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Archive for the ‘festivals’ Category

The Golden Rock - 2010 HKAFF Day 8 Edition

Two films today at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, both competed in Cannes. However, I started the day idiotically breathing in some dust and set off my allergies, so I went to the cinema hopped up on allergy medicine, which doesn’t make me a good audience for a film like:

Uncle Boonmee Recalls His Past Lives (2010, Thailand, Director: Apichatpong Weerasethakul): I managed to wake up for the last hour of the film, and it was a hypnotic trip into the jungles of Thailand. A slow fantasy film filled with stunning images, there are moments in that film that I will not forget soon, though it’s surely not everyone’s cup of tea. Looking to sit through it again if I have the chance.

Outrage (2010, Japan, Director: Takeshi Kitano): Kitano does commercial gangster cinema with a violent, bad-ass films about bad people killing each other until there’s no one left. Lots of yelling (you may not know Japanese, but you will know “yaroooo” means something bad in it), finger-cutting, stabbings, and shootings. It’s also darkly comedic, Kitano-style. The exposition-only storytelling style is a little alienating at points, but the badass-ery totally makes up for it. Nothing particularly meaningful (I can see why Kitano thinks it’s imperfect as well), but serviceable genre stuff for fans hankering for some Kitano-style gangsta-ing.

Will be condensing the weekday movies for a later entry in the week as we get into the second half of the HKAFF. I miss it already.

The Golden Rock - 2010 HKAFF - End of Week 1 Edition

Finished my first week at the 2010 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival with 16 films so far. I’m condensing everything since Tuesday into one entry to make the length worth your while.

Vengeance Can Wait (2010, Japan, Director Masanori Tominaga) - This Japanese comedy feels like a stage play (and it was), as most of it is set in one location. The strange rivalry story between two woman and a really creepy guy starts out a little too dry for me, but it ends with some really great set pieces. Tadanobu Asano gives an awesome performance as a man who has a really weird ways of exacting revenge. OK, but forgettable indie stuff.

The Butcher, The Chef, and The Swordsman (2010, China, Director: Wuershan) - The MTV editing and flashy images sent my tried eyes straight to sleep, but what I stayed up for was OK, though over-the-top acting was borderline annoying. Will revisit this when it comes out in March 2011.

Tokyo Godfathers (2003, Japan, Director: Satoshi Kon) - My favorite film of Satoshi Kon’s so far (sans MILLENNIUM ACTRESS). A real crowd-pleasing urban adventure filled with miracles has plenty of likable characters and humor to make it a delightful treat of a movie. It even has an unreal action sequence in the end to earn its animation form.

Johnnie’s Got His Gun (2010, France/Hong Kong, Director: Yves Montmayeur) - When the gunshots came over the film’s title, I was already groaning audibly at this fanboy project about Johnnie To’s cops-and-robbers movies. Not only does it simply feature fluff material about Johnnie To (interviews on a festival’s press junket?), its portrayal of Hong Kong (guy smoking at his window? oooooh, shady!) reinforces the worst stereotypes about To’s movies. Worst “documentary” I’ve seen all year. Guys, he made movies that didn’t have guns too.

Taipei Exchanges (2010, Taiwan, Director: Hsiao Ya Chuan) - A really pleasant dramedy about a woman who opens a cafe in Taipei that becomes a bartering business. Guey Lun Mei and Zaizai Lin are great, and the film has plenty of charm, but characters feel underdeveloped and story lacked substance. Still, an enjoyable film for what it is, and I’m a sucker for urban stories.

Dabangg (2010, India, Director: Abhinav Singh Kahyap) - Despite all the shoddy storytelling, lackluster script, and bad subtitles, DABANGG is a hell of a time at the movies. It’s loud, fast, and totally ridiculous, but I somehow got the idea that the filmmakers know it, too. Salman Khan stars as a corrupted cop who becomes kind of a good guy and defeats corrupted politicians. The action is over-the-top as hell, and the final fight is even straight out of FLASHPOINT. Still, any movie where cars are propelled as they explode just for visuals is a hell of a good time for me, especially when there’s vibrating seats in the theater.

After watching this, who doesn’t want to be like Salman Khan?

