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Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Golden Rock - August 17, 2012 Edition

 

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In just 8 days, Pang Ho-Cheung’s VULGARIA has already grossed HK$11.9 million at the Hong Kong box office, which means both of Pang’s films in 2012 - LOVE IN THE BUFF and VULGARIA - will surely be two of the top ten highest-grossing Hong Kong films of 2012. BUFF has already made HK$27 million and currently holds the top spot at this year’s Hong Kong box office, and if VULGARIA makes more than HK$23 million, it would officially make Pang the first director since Stephen Chow whose film(s) managed to gross over HK$50 million in a single year. However, the difference will be that Chow did it with one film (CJ7), while Pang will be doing it with two.

How did a foul-mouthed category III film about making movies manage to become one of the highest-grossing local films of the year? My own opinion of the film aside (my audio review on East Screen West Screen), let’s first acknowledge that VULGARIA being a good film is not enough. Anyone who thinks that good movies make money and bad movies don’t make money is just being naive.

If the movie being good is not the reason, then why else would VULGARIA be such a hit?

Warning: The following includes many Cantonese profanities and possible spoilers for VULGARIA

1) Thank EXODUS

 

There are several specific Cantonese curse words that are considered no-no for Hong Kong censors. Traditionally, use of those words would automatically warrant a category III (no one under 18 admitted) for the film, which is why commercial Hong Kong films typically stay away from them. However, in 2007, Pang Ho-Cheung’s EXODUS became one of the first Hong Kong films to use these Cantonese cuss words liberally (you can see on the clip above) and still managed to avoid a category III rating. Reportedly, Pang pointed out to the censors that films with English profanity are often passed with IIB (not an age-restricted rating) and that the use of profanity actually reflects everyday reality. The censors agreed and allowed EXODUS to pass with a IIB.

This actually became a game changer of sorts, as other filmmakers began to follow suit. Wong Jing’s MR. AND MRS GAMBLER features several jokes involving Cantonese cuss words, Heiward Mak had his idol stars mouth them in EX, and Pang Ho-Cheung continued to include them in his films until LOVE IN THE PUFF got the category III because TELA had a problem with the characters using profanity too casually (according to Pang). However, PUFF then became immensely popular among young audience, and Pang knew that it was partly because young people find Cantonese profanity amusing.

After making LOVE IN THE BUFF, his first China co-production, Pang returned to Hong Kong and managed to get HK$7 million from Paco Wong’s Sun Entertainment to make what was called at the time WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT HONG KONG MOVIE. It was going to be packed with Cantonese profanity, raunchy humor, a load of star cameos (many of whom worked for free), and most importantly, it would have the label “Hong Kong movie” taped tightly to it.

2) Using China’s Weibo

Pang Ho-Cheung currently has 1.9 million followers of Weibo. He knows he’s a popular man on Sina Weibo and other Chinese social media, which is why he has been using it as a tool for the last year and a half. He used it to get extras for LOVE IN THE BUFF, and he had been counting on those same fans to mobilize and enter the cinema for BUFF. Before that turned out to be a disappointing venture, he used Weibo to report the progress of WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT HONG KONG MOVIE. Pang and producer/star Chapman To had been uploading photos from their meetings and the set of the film for a month before the local press even got to visit the set. On the surface, they seemed like a celebrity’s everyday post, but every single post included the film’s Chinese name (which translates to “A Vulgar Comedy”) and teased the various star cameos. That’s where hype starts.

3) Picking the right handlers

In 2010, local independent distributor Golden Scene premiered LA COMEDIE HUMAINE at the Hong Kong International Film Festival - a full four months before its theatrical release. The film was a tough sell - a buddy comedy about a professional killer and a scriptwriter that was about the magic of movies - but the distributor has proven to be able to sell summer comedies with surprise hit SIMPLY ACTORS. Not only would the HKIFF launch give the film a quality label, but by having only one screening to 1,000 enthusiastic audience members in the Hong Kong cultural center, the amplified response became a good word-of-mouth starter.

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When opening weekend arrived in August, Golden Scene also sent the film’s stars on a series of meet-and-greets in Hong Kong cinemas, meeting enthusiastic audiences with what is essentially a stand-up routine. It brought the film festival experience to general movie-going, and it kept the film in the media spotlight.

The result? A film that usually would not have made more than HK$4 million ended up with more than double that. With HUMAINE and the HK$10 million-plus gross for BREAK-UP CLUB, Golden Scene became THE distributor for hip and alternative Hong Kong commercial films.

Golden Scene knew that WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT HONG KONG MOVIE - now re-titled VULGARIA - would once again be a tough sell to local audiences. It’s category III, it doesn’t have a star that guarantees a huge gross, and it was from a filmmaker who’s only made one commercial hit in his career. As they had done with HUMAINE, they started with one exclusive screening at the HKIFF:

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Knowing that Pang is a darling in film festivals, Golden Scene also used Filmart (happening at the same time as HKIFF) to aggressively push to the film to overseas visitors - buyers, programmers, and critics - at the film’s market screening. Ironic for a film selling itself as a pure Hong Kong film, yes, but that’s when one can see Pang and his company had picked the right people.

4) Your audience - and Youtube - are your friends

After a run around the world at film festivals like the Udine Far East Film Festival and the New York Asian Film Festival, Golden Scene kicked off the local advertising campaign for the film. Thanks to LOVE IN THE BUFF becoming the highest-grossing Hong Kong film of the year (eat your heart out, Deanie Ip!), Pang suddenly became a marketable name. This is the guy who once made dark, alternative films (at least considered so in Hong Kong) like YOU SHOOT I SHOOT and DREAM HOME, and now he’s made a super vulgar movie that’s category III? Let’s push him out there:

 

The above is one of the five making of videos that Golden Scene uploaded, and it contains many of the Cantonese curse words featured in the film. Thanks to the censor-free world that is free internet, this video now has over 200,000 hits on Youtube. In comparison, the cleaner making of videos have only attracted 20,000-70,000 views.

And then there were the audience meet-and-greets. Three weeks before the movie’s official release date, Golden Scene held midnight previews around town and had Pang Ho-Cheung and Chapman To do post-movie talks. Since this was a category III film anyway, Pang, To, and Dada Chan let it all loose with curse words left and right to full-house audiences around town. In the age of smartphones, everyone promptly pulled out their cameras and started filming.

