Thursday, September 29, 2022

Mama's Affair is far more family focused and wholesome than its title makes it sound! :) (Film review)

Advertising for Mama's Affair in a Hong Kong cinema
Mama's Affair (Hong Kong, 2022)
- Kearen Pang, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Teresa Mo, Keung To, Jer Lau
Mama's Affair is a subversive film.  I don't mean politically -- and, in fact, this sophomore effort from director-scriptwriter Kearen Pang (whose debut directorial effort, 29+1 (2017), I was impressed by) is the most apolitical contemporary Hong Kong movie I've viewed for in a while.  
Rather, it's that this wholesome drama whose main box office draws are Mirror members Keung To and Jer Lau actually has them playing second fiddle dramatically to veteran actress Teresa Mo and although you'd have thought that it'd have appealed to the younger generation, actually pays tribute to an older one.  Which, actually, is not a bad thing as doing so gives the movie far more dramatic substance and emotional heft than it might otherwise have.

Not that the Mirror "boys" (who are actually older than they look and the characters they play in the movie) lack for screen time.  Also, at least one of them gets plenty of opportunities to sing and show off his dance moves as well as his acting chops -- playing a cha chaan teng worker with a singing talent that's too good to go to waste in this film about a music producer turned housewife who decides to work outside the home again after close to 20 years of focusing on looking after her beloved only son.

Mei Fung (portrayed by Teresa Mo)'s first job upon attempting to "get back into the business" is at a music academy owned by an old friend (played by Vincent Kok) whose staff include the likeable Kaki (played by Kaki Sham) and Ann (essayed by Amy Tang), through whom she comes to know their friend and cha chaan teng worker, Fong Ching (portrayed by Keung To).  Famed for being a talent spotter (who nurtured talents including Leo Ku, who makes a cameo in the movie), Mei Fung decides that Fong Ching is another music talent that could make it big and decides to help him find fame and fortune.
When they first meet, Fong Ching is living with his aunt and tells her that he's an orphan.  Soon, he's moved in with Mei Fung and her son, Jonathan (played by Jer Lau), a star student in his final year at school who aspires to study architecture at Cambridge University.  (A note re Jer Lau: He was so convincing as a secondary school student that it was quite the shock to belately discover that he is, in fact, 29+ years old!) 
With Mei Fung lavishing a considerable amount of attention and effort on Fong Ching, Jonathan can't help but have complicated -- verging on the negative -- feelings towards Fong Ching.  And this particularly since Fong Ching's moved into their home shortly after his father (played by Vincent Wan) had left home without either him or Mei Fung telling Jonathan why.
At one point, Jonathan jokes about people thinking Mei Fung is having an affair with Fong Ching.  But, really, Mama's Affair is not that kind of movie.  Rather, it is a film that places an emphasis on the love between family members rather than love of the carnal kind.  And there are many heartwarming scenes that ensue in the movie that tug at one's heart and got even a someone like myself (who would not identify as a Mirror fan) shedding happy as well as sad tears.
My rating for this film: 8

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Hong Kong authorities are waging 'lawfare' on humanitarian relief funds as well as people!

Just one section of the very sizable protest crowd 
gathered at Admiralty on June 12th, 2019
The fund's trustees stand accused of failing to properly register it as a society and, if convicted, face a fine of up to HK$10,000.  The charge, and punishment for the crime if the accused are found guilty, are obviously less serious than what the six veteran human rights activists were originally arrested for allegedly doing: i.e., breaking the national security law, a charge which could result in possible life imprisonment.   
But one can't help but feel that if Cardinal Zen and Co are found guilty of this "lesser offence", the authorities will feel emboldened to go after them further and accuse plus charge them of more serious crimes.  So it is sincerely hoped that that which is an act of "lawfare" all the same will be nipped at the bud.  And this especially since it looks like Pope Benedict has decided to betray Cardinal Zen -- or, at the very least, not lend the nonagenarian Prince of the Church much support at all.    