Tomorrow: Booooooonmee, and Kitano yakuza badass-ery

The Golden Rock - 2010 HKAFF Day 4 Edition

After a packed weekend, only two films for night 4 of the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival

Asian Shorts 1 - This program consists of 6 short films, totaling about 75 minutes:

Now - A 2-minute short film made by friend Edmund Yeo for Prada is short, nice-looking, and to the point. Not much else to say about that.

The Artist and His Magic - 8-minute short film is shot with 3d animation and still photography. Looked ok, but abstract “story” didn’t do anything for me.

Heaven and Hell - Risky Liu returns from his previous bad publicity incident for this strong one-take film based on the Liu Yi Shang story. The camerawork could be a little better, but it’s still quite well-made for what it is.

Shinda Gaijin - This short from Waseda University starts off with some good dark humor, but ends kind of flat. Wonder what the family of Lindsey Hawker would think about this film (look her up).

Kids in the Dark - This short film from Mainland China simply shows two people sitting in an apartment writing notes to each other. The director obviously forgot content.

Crimson Jade - KJ director Cheung King Wai’s first foray into dramatic narrative is beautifully shot some powerful images. Half an hour works fine for his quiet, minimalist style, but would not sustain feature length. Anti-drug message feels a little insincere, but otherwise a strong short film.

Paprika(2006, Japan, directed by Satoshi Kon) - Satoshi Kon’s final film is light on story, but heavy on imagination. Some really strong images and great ideas keep this entertaining sci-fi mystery immensely entertaining. Animation format feels fully utilized, and great pacing for a wild ride. Wish I had caught this earlier.

Tomorrow: Tadanobu Asano in VENGEANCE CAN WAIT

The Golden Rock - 2010 HKAFF Day 3 Edition

The second consecutive day of three films sadly didn’t match the previous day’s stuff, but some interesting stuff nevertheless.

The Time To Live The Time To Die (Taiwan, 1986, director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien) - Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s autobiographical film about his childhood is slow, ponderous, and lack a clear story. It is 138 minutes connected by moments, and some of them are quite good. Like I tweeted in August about several Iranian films, this is a film that I can admire, but can never truly like.

Let the Wind Carry Me (Hong Kong/Taiwan, 2009, directed by Chiang Hsiu-chiung and Kwan Pun-leung) - This documentary about this year’s retrospective focus Mark Lee Ping-Bing is a fascinating look into a more normal cinematographer (Wong Kar Wai’s comparison of Lee and Christopher Doyle is spot on). However, it feels like it’s strictly for film buffs, with interesting tidbits about Lee’s technique. Still, strictly for film buffs and aspiring filmmakers only.

My Ex-Wife’s Wedding (China/South Korea/Hong Kong, 2010, director: Lee Kung-Lok) - Fun commercial fluff has a strong MTV style, a very polished look, plenty of expensive stuff, and an Aloys Chen Kun mugging it up as a comedic lead. There are plenty of things that this sometimes ridiculous romantic comedy, but it manages to make itself likeable all the same. The surprisingly honest Q&A with producer Daniel Yu and writer Szeto Kam-Yuen helped make me like the film better as well. Nothing special, but nothing too embarrassing, either.

Tomorrow: Some short films, and Satoshi Kon’s PAPRIKA

The Golden Rock - 2010 HKAFF Day 2 Edition

The Hong Kong Asian Film Festival is now in full swing for its first weekend. There’s at least two more weekends of all-day movie watching, but let’s just get through this first day of three-or-more screening days:

Perfect Blue (1997, Japan, director: Satoshi Kon): Animated or otherwise, PERFECT BLUE is an interesting psychological thriller about the price of celebrity, especially in the Asian pop world (I’m looking at you, too, Korean pop). The layers of real and unreal and all those in between keeps the audience riveted, and the directorial tricks will keep people going back to watch it. The violence is a little much (doubt it would’ve made it to live-action), but it’s a rewarding ride to sit through that also broke the types of storytelling that could be done on the animation format.

Villain (Akunin) (2010, Japan, director: Lee Sang-Il): This emotionally intense drama from the director of HULA GIRL feels like two films: A great ensemble drama about the fallout from a crime with an exceptional supporting cast, and a ho-hum love story. While the core is the journey of the film’s protagonists - a murderer and his new girlfriend - the parts that really worked is the side stories with the older supporting actors, especially Kirin Kiki as the murderer’s grandmother. Lee’s point of exposing all kinds of villainy in the world really drives the film thematically. Overlong at 139 minutes, but surprisingly involving for its duration.

