Therapy Sessions: The 30th Hong Kong International Film Festival Bob Davis July 2006 Festival Reports Issue 40 April 4–19, 2006 Immediate and full disclosure: I spent only nine full days in Hong Kong, saw 27 movies, (1) and ate way too much dim sum. (2) Below is a list of what I saw, (3) reactions fearlessly summarised in a word or two. This will perhaps give you a sense of whether you want to continue reading this report. My taste favours films I’d define as somehow like “music” – that music deriving from a film’s image, its sound design, its actors’ performances, and/or especially its rhythm. Obscure content doesn’t bother me a whit. Earnest clichés often do. That said, here goes: Really Exciting: Big Bang Love, Juvenile A Pretty Darn Interesting: Noriko’s Dinner Table; The Sun; Dead Run; Workingman’s Death; The Death of Mister Lazarescu; I Love You Watchable (which is, for me, better than it probably sounds): Who’s Camus, Anyway?; Un Couple parfait; Rampo Noir; Everlasting Regret; The Ants; Towards Mathilde; Before Born; Scrap Heaven Puzzling (in an almost certainly bad way): Cycling Chronicles – Landscapes the Boy Saw; Invisible Waves Weak: Host and Guest; The Peter Pan Formula; Be with Me Bahhh!: Imprint; Hold Up Down; Princess Raccoon; Sunflower; Lost Domain; Perhaps Love (4) My screening choices reflect my interests, especially in Japanese cinema, but the Festival was impressively wide-ranging. An eight-film Hong Kong Panorama with another eight HK productions in a Johnnie To retro and another twenty in a Tribute to Action Choreographers, a SONY HDV Asian Digital Competition (another eight “films”), seven movies grouped under the banner “Chinese Renaissance”, and a 40 film selection from “The Glorious Modernity of Kong Ngee” (5) all gave the event its sensible local centre. Twenty-two (!) Galas and a 12-film Master Class series included films by major international directors (Michael Haneke, Aleksandr Sokurov, Claire Denis, Lars von Trier, the Dardennes, Takashi Miike, Steven Soderbergh). Thirty-eight films covered Global Visions, seven of them constituting a Nordic Light mini-focus. There were also a 14-film tribute to Nakagawa Nobuo, six HBO Originals, 20 films in the Indie Power and Midnight Heat programs, four James Benning works, four Avant Garde shorts collections, a dozen or so docs, (6) a small animation sidebar, and the Centre Pompidou’s “Art of Movement” selections. (7) In short, a festival of films. Day 1 (8) I have a Press Pass. Ostensibly I’m in Hong Kong to seek out interesting movies for American Cinematographer. (9) Sadly, however, it’s hard for me to imagine many of the films screening here getting US releases. Not for lack of quality. It’s about a too narrowly focused capitalism. Or about small-minded distributors. Or about audiences raised in a general climate of anti-intellectualism. A Press Pass is not all it’s cracked up to be. It means that I get to stand in the shorter of two lines – “ticket holders” and “pass holders” – in advance of each screening, but then experience the exquisite torture of watching those in the longer line flow past me into the theatre, all the while fearing that maybe after the last ticket holder enters there won’t be a dozen or so seats for journalists et al – i.e. me! (10) The advantage is that the screenings are free. …. Even the couple hundred giddy girls who pack the theatre (11) to see Sabu’s professionally executed but witless tale of bumbling Santa-clad bank robbers, Hôrudo appu daun (Hold Up Down, 2005), have to force themselves to laugh at its would-be zaniness. Lee Sang-il’s Scrap Heaven (2005) is a slightly less moronic, slightly slicker riff on the same tedious post-Tarantino pop-punk themes. Three misfit – wouldn’t you know it?! – survivors of a deadly bus hijack (12) launch a freelance revenge ring, operated out of a filthy abandoned public toilet, and do for spurned lovers and abused children what they can’t do themselves. Perfect, hermetic compositions, cut at high speed. But it all wears thin. Quickly. I begin to worry whether Mr Lee has perhaps been seriously injured … or is chronically ill. His debut, Border Line (2002), seemed to effortlessly combine quirk and depth. It flowed. Now, only 31 years old, and after a forced adaptation of Murakami Ryu’s 69 (2004), he looks to be out of steam. …. Yanagimachi Mitsuo’s first work in ten years, Camus nante shiranai (Who’s Camus, Anyway?, 2005) opens with a bravura tracking shot through a college campus in which a series of students tout their favourite opening bravura tracking shots and discuss Luchino Visconti, Leos Carax, Quentin Tarantino, and the eponymous Frenchman in preparation for a class project – “The Bored Murderer” – which goes into production in five days. A film about a film, set in the film school where filmmaker Yanagimachi teaches film. Like Truffaut, (13) but good. The difference between Truffaut’s and Yanagimachi’s films is a difference in tone. Yanagimachi’s is mostly light. His nimble handheld cameras trump Mr T’s weighty calculated tracks. The passions of eager Japanese youths replace the jaded sexual politics of the middle-aged Frenchmen. The new score combines jazz and Brahms, the new text Hugo (14) and Houllebecq. A Euro-Japanese fusion. Sadly, the film falters two-thirds in when the crew’s aging mentor, a former filmmaker and recent widower obsesses over a much younger woman. (15) The problem here is not only heavy-handedness, but an unmitigated heaviness. And Yanagimachi – unlike, say, Arnaud Desplechin in his delirious Rois et reine – doesn’t quite manage the tonal shift. And the new tone itself, as I say, all serious, meaningful, is