Sunday, April 14, 2024

Takeshi Kitano's Kubi entertained as well as shocked its Hong Kong International Film Festival audience! (Film review)

  
One day of a chart of 2024 Hong Kong International 
Film Festival screenings that includes information about
which were sold out and which not
 
Kubi (Japan, 2023)
- Takeshi Kitano (aka Beat Takeshi), director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Takeshi Kitano,Hidetoshi Nishijima, Ryo Kase, Tadanobu Asano, etc.
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's The Masters program
 
Back in 2017, I saw online chat and advertising for a Japanese epic centering on the decisive Battle of Sekigahara, which took place in 1600 and pitted the forces of Tokugawa Ieyasu against a coalition of Toyotomi loyalist clans, and eagerly awaited its arrival in Hong Kong cinemas (or, at least, film fests).  However, to date, Sekigahara does not appear to have been screened here -- or even gone straight to video.  The sense I got was that its subject was considered too Japan-specific for many overseas markets, including Hong Kong (although it did screen at a few North American film fests, including Toronto and Hawaii), so few cineastes outside of the Land of the Rising Sun would be interested in checking it out; this even though its cast included the likes of Koji Yakusho.
 
Happily this fate has not befallen another movie chronicling another major Japanese historical event -- this one the 1582 Honno-ji Incident.  At the very least, Kubi (whose title translates into English as "Heads"; presumably because so many of them are seen getting cut off in the film!) has made it to Hong Kong by way of screenings at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival; thanks, I have a feeling, to its boasting a star studded cast, featuring art house and cult movie favourites, and headed by its director-scriptwriter, Takeshi Kitano.
 
The character of the future shogun of Japan also appears in Kubi but Tokugawa Ieyasu's just a supporting character -- and one there for comic relief at that! -- in the film that is said to have been some three decades in the making.  Rather, far more attention is given to the characters of: the then dominant warlord, Nobunaga Oda (played by Ryu Kase); the warlord nicknamed "the monkey" (because he was said to physically resemble one!) (portrayed by Takeshi Kitano), one of whose (more) capable lieutanants is played by Tadanobu Asano; and another high-ranking vassal, Mitsuhide Akechi (essayed by Hidetoshi Nishijima), who Nobunaga -- who had homosexual tendencies -- physically coveted.     

Before anything else: yes, homosexuality features pretty prominently in the film. And it's a historical fact that it was fairly common among samurai.  But even though there has been at least one film about it (Gohatto), it seemed that a significant proportion of the audience at the screening I attended were unprepared for it.  And it didn't help that the first homosexual scene in Kubi involved violence and seemed to be at least partially played for laughs.  (Consequently, cue laughter -- often uneasy in terms of "Should I be laughing?" as opposed to purely homophobic, but uncomfortable and rather strange to hear all the same -- for a number of other homosexual scenes in the film; including ones that I personally thought were meant to be humorous!) 
 
If Takeshi Kitano being its director didn't already get you anticipating it, Kubi is by no means an ordinary, run-of-the-mill samurai epic.  Rather, it has copious amounts of startling violence, satire and what traditionalists might deem to be disrespect of samurai ways and actual historical personalities -- with some of the biggest names in Japanese history depicted acting outrageously and even actually dishonorably as they scheme against one another in their bids to gain power or, sometimes, just remain alive!
 
Your mileage might vary but I found Kubi to be enthralling and entertaining.  And even while there definitely were scenes that made me wince and gasp in shock, there also ones that made me laugh (as intended, I think!) and still others that I enjoyed for the sheer cinematic nature of it all.  At the very least, there most definitely is a sense that a big budget was assembled and lavished on this cinematic work; and used in ways that are masterful -- as one might expect from Takeshi Kitano who, by the way, had not planned to appear in the movie and only did so after "the film’s producers told him it would be harder to market overseas if he didn’t also appear"!
               
My rating for this film: 8.5

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Kolheisel's Daughters was the first film I viewed at the 2024 Hong Kong International Film Festival (Film review)

  
Tickets for the 2024 Hong Kong International Film Festival :)
 
Kohlheisel's Daughters (Germany, 1920)
- Ernst Lubitsch, director and co-scriptwriter (along with Hanns Kräly)
- Starring: Henny Porten, Emil Jannings, Gustav von Wangenheim
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Restored Classics program
 
It used to be that I'd be able to get a ticket for at least one of the opening films (there usually are two) of the Hong Kong International Film Festival.  For the fourth year in a row though, I was unable to do so -- as tickets for screenings of Hong Kong films (which the opening films tend to be, though there have been exceptions (e.g., in 2018)) tend to get snapped up pretty quickly these days; thanks in some part to there Hong Kong films having reconnected with local audiences in recent years, and also to some extent because people have come to worry that certain local films won't get screened outside of the HKIFF (cf. Stanley Kwan's First Night Nerves (2018)).
 