The Drunkard (2010, Hong Kong, director: Freddie Wong): The writings of novelist Liu Yi-Chang inspired Wong Kar Wai for IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and 2046, and it’s quite obvious from film critic/festival curator Freddie Wong’s directorial debut THE DRUNKARD. It includes a writer in 1960s Hong Kong heading for career self-destruction and makes it up with alcohol, smoke, and women. Similar themes - especially about professional compromises - have been seen in 2046 with better production values. While episodic in structure with stilted dialogue and problematic acting, THE DRUNKARD really serves more as an intellectual curiosity than a real film. Fans of the novel are apparently pleased with how closely it stuck to the novel (which I haven’t read), but I found it too self-important.

Tomorrow: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Mark Lee documentary, and Aloys Chen & fans.

The Golden Rock - HKAFF 2010 Day 1 Edition

We’re off and running. It’s the 2010 edition of the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, and this blogger is moving up and down the Kowloon peninsula (plus Central) to check out this year’s offering of Asian cinema. I’m trying to update daily with the help of my shiny i P a d (that was to avoid spam), so pictures and links are sparse to ensure efficiency.

For more info about any of the films I’m covering, check out www.hkaff.asia

Day 1 was the opening films. I attended the opening ceremony with Boss Kozo, but please check out photos on the YesAsia Facebook or in the upcoming news item on YesAsia instead.

Lover’s Discourse (Hong Kong, 2010, directed by Derek Tsang and Jimmy Wan) - This collection of love stories with interconnected characters is a strong debut by two-thirds of Pang Ho-Cheung’s screenwriting team (Pang serves as producer). While the acting is mostly hits with some misses, the film overall is well-made. The first half starts out really strong with some great spots of humor, then a little dragged down by a more serious second half. At nearly two full hours, the film also runs a little long. Still, a strong local youth romance that is sadly almost guaranteed to not make a lot of money.

Revenge: A Love Story (Hong Kong, 2010, directed by Wong Ching-Po) - This gory exploitation thriller feels like what Josie Ho wanted DREAM HOME to be - a loud, violent, nihilistic exploitation revenge film that rocks it’s audience into shock. What Ho and producer Conroy Chan didn’t expect was that Wong Ching-Po has an art film ambition in his script. Star Juno Mak, a self-proclaim fan of exploitation cinema, wrote this story that would’ve made an ok entry in 90s category III cinema, but his writer-director couldn’t avoid his penchant for creating meaning. The result is utterly ridiculous, but entertaining in its own sadistic way. Aoi Sola gives it her all, performing a graphic rape scene that no HK actress with dare to touch. Review for LoveHKFilm coming.

Note: Star Juno Mak pointed out that the festival version of the film is the “director’s cut” and that they’re in negotiations with the censorship board about possible edits needed. Yay, us.

Day 2 will be 3 films, including VILLAIN and THE DRUNKARD, whose original author reportedly influenced Wong Kar Wai greatly. I expect to catch some sleep in between.

The Golden Rock - What day iz thiz Edition

Before I move on to regular programming, perhaps some (or none) are asking, “hey, where did you go?”

I ask myself the same question everyday.

As for the serious answer, I made an extremely awkward transition from my student life to my working life, which involved the two blending together, and then diving into the latter pretty much immediately, meaning I haven’t really had the time to adjust. Of course, that could sound like an excuse, but considering the other time I spend doing my weekly review job, recording East Screen/West Screen, plus real life crap, 24 hours doesn’t seem enough in a day. Also, Google Chrome is real crappy with this wordpress thing, which means I get a little confused when switching browsers, leading to all kinds of headaches and taking longer than usual to write an entry.