Yesterday also saw "lawfare" being waged against a less internationally well known -- but locally well supported, all the same -- organisation known for providing financial aid to Hong Kong protesters during the 2019 protests and unrest.  "After learning that two of the four people linked to Spark Alliance and arrested in 2019 on suspicion of money-laundering had left Hong Kong, the police said they applied to the court to order the confiscation of HK$70 million." And yesterday, Hong Kong’s High Court granted a confiscation order to allow the authorities to do that.
As per a Hong Kong Free Press report on the matter: "After the arrests in connection with Spark Alliance, the platform accused the police of attempting “to smear Spark Alliance and other support channels.”"  Meanwhile, "The Hong Kong government is planning to implement legislation that regulates online crowdfunding to prevent activities “endangering national security.” A top official told the city’s legislature in May that public consultation on the matter was expected to begin in the last quarter of this year."
In other words: not content with going after people, the authorities are also now going after the money. And what's next after it?  Maybe those who donated to the funds?  In view of how much  (we're talking many millions of dollars) was separately raised by each of these funds, we must surely be talking of tens, even hundreds, of thousands of individuals -- hardly the "extremely small minority of people" that Carrie Lam said would be targeted by the enactors of the national security law (unless she meant "extremely small minority of people" compared to the population of China which numbers 1.4 billion; something that, sadly, is entirely possible)!

Sunday, September 25, 2022

A visit to Ocean Park during the pandemic (Photo-essay)

I went to Ocean Park with two friends today.  One of them has lived in Hong Kong for more than 35 years but this was the first time he had been to the marine mammal cum amusement park!  And I think he chose the right time to do so.  This might seem like a strange thing to say since there currently is a pandemic going on.  But because of the pandemic, there are few (no?) foreign tourists -- including misbehaving Mainland Chinese ones -- in Hong Kong and, as a result, Ocean Park was far less crowded than it would have been most other years!  
This is not to say that the park was deserted though.  What with today being a Sunday, there were a number of local visitors to the place, including a good number of families with young 'uns.  By the way, Hong Kong had 3,780 new Covid cases today.  In 2020 or 2021, that news would have freaked me out so much that I would have stayed at home rather than gone out to some place like Ocean Park -- and for the record, Ocean Park was closed to the public for a time in 2020.  Today, however, that statistic didn't faze me much at all.  And, in fact, it was seen as a relatively positive one since it's actually the lowest number of daily Covid cases that Hong Kong has had in months -- to be precise, since July 20th of this year!        
For a time, pandas were the major draw at Ocean Park
-- and even now, there still are hints of panda mania there
Something I've done every time I've visited Ocean Park:
go on its scenic cable car ride :)
One of the arctic foxes at Ocean Park -- the sight of which 
got me making involuntary cooing noises! :D
Something I've never seen before in my life, never mind 
at Ocean Park: penguins being fed!
Another highlight of today's visit: a ride on the floorless
Hair Raiser roller coaster which has a maximum speed 
is 88 kilometers per hour! :)
Looking out to Lamma Island from Ocean Park's Summit area
One of the more interesting sea creatures viewed at the park
-- a shark with quite the scary looking snout!
They aren't the most popular animals nowadays in Ocean Park
-- I'd give that accolade to the penguins! -- but I do 
still think it's cool to go see the pandas there, especially
though that are doing something besides sleeping! :D

Friday, September 23, 2022

Hong Kong to end its Covid-related hotel quarantine requirement (but not much else) on September 26th

A measure of how abnormal things currently are in Hong Kong:
The closed off Airport Express check-in area at Kowloon MTR station
The big news this morning in this part of the world was that Singapore had overtaken Hong Kong to become Asia's top financial centre - and the third in the world after moving up three places -- according to a new Global Financial Centres Index report that puts New York and London in the first and second spots.  As per a Bloomberg report (which has appeared on other news media sites, including Singapore's Straits Times), this was not least because "Hong Kong is struggling to revive its role as a global finance hub as it continues to follow China's lead in trying to keep Covid-19 cases to a minimum, while the rest of the world opens up.
Seemingly as a direct reaction to this news, word soon came that Hong Kong's Chief Executive, John Lee, would be holding a press conference at 3.30pm today and there were hopes hat he would make the sort of announcement that the Japanese government made just yesterday: i.e., that the country would be dropping all restrictions on tourism effective October 11th.  And by drop, I mean: the dropping of quotas for travellers; the reinstatement of visa-free travel (for those people for which this had applied pre-pandemic); the dropping of Covid testing requirements (which, actually, is already the case for those who have been triply vaccinated); there being no quarantine requirements for arrivals to the country; and, also, there no longer being requirements to use the country's (unpopular) trac(k)ing app.
As it turned out, John Lee did make an announcement that appeared aimed at the easing of travel into Hong Kong.  The problem though is that it's really won't be enough to satisfy many people, including most international tourists of the sort that used to come to Hong Kong pre-pandemic (i.e., those who liked to spend a few days in Hong Kong as part of an Asian vacation that often would also include visits to at least one other city and/or tourist destination on the continent).