a clunky corpse. Who’s Camus, Anyway? ends with the making of “The Bored Murderer”. Here Yanagimachi’s direction and editing skillfully, visually, eerily confuse fiction and (fictional) reality. Thematic? Yes. The film focuses, after all, on a group of kids who live movies. But the three or four climactic shots in and of themselves, tracking seamlessly from one level of reality to the next, evoke a visceral response, a frisson, much more affecting, more consequential, than any series of dissertations on self-reflexivity or intertextuality. In the end, Yanagimachi remembers his film is a film. Day 2 Three more Japanese movies. The midnight screening of Miike Takashi I’s (16)“Imprint” – an episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror series – is officially sold out, so I abandon my principles and made a reservation to see it on DVD at HQ’s always-packed AV Center. (17) The show is, unfortunately, in English. Billy Drago’s portrayal of the cliché American journalist circa 1880 who travels back to Japan to find the geisha he now realises is his only true love is exacerbated by a bad sound mix, TV lighting and sets that look about as convincing as a third-rate theme park’s. The tiny talking corpse protruding from a deformed courtesan’s temple is a nice touch, but too little too late. Something of a precursor to Miike I in the churn-em-out sex-and-gore school, Wakamatsu Koji, now 70, has always been more political than his heirs. (18) In his latest, 17-sai no fûkei – Shônen wa nani o mita no ka (Cycle Chronicles – Landscapes the Boy Saw, 2004), Wakamatsu follows the titular 17 year-old as he bikes and bikes and bikes and bikes through Japan’s frozen (though rarely breathtaking) (19) north. On a low-energy quest for some kind of psycho-spiritual catharsis, he occasionally encounters oldsters – a WWII vet, an outlaw fisherman and a Korean “comfort woman” – whose diagnoses of contemporary Japan are none too cheery. Another Sabu film. The same crowd of teenage girls (20) has no idea what to make of the totally whacked-out Shisso (Dead Run, 2005). We’re all pretty much mesmerised, though, by the bizarre happenings on screen. Shuji (Tegoshi Yuya) believes rumours that the reclusive Christian priest who sets up shop on a landfill may have a horrific criminal past. But because his crush, the recently orphaned Eri (Kan Hanae), is Father Yuichi’s only parishioner, he finds himself, along with his honors-student-turned-psycho-arsonist brother, attending increasingly surreal services. DP Nakabori Masao’s super-saturates his hellish images. S.E.N.S. (Sound Earth Nature Spirit) provides an unsettling score. Sabu perfectly navigates the nightmarish descent into chaos. (21) Day 3 … (22) My patience for Ishikawa Hiroshi’s Su-Ki-Da (I Love You, 2005) astounds me. In part one, I watch a laconic high-schooler learn to play guitar. I see Him – in a full shot that looks like it was set up by one of my less composition-conscious students – sit on a grassy slope near a windy rural highway. He plays at the same tune over and over. He’s not very good. I see Her, a classmate – often in a flattened profile medium close-up against a swathe of sky-blue – listen to him pick out notes, think. She likes him, but says nothing. The shots linger. Ishikawa’s editor, (23) like his characters, seems reluctant to make a move. His camera operator, (24) like his subjects, seems not quite to know what to do. The crystallisation of an awkward moment. Lovely. Part two (25) isn’t as good. Day 4 Two reasons Changhen ge (Everlasting Regret, 2005) is my favourite Stanley Kwan film: (26) William Chang. As on every Wong Kar-wai film from Chung hing sam lam (Chungking Express, 1994) to “The Hand” (2004), Chang served as both production designer and editor here. (27) Chang’s experiments in layering continue with Everlasting Regret. He puts Sammi Cheung in a pink sweater and long summer-floral patterned skirt in front of puke-yellow and white plaid drape in a room with heavily distressed green walls, faded red (with de-saturated blue print) wallpaper, and three ridiculous shades of wood panelling … and makes it all seem perfect. And his editing arson is fully stocked. Quick, compositionally aggressive splices and dissolves between jump cuts (for the scenes set in a blindingly white art deco Shanghai night club, for example) alternate with protracted static shots (for pretty much anything set in Hu Jun’s deteriorating hide-out post his political ruin). (28) …. (29) The Japanese anthology film Ranpo jigoku (Rampo Noir, 2005), like all anthology films, is a mixed bag. The prologue – Takeuchi Suguru’s seven-minute “Mars’ Canal” – features a naked Asano Tadanobu writhing at the edge of a perfectly circular crater-lake, apparently reliving some violent sexual encounter or bad acid trip or both. Takeuchi’s images (blood orange sky, sludge-black pond, Asano’s butt-length hair) and the flash frames and scratches that accompany them seem appropriate enough, but soon feel repetitive. In “Mirror Hell” – the best of the four segments – Asano (fully attired) plays a detective who probes a series of deaths in a teahouse. Ikeya Noriyoshi’s sets and the light Yamaki Tsuneari pours into them are impeccable. ATG (30) vet Jissoji Akio’s direction elicits a barely repressed animal passion from each of his actors. Sato Hisayasu’s “Caterpillar” pushes psychosexual extremes – a horny woman nurses-tortures-abuses her multi-amputee war vet husband – but is likely to engage only audiences for whom de Sade is woefully passé. Finally, manga artist Kaneko Atsushi’s debut film, “Crawling Bugs”, in which a leprous chauffeur (Asano) acts out his