So what motivated me to start writing again now? First of all, Kozo keeps footing the bill for this space, which means it would go to waste if I keep letting it accumulate in spam, and that ain’t very nice.  Second, I will be sadly writing less reviews than before, though that’s only because much of my work has shifted to a certain section of a website that starts with Y and ends with Asia. However, my motivation to start writing again is mainly because I want to do internet journalism right. As I mentioned on the latest episode of East Screen/West Screen, some sites have gotten away too long with spinning information the wrong way. I can’t say I never did the same with this blog, but at least I spun responsibly, and I own up to my mistakes. If the blog writing schedule goes right again, I hope to return to the old format that people (barely) read, but I will certainly no longer use the site I mention in the podcast as a serious source, but only to point out and correct their errors.

Here’s a little news for today, to get things started:

- As always, we start at the box office. At the Japan box office, Tetsuya Nakashima’s CONFESSIONS reign again for a third week, while the MASKED RIDER movie opens at second place, and the youth tearjerker PIECING ME BACK TOGETHER opens at ninth. Check the admissions ranking, and more when the numbers are out.

- Looking at the Korean box office, A MOMENT TO REMEMBER director Lee Jae-Han’s latest 71-INTO THE FIRE scores a huge opening with 1 million-plus admissions, while the period film SERVANTS has already earned 2 million admissions. STREETDANCE 3D opened at 6th place, and PRINCE OF PERSIA is approaching 2 million admissions, but not likely to get there.

Hancinema rankings (which switches the admissions for HAHAHA and THE HOUSEMAID) and the KOFIC ranking.

- After several theaters backed out in Japan (including one in Shibuya, Tokyo) from showing the documentary THE COVE, the distributors have found another theater in Tokyo in the same neighborhood to take over the film. The Image Forum (which also runs a film school) will be showing the film after Theater N pulled out due to threats by crazy right-wingers. I’m guessing this will be another YASUKUNI situation, where the threats will continue until the film opens, then ntohing will happen.

The report also lists 21 other Japanese theaters that’ll be showing the film, so look for one near you, er….if you know how to read Japanese.

- In film production news, I wrote a few weeks ago that the new Bruce Lee biopic that will be covering his teenage life in Hong Kong, and as now Film Business Asia has confirmed that production will indeed begin on the Manfred Wong-produced, Raymond Yip-directed film WITH MC JIN….not as Bruce Lee. As I mentioned on East Screen/West Screen, this is the version of the Bruce Lee story that I look more forward to than the Hollywood bullying one that Filmko/Mandarin Films are planning.

Also, in the words of Nikki Finke, TOLDJA!

- The Millennium documentary festival in Brussels has given the Chinese documentary LAST TRAIN HOME its top award. I saw LAST TRAIN HOME at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and liked it. Congratulations to the filmmakers.

I will be back, and hopefully soon. Especially if it’s not a slow news day.

The Golden Rock at the 2010 Hong Kong International Film Festival Edition - Part 2

Here we go, another five Asian films viewed at the Hong Kong International Festival 2010.The Blue Mansion (Singapore - 2009), Directed by Glen Goei

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This dark comedy from Singapore mixes the supernatural and an Agatha Christie mystery, and interestingly, it’s just about completely in English. That might be the problem, as the actors did not have the comic timing to deliver some of the nastier punchlines, and there’s no character that’s actually likeable enough to connect with - not even the dead guy. Interesting attempt, but not quite a success.

Sawako Decides (Japan - 2009) - Directed by Ishii Yuya, starring Mitsushima Hikari

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Yuya Ishii is back with this Pia Scholarship film after his win at with Bare-Assed Japan. It’s a hilarious, deadpan comedy that Ishii is no stranger to. Add that with a great performance by Mitsushima Hikari of Love Exposure, and you’ve got one of the funniest Japanese comedies of the year. Response wasn’t as enthusiastic as I had hoped. Maybe I just really dig the dry humor.

I’m in Trouble! (South Korea - 2009) - Directed by So Sang-Min

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This dry Korean comedy, on the other hand, doesn’t work nearly as well as other comedies in this style. It starts off with a not-so-likeable lead and his not-so-important problems with the ladies (which he screwed up himself anyway), and director So Sang-Min expects us to automatically care for him. Just because he’s an artist doesn’t make him immediately worth caring about. Still, not a total loss, with some funny moments, and some of the performances are quite…well, likeable.

Tokyo Onlypics (2008 - Japan) - Directed by Mashima Riichiro, etc.