Contrast this to Singapore which, like much of the rest of the world, has considerably fewer Covid restrictions and regulations in place.  Oh, and there remains an outdoor as well as indoor (bar for when you are eating or drinking) mask requirement in place in Hong Kong -- something which many Hong Kongers are okay with but many non Hong Kongers would not be.  And don't forget such as the required use of the hated LeaveHomeSafe trac(k)ing app, and a ban on public gatherings of more than eight people.  
Cue celebrations from some circles and a rush to book flights to leave Hong Kong to do such as visit family and friends living abroad, or just go on holiday.  Truly, it doesn't seem to take much for some people to feel happy, ecstatic even.  Witness Danny Lee, an aviation reporter with Bloomberg, Tweeting the following: "With air travel restarting in Hong Kong: WHEN WILL IN-TOWN CHECK-IN RESUME! WHEN! Then I will count this as normalised"! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Love Under the Crucifix was the final film I viewed at the 2022 Hong Kong International Film Festival (Film review)

The final screening I attended at the 2022
Hong Kong International Film Festival
Love Under the Crucifix (Japan, 1962) 
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Portraits of Women -- A Tribut to Tanaka Kinuyo program
- Kinuyo Tanaka, director
- Starring: Ineko Arima, Tatsuya Nakadai, Ganjiro Nakamura 

The final film directed by Kinuyo Tanaka -- and the final film I viewed at the Hong Kong International Film Festival this year -- is set further back in time than any of the four other films she helmed that I viewed over the course of the fest.  Set in 16th century Japan, when Hideyoshi Toyotomi held power over much of the country (rather than the Emperor who sat on the Chrysanthemum Throne), Love Under the Crucifix focuses on a woman in love with a man.  
But contrary to the synopsis which appears on its Internet Movie Database (IMDB) page, neither the woman in question nor her father are, in fact, Christian!  For while it's true that the film's female protagonist, Ogin (played by Ineko Arima), does have a bible and a cross on a chain, she appears to treat them more as love tokens from the Christian man that she's fallen for: her tea-master father's former pupil, the Christian samurai-daimyo Ukon Takayama (portrayed by Tatsuya Nakadai).      

More than incidentally, many of the characters in Love Under the Crucifix are based on real life historical personalities.  And, for the record, Ogin's father, Sen no Rikyu (essayed in this cinematic offering by Ganjiro Nakamura), is someone I learnt about on visits to various historic sites in Japan (e.g., Kyoto's Ginkakuji).  And no, he was not a Christian.  Also, he actually had more children than the one daughter and son shown in the film -- so we know that this historical drama does take liberties with certain facts (even while adhering to others.  For example, he was indeed the tea master for Hideyoshi Toyotomi.)
Maybe because I knew most about him prior to viewing Love Under the Crucifix, I found the sub-plots involving Sen no Rikyu to be more interesting than the film's main story involving Ogin and Ukon Takayama.  It doesn't help that Ogin was too love obsessed for my liking and the character of Ukon Takayama too much of a cypher.  Re the latter: it's made clear that he's staunchly Christian but it's hard to understand why; something which should have been worth exploring in view of any Japanese individual professing to be Christian effectively involving accepting a death sentence after Hideyoshi Toyotomi saw it as a threat to national unity and thus something that needed to be repressed.
In contrast, Sen no Rikyu came across as a three dimensional character: one devoted to perfecting the tea ceremony but also a man with a lot of love for his wife and young woman who actually wasn't his biological offspring but whom he treated very much as his daughter, and one with such strong ideals that he would think it only right to answer an angry tyrant's questions honestly.  And I get the feeling too that Ganjiro Nakamura was responsible for investing his character with the requisite gravitas to make him one who commanded respect and admiration.
With regards to the film's director: I have to admit that none of Kinuyo Tanaka's helmed efforts completely bowled me over.  At the same time though, none of the ones I viewed could be said to have been poorly made either.  And, taken as a whole, they actually make for a pretty impressive filmography; this not least because they encompass quite the range in terms of subject matter -- even while it's true enough that she did seem to favor biopics with a literary connection; with three of her films being such (e.g., The Wandering Princess, which was based on the memoirs of the protagonist, and Forever a Woman, which told the story of a woman poet, as well as Love Under the Crucifix)!