fantasies re his beautiful actress-employer, is notable for its Gilbert and George design but, like each of these “shorts”, works better as a five-second memory than a 45-minute film. Day 5 Jieguo (Before Born, 2006). Zhang Ming’s third feature; my first Zhang Ming feature. Shot, seemingly for a pittance, at a low-end seaside “resort” during winter, the film (DV?) opens as laconic Huang Guangliang barges into a hotel room, just missing his quarry, Li Chonggao. He teams up with a laconic woman, Yu Ran, who’s also looking for Li. He seems attracted to her. She seems to be hiding something. (Hint: reread the title.) They part. Repeat. Before Born has the pace and ennui-laden characters and some of the plot elements of a L’avventura. Its shots are more distant, more detached than Antonioni’s, and its conceit is more formalist and less engaging. It works, like L’avventura, as an existentialist trap. And as an antidote to the bustle of the city in which it’s being shown. …. Warning: Princess Raccoon. (31) …. Claire Denis’ Vers Mathilde (Towards Mathilde, 2005) is part master class, part making-of doc. The “Mathilde” in question is Mathilde Monnier, choreographer at the Centre National Montpellier Languedoc Roussillon. The “Vers” indicates the struggle evidenced in both Monnier’s process of collaboration with her dancers (32) and her own tentative descriptions of her work, in Denis’ probing questions, and in the super-grainy super-8 and super-16 footage Agnès Godard and Hélène Louvart captured of that struggle. Dance, Monnier claims, demonstrating her point with spidery rotations of her hand, is “a distorted language”. Film, too. Day 6 No Asian movies today. Almost. Michael Glawogger’s Workingman’s Death: Five Portraits of Work in the 21st Century (2005) collects images – each one stunningly composed – from four continents. Dissident Ukrainian coal miners, Indonesian sulfur packers, Nigerian slaughterhouse hands, Pakistani shipbreakers, and Chinese steel workers chip, trudge, gurgle, collide, hammer, crackle, spew and splinter. It’s not so much a politics as a descriptive anthropology. (33) Like Alain Robbe-Grillet with a wide angle lens, Glawogger presents a reality selected and cleansed, to be sure … and leaves the metaphysics to us. (34) Day 7 What makes Aleksandr Sokurov’s Solntse (The Sun, 2005) – in which Emperor Hirohito gets dressed, recites poetry, studies marine biology, peruses a photo album, takes a nap, and writes a letter to his son (35)– so thrilling is Ogata Issey’s outrageously and consistently GOOFY embodiment of the Japanese ruler. Ogata’s Emperor, what looks to be a caterpillar on his lip, smacks, purses, protrudes, extends, and otherwise exercises said labia not only throughout his daily routine, but also in cabinet meetings and negotiations with General MacArthur. Like a loose-lipped fish literally out of water. His halting speech and mannered movement support a diagnosis of “social retard” – not surprising given everyone in his divine presence is bent over in permanent obeisance, eyes averted. (36) Sokurov carefully encases these performances in a grainy, desaturated, low contrast world. His camera moves slowly, trance-like, and remains at a distance from its subjects. The eccentric performances, therefore, seem weirdly oneiric rather than sillyly comic. …. You’ve seen Zhang Yang’s Xiang ri kui (Sunflower, 2005) a hundred thousand times. (37) …. There were two reasons I wanted to go to Hong Kong. One was poet, experimental filmmaker, performance artist (38) Sono Sion’s Noriko no shokutaku (Noriko’s Dinner Table). (39) Its plot concerns 17 year-old Noriko, who, experiencing a kind of generalised teenage angst, leaves her home in the Aichi prefecture in hopes of meeting web pal Ueno54, administrator-slash-guru at haikyo.com, (40) a BBS for angst-ridden teenage girls. In Tokyo, Noriko, who goes by her screen-name, Mitsuko, meets Ueno54, who goes by her supposedly real name, Kumiko. (41) Kumiko serves as casting director and principal for The Family Circle, a gang of actors who rent themselves out to men in mid-life crises and grandmothers whose descendants have forsaken them. Mitsuko and, eventually, her younger sister Yuka join the troupe. Inevitably, after Noriko’s father, journalist for a local rag, tracks his daughters to the big city, he winds up hiring them to “perform” the eponymous family meal. (42) A poetic partner to his Dionysian stream-of-content shocker-cum-cop-drama-cum-musical Jisatsu saakuru (Suicide Club, 2002), Sono’s new film has the same I’ll-do-whatever-I-damn-well-feel-feels-right feel but is less formally disjunctive, (43) more nuanced, more aesthetically assured, lighter … even in its grisly, blood-soaked climax. Sono seems to be struggling for a way to express something so ineffable I’m not sure how to begin to put it. Noriko’s Dinner Table is the kind of movie I’d sometimes rather not talk about. Wagner, perhaps, had the right idea when, after a performance of one of his epic monstrosities he climbed onto the Bayreuth stage and said to his audience something like: “You have seen my work. Now LOVE IT!” Day 8 An understated documentary about – when it comes right down to it – war criminals demanding their government acknowledge its complicity in their crimes, Ikeya Kaoru’s Ari no heitai (The Ants, 2006) (44) tracks 80-something Okumura as he returns to China in search of evidence of collusion between the ostensibly defunct post-WWII Japanese military and its anti-Mao Chinese Nationalists allies. The subject matter alone commands attention. Ikeya’s no-nonsense direction doesn’t get in the way. …. This afternoon, I wander, quite by