Thus it was that my HKIFF-ing began on the second day of this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival: with a screening of the 4K restored version of Ernst Lubitsch's silent comedy, Kohlheisel's Daughters; with live musical accompaniment courtesy of the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble.  An adaptation of the play Kohlhiesel's Daughters by Hanns Kräly, Lubitsch's frequent collaborator, this 1920 film went on to be remade three times; a testament to the original's success, and the story of two very different sisters and the main men in their lives striking a chord with audiences of the day.
 
In view of the film now being 104 years old, it's fair to say that Kohlheisel's Daughters show its age; with a storyline that involves daughters requiring their father's permission to marry, characterisations of women that are on the sexist side by today's standards, and a depiction of a travelling salesman that looks to have an anti-Semitic tinge.  At the same time though, the passing of more than a century cannot prevent viewers from admiring the talent of lead actress Henny Porten -- who portrayed not just one but both of Kohlheisel's daughters... and invested them with such distinct personalities that there was no mistaking one for the other!    
 
Porten is first seen as Gretel, a maiden who cares about her appearance and attracts the attention of many men, including Xavier (played by Emil Jannings), who falls so hard for her that he seeks her hand in marriage.  Papa Kohlheisel (essayed by Jakob Tiedke) refuses to let Gretel marry before her rough, tough sister Liesel (also played by Henny Porten) though; leaving Xavier frustrated, until his friend Seppl (played by Gustav von Wangenheim) suggests that Xavier marry Liesel, then acts so awful to her that she will leave him, so he's cleared to then marry Gretel! 
 
Suffice to say that things don't go as Xavier expects.  Still, things do end up in a way that he and a number of others find quite satisfactory!  Speaking of satisfactory: it's actually quite hard for me to see why any woman would want the physically strong but generally oafish Xavier for a husband.  I guess what got a man appearing to be a good catch was very different in 1920s rural Germany to now, even -- I'd wager -- in the same land!   
 
My review for this film: 7.0                   

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Moon Thieves is a fun watch, and maybe more! (Film review)

  
Advertising for the second Lunar New Year comedy 
I viewed in 2024 :)
 
The Moon Thieves (Hong Kong, 2024)
- Steve Yuen, director and co-scriptwriter (with Chan Kin-hung)
- Starring: Edan Lui, Anson Lo, Louis Cheung, Michael Ning, Keung To
 
This year's batch of Hong Kong Lunar New Year movies have been star-driven, with Rob n Roll boasting the the single biggest star name in Aaron Kwok. But it's Louis Cheung who will be the festive season's acting box office champ thanks to his appearing in not one but two 2024 Lunar New Year offerings; at least one of which is still in Hong Kong cinemas over Easter weekend!  And while he's part of an ensemble cast in both Table for Six 2 and The Moon Thieves, his parts are significant in both.  
 
In this Steve Yuen movie, Cheung, together with MIRROR members Edan Lui and Anson Lo, and award-winning actor Michael Ning, make up the titular "moon thieves": a heist crew recruited by "Uncle" (played by another MIRROR member in Keung To) -- a powerful, even while surprisingly young, underworld watch dealer who took over the nickname and business from his late father -- to go to Tokyo and steal three rare (and thus super valuable) watches housed in a Japanese company's safe. 

Edan Lui has arguably the most eye-catching role as Vincent, an antiques watch counterfeiter with quite the watch knowledge (and obsession). As explosives expert Mario, Michael Ning definitely stole some scenes though, while Anson Lo as Yoh, the young lock-picking artist, looked to be able to have fun with his role too.  But it's left to Louis Cheung's Chief, the leader of the crew, to hold things together -- and that he does ably. 
 
Watching Table for Six 2 and The Moon Thieves just a few weeks apart increased my Louis Cheung appreciation due to his having had very different roles in the two pretty different movies; yet managing to add gravitas to both and infuse emotional depth to generally light (in terms of mood and also dramatic heft) films as a whole as well as his characters in them.  Also, I appreciate how he looks able to hold his own and appeal in both a movie where the big names were a generation older than him (Table for Six 2) and then again in another where the star attractions were decades younger than him (The Moon Thieves). 

Incidentally, I'm sure that many people went to see The Moon Thieves primarily -- or even solely -- because of there being MIRROR members in it! While I wouldn't describe myself as a fan of the music group or even any of its individual members, I will say that I've never been put off by the presence of any of them in a movie (unlike, say, with...Aaron Kwok.  Yes, there's a reason why Rob n Roll was not a movie I made a beeline to go watch!)  And, in fact, I think that all of that group's trio acquitted themselves well in this fun film.
 