My rating for this film: 7

Monday, September 19, 2022

What mourning Queen Elizabeth II in Hong Kong says about Hong Kong today

But, as more than one commentator has noted (including in a BBC report by Grace Tsoi and Joyce Lee), "the collective outpouring of grief says as much about the present as it does about the past, and comes as Beijing has been tightening its grip."
Something to bear in mind when considering Hongkongers' mourning of the Queen (whose funeral proceedings are taking place as I write this blog post): Hong Kong is a city where the public mourning of such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre and what happened at Prince Edward MTR station on August 31st, 2019, has not been allowed in recent years, never mind  the mourning of what Hong Kong itself has become -- not dead but also nonetheless a city and society that's less ideal than the one many people want and knew.
With the mourning of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II being the rare event in post-national security law and Covid era Hong Kong where public mourning has been allowed, "[f]or some, commemorating the Queen is a way to express their unhappiness at the Hong Kong government", with some people being pretty open about this.  In fact, the BBC report actually quoted a "Mr Tse, who brought his pet Corgi on a leash with a Union Jack, [as stating that] the mourning was an "alternative form of political expression"."
Which is why pro-Beijingers have been upset with the mourning and heaped pressure on certain celebrities to apologize for doing so. Thus far, Cantonese opera star (and sometime Stephen Chow movie co-star) Law Kar-ying has publicly apologised for mourning the passing of the Queen. The latest local celebrity being attacked: Suzhou-born but decades-long Hong Kong resident (and, to many, now an honorary Hong Konger), actress Carina Lau
The heckles of pro-Beijingers will undoubtedly be raised further after what happened this evening outside of the British Consulate here in Hong Kong (Go here for an extended thread by Razven that began in the daytime but went on past sunset).  In particular, I'm sure they'd be irate at the fact that someone took out a harmonica and played a certain tune close to the heart of many Hong Kongers that a good part of the assembled crowd decided to sing to.  And that he then performed an encore (before the police intervened and, expectedly but still sadly, took him away).     

Historian Jeppe Mulich, watching from far away in London, was moved to state the following about what was going on here in Hong Kong: "When rituals of public mourning aren't just about mourning."  Lawyer Kevin Yam, viewing from Australia, Tweeted the following: "If anyone had any doubt over what all the commemoration of [Queen Elizabeth II in Hong Kong] was really about, let this scene clarify everything."
Put another way: Shame on those who think that resistance is dead in Hong Kong.  For yes, mourning is a form of resistance.  Ditto remembering what Hong Kong was -- the good about and in Hong Kong along with the bad -- and continuing to possess alternative visions of what Hong Kong can and could be.  (And as for those who have prematurely pronounced Hong Kong itself dead: let me be clear -- you are no friend of Hong Kong if that's what you have done.)     

Saturday, September 17, 2022

A rare Hong Kong government policy reversal and Covid statistics that have a good chance of being false, if not outright (damn) lies!