At the first of these talks, To and Pang talk about the importance of making films for Hong Kong audiences, the absurdity of Mainland censorship, the beauty of Cantonese profanity, and sometimes Bosco Wong. Of course, with Ms. Popping Candy herself, there were also a bit of sexual harassment:

 

Multiple videos of these talks hit Youtube and received thousands of views, which then helped boost sales for the next week of preview screenings. In the second weekend, Pang and To took it further. Not only did they bring a fake mule on their press tour (You’ll get it after you’ve seen the film), they also started revealing the real people behind some of the film’s biggest gags. Here, Pang Ho-Cheung reveals that Chapman To was the real star behind the mule story.

Here, they then reveal that the real Ms. Popping Candy is the girlfriend of Pang’s stills photographer and that Billy Chung is the director who ran gambling dens:

By now, you probably realize you may not want to reveal your most intimate secrets to Pang Ho-Cheung

By the way, it’s clear that Pang and To didn’t count on these videos going online, which is why they repeated many of the same jokes.

5) Pop culture domination

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The above is a newspaper column from last week. The subject is a certain Cantonese word in the film that was the subject of several jokes in the film (According to the subtitles, it’s supposed to be “nose diving”, but sounds like something very vulgar). This is only one way that VULGARIA references have dominated local pop culture. While the film’s response ranges from mixed-to-good, several jokes have become talking points among Hong Kongers. And unlike SEX AND ZEN 3D, the references are even about how much the movie sucks.

Over the past year, Hong Kong people has also grown increasingly dissatisfied with Mainland China - from the rudeness of tourists to their rumored influence over the Chief Executive election to the new National Education program. Suddenly, Hong Kongers feel like their superior Hong Konger identities are being threatened, and they will take anything they can get to enforce that identity.

Thanks to that, the idea of watching VULGARIA not only became the hip thing to do as a Hong Konger; it also became a way to show Hong Kongers’ love for Hong Kong.

Yes, a little comedy about people swearing a lot is now patriotic duty.

Will the success of VULGARIA bring on a new slew of real, China-less local movies? There will surely be copycats, but the success of VULGARIA was dependent on so many wild card factors (current events, box office success) that could not be foreseen that lightning is not likely to strike again. As a result, it’s like that everything else that follow will surely be dismissed as copycats. Besides, Pang and To are probably not very well-liked right now in certain circles of the Hong Kong film industry, especially those Hong Kong directors living up north that have been dubbed as traitors of Hong Kong for making movies for China (Hi, Gordon Chan, Peter Chan, Derek Yee, Andrew Lau, and Johnnie To!). Hell, even Pang’s next film is a Huayi Brothers production that will be shot in Beijing! Believe it or not, the Hong Kong film industry isn’t always a united place.

If anything, VULGARIA goes to show that to make money in the movies, it’s not always about making a good movie - it’s about making the right movie.

Well, that and swearing a lot.

The Golden Rock - Supercaptitalist Edition (Featuring Guest Blogger Marco Sparmberg)

Apologies for the long break, as various obligations have tied this writer down the past two months.

However, as Edison Chen once said, we are coming back harder than ever with some new content. And one of those is the first-ever guest blogger entry on The Golden Rock. Recently, we were kindly offered an opportunity to watch a new film called SUPERCAPITALIST, written by actor Derek Ting and directed by Simon Yin. Due to scheduling conflicts, we sent Marco Sparmberg, founder of Haexagon Concepts and Hong Kong-based director of HAEXAGON and web series SQUATTERTOWN. As he will mention in the review, Mr. Sparmberg also worked in development at Salon Films for a year, so he definitely knows a thing or two about developing a film here in Hong Kong. 

And now, without further ado, Mr. Sparmberg’s unfiltered, uncensored, but edited for grammar review of SUPERCAPITALIST:

Just to further throw Marco under that bus, Marco’s views about the film are his own, and they do not represent LoveHKFilm.com nor this blogger.

$uper-capitalization of clichés

The Skinny:

A rare English-language indie film from Hong Kong that tries to remake WALL STREET the Central way. Featuring common expat clichés, SUPERCAPITALIST offers a TV thriller without the thrills.

Review:

Before I start selling my shares, I need to put this disclaimer up front: In the summer of 2010, SUPERCAPITALIST was one of the projects that passed my desk seeking financial investment. I had actually recommended this project to my boss for further consideration at the time.

Now that the production is completed and has been screened in a theater, would I still recommend it? Unfortunately, I would not. A financial thriller set in Hong Kong, Macau and New York set up as a sophisticated international co-production by a group of young expat talents that might bring Hong Kong film back to the world map of cinema, the film’s premise is indeed intriguing and promising. So, what happened?

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“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”

Conner Lee (Derek Ting) works at a New York-based hedge fund firm. When he starts to become a troublemaker for his boss, he is sent to Hong Kong as an expendable asset to “shake things up” in the local market. Arriving in the fragrant harbor, he takes the tourist bus and LKF bar tour. The message “we are in Hong Kong and spend money at random” is repeated, as we see Connor gets sucked into the generic urban life of decadence, which includes junk boat trips with two bikini models for each of his fingers.

Then, a plot suddenly emerges when Conner gets the order to rip off a local tycoon (Richard Ng). In the process of taking over his company, Connor falls for the tycoon’s attractive assistant (Katy Uyen). When he also finds out that he is being double crossed by his own boss (Linus Roache) and the tycoon’s brother (Kenneth Tsang), Conner joins forces with the locals to save the company.

The way local Hong Kong people are portrayed here should be a cause of concern.  The filmmakers navigate into dangerous waters by implying everyone can be bribed with red pockets in this city. At the same time, Richard Ng’s multi-billion dollar tycoon stubbornly holds on to his family traditions and old-school business models, effectively weakening him as his brother gets established as the greedy villain. Meanwhile, every other local character, including Katy Uyen’s, is mere accessory to the Asian-American hero who saves the day.

 

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“Trust me, you gotta bribe that 7-eleven clerk if you don’t want her to spit on your fish balls!” 

 

SUPERCAPITALIST is an extremely rare independent Hong Kong feature film effort by expat filmmakers, fueled by the online artist community Alive Not Dead. It is Simon Yin’s first feature film as well as the first lead role for writer-producer Derek Ting. The film and its team clearly aimed for too much, all the while ignoring critical issues like the financial crisis or Hong Kong’s increasing rich-poor gap for the convenience of repeating an old story pattern. Even when Oliver Stone is struggling to pull off a decent financial thriller these days, why should Yin be able to bring anything new to this conference call? The team could have instead achieved much more by taking a cue from MARGIN CALL, which took a minimalistic approach and could’ve been produced easily in Hong Kong for instance.