When viewing this festive offering, I found myself not thinking at all about Hong Kong's political situation or pro-democracy protest movement.  Those who don't live in Hong Kong probably will think "Of course, it's just an entertaining -- even mere "throwaway" -- heist movie, after all"!  But upon further reflection, the way that you have people who don't have much in common come together to form a team and end up bonding while working towards a common purpose is something that, well, does remind me of how things were in 2019-2020.  Yes, I may be overthinking it.  But, ultimately, I think this also is why I do think that The Moon Thieves is a very Hong Kong movie designed to appeal to Hong Kongers after all!

My rating for this film: 7.5

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Article 23 has come into effect, and already been wielded

  
The kind of bookstore I wish could flourish in Hong Kong
 
Article 23 came into force last Saturday (March 23rd, 2024)Even before it came into effect, yet another wave of fear had swept Hong Kong -- and with it, announcement of store closures and such.  Although pro-democracy/free speech Mount Zero bookstore announced its upcoming closure (at the end of March; i.e., this Sunday) some weeks back, it clearly is a victim of the double whammy that's Article 23 and the National Security Law China imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.
 
Over the weekend, I visited another of Hong Kong's remaining independent bookstores.  Even while some books that clearly showed its pro-democracy/free speech credentials remained on display, a staffer told me that they were other books that they had removed some others from their shelves while they waited to see where the new "red lines" were being drawn.  Put another way: they were anticipating that the "red lines" would be further tightened and there be less space for free speech and such in the city; and also waiting, like other Hong Kongers, to see Article 23 being wielded against people.

I must admit that a part for me was imagining horrors like mass arrests taking place at the stroke of midnight or pre-dawn on Saturday -- and was already counting my blessings later that day and Sunday that nothing directly Article 23 related had happened over the first 48 hours or so.  On Monday evening, however, I heard rumblings that something untoward had happened involving a jailed activist-protestor; and confirmation came along yesterday that Ma Chun-man had been denied the early release from prison that his family and friends who went to wait for him to come out of the Tong Fuk Correctional Institution on Monday thought he would be given.
 
 
All this was before Article 23 came into effect, however.  And "While the city's law stipulates eligible prisoners can be released before their term ends, the new security law allows the government to deny such rights."  Which is what happened; making Ma the first known case of an individual denied freedom and penalised under Article 23.

Some further details from the Nikkei Asia article reporting this: "Ma Chun-man, a former delivery man who was found guilty of inciting secession on at least 20 occasions in public and on social media between August and November 2020. Ma was accused of chanting slogans advocating independence from China." Read that again: he CHANTED SLOGANS. (In other words, we are talking about speech crimes.)
 
Quoting again from the Nikkei Asia piece: "The new security law is more comprehensive than one that was imposed by Beijing in June 2020 to punish secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country or external forces that endangered national security. The new law includes treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets, sabotage against public infrastructure, including computer systems, and external interference in domestic affairs."  
 
At the same time, it's worth noting that Hong Kong's Basic Law also includes the following Articles:
Article 27:  Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and of publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and of demonstration; and the right and freedom to form and join trade unions, and to strike.
 
Article 28:  The freedom of the person of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable.

No Hong Kong resident shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment. Arbitrary or unlawful search of the body of any resident or deprivation or restriction of the freedom of the person shall be prohibited. Torture of any resident or arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of the life of any resident shall be prohibited.

Article 29:  The homes and other premises of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable. Arbitrary or unlawful search of, or intrusion into, a resident's home or other premises shall be prohibited.

Article 30:  The freedom and privacy of communication of Hong Kong residents shall be protected by law. No department or individual may, on any grounds, infringe upon the freedom and privacy of communication of residents except that the relevant authorities may inspect communication in accordance with legal procedures to meet the needs of public security or of investigation into criminal offences.

It remains to be seen though how strongly they will be upheld, especially vis a vis Article 23.  So, please, don't look away from what's happening in Hong Kong -- the original title of Humans Right Watch's Acting China Director Maya Wang's piece in the New York Times which bemoans, among other things, that "visitors to Hong Kong often fail to recognize the transformations taking place beneath the enduring glitz of the city", and cites a recent Pew Research Center survey having found that "more than 80 percent of Hong Kongers still want democracy, however remote that possibility looks today".

Friday, March 22, 2024

On the eve of Article 23 coming into effect

Poster seen in Hong Kong back in October 2014
 
This past Tuesday, Hong Kong's homegrown national security law (known as Article 23) was fast tracked through the territory's Legislative Council.  "With unanimous support from all 89 lawmakers, the bill is now set to take effect on March 23 — nearly a month earlier than many observers had expected,"  DW's Yuchen Li (in Taipei) and Phoebe Kong (in Hong Kong) reported.

"The specific laws will introduce a range of new offenses including treason, espionage, external interference and disclosure of state secrets – some of which are punishable by up to life in prison.  Following the first passage of a sweeping national security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong in 2020, the latest bill is widely believed to further undermine the city's freedom and autonomy promised by Beijing after the region returned from British colonial rule in 1997," they continued.