The Covid vaccination center in Yuen Long
(Yes, in better times, it's actually a sports center!) 
Well, well, well... it seems that after the bombshell revelation by Chief Executive John Lee on Tuesday that people from Mainland China and Macau were allowed to enter Hong Kong and being issued with vaccine passes wthout having been vaccinated (unlike people coming in from other territories and actual Hong Kong residents who have been in Hong Kong throughout the pandemic), we have this: a rare reversal of policy/climb down by the Hong Kong government!  Specifically: “The temporary vaccine pass arrangement [now] applies to all arrivals, including Hong Kong residents and non-Hong Kong residents, as well as travellers from the mainland, Macau, Taiwan and overseas areas,” a government spokesperson said".
Quoting again from the RTHK report: "Chief Executive John Lee had on Tuesday explained that mainlanders weren't required to be vaccinated to come to Hong Kong because the infection risk on the mainland is the lowest in the world. But critics [including yours truly!] said the same vaccination requirements should apply to all arrivals because granting exemptions could give people the wrong impression and raise questions about differential treatment."
With regards to the reason given by John Lee for why people from Mainland China weren't required to be vaccinated before coming to Hong Kong: This is a bit rich given where the Wuhan coronavirus was first detected and spread out from; and the notorious dubiousness of official Mainland Chinese statistics (including pertaining to Covid pretty much from the get go)!  But, then, as Tim Hamlett pointed out today, Hong Kong's Covid statistics also aren't necessarily all that reliable any more too!  
This is down to a number of factors that really come across as own goals by the Hong Kong government.  Also, to be sure, "In the early days of the [pandemic,] anyone who thought they had Covid rushed immediately to the nearest doctor – or if they couldn’t afford a doctor, to the nearest Accident and Emergency Department. Doctors and hospitals were required to report cases of Covid to the authorities. So if we were told there were 1,000 new Covid cases yesterday this was probably – give or take the odd case with no symptoms and the odd false positive – the actual figure."
Nowadays, however, many people no longer report their rush to see a doctor -- or make a point to report their having tested positive for Covid.  As Hamlett put it: "Hong Kong people are traditionally self-reliant. The consensus is now that your ordinarily healthy citizen who has had four jabs of the good stuff will either not get Covid or will get the harmless version. The ailment is no longer a public problem. We can handle it ourselves."
And lest it not be clear: "My point is not that the official figure is too low. My point is that it is worthless. It could be too high, though that seems unlikely, or it could be too low. Covid has ceased to be a disease which is routinely reported, so we have no reliable way of knowing how prevalent it now is"! 
Some other things that should not need to be stated but are in the article, so I'm going ahead and quoting the relevant portion of the think piece for the record: "There is no Chinese medicine, traditional or otherwise, that has any demonstrable effect on Covid. The limits on gatherings – 500 for marathons, eight for dinners, four for political protests – make no sense. Too many top, and not-so-top, people seem to be exempt from all restrictions."  Oh, and the Hong Kong government's handling of Covid seems "to be out of step with the rest of the world, bewilderingly changeable, and prone to political pollution"!

Thursday, September 15, 2022

My exploration of Kinuyo Tanaka's directorial work continues with Girls of the Night (1961) (Film review)

(and ended half a month ago) but there's still advertising for it about :)
Girls of the Night (Japan, 1961)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Portraits of Women -- A Tribut to Tanaka Kinuyo program
- Kinuyo Tanaka, director
- Starring: Chisako Hara, Chikage Awashima 
With over 200 screen appearances to six directorial credits, there's little question that Kinuyo Tanaka's main body of film work lies in her acting rather than helming.  But even while I can't say that any of her directorial efforts are of the same quality as some of the classic works in which she starred (notably Keisuke Kinoshita's The Ballad of Narayama and Kenji Mizoguchi's The Life of Oharu), many -- if not all of -- them have interesting subject matter and treatment.    
Take her second film with a script by Sumie Tanaka (after Forever a Woman).  Girls of the Night is a social realist drama examining the plight of ex-prostitutes to rehabilitate in "reform centers" that come across as like a cross between boarding school, factory and prison before seeking to be reintegrated into "regular" society.  As is revealed in the movie's prologue, the former "girls of the night" didn't willingly opt for this but new anti-prostitution laws caused their line of work to become illegal -- and many remain unconvinced that what they did for a living was actually all that immoral or otherwise bad.
Kinuyo Tanaka takes a line that manages to be both sympathetic to those seeking to reform the women with a good heart (like the head of a "reform centre" played by Chikage Awashima) and the women sent to be "reformed" like Kuniko (portrayed by Chisako Hara).  One way she does this is to make the characters multi-dimensional rather than mere "saints" or "sinners".  Another is to show that some of the "sinners" may be more "sinned against" than actual sinners.
Kuniko's story is also made interesting by way of the different (types of) people that she encounters in "mainstream" society when sent to take up various positions.  One involves being a general dogsbody in a general store run by a man who is more henpecked husband than master of his domain.  Another involves working in a factory whose workers are mainly young women, some of whom are far less innocent than they initially look.  A third involves a flower farm run by a kindly couple who, nonetheless, are slaves to certain societal conventions that makes it so that there sympathy for an ex-prostitute can only go so far.
As I've come to know from viewing her other films, Kinuyo Tanaka does not shirk from showing that life can be hard indeed for women, be they a noble lady who married a prince (cf The Wandering Princess) or a housewife turned famous poet (cf. Forever a Woman).  But she also shows that happiness -- or some modicum of satisfaction, and certainly self-worth -- can be reached by members of "the second sex".  And I must say that I found the way that Girls of the Night concluded quite heartening (even if by no means a classic "lived happily after" one)!
My rating for this film: 7.5     