Notable, however, was the short Q&A session with Richard Ng after the Hong Kong press screening (at IFC, of all places). Ng spoke about how he first rejected the young team and dismissed them as not serious but eventually agreed to take the role. However, he later changed his mind and says that he truly believes in the talent and the potential in his team of up-and-coming filmmakers - a statement that comes off more sincere than the usual promotion talk (”We are really pioneering!”) by some of the other speakers on stage.

Yin and Ting may have wanted to play like big brokers on the surface, but they end up coming off like they’re collecting leftovers from some company party. Production value is below average even for a Hong Kong film, with everything looking like TV. The film has technical issues that are so apparent on the big screen that I was constantly kicked out of the story, finding myself wondering what and who was responsible for such sloppy camera work.

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“Look, we found the only street restaurant that puts blankets on their tables.”

Following what has become the current go-to distribution strategy for independent films in the States, the producers has struck a deal with All Rights Entertainment and will release SUPERCAPITALIST simultaneously in theaters, Cable VoD and on iTunes. In my opinion, the theatrical run is more or less a face-saving act by the traditionalists in the team, as the VoD downloads will bring the real numbers. Solid, but not profitable enough, returns from the Asian American community can be expected, especially since the film is acting as the Centerpiece Presentation at the 2012 Asian American International Film Festival in New York City. However, the film will probably only attract expats during its August release In Hong Kong.

Ultimately, SUPERCAPITALIST could have been so much more. As an expat filmmaker in Hong Kong, I would have liked to see it setting a precedence as a case of people wanting to do something outside of the usual RomCom and Martial Arts genres. However, it’s sad that I can see every single attempt and compromise that was made along the way while watching the film. From personal and professional experiences, I understand a production has its limits and constraint, as well as the effort and hard work that go into making such a product. However, there were simply too much sacrificed or approached with the wrong attitude. I would be delighted to see this underdog succeed as it had so much potential, but this is not the film we had hoped for, and it will probably vanish in the sea of insignificant investments soon.

So, let me close with a note to all the expat filmmakers out there: Hong Kong is not just that glittery thingy between Causeway Bay and Central. That place you call The Dark Side, most of us call the city. There are so much more relevant topics and amazing locations to explore. It really is worth a try!

Regardless of the film’s quality, we thank Marco Sparmberg for his review and the organizers of the special screening for this special opportunity. 

Photos courtesy of All Rights Entertainment. 

The Golden Rock - November 28, 2011 Edition

 

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The Chinese title for Wen Hua-Tao’s LOVE IS NOT BLIND is 失戀33天, which literally means “Love-loss 33 Days”. Essentially, it refers to the period of heartbreak experienced by those who has just gotten out of a relationship. The so-called  失戀 period mostly ends when the person finds a new relationship. However, in the case of LOVE IS NOT BLIND, heroine Xiaoxian - who experiences “love-loss” when she catches her longtime boyfriend with her best friend - is simply trying to stop the pain and even find a shoulder to cry on with her effeminate metrosexual co-worker-turned-gay best friend, played by Wen Zhang.

Made for RMB 8.9 million, LOVE IS NOT BLIND has become a colossal hit in Mainland China, even outgrossing big-budget action blockbusters like SHAOLIN and THE LOST BLADESMAN. While the film itself has been well-received by the “post-80s” (those born in the 1980s) demographic in China, its success is also an example of what great marketing can do for a film.

Reputation: LOVE IS NOT BLIND is the 4th film by writer-director Teng Hua-Tao, whose film career has not exactly been remarkable (his last film was THE MATRIMONY, starring Leon Lai). Instead, he is better known for his television dramas DWELLING NARROWNESS and NAKED WEDDING, both hot topics in Chinese popular culture (especially among young women) when they were aired.

DWELLING, co-starring LOVE star Wen Zhang (OCEAN HEAVEN) deals with “housing slaves”, young people (usually urbanites) who end up being slave to their mortgages in a society dealing with high inflation (including in the real estate market), but it was mainly its plot line about an affair between one of the heroines and a corrupted government official that attracted so much controversy that SARFT stopped the airing of the drama and forced producers to re-edit the drama before putting it back on the air.

Meanwhile, NAKED WEDDING, starring AND co-written by Wen Zhang, deals with a post-80s who choose to get married out of love without the financial resource for material needs like a home or a car. The drama depicts a “naked wedding” couple whose marriage is broken up by family conflicts and their lack of material wealth. As the Wen Zhang character says in a pivotal scene, “our love was defeated by the small things”.

LOVE IS NOT BLIND deals with a far less serious subject - a girl getting over her heartbreak - but its popular original novel (written by a post-1985 female author in the form of a diary) and the reputation of the Teng-Wen team (some netizens are already dubbing them the next Feng Xiaogang-Ge You) all created a fair amount of anticipation before its release.

Issues: The idea of “love-loss”  may be a bigger deal among youths in more traditional societies (like Asian ones) than America, where the film that last truly dealt with the idea of heart-break was likely 500 DAYS OF SUMMER. The idea of a break-up being a major source of sorrow and sadness in one’s life is something that obviously connects with youths better than say, conservative middle-age people. In the film, Teng embraces how seriously his target audience takes “love-loss” by making the idea of getting over it his heroine’s ultimate goal.

Of course, just the idea of blowing up something as seemingly trivial as a break-up reflects the values of the film’s demographic. While there are politically and socially active “post-80s” in China, the majority of Chinese people in their 20s care about more personal issues like money, careers, their iPhones, and of course, their love lives. LOVE IS NOT BLIND embraces such values so well that not even one family member of the main characters ever appears on screen, and by zoning in so specifically on what this generation cares about, the film immediately connected to the biggest group of consumers of Chinese cinema right now - the youths.

Marketing: Some has already mentioned the release date being a key element, but the success of LOVE IS NOT BLIND’s marketing efforts extends further than that. According to an essay written by the film’s publicist on Weibo (which has NOT been refuted by any major players), in addition to picking “11-11″ singles day as its release date, the marketing team also recorded a series of interviews with young people around China. These interviews are all about these people’s “love-loss” experiences - the pain, the suffering, the crying, and even messages to their ex’s. Then, footage of mock-interviews featuring the film’s two main characters - Wang Xiaoxian (Bai Bai-He) and Wang Yi-Yang (Wen Zhang) - are also inserted. Before selling the film itself or the stars, the marketing team first sold the universality of its topic.