 
 
 
As it so happened, I spent last Tuesday evening in the company of a friend who had been in that court.  I think being with that friend and similar minded people helped me to stay calm.  Meeting up and being with other friends in the days since has helped too: to, among other things, remind one another that we are still here, we still support one another, and we all still really f**king love Hong Kong.
 
So, here are the words and mantras I plan to live by for today and the coming days: Keep calm and carry on.  Live in truth.  Figure out what you can still do, and ga yau!

Friday, March 8, 2024

Thoughts triggered by reports that Article 23 will be passed (very) soon

  
Spotted in Hong Kong yesterday
 
Sharing some things I wrote on Twitter late last night after seeing the news that Article 23 would be gazetted today (with typos there hopefully corrected here):
 
Something many people outside of Hong Kong (still) don't seem to realise is that: People went on protest marches because Hong Kong didn't have democracy but they still felt the government would listen to over 500 thousand protest marchers. But when Carrie Lam didn't listen on June 9th and then 16th, 2019... 
 
Put another way: if we had genuine universal suffrage, there probably would not have been those mega protest marches. And what REALLY killed off the will to have those mega marches wasn't the national security law but the feeling/knowledge that the government WILL NOT LISTEN.
 
 Those people lamenting that Hongkongers have lost their courage and don't want to comment (on camera to the BBC, etc.) about Article 23: why should we risk arrest, jail, etc. when we knew/know what we say will just fall on deaf ears?
 
I mean. Think about it: 2 million people out of a population of some 7.5 million went out on the streets on June 16th, 2019. Young, elderly, some pregnant women, people on wheelchairs, etc. And still our message was ignored. And we -- non-violent protestors -- were derided as rioters. How insane is that?!
 
And for those who say 2 million is less than one third of the population: think of the people who couldn't attend that day -- who were working that day, in hospital, who happened to not be in Hong Kong that day, etc. And, also, that the majority of the voters on November 24th, 2019 voted for pro-democracy candidates.
 
And when you look at just 2019 (not even 2020, 2014, every July 1st from 2003, etc.), with protest rallies and marches taking place weekly (with some weeks and days having more than one event): we are talking about A LOT of (committed) people.
 
In sum: there were/are lots of people who wanted democracy, who didn't want Article 23 to be passed, who really f**king love Hong Kong. And that's what keeps us going (and the majority of us here): the knowledge that We. Are. Still. The. Majority. In. Hong. Kong!
 
 
Today, I saw someone Tweet that after Article 23 is passed, he will delete his Twitter account.  And, sadly, I think he isn't the only one who will do so.  We saw this happen after China imposed the National Security Law on Hong Kong back in 2020 after all -- and what's been described as Hong Kong's own national security law is threatening to be quite a bit harsher and thus scarier.
 
I would be lying if I said that I've not thought about deleting my social media accounts and also this blog.  But I also got to thinking that if the Hong Kong government wanted/wants to go after me, they'd already have copied those of my writings they found/find offensive.  So if I delete this blog or Tweets, etc., it just means "the public" won't be able to read them -- as opposed to the authorities.
 
Consequently, they will stay.  Though for how much longer I will update them... well, let's see how it all goes (or not, as the case could be), shall we?  If nothing else, I learnt a long time ago to: a) never say never; and b) to not try to predict the future -- because so much has happened and can happen, both bad but also good, that we just really couldn't envisage or imagine until it all did! 

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Farewell to David Bordwell, a beloved fan and respected champion of Hong Kong cinema

  
David Bordwell sharing a stage with Karena Lam, 
Christopher Lambert and Bong Joon Ho at the 
 
Today was one of those days when soon after I had dragged myself out of bed, on account of it being a way colder March day than I'm used to in Hong Kong, I wanted to head back to bed for the rest of the day.  For a change, it wasn't bad political news that made me feel this way.  Rather, it was learning (via a Facebook post from a mutual friend) that a good friend had passed away.

David Bordwell was one of those people I first knew about -- and writings (including Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment (of which there's a second, revised edition and Chinese language translation) I read -- before I met him.  An eminent film scholar whose Film Art: An Introduction (co-authored with his wife, now widow, Kristin Thompson) was the textbook for many introductory film studies courses, he taught for decades at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and, by many accounts, was a fantastic teacher as well as professor.

I never formally knew this side of David Bordwell as I never ever took a film studies class (nor was I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin at Madison).  Still I do think he taught me a lot over the years by way of one-on-one conversations, email discussions and such.  And not just about film but, also, how to be a good human being.

Among the things that struck me pretty much from the start of my getting to know him -- around two and a half decades ago now -- was how he would generously share information and insights, never forget to thank people who answered queries he had and to openly credit people he felt had helped in even the most minor ways.  Also, unlike too many professors and others who occupied respected positions, he never treated people who weren't his peers like, well, they were not his peers.
 
