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that is associated with 聚言莊﹕The House Where Words Gather.

28th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Film


A little reader interaction before we dive into the topic of the day …

From the comments on the last post:

laicheukpan writes: Sanney you didn’t actually contact Kozo right?

I actually did contact Kozo.  Those are his actual thoughts on Karena Lam and the Best Actress category.  Living here in the Great White North, I won’t be able to see CLAUSTROPHOBIA for another two, three weeks so I needed to get in touch with him to round out the post.

While I’m answering questions from laicheukpan, here’s another from the comments on Happy Year of The Ox!

laicheukpan writes: Hey Sanney! Happy New Year! I got a question for you. Are you fluent in Cantonese?

Yes, I speak a civilized tongue and not just this barbaric language.  I kid, I kid.  Back in elementary school, I had a Chinese friend who had a grandfather who was old-school, hardcore Chinese.  When I was over at his house, I’d hear his grandfather ranting in the other Li Bingbingroom about Chinese people being “civilized” and non-Chinese people being “barbarians”.  Good times!  The guy was a bit scary to a little kid like me:  hunched over, wispy moustache, Emperor Hirohito-type glasses and a creepy, loud and raspy smoker’s voice.

Anyway, yes I’m fluent in Cantonese.  I don’t have a Stephen Chow mo lei tau (無厘頭) command of the language but I can hold my own in a conversation.  A little Cantonese voice in the back of my head keeps telling me that I should learn how to speak Mandarin — just in case I run into Fan Bingbing or Li Bingbing someday — but I’m a lazy, lazy man.

By the way, Kozo really is actually marrying his secret girlfriend of 20 years later this month.  He’s going to be telling everyone that’s he’s going to “Italy” for a “film festival” but he’s really going to Malaysia for his wedding.

On to today’s business …

* * * * *

The nominees for Best Film are:


To me, THE WAY WE ARE is the clear winner in this category.  CJ7 is enjoyably pleasant but it’s a clear step down for Stephen Chow.  It’s not as uproariously funny as SHAOLIN SOCCER nor is it as captivating as KUNG FU HUSTLE.  Honestly, I think CJ7 got nominated because back room folks at the Hong Kong Film Awards Association had the following conversation:

HKFAA Executive #1: You know, ratings for our awards show would really get a boost if we could get Stephen Chow to show up.

HKFAA Executive #2: Well, Tiffany says the guy is “inhumane” and that he once threatened to sue Cecilia Cheung if she didn’t shave her head for a movie.  He’s not going to come if we just ask him.  The only way he’ll show up is if we nominate him for something.

HKFAA Executive #1: What if we play the loyalty card and ask him to come for the good of the industry that’s provided him his millions?

HKFAA Executive #2: Danny says that Chow is the type of guy who drinks water but doesn’t think about where it comes from.  He should know because he helped Chow start up his movie career.  The loyalty card won’t work.  We have to nominate him.

HKFAA Executive #1: OK, let’s throw some nominations to CJ7 and hope he shows up.

I think that’s a big part of why CJ7 is nominated in this category and not THE BEAST STALKER which is just as technically proficient as CJ7 or TRUE WOMAN FOR SALE which has just as much, if not more, grit and heart as CJ7.

IP MAN and PAINTED SKIN are both well-made and thoroughly enjoyable.  They are, however, popcorn movies.  They’re like most of the summer blockbusters that Hollywood churns out annually, a whole lot of fun, but when it comes time for Oscar season, you don’t consider them serious contenders.

With John Woo at the helm, a stellar cast, grand production values and a ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS pedigree, RED CLIFF has an epic feel that makes it more than your usual summer blockbuster.  If it weren’t for THE WAY WE ARE, RED CLIFF would win running away.  However, three things — two minor and one very significant — make THE WAY WE ARE more worthy of the title.  First, RED CLIFF is plagued at times by languid pacing.  It feels like it could have been paced with tighter efficiency.  Second, there’s more cheese in some of the scenes than a 12″ Big Philly Cheesesteak from Subway.  Stuff like the Sun Shangxiang nerve tweak or Takeshi Kaneshiro’s Zhuge Liang comic relief face are fine as entertaining bits in a summer blockbuster but they don’t belong if your aspiration is to make an all-time epic.

