Even though I’m still in the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival mode, it’s time to write about another film festival that’s coming up in Hong Kong in a few weeks.
In 2008, a small film festival for solely Asian independent films popped up, thanks to Hong Kong indie film organization Ying E Chi. Now in their second year, the Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival is determined to grow by quite a bit, and I assume that was why YEC were nice enough to invite both Kozo and I to their press conference on October 15th in the soon-to-be torn down Lower Ngau Tau Kok Estate.
The two people on the right are staring because I interviewed them for a magazine feature. Most right is director/YEC board director Jessey Tsang (of indie film Lovers On the Road and the subject of my feature), and on her right is Hong Kong Art Center’s Teresa Kwong.
The press conference begins
Starting on November 14th, this year’s festival will feature 30+ films from Korea, Japan, Iran, India, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong (of course), and even the United States (representing the Asian-American community).
This year’s opening films are the Wim Wenders-produced Japanese film The Clone Returns Homeand Hong Kong’s Dead Slowly by Rita Hui (and produced by Jessey Tsang).
Director Rita Hui holding the mic standing with actors, including co-star Joman Chiang (left)
And here’s the trailer:
And before the festival, YEC will also show a set of films by a group of young local directors called the Quirky Rookies. Directors, crew members, and even actors were present at the press conference:
“We make films so Lovehkfilm can review them.”
On a personal note, Gabriel Fung, a friend and an upperclassmen at my school, will be screening his graduate thesis film Chants Within Doldrum at the festival. And he had his day in the spotlight too:
That’s Gabriel on the left, pretending that he doesn’t know me
And there were also special guests:
Director Soi Cheang (left) and YEC founder/director Vincent Chui (right)
And just like the end of every press conference, there was a big group photo.
I picked the one with the most looks my way
As for my own picks. I will most likely be watching:
Dead Slowly The Clone Returns Home
The President is Coming
In The Fog/Chain
How to Live On Earth
Roses Have Thorns
Let’s Fall In Love
People I’ve Slept With
Of course, you can make your own picks and find out more information, including how to buy tickets and information about the master class by editor Mary Stephen, at the film festival’s website.
And I would like to represent lovehkfilm.com in thanking Ms. Wendy Wan for inviting us to the press conference, as well as everyone else at YEC (including Ms. Venus Wong and Ms. Jessey Tsang) for their hospitality at the press conference. It’s great to see the film festival world of Hong Kong expanding, and it’s even better to see independent films get their day in the sun.
This is the Broadway Cinematheque, one of the three venues for the Asian Film Festival. I saw a total of three films on Saturday and Sunday here.
One of them featured a Q&A with this man:
That would be director Sion Sono, whose Love Exposureis easily one of the great cinematic achievements of 2009, and the subject of this year’s HKAFF retrospective.
That brings us to the latest set of reviews:
The Housemaid (1960, South Korea, Dir: Kim Ki-Young): Certainly seeming dated almost 50 years, this deliciously trashy classic melodrama did earn some laughs at the screening, but that doesn’t discount the power of director Kim Ki-Young in creating this beautifully shot and often unpredictable femme fatale thriller about the worst housemaid in the world.
Ain’t No Tomorrows (2008, Japan, Dir: Yuki Tanada): Pure love this ain’t. Yuki Tanada’s adaptation of the manga about three high school boys’ first trip into sex is light an enjoyable exploration into the minds of reckless youth. Running a brisk 75 minutes, the stories are told in the most basic fashion, and it’s also the most effective. A great antithesis to those youth pure love stories on Japanese TV.
Be Sure to Share (2009, Japan, Dir: Sion Sono): Sono’s follow-up to Love Exposure takes almost a complete 180, dealing with the death of Sono’s father. A gentle mediation about family and death, Sono’s fans may find this a little dry, but one can’t help but admire his almost primitive expression of his love for his father in the film. An interesting addition to his filmography, but it won’t be his most memorable.
Note: I was asleep for a large part of the first half because of allergy medicine, not the quality of the film.
Talentime (2009, Malaysia, Dir: Yasmin Ahmad): The surprise of the festival for me, this delightful and touching film about contestants of a school talent contest and their families is an entertaining exploration of the myriad of religious and ethnic presence in the country, as well as young love. The sometimes heavy melodrama is balanced by Ahmad’s naturalistic handling. Too bad there was less than 20 people at the screening.
