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The Golden Rock - Temporarily Out of Hibernation Edition


Oh, sorry, I fell asleep one night and ended up staying asleep for a good three weeks.

Or I could just be in the middle of HKIFF. I can’t tell.

Anyway, I’ve seen 10 movies so far at the HKIFF already, and I’m sure the filmmakers are very grateful that I managed to sleep for a period of time at only 7 of them. So without the qualification to write an actual review, here are some of my thoughts on the more notable films (ie. the Asian stuff) I’ve seen so far at the festival.

Echo of Silence (Japan, 2004. Dir. Watabe Atsuro) - Actor Watabe Atsuro makes his directing debut with this Lars Von-Trier-like realist film about the impact of silence. The documentary feeling of the film gets just the right naturalistic peformances from the actors, the snowy Hokkaido landscape is quite nice, and there’s a pretty heartbreaking twist at the end that really brings everything together. But I’ve seen too many minimalist Japanese films that are more intriuging and memorable than this.

Mental (Japan, 2008, Dir. Kazuhiro Soda) - It runs a little long, but Campaign director Kazuhiro Soda’s latest documentary is an eye-opening look at the taboo subject of mental illness in Japan. It’s sad that this group of mentally ill people have so little care that they essentially have only one place where society gives them a chance to be themselves - their psychiatrist’s clinic.

By the way, if Soda-san is reading this, I apologize for missing the Q&A after the film. I really did like your film and would’ve loved to learn more about it, but I had to run somewhere else.

Daytime Drinking (South Korea, 2009, Dir. Noh Young-Seok) - Even though it’s shot in that extremely dry indie, shot-on-DV style, Noh Young-Seok’s low-budget film is a hilarious road trip film that shows why social drinking can kill you and bring new opportunities at the same time. You’ll need a drink after the movie, and that’s a good thing. By the way, there’s a cameo at the end of the film that I thought was only someone that looks like a certain celebrity. The fact that it was actually her makes the film even more brilliant.

A Place of One’s Own (Taiwan, 2009, Dir: Ian Lou) - Lou last co-wrote and co-produced Singing Chen’s God Man Dog, which ended up being one of my favorite films from last year’s HKIFF. This time, it’s Lou’s turn at the director’s chair, with Chen taking co-writing and producing duties. Like God Man Dog, it’s again an ensemble piece, this time about how obsession with property changes the lives of the characters. Too bad some of the central characters are so unlikable that even though it’s easy to identify with their needs, but it’s hard to care about them. The film drags in the last reel, which makes it a bit of a tough sit, considering Lou’s dry directorial style. Still, a Taiwanese worth watching for its issues.

Naked of Defenses (Japan, 2008, Dir. Masahide Ichii) - This year’s big winner at the PIA Film Festival is a quiet and unassuming drama about a woman’s growing jealousy of her new pregnant co-worker. It’s a little more dry in style than I expected, and it’s certainly not as explosive a work as last year’s Bare-Assed Japan and This World of Ours, but it’s certainly a film that emotionally pays off in the end.

Shinjuku Incident (Hong Kong, 2009, Dir. Derek Yee) - The latest Jackie Chan production was potentially interesting - not only is it Jackie’s first non-action role (at the hands of Derek Yee, no less), it’s Jackie playing an illegal migrant worker in Japan who climbs through the ranks of the Shinjuku crime world. The first hour is excellent, as the characters and the Shinjuku crime world is slowly set up. However, it takes a freefall beause Jackie Chan being Jackie Chan, he never goes through the arc his character is supposed to. Instead, his character is just full of contradictions that makes his “gangster with a heart of gold” character an incomplete archetype instead of a fully-fleshed character. Word is that Yee is definitely not happy with the movie, and it’ll be pretty important to go in knowing that, because the blame definitely goes to someone else this time around. A major disappointment for me.

Night and Fog (Hong Kong, 2009, Dir. Ann Hui) - I’ve done way too much research on this movie to be objective about it. Not many people agree with me so far, but I think this is Hui’s most intense and powerful film in a long time. The script by King Cheung (with contribution from Alex Law) can be a little heavy-handed in its commentary at times, but great performances from Zhang Jingchu and Simon Yam (you’re in fear every time his character is onscreen), as well as great cinematography by Charlie Lam make this easily a top contender for the top ten list next year. Then again, perhaps not many people will agree.

That’s it so far. See you 15 films later.

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