Takeshi Kaneshiro's comic reflief face in RED CLIFF

Third, and most important, RED CLIFF does not carry as much cultural significance as THE WAY WE ARE.  Now some of you are probably thinking: “Did Sanney get into Jill Vidal’s stash or something?  Along with JOURNEY TO THE WEST (西遊記), WATER MARGIN (水滸傳) and DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER (紅樓夢), ROMANCE OF THE THREE KINGDOMS is one of the four great Chinese classics.  How can RED CLIFF not have as much cultural significance as THE WAY WE ARE?”

Well, my counterargument is that we are talking about the HONG KONG film awards and THE WAY WE ARE is more culturally significant to HONG KONG than RED CLIFF.  Like it or not, movies tend to reinforce stereotypes and common misconceptions.  For example, I’m sure all those Richard Curtis romantic comedies have left many people thinking that most British guys are charming, self-effacing Hugh Grant/Colin Firth types.  Similarly, I’m sure Hong Kong movies have left many people thinking that HK is filled with kung fu masters, invincible cops and goo wak jai (古惑仔).  Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.  The people that populate THE WAY WE ARE — the produce lady at Wellcome, the lonely senior citizen, the dopey ambition-less kid and the successful businessman who received an education overseas — are the same people who populate Hong Kong.  They outnumber, by a vast margin, kung fu practitioners, supercops and evil gangsters.  THE WAY WE ARE is an almost perfect reflection of normal life in Hong Kong and it deserves to be rewarded with this year HKFA for Best Film.

Still from THE WAY WE ARE

The big knock against THE WAY WE ARE is that it’s boring and that nothing really happens.  People who feel that way are, I believe, missing the point of the movie.  THE WAY WE ARE is saying that Hong Kong is defined not by those whose lives end with tragic murder-suicides but by people whose lives continue everyday in mundane ways like the hard-working Mrs. Cheung and her lonely neighbour.  It’s saying that most people in Hong Kong react to adversity by quietly sucking it up and moving on with their lives the best that they can.  Only in exceptional cases do they resort to violence.  To reinforce that message, the low-key rhythm is necessary.  Moments of high drama or neat resolutions would defeat the purpose of the film.

Reading the tea leaves, I think THE WAY WE ARE, RED CLIFF and IP MAN are the three serious contenders for the awards.  Though RED CLIFF and IP MAN are bigger and flashier, it would be a shame if the exceptional, note-perfect, little local film that’s about local people and local issues fails to win the prize.

Image credits: Universal Pictures (Li Bingbing), Lion Rock Productions (Takeshi Kaneshiro), Class Limited (Still from THE WAY WE ARE)

4 Responses to “28th Hong Kong Film Awards Preview: Best Film”

  1. glenn Says:

    Great post! Though I can’t work up the enthusiasm to order both parts of Red Cliff yet.

    I find myself referring to The Way We Are when I explain to people here in the States why I hated Slumdog Millionaire. Everything hokey, lachrymose, over-the-top, and obvious about Slumdog was done in a believable and realistic way in Ann Hui’s film. It proved that one can make a film about less financially well-off (I don’t use the word “poor” for the characters in Ann Hui’s film) people and do it with subtlety.

    Personally, I liked Ip Man, Beast Stalker, and True Women for Sale a lot but I didn’t enjoy Painted Skin very much at all but that’s a topic for another day.

  2. phatyou Says:

    and my pick is….. li bing bing over fan bing bing!…

  3. YTSL Says:

    Hear, hear re a lot of Sanney’s comments, especially his concluding “it would be a shame if the exceptional, note-perfect, little local film that’s about local people and local issues fails to win the prize.”

    Re RED CLIFF: Part II is quite a bit better than Part I. So if it wins, it should be for Part II rather than I.

    Re CJ7: Maybe the conversation among the HKFAA executives went along the lines of “It made so much money, so it must be good, right?” :S

  4. msxie Says:

    I liked Li Bing Bing before she had surgery to reshape her face. Now she looks like Fan Bing Bing’s sister. Copyright © 2002-2021 Ross Chen