accident, onto a Press Conference – director Pen-ek Ratanaruang, producer Wouter Barendrecht, cinematographer Christopher Doyle, actors Asano Tadanobu and Maria Cordero – for Day 9’s Gala Awards Screening of Invisible Waves (2006). It’s a love fest. (45) Afterwards I introduce myself to Doyle (46) who introduces me to Ratanaruang. The director sees my Press Pass and asks whether I’ll be attending tomorrow’s G.A.S. When I say I will he jokingly warns that proper appreciation of his film requires I get “some significant rest” pre screening. …. Hundreds of young people stand in line for what portends to be a “difficult” Japanese art film. (47) Luckily, the theatre (48) is huge and I get in, because Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (46-okunen no koi, which means, btw, “4.6 Billion Years of Love”) is a mini-masterpiece. Jean Genet by way of David Lynch and Stephen Hawking. (49) BBLJA starts with a slate (50) followed by Endo Kenichi’s lengthy recitation of a text which improbably combines cosmology and biology. Cut to a giant red flat in front of which is pinned a half-naked boy. (51) A tribal dance qua rite-of-passage. Cut to a prison lit like some late Beckett experimental theatre. Two new arrivals: Jun, who, despite his effeminate angelic demeanor, has brutally stabbed a trick he picked up at the gay bar where he works; and Shiro, a repeat offender, elaborately tattooed, who, for some reason even he’s not sure of, decides to act as Jun’s protection. Something like boy-boy love evolves, jealousies rage, and Jun and Shiro stand tête-à-tête in a vast vacant CGI courtyard debating the philosophical implications of choosing whether to venture towards the Buck Rogers style rocket ship that seems to be in a state of perpetual final countdown or towards the massive Maya pyramid opposite the launch pad! The film is a pressure cooker of desire roasted over a pit of repressed violence compressed by demonic powers (52) into an infinitesimally tiny singularity sucked back through a black hole of time. Amazing! I leave the theatre smiling, glad to be in Hong Kong, glad, at least momentarily, pace Puiu, to be alive. The screening started late-ish (21.30) and took place out of town, but the movie was short (82 minutes), and I make good time back to the Hotel. In bed before 0.15. Day 9 Apparently though, nine-and-a-half hours’ sleep and a lazy afternoon’s walk through the Sam Ka Tsuen Typhoon Shelter (53) are not nearly “significant” enough! Neither Doyle’s cinematography nor a couple of oddball slapstick moments can allay Invisible Waves’ audience’s palpable tedium. (54) The film’s problems are both dramatic and artistic. Asano plays a sous chef whose boss orders him to eliminate a woman who happens to be both the boss’ wife and his employee’s (Asano’s) lover. The murder should probably propel the film toward either a complex cat-and-mouse game between amoral contractor and amateur hitman or some kind of intensely personal psychologically expiatory journey or both, but neither really materialises. Instead we get shots, often individually nicely framed and lit, which don’t work together rhythmically, (55) drive neither plot nor passions. At least the Awards Gala requires an Awards Gala party, and I finagle an invite through a DVD chat room buddy who happens to be a HKIFF insider. It’s a small party near my hotel, and the presence of the ubiquitous Asano, a drunken Ratanaruang, Jia Zhang-ke, (56) Zhao Tao, (57) and a Chris Doyle look-alike, plus free food, nice drinks, and a chance to meet my chat room buddy in person all conspire to make the evening one of those “fabulous Fest moments”. I head to the airport the next morning, happy I came. (58) Endnotes Easy to do the math on that one, a three-a-day average. But, truth be told, on my last day I saw only one film, the gala screening of Invisible Waves. The 27’s not counting the two movies I saw on the plane. * Those films – Yukisada Isao’s Spring Snow (2005), based on the Yukio Mishima novel of the same name and shot by Taiwanese cinematographer Mark Lee Pin-bing, ** and Chen Kaige’s The Promise (2005), with its pan-Asian cast and cheesy but good-humored fx – were actually pretty watchable. Certainly more art-minded than anything I’d ever seen flying United or American. * Cathay Pacific 883, from Los Angeles to Hong Kong and back again, non-stop, and a pretty comfortable 14 hour flight for just a tick under US$900, in economy of course. ** DP of a handful of Hou Hsaio-hsien films who now lives in Diamond Bar, California, just outside LA and near where I teach. Nary a bad meal during my stay. Highlights included the BBQ pork buns at the pricey but elegant Peninsula Hotel across from the Festival headquarters in the HK Cultural Centre and the green curry chicken (about $25 HK, or just over $3 US) recommended by an eager young Australian fest-goer on a budget, Benjamin Cho, in the nearby Ocean Centre Food Court. More disclosure. This was my first time in Hong Kong. And though I have a couple of Hong Kong-raised Cantonese-speaking friends, neither could get off work to come watch art films and show me around. I relied pretty heavily, then, on my Lonely Planet HK guide book and the kindnesses of Festival programmers and volunteers. Practical matters. In case you haven’t been there and care: Hong Kong’s a pretty easy place to get around in. There’s an efficient subway system with lots of easy-to-decipher maps, and pretty much everyone I ran into spoke some form of English. And though the yahoo.com ten-day forecast I read before boarding the plane at LAX assured me it would rain throughout my trip, I was treated to only about 90 seconds’ precipitation, all on day 9. The festival itself is strewn across a couple of islands. The Cultural Centre (Fest HQ, press conference central, and the Grand Theatre, a relatively swank venue for galas and big-ticket screenings) is in Kowloon. Twenty minutes walk northeast, in Tsim Sha Tsui East, is the smaller, more academic Science Museum Lecture Hall. Across the harbour, on Hong Kong Island proper, are the labyrinthine corridors that lead to the HK Arts Centre Theatre (about a ten minute MTR ride from HQ), the sizeable City Hall Theatre (the next stop west), and the UA Times Square multiplex (two more stops down Chai Wan line, at Causeway Bay, a ten minute walk from the HKIFF’s official hotel, regarding which: nice enough, but somewhat out of the way). Of course, the HKIFF premiered for locals films I’d already seen in the States, like Steven Soderbergh’s Bubble, Thomas Vinterberg’s Dear Wendy, Michael Haneke’s Caché, Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man, Lars von Trier’s Manderlay, Abbas Kiarostami’s segment of Tickets, Mike Leigh’s Vera Drake, Woody Allen’s Match Point, and a dozen or so less notable productions. I wouldn’t dare cheat by adding them to my rankings above, but (fwiw) I list those eight in a rough order of preference. I actually saw the opening bits of a several other films, but I won’t include them in the list because some were by first time directors and, as I say, I couldn’t bear to stay for the whole films … so it wouldn’t be fair, etc. Kong Ngee, Cantonese studio whose heyday spanned two decades, was home to writer-directors like Chun Kim, Tso Kea, Ng Wui, and Chor Yuen. Kong Ngee films capture the Hong Kong of the ‘50s and ‘60s: the evolving cityscape, an increasing prosperity, the emerging city culture, and fusion of western and Cantonese furnishings and couture. Three of them new ones from Werner Herzog. Reviews of Cinema Dada, Cinema Constructivism, Cinema Surrealism, Cinema Lettrism, Cinema Neo-Dada and experimental animation. Apologies for this tired diary format. Truth is, I’m no good at making (what seem to me anyway often artificial) thematic or socio-political or the-state-of-cinema links among large numbers of films. Even the title of this piece suggests too much about too few (but, at least, the best) of the films I saw. And to do “research” for the Contemporary Asian Cinema course (RTVF 472) I teach at CSUF. And, of course, for this Senses of Cinema piece. Miraculously, though I sat in many packed and over-packed houses, I was never shut out of a feature. The queuing process – sometimes a mammoth task, since most screenings were full and the longer line would often snake around corridor corners, down four flights of stairs, through lobbies, and out buildings – was facilitated by what I came to call “Human Traffic Engineers”. Six or seven HTEs, young Festival volunteers it seemed, policed each screening. The typical HTE was adept at spotting whether the fest-goers had a ticket or a pass and “directing” him or her to the appropriate line. * Human traffic engineering is, I guess, inevitable in a place where so many people are packed into so little space. *** Indeed, in order to ride an elevator to the top of the Times Square Mall for lunch, I had to pass five HTEs, each directing me (arms, fingers) through what I would’ve thought were the rather obvious steps of waiting for, entering, and exiting the lift. Most amazing, however, were the new HK International Airport’s HTEs. Several of these rode with travellers on a tram from the ticketing hall to a distant terminal. When the tram reached its (only) destination, the HTEs, no kidding, directed us (exact same movement) out of the tram onto a platform! The platform had a single exit. Nonetheless, at that exit too, an HTE threw out her arms, pointed us through the door. * This “directing” inevitably involved a well-choreographed extension of the arms and a simultaneous straightening of the fingers in the direction of either the ticket- or pass- holders line, ** a movement reminiscent of an early twentieth century street traffic controller’s, as in, say, the canonical sound editing scene from Pudovkin’s Deserter. ** The purity of the lines was apparently sacrosanct. I once made the mistake of chatting up a fest-goer I’d previously met while we waited for a screening of Sokurov’s The Sun. He had a ticket and so, appropriately, stood in the ticket holders’ line. When the HTE spied the pink Press Pass in my hand she rushed over to the spot in the ticket-holders’ line where we were conversing, said excuse me, and “directed” me (again, the arm extension, straightened fingers) to the pass-holders’ line. I briefly explained I was talking with my colleague. She simply repeated the “direction”. What could I do but obey? *** Still, despite the high person-to-space ratio, the residents of Hong Kong seemed to me to by way more energetic, more cheery, than those of Los Angeles or New York or Dallas or Boston or London or Paris or any of the other places I’d spent time. UA Times Square, currently under renovation. I and four other “Press” sat on barstools at the back of the theatre. The girls were presumably fans of the film’s pop idol stars, V6 (enigmatically named after an internal combustion engine). See Shinji Aoyama’s (overrated) Eureka (2000). Aoyama slathered heavy doses of Tarkovsky onto the same premise. La Nuit américaine (1973). Student crew even call the director’s obsessive girlfriend “Adèle H.” The bastard child of Truffaut’s Adjani and Altman’s Duvall, Adèle cooks and cleans for her love (even after he’s kicked her out of the apartment), lends him money (in exchange for a