

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

If you like Jack Neo's films, reckon you'll enjoy "When Hainan Meets Teochew". :)

Hi Brian --

Keep on visiting -- the plan is to report (eventually!) on all the films I view at the HKIFF. Am glad you appreciate my thoughts on the more obscure works -- some of which should justifiably remain obscure but quite a few of which really do deserve more audience members! :b

eliza bennet said...

I'm definitely interested in this one - and very glad to read your reports.

YTSL said...

Hi again "eliza bennet" --

Hope you get to watch this movie -- on DVD, if not on a big screen. Also am glad to learn that you've been reading my HKIFF reports. For a while there, with no one commenting on my blog entries, was wondering if anyone was reading them!

Stefan S said...

I'll take a raincheck on that drink, hopefully I can travel again to HK next year for HKIFF :-)

Glad you enjoyed When Hainan Meets Teochew! I've been following your blog on all the HKIFF entries, and only wished that I could have been there this year!

YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

And hopefully I'll still be living and working in Hong Kong come the next HKIFF. (I never dare to feel 100% assured re things at such a future date! ;b)

Glad to know that you've been reading my HKIFF blog entries. My blog's visitor numbers actually have gone down since the HKIFF -- I think some of my readers area actually put off by my recent movie focus! ;S