In addition to being an admirably "hail fellow well met" kind of guy, I really appreciated that David Bordwell was film fan as well as a film scholar.  Again, unlike too many other folks I've encountered (who seem to think that to be serious about cinema requires one to be critical -- or, at the very least, emotionally detached), he was unafraid to show his enthuasiasm and enjoyment of a movie, and also would openly expression passion for a particular actor, actress or filmmaker -- and even openly champion their work.

Fun fact: I first "met" David Bordwell via a film discussion board used mainly by movie geeks.  Although we were both based in the US at the time, we only met "in the flesh" in Hong Kong a few years later -- after a Hong Kong International Film Festival screening; one of many we would end up finding ourselves both at.
 
Some of my favorite memories of David involve watching movies at the Hong Kong International Film Festival with him and then waxing lyrical to each other about those we had enjoyed viewing.  Among the most memorable of our shared viewings was of Tsui Hark's Once Upon a Time in China (Hong Kong, 1991) with two other friends.  All of us had seen this martial arts epic before and loved it.  But it truly was a rare treat for all of us to view it on a big screen with friends who were fellow fans.     
 
Another memorable viewing with David was of a lesser known Hong Kong movie: New York, Chinatown (Hong Kong, 1982), which we both viewed for the first time, sat side by side, in the front row of the cinema at the Hong Kong Film Archive back in 2014.  That's 10 years ago now but I still can recall his glee when watching this movie which can't be called a classic by any means but still has its moments.  
 
Afterwards, we headed out of the Film Archive and parted ways -- he to take the MTR and I to take the bus.  That was actually the last time I saw him because ill health made it so that he was advised by his doctor to not make the trip over to Hong Kong from Wisconsin in subsequent years.  I wish it weren't the case.  And I have to say that every year since that the Hong Kong International Film Festival has come along, I had hoped that I'd see David again.  Sadly, it's not to be.  
 
He was, and will be, missed.  But, well, David, thanks for the great memories. And, actually, thank you for everything -- including your championing of Hong Kong cinema -- and Hong Kong in general* -- over the years but, also, for being a wonderful human being and treasured friend.        
 
*From a 2020 post on his (and Kristin Thompson's) Observations on Film Art blog: "Since the last edition [of Planet Hong Kong], I have not followed Hong Kong cinema as intensively as I would have liked. Other projects have diverted me. But I have never lost my admiration for this cinema, this culture, and this citizenry. Watching Hong Kong films and visiting the territory have added a new dimension to my life."
 
RIP, David Bordwell (1947-2024).  And Kristin, should you ever read this blog post: my sincere condolences once more.  

Friday, February 23, 2024

"Table for Six 2" was the first film I opted to view in the new year of the dragon!

  
The first Hong Kong movie I viewed in the 
new year of the dragon! :)
 
Table for Six 2 (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2024)
- Sunny Chan, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Stephy Tang, Louis Cheung Kai Chung, Ivana Wong, Lin Min Chen, Peter Chan Charm-man 
 
One of my favourite Lunar New Year traditions here in Hong Kong involves going to the cinema to view Chinese New Year movies with a receptive audience in the mood for laughs aplenty.  With three such cinematic offerings to choose from this new year of the dragon, I opted to first view the follow-up film to Table for Six, the smash hit family dramedy that originally had been scheduled to be a Chinese New Year 2022 offering, only to get released months later thanks to Covid and the Hong Kong government's then super strict pandemic restrictions including the shutting down of cinemas for a not inconsiderable period of time.    

Going into the screening of Table for Six 2, I knew that the first film's lead actor, Dayo Wong, would not be in this new movie which loosely revolves around three weddings and members of the family that had been at the heart of the first Table for Six now being in the wedding planning business.  But with the rest of the original ensemble being around for it and advance publicity for the festive offering showing that it would boast lots of cameo appearances by the likes of Jennifer Yu, Helena Law Lan, Woo Fung and Tse Kwan-ho, I figured that it would not lack for acting prowess and star power.  And so it proved.  
 
Disappointingly though, despite Table For Six 2 having the same director-scriptwriter (Sunny Chan) as that which is currently third on the all time Hong Kong box office chart for local releases (having ended up amassing a whopping HK$77.3 million!), there was a notable drop off in overall quality; one that comes from the main characters feeling more one-note and/or their eccentric tics often being overly exaggerated this time around, despite the better efforts of those who play them.  For example, Ivana Wong's Josephine sadly spends too much of her time onscreen this time around fuming (even more so than cooking); so much so that it's harder this time around to see why Lung (played by Peter Chan Charn-man) would care for and love her enough to get married to her.  
 
Then there's Meow (essayed by Taiwanese actress Lim Min Chen), who appears for much of the movie to have just two modes: cutesy; and alcoholic.  Though, as it turns out, she does end up having a great dramatic scene that may well be the heart of this movie which, like with the first Table for Six, is best when the mood gets more serious and reflective. Too bad then that much of it spent trying to be manically laugh-a-minute (or, it can feel more like, every 10 seconds or so; with one-liners, punch lines and visual gags being thrown out at a crazily fast pace, seemingly in the hope that at least some will stick)!
 