promise of refrigerated semen), threatens suicide, and buys bananas for his crew. The kids call the professor “Aschenbach”. Eventually rejected, he wallows in a pool of spilled wine, his make-up running à la Visconti’s Bogarde. There are, for me, three distinct Miike Takashis. Prolific Miike Takashi I makes cheap ultra-violent gorefests (the Dead or Alive series, Full Metal Yakuza, that kind of thing); and Miike Takashi II makes OK lyrical movies about youth (Young Thugs: Nostalgia, Ley Lines). MT I and II sometimes collaborate with the much more artistically minded MT III (Audition, Gozu, Izo, the MPD Psycho series). Altogether, they’ve made 70 movies in 15 years. The glut of “full house” screenings required PP-holders make complex calculations about the likelihood of gaining admittance to a screening after, on average, a half hour’s wait in their designated line. Lingering jet lag, a genetic lack of daring, and the fact that the TM I film was scheduled for a 23.30 start forced me to succumb. * * Exigencies of scheduling (mine and the fest’s) also meant I was not in town to catch everything I’d have liked to. I was particularly disappointed that, when I (a second time) renounced my 35mm god to see Aleksei German’s Garpastum (2005) on DVD, the disc malfunctioned. Though Wakamatsu’s mere 100 films in his 40-year career-so-far don’t come close to the MTs’ Fassbinder-eclipsing 4.67 film-per-year average. * * Word is, next year’s HKIFF (number 31) will include a major Wakamatsu retro. Though maybe that’s the “point” – I don’t know. All I do know is that the whole thing made me sleepy. Here, this time, to see 18 year-old J-popper Tegoshi Yuya (of NewS). It’s probably mean but worth noting anyway that this, Sabu’s ninth and best film, is the first he didn’t write from scratch himself. * * Along with Dead Run, two other Shigematsu Kiyoshi novels were adapted in 2005, one by Watanabe Takayoshi, the other by Ichikawa Jun. Notes on Perhaps Love (unconscionable dreck) and The Peter Pan Formula (unremarkable) omitted. Ishikawa himself. Ditto. – a thematically and literally dark epilogue in which the pair meet again, nearly two decades later – This isn’t saying much, since – critical anathema, I know – none of Rouge (1987), Centre Stage (1992), Hold You Tight (1997), and Lan Yu (2001) would’ve reached my “p.d. interesting” category. We’re now getting enough work of William Chang and Christopher Doyle apart from Wong and apart from each other that the critico-archaeological game of untangling the creative contributions to a Happy Together or an In the Mood for Love can begin. All that remains is to get a WKW film sans Chang and Doyle. * So far all the media attention has revolved around Wong and Doyle. I might bet on Chang’s emerging as THE major force in both the “look” and the “feel” of those films. * Darius Khondji (City of Lost Children, Se7en) is supposed to shoot both Wong’s My Blueberry Nights (2007?) and his The Lady from Shanghai (2010?). No word on either film’s production designer. Doyle, meanwhile, has shot films for James Ivory (The White Countess), M. Night Shyamalan (Lady in the Water), Peter Chan (the aforementioned dreadful Perhaps Love) and Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Invisible Waves – re which, see below). The plot, for those who care, * tracks four principals: beauty queen Qiyao (Cheng), her best friend Lili (Su Yan), the photographer who pines for Qiyao (Tony Leung Ka-fai), and the KMT (Hu Jun) who snags her. As the title suggests, none of these relations pan out, and the DRAMA is “meaningfully” contrived to parallel the political upheavals in China between 1947 and 1981. * Like Variety’s Derek Elley. He thrashed the film when it played at Venice last year calling it a “Cliff Notes history of Shanghai” performed by “talking mannequins”. True enough. For him, “Chang’s spotless costumes and [colour design] distance rather than engage the audience in the emotions of the characters.” I wouldn’t necessarily disagree here either. But I’ll take what I can get. ** ** I, too, realise that my defense of Kwan’s film may look a lot like my attack on Lee’s (above). My expectations, perhaps, play a role. I could try to nuance things – Lee’s slick compositions and editing pander, they remind me of my (most arrogant) students’ work; Kwan’s are a bit more idiosyncratic, lighter. But, in the end, it’s just that, though both films ultimately bore, Everlasting Regret looks and feels a bit better to me. Sunday’s duds in 40 words or less: Host and Guest. Urbanite and Hick. Misanthrope and Missionary. One’s locked in the bathroom, the other’s spreading the word of God. … High-Concept and Pretension. All poorly-executed. Be With Me. Pass. Art Theatre Guild, established in 1961. First an independent distributor of foreign art films; and then, from 1967, a producer of Japanese indies, including films of Oshima Nagasi, Imamura Shohei, Matsumoto Toshio, Terayama Shuji, Yoshida Yoshishige, Shinoda Masahiro, and Hani Susumu. I can now officially confirm that Suzuki Seijun is indeed dead. He seems to have expired after shooting one hilarious scene – involving little girls in wedding dresses and some cake – for his, it turns out, unfinished 2001 swansong, Pistol Opera. The film charts the evolution of a dance piece that somehow involves both long stretches of “walking” and cages made of lots of gigantic rubber bands. Though (a) the contrast between the optimism of the early Soviet-era miners (seen in some Glawogger re-edited newsreel footage) and the resignation of their modern Ukrainian counterparts, (b) the irony suggested by the Chinese steel workers’ confidence in a bright