I don’t know when this particular video was released, but this is one of the “break-up interview” videos

Then, of course, came singles day. The film was made with the intention of being released around 11-11. In China, since the 11-11 resemble lone sticks standing on their own, it’s become a symbol for single people, and hence the beginning of “singles day”. Of course, no one is stupid enough to sell a movie about heartbreak on Valentine’s Day, so singles day is of course the best time.

By the way, why did the film open on November 8th instead of November 11th, you ask? In addition to the 8th being a Tuesday (so the film can gather positive word-of-mouth during the week to carry into the weekend), the 8th was also the birthday of Teng Hua-Tao’s father. Teng is one of the producers of the film, so he can do whatever he damn well pleases.

I’ll go more into the actual content of the film in my later review for the site, but all these factors have helped make LOVE IS NOT BLIND a super chick-flick hit in its home. At my screening, the film attracted mostly couples and groups of young girls who responded enthusiastically to the sharp verbal comedy, its tender observations about heartbroken young women, and even the brief digression into tearjerking melodrama. I might have been the only single man sitting by himself in that 300-seat auditorium, which tells you that LOVE IS NOT BLIND is not the cinematic experience equivalent of going to Yoshinoya alone in Japan - i.e. just for singles.

With the success of ETERNAL MOMENT, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, LOVE IS NOT BLIND, and even BUDDHA MOUNTAIN, the direction of the Chinese commercial film industry is starting to reflect Hollywood a little bit, where films that appeal to a younger audience tend to do better at the box office. Perhaps China becoming a global film industry player is not so far away after all.

Read an excerpt from the original novel here.

There’s no particular source for this entry, as a lot of it came from what I’ve learned over the years, as well as the article I read on Weibo. This article from entgroup pretty much sums things up, as well as attribute part of the film’s success to the use of micro-blogs. I cannot confirm whether that’s true or not, so I will not comment further.

The Golden Rock 2011 Golden Horse Awards Live blog

  

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We like to cover two major film awards here at The Golden Rock - The Hong Kong Film Awards and the Golden Horse Awards. Now, it’s that other time of the year, so we’re doing what we love to do: Live blog!

Since we got that pesky iPhone thing this year, in addition to the continuous snarky, sarcastic comments running throughout the night, we will be uploading pictures on Twitter @TheGoldenRock and the LoveHKFilm Facebook group.  Beware, they will just be pictures taken of my TV.

I’ve tried to run some sort of interactions in the past year via live chat and the comment section. This year, we’ll do the interaction stuff via Facebook and the twitter.  Or you can just follow by reloading this entry page every couple of minutes

11:11pm: And that’s 4 awards for SEEDIQ BALE: Best Sound Effects, Best New Performer, Best Original Score, and Best Picture. A SIMPLE LIFE picks up three. Wuershan still gets the most baffling win of the night. And no award for me. At least I get sleep now.

11:09pm: Of course, the speech is all about making more and more money for this movie. This is the film award equivalent of a gold star for effort

11:06pm: And the winner of Best Picture is…………SEEDIQ BALE, the “sorry you didn’t win anything else major” award of the night!

11:04pm: True story: I peed next to Hou Hsiao-Hsien once. Not many people can say THAT

11:03pm: Carina Lau, Chen Kuofu, and Hou Hsiao-Hsien present Best Picture. Carina first congratulate the SIMPLE LIFE trifecta. “It’s been so long since a Hong Kong film is this successful!”

11:01pm: I wonder what’s been going through Wei Te-Sheng’s head as SEEDIQ BALE loses one award after another. It’s time to accept that it’s a fine, but still flawed, film

10:56pm: “Right now, Hong Kong cinema is at an all-tme low, so I hope we can find out way out [like Taiwanese films have]”

10:53pm: And the winner for Best Actor is……………oh, someone did get this man an award. ANDY LAU FOR SIMPLE LIFE

10:51pm: Of course, the two just put in a plug for Doze Niu’s LOVE, too. Classssssyyyyy

10:50pm: “Hi, I’m Shu Qi, the one who just lost an award”

10:49pm: Last year’s Ethan Ruan and Shu Qi now coming to present Best Actor.

10:43pm: “I got a stroke in the film, and now i got an award, too!”—Deanie Ip

10:41pm: And the Best Actress Award goes to………..DEANIE IP FOR A SIMPLE LIFE.

10:39pm: Eric Tsang asks Andy Lau whether he knows how to have a child. Lau growled back angrily. I laughed

10:38pm: of course, the fact that Andy Lau is presenting the Best Actress award kind of tells you who will be winning…..

10:36pm: Andy Lau gets the biggest applause of the night. Someone give the man an award!

10:35pm: Award prediction: I hope Shu Qi doesn’t win for BEAUTIFUL LIFE. Sorry, this type of hysterical award-bait performance gives award-bait performance a bad name

10:30pm: Andy Lau to present the Best Actress award. If you’re reading this and don’t know who Andy Lau is, what the hell are you doing here?

10:26pm: Considering we jsut heard Sandy Lam belt out movie songs, do we really need another of Jam Hsiao doing it? He’s not as good anyway.

10:24pm: Thanks go Jam Hsiao, I had a chance to check. This is Ann Hui’s second Best Director award at the Golden Horse. Her first was for ORDINARY HEROES. Can Distribution Workshop move up the release date for SIMPLE LIFE already? This is getting annoying

10:21pm: And now, Jam Hsiao performs. Er, what for? Get on with it so we can all go home!

10:18pm: SEEDIQ BALE won the Audience Award of the Golden Horse Film Festival. Does it count as a disappointment for the film if it doesn’t walk away with Best Picture tonight?

10:17pm: Ann Hui credits Andy Lau with getting the money needed for A SIMPLE LIFE. 

10:16pm: “I feel like I’m about to get a stroke!”—-Ann Hui. Wang Yu doesn’t think it’s funny.

10:15pm: And the Best Director winner is……………..ANN HUI for A SIMPLE LIFE!!!!!

10:14pm: Time for Best Director. Will it be Wei Te-Sheng? Jiang Wen? Ann Hui? Oh, there’s that young guy, too.

10:11pm: And starting off the fourth freaking hour of this show: 20-30-40 stars Rene Liu, Sylvia Chang, and Angelica Lee present Best Director 

10:06pm: Getting into the big major awards after this commercial break 

10:03pm: Now time for Best Original Song. And the winner is…………JUMP! ASHIN. I guess the jury got sick of the YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE song, too.

10:00pm: The winner for Best Original Film Score: Ricky Ho for SEEDIQ BALE. Third award of the night

9:59pm: Sandy Lam sticks around to present the music awards. First, Best Original Film Score.

9:57pm: I don’t care who sings the original versions of these songs. I think Sandy Lam just blew them all out of the water.

