May 2nd, 2009
About 3 weeks ago, I finished sitting through the rest of the 25 films I watched at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. These reviews are not comprehensive, because I only mention the Asian stuff, so don’t panic if they don’t add up to 25:
Rough Cut (2008, South Korea. Dir. Jang Hun) - The basic concept of this Korean comedy-drama is packed with ass-kicking potential - star actor hires gangster so he can get into real fights in his latest movie, except the ass-kicking became more than he could take. However, the script - written by Kim Ki-Duk - is often sidetracked by digression and is essentially off the rails by the third act. Tolerable, but could’ve been better. Maybe I was just tired that night.
Torso (2009, Japan. Dir: Yamazaki Yutaka) - The directorial debut from Hirokazu Kore-eda’s cinematographer is a quiet study of the life of a lonely Tokyo woman and her prosthetic torso that she sleeps with from time to time. The surprise of this film comes from the focus on the woman’s dysfunctional relationship with her half-sister, played out to subtle emotional effect. Shot in the same handheld realism style of a Kore-eda film, the script may be a little too close to real-life to generate any memorable emotional impact, but it does reward more than it punishes with its leisurely pacing.
Citizen King (2008, Hong Kong. Dir: Ching Long, Johnson Lee) - Kozo already reviewed this film when he saw it at the Hong Kong Independent Film Festival, and count me in as one of those who was greatly surprised and impressed by actor/impersonation-extraordinaire Johnson Lee’s directorial debut. Entertaining, funny, biting, and even affecting at spots, this is a rare Hong Kong indie film that actually embraces its indie trappings without being restricted in it. If I had seen this last year, it would’ve ended up on my top 10 HK film list.
Dying in a Hospital (1993, Japan. Dir: Jun Ichikawa) - This rarely-seen film from the recently deceased director is so hard to get ahold of overseas that the subtitles had to be projected under the screen. Even thougha good portion of te subtitles were not displayed properly, these 5 straightforward and heartbreaking tales of people dying in a hospital is a life-affirming gem that got quite a few people crying - including a middle-age foreigner - by the time the lights came back on. Ichikawa employed a Hou Hsiao-Hsien-wide shot style for the stories, but he always make sure different things are happening in the frame, and that all of them are worth focusing on. A great film that should’ve been the masterpiece that put Ichikawa on the map, despite its overly straightforward title.
KJ (2009, Hong Kong. Dir. Cheung King-Wai) - This documentary from the screenwriter of Ann Hui’s latest film hits a homerun when it comes to its titular character, a 17-year old music prodigy that has the attitude of an worn-out veteran with too much ideals. Aside from a clear structure that keeps the film worth following, Cheung successful captures the essence of his subject wonderfully, comparing his attitude at 12 years old and 17 years old. The result is not just the study of an arrogant musical prodigy, but the portrait of all the pains and pressure that torture him underneath.
There will be a full review, as well as an interview with a director coming soon.
Achilles and the Tortoise (2008, Japan. Dir: Takeshi Kitano) - Kitano’s third film in his self-reflexive trilogy is an entertaining look at an artist who collapses while trying to balance commercialism and individualism. Even though the third act goes a little too far in its antics, this is definitely the most enjoyable and the most accessible film out of the three, even though it’s by no means a masterpeice due to its simplistic characters and ideals.
I spent the last two days of the festival with an American and two French films, so I won’t write about them here. With that, another soul-draining year at the Hong Kong International Film Festival is over, and I’ll finally be able to blog regularly starting mid-May until who-knows-when. Even though there were a few underwhelming films, this year’s selection has been fairly solid, and I certainly don’t regret going to almost all of them. Hopefully, I can stay awake for more of them. Maybe they’ll have a cure for whatever I got by the next film festival.