Flower of Kim Jong-Il (2008, South Korea/USA/France, Dir: NC Helkin): This documentary about human rights violationby North Korea as told by those who experienced them has some chilling testimonies that shed light on the horrors in the most isolated country in the world, but Helkin’s use of interpretative dance throughout distract from the focus. It almost undermined the testimonies themselves, making it not a very good documentary.
Bicycle Sighs (1990, Japan, Dir: Sion Sono): Sadly, this may be the only Pia Scholarship film that I don’t like. I’ve never fell asleep at a movie, only to wake up and find the audience as confused as I was. Sono fills the film with metaphors and strange behaviors, but I must’ve been too shallow to be able to decode them all. Besides, it should’ve ended 30 minutes before it really did. A truly strange feature debut for Sono.
Coming up: Taiwanese films Finding Her and How Are You Dad, as well as Summer Wars and Old Partner. It’s going to be a busy weekend.
I don’t devote entire entries to the podcast East Screen/West Screen (which I co-host with Paul Fox) anymore, but our 10th episode is special, because this time lovehkfilm founder Ross Chen joins us. It runs a little long, but it’s totally worth it.
It’s October, which means it’s time for the Asian Film Festival again. This year, I’m watching 22 films:
Crows Zero II
Ain’t No Tomorrows
Be Sure to Share
Flower of Kim Jong-Il
How Are You, Dad
Her Dear Old House
Asian Shorts 3 (including Edmund Yeo’s Kingyo. Sorry, I couldn’t make time for Woman on Fire Looks For Water) Mother
Beijing is Coming
At the End of Daybreak
Seven 2 One
I’ve already watched two, including opening film Thirst. But before the movies, there were some pre-screening activities.
First: A talk at the University of Hong Kong featuring Tian Zhuangzhuang and Park Chan-Wook, directors of the festival’s two opening films, The Warrior and the Wolf and Thirst.
From left to right: Tian’s translator (a grad student at HKU who seemed to be very nervous), Tian Zhuangzhuang, Moderator representing the HKU Comparative Literature Department, Park Chan-Wook, and his translator.
With everyone needing translation, there wasn’t as much enlightening information from neither of the directors. Also, the chaos of people surrounding the directors after the talk meant I almost got my Thirst ticket signed by Park.
Almost means no.
After dinner, it was off to IFC to check out the opening ceremony, which took place between the two opening film screenings:
Charlie Yeung, the “ambassador” of the film festival, showed up on time for some media interview. “On time” in this case meant early, because the ceremony started 20 minutes late.
Every shot I took of Jo Odagiri has a flash on his face. He also stood alone on the stage with that expression the entire time.
People I recognize: Ann Hui (left, and doesn’t recognize me, despite doing an entire profile on her), Jo Odagiri (left 2), Tian Zhuangzhuang (left 3), and Lawrence Lau (right)
With the ceremony running late, it also meant that the film started 20 minutes late as well. At least it was finally time for the movies!
For the inflated ticket price, at least I got to see Park Chan-Wook (again) and got a extra small size t-shirt. I’m definitely not an extra small.
And now, for the movies I’ve seen so far:
Thirst (2009, Korea, Dir: Park Chan-Wook): After a slight stumble with I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK, Park makes a glorious return to extreme cinema with this surprisingly fun (and funny) fantasy about a priest that turns into a vampire. Park’s signature musical and camera style is here, and they’re impressive as always. The violence is a little much at times, but all in all, the most “fun” Park film since Oldboy. It’s not a perfect film, but nevertheless a great cinematic experience. Kim Ok-Vin is a new name to watch out for.
Crows Zero II (2009, Japan, Dir: Takashi Miike): A sequel that’s a little too conscious of its status, Miike and his writers amp up the drama here in an attempt for a grander follow-up to their wildly fun predecessor. The result is a little underwhelming, as they wait until the very end to give the fans what they want. The fun does finally arrive at the end, but the road there can be sluggish at times.
And that’s it for now. This weekend is the Korean classic The Housemaid, Sion Sono’s Be Sure to Share (with a talk with Sion Sono in attendence), and the Japanese indie film Ain’t No Tomorrows.
Until then, let me know if you plan to stalk me at the cinemas. I’ll buy you a cup of coffee. I’ll need some anyway.