With Dayo Wong's eldest brother Steve being out of the picture (bar for verbal references aplenty to the character, including his absence being explained away by his having decided to go to Africa), it looks to have fallen on middle brother Bernard (portrayed by Louis Cheung) to anchor the family, and film.  And he does have his moments; with standouts including a musical comedy sequence involving the Leslie Cheung (no relation)'s hit song Monica.  He also gets to interact with his late mother (essayed again by Fish Liew) in scenes that will bring to mind those involving her and Steve in the first film.     
 
Still, it might be fifth returning star, Stephy Tang (playing Monica), who is given the most opportunities to steal the scene and shine in the film. Nonetheless, with my having viewed her, Louis Cheung, Ivana Wong and Peter Chan Charm-man in other, more serious and/or substantive roles in other movies, I really do reckon that she and all her co-stars deserve better material to work with than what they were given in Table for Six 2.  
 
All in all, I would have appreciated a less scattershot approach to trying to get laughs.  I also wish the movie's over-the-top tone, flimsy plot involving weddings being viewed primarily as a commercial enterprise rather than a serious affair and often nonsensical subplots, didn't threaten to make my head spin from too many lies being told and piling on top of one another.  And truly, it's quite the miracle that Table for Six 2 managed to ultimately come together and wrap as well as it eventually did.  
 
Still, less might have been more, actually.  At the very least, a more minimalist approach would have reduced the movie's 133 minute long screen time.  Nonetheless, I did get some enjoyment out of viewing Table for Six 2 -- even while being fully aware that it's no cinematic classic -- and on the first day of the new year of the dragon too.  Also, it even had a couple of scenes that put lumps in my throat and had my eyes watering in a way that told me that, amidst much silliness, I had been emotionally impacted after all. 
 
My rating for the film: 6.5 

Monday, February 12, 2024

Enter the new dragon year!

"Dragon" installation in a Hong Kong public park! :D
 
Kong hei fatt choi!  It's now the third day of the new Year of the Dragon and I feel a need to mark the occasion with a blog post as well as assure people who wondered if I was alive that I indeed still am so.  Also, for the time being, I don't have plans to entirely stop blogging... but I might take a break for a bit.  
 
Somehow, I've just not felt the urge to blog as much as previously; probably because there's so little sense here that there actually are people reading what I've written -- unlike, say, over on Twitter (and no, I refuse to call it X still!).   For now, let's play it by ear and see how it goes, shall we? 

At the very least, I do still want to write reviews of Hong Kong films I see here.  And it would be nice to finish chronicling my most recent (October 2023!) Japan trip here, I think; since I know of at least one person who seems interested in checking out those posts!

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Thank you to Lionel Messi and his new Hong Kong haters for giving us opportunities to laugh (at the Hong Kong government)! :D

Actually, I reckon Messi's no longer welcomed in Hong Kong... :D
 
 
 
And then there's the spectre of Article 23.  Re that which has been billed as Hong Kong's own security law: a sign of how fearful it -- and the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong back on June 30th, 2020 -- already has made Hong Kongers can be seen in a Hong Kong Free Press article about people's views about Article 23 having been run without any of the people quoted in it having their personal names listed for the record (and more than one of them not even wanting to have their surname known).
 
And yet, many people have endured and been (unexpectedly) resilient.  And still know how to laugh.  And today, Hong Kongers were given something to laugh about -- and unite to hate! -- by way of the PR fiasco that came by way of footballing superstar Lionel Messi having come with his Inter Miami team to Hong Kong but ended up not playing even been on the pitch for even one second of the friendly game in which he was supposed to be the star draw!
 
After the game (which saw Inter Miami play and beat a Hong Kong selection by 4 goals to 1 -- not that anyone seems to care about the result or anything besides the fact that Lionel Messi had not played!), the American club's coach, Gerardo Martino, told reporters that the club's medical team had taken the decision to bar Messi -- and teammate Luis Suarez -- from playing after an assessment this morning.  But the match organizers (Tatler Hong Kong) didn't disclose this to match attendees and even announced that he was a substitute in the stadium

 
 
And then there's the angry response of the Hong Kong government that came as a result of it getting hit with quite the PR disaster.  A lesson I wonder whether it will learn: "[T]is is what happens when you use taxpayers' money to subsidise multi-millionaire soccer players."  If not, it is going to give people more opportunities to laugh at it!
 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

A guilty verdict in a trial involving actor Gregory Wong gets people thinking that so much, if not everything, is wrong!

  
Still image of Gregory Wong at Admiralty from 
 
This has been one of the weeks where so much has happened (including announcements that make people realize that the dreaded Article 23 may be pushed through faster than many of us had hoped) that I lost track of the days and thought for a time yesterday that today was going to be Friday, only to realize after a while that today's still just Thursday.  But let me focus today's blog post on just one subject: today's judgement by Magistrate Li Chi-ho at the end of a 34 trial in which six defendants stood accused of "rioting" on July 1st, 2019.  
 