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As one might expect from an anthology mixed with animation and live-action, this parody of international sports events (which opened in Japanese theaters the same day as the opening of the Beijing Olympics) is somewhat inconsistent in quality. But when it’s on its game, it is as seriously funny as it is irreverent. Some of the sketches go on too long after it delivers the laughs (the samurai calling one above included), but events like the sms texting and the mom throwing ones are the funniest comedy sketches I’ve seen this year. This version is apparently a shortened version from the 130-minute Japanese version, which is a wise choice, as its 117-minute length was just perfect.

The Actresses (2009 - South Korea) - Directed by E, J-Yong, starring Youn Yuh-Jung, Choi Ji-Woo, Ko Hyun-Jung, Kim Ok-Bin, Lee Min-Sook, Kim Min-Hee

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For anyone who has no idea who these people are, the film will simply be an interesting experiment exploring the real persona of actresses. Those who have at least a vague idea of these people will have a far better time as this mockumentary (written/improvised by the 6 actresses) slyly plays on the stars’ respective persona and what it’s like to be a star. Still, it still feels insignificant, as there’s not really much of a story (the second half consists almost entirely of the six stars sitting around talking). Nevertheless, the fact that it still works is an achievement already.

Next time,  an anti-war film, Bollywood, and more Yuya Ishii.

The Golden Rock at the 2010 Hong Kong International Film Festival Edition - Part 1

As you might have been following on my Twitter, I have been spending quite a bit of time at the glorious Hong Kong International Film Festival. This year, excluding the Lung Kong retrospective I have yet to attend, I watched a record number of 28 films between March 20th and April 6th.

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This is what madness - and my dining table - look like

 Out of the 28, 20 of those are Asian films (and I’m counting Israel in Asia because NHK World says so), and I will provide brief reviews for them here - 5 at a time.

1) A Better Tomorrow (Hong Kong, 1987) - Directed by John Woo, Produced by Lung Kong

This is the first time I’m watching the gangster classic film on the big screen (as part of the festival’s focus on Lung Kong), and it’s every bit as enjoyable as one can expect. I’ve seen this movie and the references to it throughout the years many times, and I’m surprise to hear the audience just as involved with it as if they were watching it the first time. A true Hong Kong cinema classic.

2) A Brand New Life (Korea, 2009) - Directed by Ounie Lecomte, Produced by Lee Chang-Dong

This aut0biographical debut film by Korean French director Ounie Lecomte has a stunning performance by the young Kim Sae-Ron, but it doesn’t quite escape the stablish cinema verite style of her producer. The life in the South Korean orphanage ultimately goes through the motions and is ultimately a little too much into its own detached style.

3) Ajami (Israel, 2009) - Directed by Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani

This film about the Palestinian-Israel relationship is what Quentin Tarantino might have made without the gimmicky obsession with old movies and self-indulgent dialogue. It’s a frequently powerful examination of different types of people in the region, though its non-linear storytelling can be disorienting at points. It’s an ambitious film and that makes it worth watching, even though it doesn’t really deliver in the end.

4) Monga (Taiwan, 2010) - Directed by Doze Niu

Doze Niu’s follow-up to What on Earth Have I Done Wrong is a million times more ambitious and even more engaging. However, it doesn’t follow through with the burst of adrenaline it delivers in the first 30 minutes and falls back on unintentional homo-eroticism, gangster clichés, a hooker with a heart of gold, and the idealist talk about brotherhood. At least it looks great with really impressive production values.

5) Last Train Home (Canada, 2009) - Directed by Fan Lixin

This compelling documentary by former Chinese journalist Fan Lixin looks at the lives of migrant workers who make the trek every year from their jobs in the big city back to their rural homes during Lunar New Year. It’s not only a look at the migration itself, but also a look at how rapid development and centralization of industry in China has broken up families. Starts off slow, but gets much, much better later on.

That’s part 1. Next is some Yuya Ishii, a Singaporean dark comedy, and of course, a little Japanese animation.

 

The Golden Rock and the Hong Kong Asian Independent Film Festival

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.

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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. 

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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 Home and Hong Kong’s Dead Slowly by Rita Hui (and produced by Jessey Tsang).

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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:

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“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:

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That’s Gabriel on the left, pretending that he doesn’t know me

And there were also special guests:

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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.

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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
Non-Ko
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.

Until then, see you all next month at the movies.

 
 
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