October 20th, 2008
The second week of the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival for me was 6 films spread out over 5 nights. Within the last 8 days, I have seen 12 movies in theaters, 10 of those as part of the HKAFF. I may declare for bankruptcy when this is all said and done.
Anyway, here’s everything I’ve seen since my last entry:
Parking (dir. Chung Mong Hong. Taiwan, 2008)
The synosis of the film suggests that this might be Taiwan’s answer to After Hours, but that’s only the basic structure of the film. Part film noir, part urban fable, this strange comedy-drama is surprisingly packed with emotions, as well as some beautiful shots. However, the film suffers from an uneven pace due to its digressions into the backstories of the various side characters. Overall, it’s a promising debut for director Ching Mong Hong, and some of the visuals are bound to stay in your mind for days.
True Women For Sale (dir. Herman Yau. Hong Kong, 2008)
Herman Yau’s latest film has a Chinese title that translates to “I Don’t Sell My Body, I Sell My Uterus”. It may sound like the wrong title for a film about prostitution, but it’ll make perfect sense when you realize that the film’s second major storyline is about a pregnant Mainland woman trying to fight for residency in Hong Kong. Compared to Whispers and Moans, True Women For Sale is a significantly lighter look at its subject matters, and some spots are actually quite funny (though some recurring jokes fall flat the whole way through). The cast is uniformly strong (Prudence Lau is excellent, and Anthony Wong is as likable as ever), but some of the forced dialogue delivery heard in Whispers and Moans is back, but at least done with less preachy speeches. Overall, one of the finer truly local efforts of the year, and has a very good chance to perform better than Whispers and Moans at the Hong Kong box office.
Director Herman Yau (right) and Race Wong (left) at the Q&A for True Women For Sale
ASYL: Park and Love Hotel (dir. Izuru Kumazaka. Japan, 2007)
My first of several Pia Film Festival films this year at the HKAFF is an episodic drama about four lonely women in Tokyo who find refuge at a community park built on top of a love hotel. It’s one of those quiet, Japanese indie-style films with a slow pace, long takes, and a lot of quirkiness. But the portrayal of its characters (especially Lily as central character Tsuyako) and its down-to-earth approach make it worth watching. Not the strongest Pia Film Festival film I’ve seen, but it’s worth the attention.
Yoshino’s Barber Shop (dir. Naoko Ogigami. Japan, 2003)
Seagull Diner and Glasses director Naoko Ogigami’s debut is a cute look at a small town where all the boys have the same hairstyle to keep with a strange local custom, until the new kid from Tokyo comes to town and changes everything with his hip, Kimura Takuya-like hair. Ogigami shows her talent for dry quirky humor, depiction of places far from urban Tokyo, and her love of actress Masako Motai in this unlikely pick for a Pia Film Festival Scholarship film. Of course, being a film festival film, the story suggests some kind of social allegory, but it’s never heavy-handed and highly enjoyable the whole way through. I still never want to have the Yoshino hairstyle, though.
Cape No.7 (dir. Wei Te-Sheng. Taiwan, 2008)
It’s easy to see why this comedy-drama became the BIGGEST FILM EVER in Taiwan and why it was such a crowdpleaser at the screening I attended. Made with a commercial spirit on an indie budget (the director reportedly paid NT$30 million of the total NT$50 million budget from his own pocket), this is blatantly commercial filmmaking that packs in all the effective elements: The charming locals that make a group of underdog misfits, the handsome bad boy, the exotic Japanese love interest, and even an unrequited love story. It has some extremely notable flaws (funny how both romances in a romance film don’t really work), but it’s such a likable flick that you’re likely to be able to overlook it all and just take it all in. As it has been already, expect this to be a festival darling for the next year. Not required to be immersed in Taiwanese culture to appreciate it, but apparently you would love it even more if you are.
After School (dir. Kenji Uchida. Japan, 2007)
Kenji Uchida’s follow-up to Stranger of Mine is more of the same stuff, with a plot that takes you through twists and turns for the first half, only to spend the second half revealing how clever Uchida is by showing what really happened. Nevertheless, it’s still a smart, low-key mystery that is clever and great to watch with an unaware audience. As Mark Schilling pointed out in his review, the characters this time are even more like Uchida’s pawns, moving around to faciltate the plot or in manipulating the perception of reality in the plot. But it also does have genuine emotions, as he leaves the most poignant reveal to be one about the characters instead of the mystery. Uchida has now become one of my favorite up-and-coming young directors from Japan.
P.S.: Stick around for the end of the credits for a small reveal that’s also the mystery’s most important.
And here’s a ranking of the films seen at the festival so far:
1. Tokyo Sonata
2. After School
3. Crows Zero
5. Cape No. 7
6. Yoshino’s Barber Shop
7. AYSL: Park and Love Hotel
8. True Women For Sale
9. Accuracy of Death
It’s pretty amazing that I haven’t been disappointed with any of the offerings so far, but this is how I would rank them if I had to.
That’s it for part 2 of the HKAFF report. The next report should be for the final set of films, including Tokyo!, Ivy Ho’s Claustrophobia, and Mamoru Oshii’s Sky Crawlers.