9:53pm: Taiwan Yahoo gives Michelle Chen’s dress the worst-dressed Award.  Can’t say I disagree from that picture.

9:49pm: Now, Sandy Lam performs a medley of movie songs.

9:43pm: Wong essentially won for his work on SEEDIQ BALE, which looks like a truly grueling shoot

9:40pm: The winner for Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year is…….legendary production manager Wong Wei-Liu. Apparently, all the jury members cried when they decided on the award

9:38pm: Presenters devote a minute or two to each nominee

9:34pm: Yang Gui-Mei and someone I don’t know present Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year award

9:32pm: Qin Hailu: “Please keep asking me to act! I still act!”

9:30pm: Qin is also in two of the other two nominees. The winner is……..RETURN TICKET! Qin Hailu jumps for joy onstage

9:29pm: And now, Best Original Screenplay. Qin Hailu is actually one of the nominees for RETURN TICKET

9:27pm: By the way, Jiang Wen isn’t here tonight.

9:26pm: As Fruit Chan reads all the names out, he had to add in, “Wow! Six writers!”

9:24pm: First up, it’s Best Adapted Screenplay. The winner is……….LET THE BULLETS FLY, by Jiang Wen and co.

9:23pm: Fruit Chan and Qin Hailu present Best Screenplay. She exposes the Fruit Chan won Best Screenplay at the Golden Horse for a film without a script

9:22pm: If there’s a long gap between updates, it’s because of commercial breaks, not because I’m lazy. Well, I am lazy, but that’s not the reason.

9:15pm: Tang and Peng are presenting the Best New Actor category. The winner is…Ko Chen-Tung for YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE. Finally, an award win that everyone expected.

9:13pm: Gidden writes on Weibo that Andy Lau gave him a pat on the shoulder for encouragement in the toilet after he lost the Best New Director award. He was excited.

9:11pm: Tang Wei and Eddie Peng on stage to present. “Next year, I’ll work hard to compete with you in the Best Actor category!”

9:06pm: JUMP ASHIN director Lin Yu-Xian introduces performance of song from JUMP! ASHIN. Wait, the movie had a song?

9:05pm: Two hours down, two hours to go!

9:00pm: Oh, they’re doing a third award: Best Cinematography. Winner is…….LET THE BULLETS FLY

8:59pm: Now time for Best Visual Effects. The winner is……..WU XIA. Now WU XIA also has as many awards as SEEDIQ BALE.

8:58pm: Kara Hui accepts the award on Donnie’s behalf. Even better, I say.

8:57pm: Best Actio Design goes to DONNNNNIEEEEEE Yen for WU XIA

8:52pm: Have I been here for two hours already? That was fast. Anyway, time for Huang Bo for Best Action design now.

8:48pm: HUANG BO will be one of the two presenters for Best Action Design. Hahahaha

8:43pm: Wait, she’s singing the Leslie Cheung song in CANTONESE.

8:42pm: A-lin sings the In Memoriam sequence song

8:38pm: Ting has made 70+ films and written countless episodes of television.  A true legend. No pun intended. His wife says the industry can remake his films for modern audiences. Yo, fo real? Oh, she also says Hollywood made 300, but he made 800 WARRIORS 30 years before that.

8:37pm: Ting’s wife accepts the award on behalf since he’s, um, passed away already.

8:35pm: To recap, THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF, AND THE SWORDSMAN now has as many awards as SEEDIQ BALE

8:33pm: Wang Yu doing a stand-up routine on stage. He’s presenting the Lifetime Achievement award for Ting Shan-Si

8:30pm: Jimmy Wang Yu, looking like a priest, on stage now. “I couldn’t get an award, but I got a stroke instead.”

8:29pm: Eric Tsang and Bowie Tsang immediately tease Giddens, then console him a bit. Ouch!

8:27pm: The winner is………..Wuershan for BUTCHER, CHEF, SWORDSMAN. What, FO REALS!

8:26pm: They’re presenting Best New Director. Giddens, come get your award

8:24pm: Li Lie(?) and Doze Niu now the presenters. Of course, Doze puts in a plug for his new film. “I’ve been making LOVE”.

8:17pm: Time for Best Supporting Actress. The winner is…….Tang Qun for RETURN TICKET 

8:15pm: Simon Yam keeps holding Michelle Chen’s hand. HEY, HANDS OFF!

8:12pm: The two first present Best Documentary. The winner is…….HOMETOWN BOY

8:09pm: Michelle Chen says she would like to work with Andy Lau. Simon Yam tells Andy Lau to stick to investing in the movies…for Yam and her together.

8:07pm: Simon Yam and THE GODDESS herself Michelle Chen now on stage

8:05pm: Even the original performer of the theme song can’t sing it in its original key. That makes sense.

8:03pm: Real-life version of characters from YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE introduce the performance of the theme song.  

7:59pm: SEEDIQ BALE award is actually for three people. Thank god, now we know Tu Du-Chih isn’t the only sound person in Taiwan.

7:57pm: And the winner of Best Sound Effects is……..SEEDIQ BALE. First technical award of the night for the most expensive Taiwanese film ever. Also second award for the film tonight

7:56pm: Now for Best Sound Effects. If SEEDIQ doesn’t win this one, that’s saying, er, something

7:54pm: I hate to be mean, but the editor of THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK can learn a lesson from the Art director of BUTCHER, CHEF, SWORDSMAN, as in cut it short

7:52pm: They’re presenting Best Editing. And the winner is…..THE MAN BEHIND THE BOOK. HK films lost!

7:50pm: Chen has to translate his own remarks to Japanese. Then he has to translates Miyazaki’s back to Mandarin

7:48pm: Japanese actress Aoi Miyazaki present the next award. Wait, what the hell is Chen Bo-lin doing on stage next to her?

7:47pm: Jay Chou, one of the two performers of the song, isn’t here tnight. Hence, the picture isn’t worth taking. Sorry.

7:45pm: Time for second song performance after second commercial: A BA, from, er, ABBA

7:42pm: That’s two technical awards SEEDIQ BALE lost

7:41pm: Best Art Direction goes to….WU XIA. Wow, surprised. So surprised that even the co-winner is surprised

7:40pm: The two remain to present Best Art Direction. Will BUTCHER pick up this one too?

7:39pm: Sorry, it’s best Make-up and Costume Design. Anyway, the winner is…..THE BUTCHER, THE CHEF, and THE SWORDSMAN 

7:37pm: OK, looks like they’re presenting Best Costume Design. Who wants to guess SEEDIQ BALE is picking this one up?