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Bombshell revelation by John Lee about unvaccinated Mainlanders being able to obtain Hong Kong vaccines passes!

If  the Hong Kong government were serious about getting the elderly
vaccinated, there would be more of these PSAs about than
I felt very hot earlier today; and not just because Hong Kong recorded its highest temperatures ever in September (e.g., 35 degrees Celsius at the Hong Kong Observatory in Tsim Sha Tsui) today.  Rather, it's because at his weekly press conference this morning, Chief Executive John Lee was reported to have said things like, as turned into Twitterspeak by Tripperhead, "Need to raise vax rate. Covid isn't the flu. Six times more deadly" that got more than one person thinking of the infamous saying that "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics".

Still, THE point from today's conference that nearly caused me to pop a vein was this: "Unvaccinated individuals travelling from mainland China to Hong Kong can obtain a Vaccine Pass after entering the city because of the low Covid-19 infection rate across the border, Chief Executive John Lee has said, adding that the policy had been in place “for a long time."  Here's the thing though: the policy may have been in place "for a long time" but the first time that I -- and many other people -- heard of it was today!  In other words: a major bombshell just dropped as far as the likes of us were concerned!
"“The main reason is that the risk of Covid-19 infection in the mainland is the lowest in the world,” Lee said. “Its risk, when compared with Hong Kong, has been much lower.”"  Really, now?  I mean, sure we have official statistics from the Chinese government -- but how trustworthy are those?  We're talking, after all, about the government in whose country the Wuhan coronavirus was first detected and who sought to suppress this news for a time!

The Hong Kong Free Press piece I previously quoted goes on to state this: "As per a government statement published on May 5, arrivals from the mainland or Macau who were not required to undergo compulsory quarantine have been allowed to obtain the provisional Vaccine Pass by completing a declaration form as well as presenting their identity document and “other relevant proof” at a designated post office. The provisional pass remains valid for 180 days."
So... there have been who knows how many people from Mainland China and Macau coming to Hong Kong for some time now who are unvaccinated yet can get a Vaccine Pass.  Semantics aside (think about it: they managed to get a vaccine pass without getting vaccinated), why the hell have they been allowed to do so but similarly unvaccinated Hong Kongers not?!  

And health concerns aside, I foresee some negative reactions to this disclosure today by John Lee.  One involves Hong Kongers now feeling they have health reasons to discriminate against any Mainland Chinese person -- even though some of them may be/are vaccinated and some of them actually Hong Kong (permanent) residents who have had to adhere to the same rules and regulation as other Hong Kong residents.  Another involves those exempt Mainland Chinese feeling that they are, in fact, "cleaner" and more superior than Hong Kongers.  A third involves even more Hong Kongers now not wanting to get vaccinated, boosted and/or double boosted.  And a fourth involves even more Hong Kongers not wanting to use the Leave Home Safe app that's part of the whole Vaccine Pass thang!
Some more from the Hong Kong Free Press article: "Meanwhile, those who visit the city from overseas must have received at least two jabs to obtain the provisional pass. International arrivals must also quarantine at a designated hotel at their own expense for three nights upon entering the city, followed by four days of “medical surveillance,” during which they will be issued a yellow code in their LeaveHomeSafe app that bars them from entering restaurants and other premises under the vaccine pass scheme."  And remember, these include Hong Kongers returning from other terrritories (besides, we now know, Macau and Mainland China).