Firstly, let's note for the record that Magistrate Li found four of the defendants, including actor Gregory Wong, guilty as charged.   We'll get back to Gregory Wong shortly but here's focusing now on the two defendants found not guilty of rioting: Wong Ka-ho, who was then a a reporter with a student publication at the City University of Hong Kong; and Ma Kai-chung, who then was a reporter with Passion Times.  Sadly, they did not get off scott free.  Specifically, Magistrate Li found the duo guilty of  "entering or staying in the precincts of the [Legislative Council] chamber" that a number of pro-democracy protestors had illegally stormed that day.
 
A reminder in a Hong Kong Free Press article about today's judgement of that event that was labelled "Taking Back the Legislature" (the title of a 2020 documentary film that I managed to view but which is no longer allowed to be screened in public in Hong Kong): "That night, protesters occupied the government building, smashing windows and spray-painting protest slogans on the walls. Some left by around 11 pm, according to the case details.  Police officers did not stop the storming. By the time officers entered the building, all protesters had left, according to a police watchdog report" (my emphasis).
 
As early as the night of July 1st, 2019, itself, people were pondering the following:"Seems possible, even probable, that the police and authorities in Hong Kong purposely retreated to create the circumstances and images that would justify a stronger backlash. Surely they had the means and the force to prevent the legislature being stormed... if they wanted to."  (This from France 24 journalist, James Creedon.)  
 
A little over a week later, Stephen Vines's July 9th, 2019, Hong Kong Free Press piece was headlined: Was Hong Kong's protestors' occupation of the legislature a dangerous trap laid by the police?" and in it, he noted that Fernando Cheung -- one of the many pro-democracy legislators (including the jailed  since February 28th, 2021, likes of Claudia Mo and Lam Cheuk-ting) who had tried in vain to stop protestors from breaking into the Legislative Council building -- had suggested precisely that.  And today's judgement looks to have proven Fernando Cheung, now no longer in Hong Kong (and, instead, one of the many Hongkongers who have emigrated in recent years to Canada) right.
 
Returning to Gregory Wong: he had pleaded not guilty and "told the court he entered the legislative council solely to deliver two chargers to reporters who were covering the break-in by protesters.  According to video evidence played by the prosecution, Wong left the chamber immediately after delivering the chargers to a reporter in a yellow vest."  And yet he was found guilty.  

The case magistrate, according to a Reuters report, "said Wong could have met the reporter outside the Legislative Council, so as to not "take risk to get in, and serve the purpose of helping others"."  According to an Associated Press (AP) report, magistrate Li also noted that Wong "had hugged a protester before leaving the chamber as an expression of support."  From this, magistrate Li surmised that Wong's “intention of entering the legislature is obvious, it is to join this riot"!

 
Also note what happened to another of the defendants, as detailed in the AP piece: Lam Kam-kwan "was convicted of rioting and a separate charge of criminal damage Thursday, had been detained in mainland China in August 2019 and had been forced to write a repentance letter. Lam said some Hong Kong police officers later met him and told him that if he would not admit his wrongdoing, he then could not return to the city."  Does that sound like a forced confession to you?  Because that's what it sounds like to me!
 
For the record: this was a jury-less trial.  I can imagine a trial by jury producing different verdicts.  So, yeah, it can feel when reading judgements like today's that, to quote a lawyer in a legal drama that did involve a jury trial -- and which I described in my review of it as representing "wishful thinking or plain fantasy on the part of its makers.  Or, alternatively, a reminder of how justice should be served" -- like "Everything is wrong", sadly enough! :(

Sunday, January 28, 2024

Debutant director Sasha Chuk tells a very personal story indeed via Fly Me to the Moon (Film review)

  
The principal cast members and producer Stanley Kwan 
at a post-screening photo session and Q&A 
 
Fly Me To the Moon (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Sasha Chuk, director-scriptwriter
- Starring: Sasha Chuk, Wu Kang-ren, Chloe Hui, Yoyo Tse, Natalie Hsu, Angela Yuen

There is an achingly personal feel to this drama by first time feature film director Sasha Chuk who also wrote the screenplay for this cinematic adaptation of her (semi?) autobiographical novel and portrays the female protagonist as an adult.  Spanning two decades, Fly Me to the Moon begins its story in 1997 when the young Yuen (played by child actress Chloe Hui) and her mother arrive in Hong Kong to reunite with her father (portrayed throughout the film by Wu Kang-ren), who illegally immigrated to the then British Crown Colony, while her younger sister, Kuet, stayed behind in Hunan.
 
