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Archive for October 19th, 2011

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 1

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Autumn and Chinese pollution are in the air, which means it’s time for another edition of the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival! Asian cinema and assigned seating being my favorite things in the world, Broadway Cinematheque’s Hong Kong Asian Film Festival is the annual event I look forward to the most each year. This year, I’ve picked 29 films to take in theatrically over the three-week period, plus several others I will catch through other means. I will try to cover as many of them here as possible, and the best way to do that is through daily entries!

Films I’m looking forward to this year include the four-hour version of SEEDIQ BALE, the Chinese road film KORA, the Taiwan-shot/China-funded STARRY STARRY NIGHT, Hong Kong indie BIG BLUE LAKE, Korean actioner THE YELLOW SEA, and Korean animated film GREEN DAYS.

But first, I watched the opening film, Johnnie To’s LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE. Many of my thoughts for the film have been covered in my Twitter and the East Screen/West Screen podcast, but I will cover them again here:

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LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE (2011, Hong Kong, Dir: Johnnie To)

LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE doesn’t have a lesson, and it’s not a morality tale (unlike many social issue films tend to become). It’s Johnnie To’s observational piece about Hong Kongers’ desire to get rich quick and how that can affect their and others’ lives. Despite being shot on-and-off over the course of three years, To and his ace editing team manage to weave a well-structured ensemble piece of three interconnected stories featuring characters all driven by greed.

To flashes a mirror at his home audience, using elements inspired by stories ripped from the headlines to show what Hong Kong society has become. He literally equates the financial market to a casino, where higher risks not only means bigger wins, but also more devastating losses. Despite being To’s quietest and dryest film since ELECTION 2 (no human meat grinding here, either), it’s an absorbing drama that takes its time to draw you into its world. The payoff yields some surprising dark comedy (To’s brand of absurdity remains), and it leaves plenty of room for you to rethink how you perceive characters that initially appear to be heroes.

I’ve seen the film twice now, and while the surprises in the final third don’t play as well the second time, the first hour is still as involving on repeat viewings. It moves slowly, but To assures you that you’re in good hands. While it’s not the most cinematically satisfying Hong Kong film of the year (that still goes to WU XIA, in my opinion), the fact that Hong Kong finally now has a good film that’s really trying to speak to the Hong Kong people makes LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE the best Hong Kong film of 2011 so far for me.  What a great start to the festival.

Coming up on day 2: Amir Naderi’s CUT.

 
 
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