Another famous quote comes to mind as a result: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."  Yep.  From George Orwell's Animal Farm -- much of which, together with his 1984, often resonates a lot for those of us living in Hong Kong 2022.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

A temporary festive respite from bad news on Mid-Autumn/Mooncake/Lantern Festival weekend (Photo-essay)

The Harvest Moon came out last night, the night of the Mid-Autumn/Mooncake/Lantern Festival.  As was the case last year, I headed over to Victoria Park in the evening to check out the lantern display there.  Before that, I already had spotted the full moon up in the sky.  Earlier in the day, I also had enjoyed partaking of a mooncake -- lotus paste with double yolks (my favorite type of mooncake!) -- bought from a member of the Yellow Economic Circle (for lunch!).   

While strolling about and enjoying the lantern displays in Victoria Park, I couldn't help but wonder why it is that this activity has been allowed (for two years in a row now!) but other once annual events held on the same site have not.  With the Hong Kong Flower Show, one could say that it's had the misfortune to have been scheduled to take place (for three years in a row now!) when Hong Kong has been experiencing a Covid wave (though in 2020 and 2021, Hong Kong didn't have the ~10,000 daily new cases that we currently are having).  But one suspects otherwise with the June 4th memorial candlelight vigils (which, frankly, would be far easier to maintain social distancing at, since the bulk of the event participants spent the bulk of the event sitting still in one spot).
Strangely, yet another once annual event that's fallen prey to Hong Kong's pandemic regulations has been the fire dragon dances that used to take place around the same time as the Mid-Autumn Festival.  And yes, I miss all of those events.  Still, looking on the bright side, at least I got to celebrate the Mid-Autumn/Mooncake/Lantern Festival again this year with mooncake eating and lantern viewing (though, as has been the case in all of the years that I've been in Hong Kong), it really still felt more like summer than autumn still on this supposed mid-autumn day and night!   

I cut the mooncake I ate yesterday into quarters, 
with each quarter having part of a yolk in it 
that's supposed to resemble the moon :) 
Last night's full moon
Red lanterns and bright moon
"Lucky cat welcoming the festive season" -- and yeah,
Hong Kong(ers) sure could do with some good luck this season/year!
Yes, Hong Kong's lantern displays can get pretty whimsical ;b
"Moon story" spheres that changed colors, and had rabbits inside! :)
I wonder: would Queen Victoria have been amused? ;)
I did get the feeling though that many of the visitors to Victoria Park
last night were happy to be able to enjoy the lantern display and 

Friday, September 9, 2022

One old and one newer Japanese film viewed at the 2022 Hong Kong International Film Festival (Film reviews)