On October 8th, 2009, the UA Whompoa cinema closed down for good for the UA cinema chain to make room for their new multiplex in nearby Tsim Sha Tsui.
While a theater closing anywhere in Hong Kong is worth lamenting, I have a bit of a connection to this cinema. It provided me with one of my most memorable early cinematic experience.
Once upon a time - more like Christmas time 1992 - the UA Whompoa still had 6 screens: 4 in the main building, and 2 in the big boat across the street. Someone asked me why there’s a boat in the middle of a Hung Hom residential neighborhood. I think it has something to do with its past as a pier.
The family - 4 of us - decided to go to Whompoa that wintery day. Having been built recently at the time, Whompoa was a fairly nice, maybe even fancy, place to live. With several theaters in the area, I still can’t remember why we were there, but I remember that while my brother wanted to watch Gordon Chan’s King of Beggars, starring Stephen Chow, I wanted to watch…..Home Alone 2.
Give me a break, I was 8 years old, damn it.
And so, I became the catalyst for this little family separation. My father and my brother went to King of Beggars, while my mother and I went to Home Alone 2, all the way across the street at the boat. All I remember, aside from the actual movie, was my seat - the left corner, three rows from the screen. Not exactly the best seats, no.
By the next July, I was in America. Don’t remember going back to the UA Whompoa again. Ever. UA Queensway (Now AMC Pacific Place) became the theater of choice for my trips back. I remember seeing Jackie Chan’s Thunderbolt, Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, and even Stephen Chow’s Million Dollar Man at the Queensway, but I don’t remember ever going to the Whompoa since that Home Alone screening. Maybe it was too out of the way, or maybe the movies I saw there sucked more than I care to remember.
And almost 17 years later, the UA Whompoa closed its doors. Before this childhood memory of mine closed for good, I decided to head there to watch one last film, and two of my classmates were game enough to accompany me on this trip down memory lane. Too bad there was nothing memorable playing that I hadn’t seen. So instead, as mentioned in episode 9 of East Screen/West Screen, we watched Jonathan Mostow’s Surrogates.
Perhaps it was due to the fact that it’s the second-to-last night of operation, or the fact that tickets were at a cheap HK$35 a piece (plus a 10% off discount with my credit card), but there was a sizable crowd at the theater. Just past the entrance, there’s a table with all sorts of memorabilia and a spinning wheel. A piece of paper says “One spin for each ticket,” so I approached the employees at the table, hoping for my chance at a piece of usepriceless movie memorabilia.
“So one ticket a spin?” I asked.
“Forget it, this is all we have left. Just take whatever you want!” Said one employee.
The woman hands me a Nim’s Island folder, which I took. I notice a few more things on the table, which the employees seemed more than willing to give to me. On the other end of the table, I see some plastic black things, and the employees passed them along my way.
“They’re card holders,” said the women, “Here, take two!”
So now in my home, I have two things with Evian logos, a Coca Cola refrigerator magnet, a Nim’s Island folder, two Coca-Cola card holders, and perhaps some other thing I can’t recall.
Then I remember I was there for the movie.
So into House B we go. Let’s face it, the Whompoa might’ve been state-of-the-art back then, but it has dated quite quickly since those days. Despite its 500-seat capacity, the screen was relatively small (though it expanded horizontally for widescreen films - a rare sight these days), and the legroom is even smaller. The Whompoa is also one of the few HK theaters that still has DTS for its audio system, and Surrogates packed a mild wallop.
Either way, it was obvious the Whompoa needed a redo years ago.
Walking out of the theater and on the way to the bus stop, the real film buffs have shown up, taking pictures of the UA Whompoa entrance from various angles. We really don’t know what we got ’til it’s gone.
That’s why it’s perhaps not a very good thing that Golden Harvest has decided to take over the Whompoa. They’re giving it a large renovation, and they will reportedly reopen in time for Christmas. Which means maybe I can take my own family there for a Christmas movie there someday. And perhaps we can even decide to watch the same movie.
With the new UA cinema in Tsim Sha Tsui and the impending Golden Harvest Whompoa, there are rumors flying around that Golden Harvest will back out of TST and close their two theaters in the neighborhood - The Golden Gateway (where a major scene of Infernal Affairs was shot) and The Grand Ocean (Probably the only single-screen movie palace left in Hong Kong).
Looks like there’ll be a few more of these entries to do, then.