Able to only speak Hunanese, Yuen doesn't have an easy time at school and in other aspects of life.  And although her father has learnt to speak Cantonese and her mother soon gets a job as a waitress in a dim sum restaurant, life is not easy either for the adults in the family; as can be seen in the family living in a small sub-divided apartment, and her father turning to drugs for solace and ending up getting arrested and convicted shortly after the arrival -- to Yuen's delight -- of Kuet, who Yuen clearly adores.
 
Fast forward to 2007, and the girls are now at secondary school (with Yuen being played by Yoyo Tse) and successfully passing as native Cantonese-speaking Hongkongers; with Kuet (played as a teenager by Natalie Hsu) also being fluent in English and doing well at an elite school.  The sense one gets when watching them though is that they have consciously hidden not only the truth about their having come from Hunan from their schoolmates but, also, about their mother now working in a massage parlour and their father being a convict -- as all of these details would get them to be looked down upon, even ostracised, by even those who were supposed to be their friends.
 
If truth be told, the story of Mainland Chinese people moving to Hong Kong and finding life very hard in this city is one that's been told plenty of times before.  Ditto the notion that childhood experiences, including traumatising ones involving the father, stay with one into adulthood and affect the decisions one makes later in life -- with another recent Hong Kong film, Time Still Turns the Pages, showing that so very movingly and well.  (More than by the way, I do suspect that I would have been far more emotionally affected by Fly Me To the Moon if I hadn't viewed Nick Cheuk's standout offering only a few weeks ago.)  
 
Still, Fly Me to the Moon does undeniably impress at a technical level, with standouts in this regard including: Chan Hok Lun and Ho Yuk Fai's cinematography, whose images could often tell what a thousand words migh not; William Chang Suk-ping's production design which produced interiors that came across as authentic, be they cramped Hong Kong underclass dwellings, a Hunanese grandmother's rustic room or comfortable Tokyo hotel accomodation; and the acting talent on show, some of whom had to act in multiple languages on account of the film having Hunanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese dialogue!
 
The last includes Sasha Chuk -- who, in addition to her behind the camera roles, also appears in front of the camera as the adult Yuen in the scenes set in 2017.  There can be no denying that she is the heart and soul of Fly Me to the Moon -- and that she has laid bare her story as much as Yuen sought to hide her true identity, and often suppress her feelings, for much of her life.  As she told the audience at the film's world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival back in October, "I’m from Hunan and I moved to Hong Kong when I was a child. I spent all my life being treated as an outsider, including the time when I went to university overseas. So wherever I am, I am an outsider. And I really wanted to depict my experience."  And this she has done so, in spades.

My rating for the film: 7.0

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Cold day anniversaries and political prisoner birthdays

  
Attire appropriate for the cold weather we've been having
in recent days in Hong Kong!
 
The past few days have been unusually cold in Hong Kong.  Yes, it's winter -- but it really is not usual for there to be a frost warning in place, like is currently the case, and for there to be as much frost up Tai Mo Shan as was captured in photos yesterday!  So I feel entirely justified in having my thermal underwear as well as the Norwegian sweater I got in Bergen on in recent days; and even more so when checking and finding both last night and tonight that it's colder in Hong Kong than London!
 
 
As expected, there's been much talk on social media about the cold conditions; including by expats who one would expect to normally poo-poo local residents' remarks about how cold it is.  But there also have been a number of Tweets today about it being Chow Hang-tung's 39th birthday -- her third spent in jail -- and today also marking her 938th day behind bars.       

 
Also, here's noting for the record that last week saw Emily Lau celebrate her 72nd birthday (on January 21st) and Claudia Mo her 67th birthday (on January 18th).  Both journalists turned pro-democrat politicians whose names and faces are easily recognisable to many Hong Kongers, their lives have become so very different since February 28th, 2021, when the latter was arrested (for taking part in pro-democracy primaries that the former had not).  
 
Back in June 2022, there was a Financial Times article about Claudia Mo entitled "She was loved for standing up to China. She may die in jail".  Something which I hope will not be the case!  Though, if truth be told, things really are not looking good; this especially since she's one of the Hong Kong 47 who have lodged guilty pleas, presumably because she hoped for clemency and a shorter jail sentence than if she pleaded innocent, then was found guilty by the three national security judges presiding over the trial (rather than because she actually believes that she has committed any national security law crimes).

Something else I find sad (and yes, I'm guilty of this too): although there were "Happy birthday, Claudia Mo" messages on Twitter last year, there doesn't appear to have been  any this year.  I'd like to think that it's less a case that people have forgotten about Claudia Mo and more that we "just" forgot when's her birthday.  In any case, for my part, here's noting it belatedly -- better late than never, right? :S  -- and wishing her, Emily Lau, and Chow Hang-tung well in the coming year and years to come.   

*Update: The Court of Final Appeal overturned Chow Hang-tung's acquittal over the over inciting people to take part in an unauthorised assembly in 2021 to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.  Not unexpected but sad all the same. :(