7:36pm: Vic Zhou and S.H.E’s Ella present….er, I’ll let you know after the witty bantering

7::35pm: I wonder if people in Taiwan can understand what the hell Eric Tsang is saying in Mandarin

7:32pm: Remember to check out my Twitter for pictures from the awards throughout the night.

7:29pm: Back from commercial. First performance of nominated song, introduced by SEEDIQ BALE historical consultant in Seediq

7:27pm: Haha, Star Movies ad for HEAR ME says it stars Michelle Chen (of YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE). Sorry, she’s just a supporting character

7:26pm: Time for first commercial. Vic Zhou coming up next.

7:24pm: And the winner is: THIEF from Taiwan. Of course, starts off with “We’re so happy Taiwanese cinema is having such a big year!”

7:22pm: Presenters remain for Best Short Film. There’s a Hong Kong nominee, by the way.

 7:19pm: And Best Supporting Actor goes to: Bokeh Kosang for first award for SEEDIQ BALE. He is also nominated for Best New Actor

7:18pm: By the way, look at the LoveHKFilm home page for a link to the nominees

7:16pm: WUXIA Best Supporting Actor nominee Wang Yu gets his bit of time in the spotllight during introduction. This is the ass-kissing section, I see 

7:15pm: I’m not sure who everybody is, so I apologize in advance. Anyway, first award being presented now: Best Supporting Actor

7:13pm: “We have the most numbers of Best Actor/Best Actress winners this year!” - yes, Eric Tsang is one of them

7:11pm: Bowie Tsang takes off her Seediq getup to reveal YOU ARE THE APPLE OF MY EYE school unifrom. Eric Tsang takes off his to become Ashin of JUMP ASHIN. I’m sure they’re happy there are so many successful Taiwanese films to make fun of this year.

7:09: Hosts Eric Tsang and Bowie Tsang (his daughter) show up singing a song in Seediq.  

7:07pm: And we’re officially underway!  

7:05pm: OK, Star Movies just decided to go to commercial. Keep standing by.  

7:03pm: Sitting in front of my TV, ready to go. The live feed hasn’t begun yet, though. By the way, the entries will go from bottom to up for easier reading for those following live.

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 14+15+16

This will be the last of the intense daily postings as the festival is beginning to come to a close. I will cover the films I have left (At least two Nikkatsu movies, and when I finish RED EAGLE on DVD and LET’S GO theatrically), but they will not come as often. Hopefully, I will go back to covering news, because well, someone should do it right.

Green Days (2011, Korea, Dir: Ahn Jae-hoon, Han Hye-jin)

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One thing that Japanese animation has always done superior American animation is how accurate they portray reality in animated form. After LIFE IS COOL (the rotoscope animated film) and GREEN DAYS, we can group South Korea into that list. While watching this simple coming-of-age animated drama, Studio Ghibli’s WHISPER OF THE HEART and ONLY YESTERDAY immediately came to mind, and that’s a good thing. The story of a teenage girl growing up in a small town during the 1970s, GREEN DAYS has the unassuming charm of those two Ghibli films, and it even finds a good chance to make use of the animation platform.

While it’s a love story on the surface, GREEN DAYS has a deeper message about the importance of having a dream as opposed to just striving to become a winner in life. While this message may appeal to a teen-and-older audience, everything else is family-friendly. Even though those who grew in the 70s will connect with the period in the film better (Ryan O’Neal and LOVE STORY has a surprisingly important presence here), it should connect better with teenagers. After all, that’s whom the film is speaking to.

Love and Bruises (2011, France/China, Dir: Lou Ye)

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As I had tweeted, LOVE AND BRUISES is about the best worst relationship you’ve ever had. The love between Chinese exchange student Hua and blue-collar worker Mathieu is almost entirely physical (they never seem to share more than a few words with each other, at least on screen) , and Mathieu’s hot temper lead to one abuse after another on Hua. And yet, she can’t seem to get herself to leave, as she jumps from one doomed relationship to another.

Anyone experienced in love has had this type of relationship before, even if it isn’t as intense as the one depicted in Lou Ye’s film. This intense romance drama is raw and at times unpleasant, but it also features great performances by Tahar Rahim and Corinne Yam (whom I can tell doesn’t speak fluent Chinese, by the way), top-notch editing, and shaky, but natural cinematography by Yu Lik-Wai. While the story is nothing new (meet, sex, sex, conflict, sex, separation, sex!), it’s a stronger film than I had expected it to be, and that’s a really good compliment when it comes to this year’s festival.

Big Blue Lake (2011, Hong Kong, Dir: Jessey Tsang)

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Full disclosure: I met writer-director Jessey Tsang in 2009 to write a magazine story on her, and I went to the village the film is shot in for the story. However, I was not involved in this film in any way, shape, or form, except for hearing about the title during my interviews.

That said, I always look forward ot Jessey’s work, because her gentle, observational style is a quiet voice the Hong Kong indie world needs. While her fellow indie filmmaker confuse the hell out of the people with their self-indulgent, experimental works, Jessey’s feature films are subtle without alienating her audience.

Her latest film, BIG BLUE LAKE, is once again a work partly based on her own life - shot in her own village and even her own home, as well as featuring non-professional village residents as actors. While the observations on her own home are not as sharp as her Beijing-set feature film debut LOVERS ON THE ROAD, it’s a very intimate indie film with issues audiences can actually relate to. On the other hand, Tsang’s direction does get a little awkward at times, as her handling of the dramatic material sometimes feel at odds with the brief detour into documentary territory. This isn’t helped by Leila Kong overdoing her dramatic scenes at times, but Lawrence Chou is excellent as the old classmate that comes into the heroine’s life.

BIG BLUE LAKE is far from a successful film, but as far as Hong Kong indies go, it’s not a bad piece of work. At least I understand it. Most of it, anyway.

Next time: Who knows?

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 12+13

Can finally cover two days of the festival and become officially caught up once again:

Starry, Starry Night (2011, Taiwan-China, Dir: Tom Lin)

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If there’s only one good thing about Mainland China’s Huayi Brothers bankrolling this coming-of-age drama by Taiwanese filmmakers based on a Taiwanese graphic novel (Yes, if you can call comics graphic novels, we can call picture books graphic novels too), it’s that Huayi was able to pour the extra money in to make this film look good. Every yuan of the rumored 80 million yuan budget for this enchanting youth romance from WINDS OF SEPTEMBER’s Tom Lin is on the screen, from special effects that enhances rather than overwhelm to the beautiful art direction, and to top it all off - It’s actually a good film.