future, and (c) the film’s coda, set in a German smelting plant turned make-out park and light show, all imply some kind of critique of twentieth century socio-economic trends. I also saw Cristi Puiu’s delightfully painful Moartea domnului Lazarescu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu). But since it’s been considered on this site’s NYFF report (second paragraph) – I’ll add only that, for me, the film’s humour derives largely from the sense of lived time, especially wasted lived time, * Puiu subjects his audience to. * Which is, Puiu implies, pretty much all of it. … while MacArthur’s troops secure Tokyo, and the day before Hirohito’s historic radio address in which he surrenders and renounces his divine status. It’s not just Ogata who gives an unusual performance here. His servants and his tutor never, for example, just plain bow; they bow at extremely odd angles, contorting their bodies into collections of severe lines. Sokurov’s recent experiments in direction of actors – and not the camera stunts like the one he pulled off in Russian Ark (2002) – have made his one of the most interesting cinemas of the past few years. * The behavioural idiosyncrasies of his Hitler ** were pushed even further in his Roman Russian wrestling movie. *** * The stultifyingly torpid performances he elicited up to and including Mother and Son (1997) ruined those films for me. ** Molokh (1999). *** The who-knows-what-to-make-of-it bizarre Father and Son (2003) in which “son” (who looks to be about 25) and “father” (maybe 30) share some very tender moments! Unfortunately, since I haven’t had the opportunity to see Sokurov’s Lenin-bio, Taurus (2001), I can only imagine. I’m not sure what possessed me to see it. The blurb in the HKIFF program should’ve given me pause: Sun Haiying and Joan Chen give towering performances * in this semi-autobiographical tale, * winner of the San Sebastian Film Festival ** for Best Director and Best Cinematography. Hailed by Variety’s Derek Elley * as the “deepest felt and most emotionally affecting” work yet from the Shower and Quitting director, * the film traces the tumultuous relationship between father and son * through four decades of Chinese history. *** Artist Gengnian is sent to labour camp during the Cultural Revolution, only to return with a useless hand to his alienated offspring. * As years pass, the estrangement only grows … until a remarkable epiphany that is as emotional as it is truthful. **** * An obvious clue to the film’s mediocrity I shouldn’t’ve missed. ** Note to self: must reconsider planned trip to Spain. *** See e.g. Everlasting Regret (above). **** Sadly, not. And, according to usually reliable sources like www.midnighteye.com, director of a load of straight-to-video gay porn. Which had won the Don Quijote Award and a special mention at the Karlovy Vary IFF. Yes. I typed www.haikyo.com into my desktop’s address window … and was more than a little panicked when that clockwise rotating engine thingy familiar from Sono’s Suicide Club popped onto my screen. One click took me to a page filled with ominous red and white dots. Another to the chat room, where posters like aaaaa, Miss Valerie, and Alucard have conversations like this: rubydreamer: My personal theory is that suicide can sometimes be a statement against the nature of things…do you understand? Because… suicide is “unnatural” right? So are humans, right? What do you think? rin-chan: rubydreamer you want to talk about suicide?…. what is there to talk?… you American? what is to talk about?… >.<; question you have any? linn: i dont think humans are really unnatural. but suicde unnatural not really. i think that everything is natural. you can kill and die so that is antural. you can kill your self and die so that is natural. rubydreamer: I think we are unnatural…everything we are and everything we have made is against nature. Dogs and cats don’t have cell phones or any other technology, including social rules too! Suicide is against nature because although many species kill one another for survival and such, no other species on this planet chooses to kill themselves. Also, if we were to all die a natural death, suicide would not be it. So, my opinion is that because we are unnatural, an unnatural death is better, ne? Kill me now! Kumiko claims to have been abandoned in a train station’s left luggage locker – an allusion, perhaps to Murakami’s * brilliant and Sono-esque novel Coin Locker Babies (1995, available in Stephen Snyder’s English translation). * That is, Murakami Ryu (author of In the Miso Soup and the aforementioned 69, though neither is as good as CLB), not Murakami Harumi (author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and all those New Yorkery short stories, none of which, for me, holds a candle to CLB). This description doesn’t begin to suggest how utterly (and thrillingly) psychotic the film’s finale is. Suffice it to say there are big butcher knives involved … and lots of blood and tears. It’s like the most productive family therapy session ever, in which extremes of characters’ role-play and their ability to “get in touch with those dark secret urges” mean the audience members cannot predict what will happen from second to second. i.e. the various tones in Noriko’s Dinner Table, while ranging from that of an average alienated high schooler’s diary to that of Grand Guignol, are perfectly modulated so that this viewer had trouble pin-pointing exactly when things started going ever so seriously wrong for the heroine. * Suicide Club’s shifts in genre, on the other hand, can be easily charted since they are concomitant with the film’s screenings’ high-frequency walk-outs. * Which is not to say Noriko’s Dinner Table is anything less than formally complex. The movie is structured as five segments, each with a focal character, each of whom contributes an idiosyncratic voiceover, but the whole is decidedly non-linear, recursive, and digressive. One of eight HKIFF World Premieres, half of them in the documentary program. * The Ants, along with two other WP docs, Zhou Hou’s Senior Year and Li Ying’s Mona Lisa, won the festival’s Humanitarian Awards. * Another of the many nice things about the HKIFF: it doesn’t seem particularly concerned to be the first spoon in the soup. I’m constantly frustrated by, say, I don’t know, the LA AFI’s perverse desire to premiere usually awful, say, French films instead of the recent Diane Bertrand, Laurent Cantet, Benoît Jacquot, Cédric Kahn and Sandrine Veysset (to name a few) films that still haven’t played Southern California. Asano (the film’s, and most every other Asian film’s, star) * so enjoyed working with Pen-ek on Last Life in the Universe (2003) that there was “no question” about his doing Invisible Waves. Doyle calls Asano “the most beautiful man alive”. Doyle is “a genius” (Barendrecht). Ratanaruang is “a genius” (Doyle). No one can wait to work together again. * Asano appeared in three HKIFF selections I saw: Rampo noir, Invisible Waves (see below), and Big Bang Love, Juvenile A (ditto). In addition, for 2005 alone, IMDB lists six other Asano pictures, including those directed by big name art-filmmakers Oguri Kohei, Aoyama Shinji and Kitano Takeshi. Asano also stars in the new Kore’eda Hirokazu movie which should premiere at Venice this summer and is attached to the new Sergei Bodrov film, Mongol, and, along with Val Kilmer, Asia Argento and Liv Tyler, an adaptation (I’m not necessarily looking forward to) of Murakami’s aforementioned Coin Locker Babies. Productions not fortunate enough to woo Mr Asano have a good chance of casting Odagiri Jo (nine films in 2005, including this festival’s Princess Raccoon and Scrap Heaven and Sono’s Yume no naka e and Hazard). I’d “worked” with Doyle, whose lighting of Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels (1995) still makes me cry, via email on a couple of pieces for American Cinematographer * and had found him by turns kind, caustic, terse, effusive etc. etc. … you get the idea. He is, of course, a genius! * One on Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), another on 2046 (2004). Indeed, one of the most gratifying consequences of attending the HK event was the glimmer of hope I saw for a new generation of film-goers – at least in this part in the world. Sure, the (mostly) young women on hand here are probably attracted by prospects of a glimpse of androgynous J-idol Matsuda Ryuhei’s naked torso, but nonetheless here they are, seemingly unfazed either by the threat of hardcore MT I ultraviolence or by the film’s smacking-of-gay-porn title. And the official Festival program compares the film to Cries and Whispers! The Kwai Tsing Theatre, literally a stone’s throw from the Kwai Fong MTR station, the most remote venue in the Fest. One of the traits of the HKIFF seems to be that it attracts a huge local crowd, and screenings at more or less outlying sites, like the Kwai Tsing (a short walk and three subway trains, an hour total transit time from the Hotel), the HK Film Archive, the UA City Plaza, and the UA Langham Place, successfully cater to audiences way way more broad than professional international film critics and HK’s trendiest Central-ites. The film turns out to be the first solo directorial effort of Miike Takashi III. I forget the take number. Shades of the opening frames of Fellini’s Satyricon (1969). Their incarnation in BBLJA, a warden, resembles Ishibashi Ryo * covered in white powder make-up. ** In a strange series of interrogations questions are addressed to the warden not in audible words but in Japanese script superimposed over shots of the warden. * Star of Sono’s Suicide Club. ** à la Robert Blake in Lost Highway. Not exactly as apocalyptic as it sounds. A couple dozen renowned seafood restaurants perched on Yue Mun Praya Rd in the Lei Yue Mun “village” (MTR stop: Yau Tong) overlook the shelter. To be fair, the gala screening is preceded by an even more tedious Awards Ceremony. I figure these things are de rigueur, but since I’d never been forced to attend one, I had no idea. Add to the frustration that each of the dozen or so presentations (description of the award, introduction of the multi-member jury, * introduction of the presenter, and declaration of the winner and runner-ups) and each of the subsequent acceptance speeches had to be translated into either English or Cantonese or both. * Which reminds me: frumpy, bearded Midwestern academic, Buddha-like-in-the-land-of-the-scrawny, David Bordwell, author of (inter alia) Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment and apparently something of a HK Film Festival fixture, was on hand, along with action director Johnnie To, to present prizes to winners of the Student Film Competition. AT ALL! * * This was seriously disappointing. The best discrete visual moments, the best lit shots, of Invisible Waves were, interestingly, also those in which Thai production designer Saksiri Chantarangsri achieved a William-Chang-like clutter. Mainland Chinese director of Shijie (The World), one of my favourite films of 2004. Jia can’t be more than five feet tall. Lead actress in Jia’s film. She seems to be normal Chinese actress height. And wondering what treats the tiny video screen in the Cathay Pacific flight CX 883 seatback-in-front-of-me has in store.