Advertising for the 2022 Hong Kong International 
Film Festival in Causeway Bay
Riverside Mukoritta (Japan, 2021)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Fantastic Beats program
- Naoko Ogigami, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Kenichi Matsuyama, Tsuyoshi Muro, Hikari Mitsushima, Hidetaka Yoshioka
Some years back, I viewed an Ukranian crime drama whose proceedings I didn't generally care that much for, yet had one scene in it that stuck with me for a long time.  More specifically, there's a scene in The Tribe in which people drink vodka and eat dried sausage in a way that looked good that I longed to emulate them in doing so, and have proceeded to do so on a number of occasions since!  Strange but true: I feel similarly about Riverside Mukoritta and its repeated dining scenes featuring its main character consuming a simple meal with great relish!
Newly released from prison, Takeshi Yamada (portrayed by Kenichi Matsuyama) has found a job at an ika shiokara (squid guts) bottling factory and housing at a cheap, rundown housing facility with an eccentric landlady (played by Hikari Mitsushima) and other interesting characters, including Kozo (Tsuyoshi Muro), a neighbor who, in return for using Takeshi's bath facilities -- as his is not working (properly) -- plies him with vegetables that he's grown himself.  A quiet introvert type, Takeshi is nonetheless drawn into the lives of these other folks, such as a tombstone salesman (Hidetaka Yoshioka) -- who fantasizes about eating luxury foods like fugu (blowfish) and wagyu (premium Japanese beef) -- and the ghost of a woman, who Takeshi actually encounters and has a chat with without realising she's a supernatural being!
The ostensibly whimsical -- but sometimes too deliberately so for my liking -- drama also features a subplot involving Takeshi learning of his estranged father's death and trying to figure out what to do with the deceased's remains which sputters from plot point to plot point but, actually, is what gives  Riverside Mukoritta heart and soul.  On the other hand, the subplot involving the widowed landlady being unable to let go of her late husband leads to a scene which I think is was meant to be erotic but which I found on the strange and creepy side!     
Adapted by herself from a novel that she wrote, Riverside Mukoritta appears to be very much director Naoko Ogigami's baby -- and it may well be that she might have been overly indulgent with it.  Leisurely paced and clocking in at slightly over 2 hours in length, I am moved to wonder if it would have been more enjoyable and felt more substantial if it had been more tightly edited.  As it is, it actually may have been the least involving offering of the 16 I ended up viewing at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival; though I am grateful to its makers for getting me to realize that the combination of Japanese white rice, ika shiokara, and fresh or slightly pickled cucumbers and tomatoes can make for surprisingly enjoyable, even satisfying, meal!
My rating for the film: 6.0  
The Wandering Princess (Japan, 1960)     
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Portraits of Women -- A Tribut to Tanaka Kinuyo program
- Kinuyo Tanaka, director
- Starring: Machiko Kyo, Eiji Funakoshi, Ryomei Ryu
Like her earlier Forever a Woman (AKA The Eternal Breasts) (1955), Kinuyo Tanaka's The Wandering Princess is a drama based on a real life individual but which I assume took some literary liberties since its protagonist is given a different name from the woman she clearly whose memoirs this film is an adaptation of.  Thus we have Machiko Kyo portraying a woman named Ryuko even though The Wandering Princess is based on the memoirs of Hiro Saga, the Japanese noblewoman chosen to be the bride of Pujie (essayed in the film by Eiji Funakoshi), the younger brother of the last Emperor of China, Puyi (also played in this film by a Japanese actor: in his case, Ryomei Ryu).

Filmed in color and on what appears to be the largest budget of any of Kinuyo Tanaka's productions, The Wandering Princess is often impressive to behold and has the kind of story that could be described as epic.  Beginning in Kyoto, Japan, a large chunk of it ends up taking place in Manchukuo, the puppet state set up by the Japanese in Manchuria.  (More than incidentally, it has a substantial amount of Mandarin dialogue and actually could be described as a bilingual Japanese-Mandarin film!)  And while it could be described as a historical romance, it invariably also has scenes involving soldiers -- Japanese, Manchu and Chinese -- and violent, and/or tragic death.
The titular "wandering princess" is portrayed both as a loving wife -- who genuinely loves, and is loved by, her husband and also a pawn in a political game being played by senior officers of the Japanese military (who are made clear to be the people wielding power in both Japan and Manchukuo).  The result is that Ryuko is an entirely sympathetic figure.  And, actually, so are her fellow pawns in the political game: husband Pujie and, ultimately, Puyi too.  

So sympathetically are they portrayed that one can't help but feel that The Wandering Princess is a propaganda production for Ryuko and the Qing Dynasty/Manchu imperial personages.  As a result, this (re)viewer felt torn between appreciating the involving drama as a sure-handed cinematic work -- many of whose details are impressive, including such as having Ryuko and the Japan-educated Pujie speak Mandarin with Japanese accents and Puyi speaking Mandarin without it! -- and wanting to take a more emotionally detached, even cynical, view of it all!  
A historical note: in the film, Ryuko bids to be reunited with Pujie, who she had been physically separated from and imprisoned by, first, the Soviet Red Army and then the Chinese Communists.  And, as it so happened, one year after The Wandering Princess' release, the real life Ryuko (Lady Hiro Saga) was allowed to go to China and live with him in Beijing, until her death in 1987.  

My rating for this film: 7.5