Lin, who said that he stayed as faithful to the source material as possible, tells a very simple story about a troubled teen girl (Xu Jiao, getting better and better), her relationship (or lack thereof) with her feuding parents, and her quiet romance with the new male classmate (new actor Lin Hui-Min, also good). All this essentially leads to the end of adolescence and the bittersweet memories one carries away when leaving it behind. The film’s emotions may be too subtle for a commercial audience, but Lin makes up for that with a splendid imagination and equally dazzling camerawork by cinematographer Jake Pollock. It probably won’t make its budget back, but it certainly deserves to, for Lin, Huayi, and everyone who has any investment in this film deserved to be rewarded for their work here.

Branded to Kill (1967, Japan, Dir: Seijun Suzuki)

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Too many scholars have already said what needs to be said about this crazy masterpiece from cinematic rebel Seijun Suzuki. It defiantly breaks cinematic conventions along the way for a dizzying cinematic experience. It’s not a film for everyone (what film about a rice-sniffing assassin is?), so you’ll have to tune your expectations if you’re watching it the first time. It looks like it’s supposed to be taken seriously, but it’s really a barrel of laughs that may be funnier than it was intended to be. Essentially, I’d say it’s a watchable experimental film, which is something you don’t see anymore.

Tomorrow: Korea does shojo animation.

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 11

Three films from two days to cover. Not writing about RA.ONE (Which I dropped THE SWORD IDENTITY for) because it’s not part of the festival.

Seediq Bale I (2011, Taiwan, Dir: Wei Te-Sheng)

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I’m counting the two SEEDIQ BALE films as two films because 1) They both run way over minimum feature film length, and 2) I’m watching them on different days. CAPE NO.7 director Wei Te-Sheng tells the epic story of the Seediq aboriginal tribe’s bloody fight with their Japanese colonial master, and the result is just about the most ambitious Taiwanese film yet. In fact, it’s so ambitious that Wei casts his net a little too wide in the first installment, spending 40 minutes to set up his main character, the inter-tribal rivalry, and the arrival of the Japanese before jumping 30 years to when most of the story takes place.

With characters from different tribes AND the evil Japanese soldiers, it’s easy to get lost in the first hour trying to figure out who’s who. However, once Wei sets up the beginning of the Wushe Incident, SEEDIQ is a compelling war drama that’s more than just a nationalistic war film about how evil the Japanese army was. Instead, it’s a film that sympathizes with all cultures that have been invaded by imperialism, and there actually are real discussion about whether it’s better to sacrifice lives to fight back, or simply live on to preserve the culture.

However, Wei also doesn’t seem to be excusing the brutal murders the Seediq commit in the name of the freedom. The climax of the first part involves not just the deaths of Japanese characters that we don’t like, but also the brutal murders of innocent women and children. If anything, Wei approaches the incident as something sad, but inevitable, like a good anti-war film.

Even though there’s some battles in part one, this installment is better at laying out the human elements before unleashing the death and destruction in part two, which I’ll be seeing in two weeks.

The Raid (2011, Indonesia, Dir: Gareth Evans)

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This mean little Indonesian action spectacular offers plenty of stabbings, slicings, shootings, and even more kicking, which means people looking for this sort of thing will come out happy like a schoolboy in a candy store. It doesn’t reinvent the genre (Johnnie To’s BREAKING NEWS has a similar concept, but with more humor, social commentary, and restraint), but rather more of an exhilarating exercise in it. There’s no doubt that plenty of thought went into designing the numerous action sequences, which had audiences in Hong Kong laughing in amazement over its sheer over-the-top ridiculousness, and that’s pretty much all you’ll get with THE RAID.

Of course, those who aren’t into the genre will find it mean and sometimes downright vicious. It is a very cruel, sadistic film that finds joy in violence and death, and it barely spares any time for humor with its repetitive, video game-like structure (hallway, fight, fight, death, hey where did all the people go?). Of course, the counter-argument is that one should just enjoy it as a work of pure action fantasy. As long as one can stomach the violence, a fine fantasy it is.

Tomorrow: A fantasy about divorce, and a Nikkatsu classic

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 10

Sorry, just one day at a time until I find the time and energy to write more:

Whores’ Glory (Austria-Germany, 2011, Dir: Michael Glawogger)

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Aren’t there prostitutes in first world countries, too? Apparently, they just weren’t exotic enough for Austrian director Michael Glawogger, who has to go slumming in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico to realize that prostitutes have dignity, too. His three-part film reveals some interesting things about the prostitution industry in the three countries, but the endless use of euro minimalist music and his choice of locations just spell cultural tourism for me. The footage he gets is interesting and sometimes even revealing (especially the reveal about the characters’ respective link to religion), but parts of it (including the money shot, so to speak, showing real sex) seems a little staged for a documentary. Hey, for the sequel, maybe Mr. Glawogger can look at prostitutes from countries that aren’t, you know, poor and exotic.

Aarakshan (India, 2011, Dir: Prakash Jha)

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About the Indian equivalent of affirmative action (Americans will more likely get this term), the first hour of AARAKSHAN  sets up an interesting debate about whether the disadvantaged should get a leg up by the government in education and employment. However, with the presence of superstar Amitabh Bachchan, director Prakash Jha (also known for his socially conscious films) might’ve had to keep things engaging for commercial reasons. Not only are there two very unnecessary song-and-dance sequences, Jha also shifts the focus an hour in from the reservation system debate to the struggle of an idealistic principal who loses everything due to his pride. In other words, it asks the important questions, but ends up providing answers to something else.

Nevertheless, Bachchan has a commanding presence as the respected teacher, and the film still raises a few very relevant issues that it actually does take a stance on (Hong Kong parents may identify with how education has become a business in Hong Kong). The usual bombastic sound mix will keep people awake, especially when Jha directs parts of it literally like a Hollywood action film. Even if it’s not totally effective, it’s always interesting to see a Bollywood film that’s not about being escapist entertainment.

The Killer Who Never Kills (2011, Taiwan/Hong Kong, Dir: @pple/Jimmy Wan)

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This dark comedy about a rookie killer who ends up faking the deaths of all his targets is played like a light heist comedy and certainly amusing enough for the most part.  However, it’s so light that no one should be expected to remember much of it after a week. Idol contest contestant-turned-pop star Jam Hsiao is in his first starring role and ends up faring better in his debut than Jay Chou, who took stoic acting a new level in INITIAL D. Supporting cast, especially Jeff Huang as an Americanized Taiwanese gangster, really elevates the film in terms of being an effective comedy, but KILLER WHO NEVER KILLS is first and foremost pop cinema for its home audience and taiwan-philes.

Tomorrow: Some more reviews.

 

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 9

Tried to catch up, but only have energy to do one day:

The Yellow Sea (South Korea, 2010, Dir: Na Hong-Jin)

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Director Na Hong-Jin’s much-criticized follow-up to THE CHASER starts out as a compelling crime thriller. Filled with tension and led by a great physical performance by Asian Film Awards Best Actor Ha Jung Woo, the first hour of THE YELLOW SEA is easily as good as THE CHASER. While the setup is fresh (Koreans living in China committing crimes in South Korea), it then turns into a typical man-on-the-run story that spirals into a crazy, violent free-for-all with plenty of stabbings, impaling, and running.

The more intense Na tries to make the film, the more it spirals out of control, with the extreme violence becoming as liberal as the use of fake shaky-cam. Soon, Na loses sight on his story just as he loses restraint, unleashing one last mean-spirited moment to show how much he hates all of his characters after 135 long minutes. One wonders how Na initially pitched his film at the HAF, and how much of his final product matched his vision.

Note:  The version viewed is the 140-minute cut that Na took to Cannes (and reportedly his “director’s cut”, as opposed to the 156-minute theatrical cut).

Kaidan Horror Classics - The Nose (Japan, 2010, Dir: Lee Sang-Il)

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Four renowned Japanese directors each adapt a short story from a Japanese literary master (Yes, I can use this sentence because I wrote it for the festival catalog). HULA GIRL and VILLAIN director Lee Sang-Il chose Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s THE NOSE, about a priest with a disfigured nose who kills a child out of anger. The priest is essentiallly consumed by visions of the boy, whom he brings back from the dead to please the boy’s mother.

Lee’s direction is safe and even a little cold. Here, Lee fails to let us connecct to the characters, which is especially disappointing since that was the strength of his two previous award-winning films. In addition to the chilling score, which is essentially responsible for generating almost all the tension in the film, the most effective moment is the final moment of realization by the priest. Too bad the 30 minutes before that is a bit of a slog.

Kaidan Horror Classics - The Days After (Japan, 2010, Dir: Hirokazu Kore-eda)

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Kore-eda’s installment, adapting a story by Saisei Muro, has zero tension and zero horror. Instead, it’s a quiet story about pining and loss that’s sparsely written, but meticulously directed - almost like a kaidan film as imagined by Yasujiro Ozu. Familiar Kore-eda style framing can be seen throughout. It’s slow, but one can see that Kore-eda doesn’t let one single shot go to waste, as every cut reveals new information. It’s a brilliant exercise that should be used in film school classes to show how to tell a story visually, and the bittersweeet story is simple, but heartbreaking. One of the best things I’ve seen all year. 

Out of energy today. Tomorrow: Indian education, prostitutes in the third world, another Giddens movie, some Taiwanese epic, and a movie about a raid

The Golden Rock at the 2011 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival - Day 7 + 8

Back at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival after two nights away, and because of some time miscalculation, the next two entries will serve up two days’ worth of reviews!

Smuggler (2011, Japan. Dir: Katsuhito Ishii)

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Don’t let his indie cred fool you: Katsuhito Ishii’s latest is brought to you by a committee of television stations and media companies that also fund big commercial films, AND it’s distributed by Warner Bros. Japan. It doesn’t play like a commercial film, but it is packed with reputable actors, special effects, and even a theme song by pop-rock band Superfly (tagged on like the committee demanded it).

While my own description for the film in the festival catalog sold it as a wild action-comedy, SMUGGLER is really a surreal crime drama with bits of inspired dry humor and action scenes. It was also far more violent than I had expected, with lots of blood, broken bones, and a good bit of torture porn (though the details are off-screen likely to avoid censorship) just to make it that much more unpleasant.

Adapting a manga series, the film version also seem to skip the second act of the story, going from a basic setup straight to the climax. I can’t say that SMUGGLER was a completely enjoyable ride, but a game cast of over-the-top characters (especially Masanobu Ando as a Chinese-speaking assassin) and the Ishii brand of surreal humor meant that I didn’t regret watching the film.

Jump Ashin (2011, Taiwan, Dir: Lin Yu-Hsien)

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Lin Yu-Hsien, whose breakthrough film was JUMP BOYS, a documentary that featured his gymnast older brother, dramatizes that life story in this uncomfortable mix of underdog sports story and a coming-of-age gangster story. Eddie Peng gives an excellent physical performance as the titular character, going through an intense physical training regiment to play the gymnast-turn-gangster-turn-gymnast. Equally good is Lawrence Ko as Ashin’s best friend Pickle. Both are deservedly nominated for Golden Horse Awards this year.

Thanks to Lin’s assured direction, the film is an entertaining, seemingly matter-of-fact telling of a true story. However, the script takes a few implausible turns too many, especially towards the third act, making us wonder whether there’s an alternate ending that tells us everything in the third act is just a dream. While the gangster drama and the gymnast drama are fine as their own films, respectively, they don’t gel comfortably here, as one section undermines the efforts the actors put in the other section. While JUMP ASHIN is well-meaning and even sometimes engaging entertainment, it’s far from perfect.

Bloody Fight in Iron-Rock Valley (South Korea, 2011, Dir: Ji Ha Jean)

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This low-budget indie revenge film brings together the plot of a Spaghetti Western and the violence aesthetics of a Korean revenge thriller. It copies the plot elements of the former just right - the hero with no name, the theme of violence in the name of development, there’s even a knife duel in the end. However, it’s lack of polish ultimately hurts the final product, as the film lacks the technical achievements that make westerns so powerful. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST isn’t powerful because of its story (because really, if it was just about the story, does it really need to be nearly three hours?); it’s because of how it tells its story.

The problem is that Ji is copying the story elements directly from films like ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST and offers absolutely no surprise. Everything that happens in the story seem to be happening because the genre demands it, not because it’s where the story ought to be heading. Even good spoof films would take plots and twist it for comedic purposes. Here, it’s just rehashing.

That, along with lackluster post-production (sound mix!), less-than-great acting, and some dubious indie style direction send this genre exercise crashing down. It’s an interesting experiment, but one that the filmmakers obviously couldn’t afford to do properly.  Just because you can copy a genre doesn’t mean you’ve made a good film. Obsessed film buffs only.

Next time: Korean stabbings, Japanese gothic tales, plus four additional movies. We’re killing ourselves over here.

 
 
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