32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival 2008

Day 8

I am sad yet relieved because today was the last day of screenings for me, but it also means that at last, I get to do some mad shopping in the last days before I go home. Hooray!

The Drummer was up first today. Starring Jaycee Chan and directed by Kenneth Bi, The Drummer was about Sid (Jaycee) who sleeps with Steven’s wife. Steven is a powerful businessman who finds out about the affair and demands from Sid’s father, a triad gang leader, the amputation of his hands. Consequently Sid gets sent away to Taiwan to lay low and stay out of trouble. Tucked away in the serene mountains of Taiwan, Sid encounters a small camp of Chinese Zen drummers and as Sid is a huge percussion fanatic, it’s no wonder his impulse to join and learn is a strong one. But of course, being the spoilt son of a triad gang leader, the Zen drummer master has to break his troubled spirit with discipline and endurance. The Drummer exceeded my expectations and made for a really entertaining film. The ending could have been cut shorter, but overall I didn’t mind it. The scenes of drumming were shot and cut together really well, which made it exciting and fun to watch.

Well, I guess that is it from me for now. Tomorrow I am visiting Johnnie To’s Milkyway Image studio, so that will be exciting. But after that, I will be doing all my last minute gift shopping for family and friends at home. I am looking forward to going home. Hong Kong was a great place to visit, though I’m not sure how I’d feel about living here. The air around here I can’t seem to get used to. Humidity I can deal with, it’s just the thickness of the air that’s a bit of a bummer. Otherwise the city was really starting to grow on me and I felt at home more and more everyday. The festival was really enjoyable and it was fun to catch up with some Hong Kong movies as well. My Cantonese seems to have improved as it is slowly coming back to me now. The highlights I guess would be Louis Koo, going up to the Peak and well, just being here in general. Signing off now and I hope it’s been as pleasurable to read my blogs as it was to have written them.

Day 7

It was a good day today. In fact, it was more than good. It was great and exciting! I’m about to say why, but I have to finish talking about City Without Baseball and Little Moth first. Directed by Lawrence Lau and a guy named Scud, City Without Baseball stars Hong Kong’s baseball team and strives to show Hong Kong audiences that a baseball team does exist within the city. It was actually pretty cool coming to this film as it was the world premiere of the movie, so the filmmaker and the baseball team attended the screening as well and at the end of the movie, they returned to do a little Q&A. As City Without Baseball was a sports film, I expected suspense, inspiration, and admiration for its characters. But as it turns out, I’m not quite sure that the film achieved what the director and cast wanted it to and I’m not quite sure that the theme of loss was suitable for such a genre. I understand that loss plays quite a prominent role in sport, but the film lost its focus and became more about the sub-stories than about the game itself. The comedic elements made the film less unbearable and I have to bring myself to understand that it was a low budget movie and they had to make do with non-actors and what appeared to be documentary footage of baseball, but unfortunately the movie was a fail.

Little Moth directed by Chinese director Peng Tao (who also came to attend the screening), explores the reality of hardship and street begging in China. If you are looking for big drama, you won’t find it in Little Moth. Instead, this documentary-like film strives to blatantly show us the meaning of tragedy, abandonment, and poverty. A little girl named Xiao Ezi is bought for 1000 Yuan by a couple that uses her for street begging in order to earn a living. Struck with a toxic illness, Ezi loses the use of her legs. Her illness can be easily cured if caught early, but the couple is poor and is unable to afford such treatment. Through a series of events, Ezi encounters a wealthy woman who chooses to adopt her. However, Ezi’s new caretaker learns that it is too late to cure her legs and they need to be amputated. You don’t really know what happens to Ezi afterwards, you can only assume that she gets extremely sick and dies or she gets her legs amputated and continues to live life begging on the streets. Little Moth is considered an art film, and as I am no expert in art films either, you may feel a little dissatisfied if you are one used to a more conventional way of storytelling.

Now to the exciting part. If you observe the picture attached to this blog, you will see that I am standing next to Hong Kong movie star Louis Koo! That’s right, I bravely approached him and asked in my sketchy Cantonese if I could take a picture with him. I met him at the premiere of his new film Run Papa Run, directed by an equally famous Sylvia Chang. Run Papa Run or if you literally translate the Chinese title, To Be A Good Father is about a triad gang leader (Louis Koo) who knocks up his pretty lawyer (Rene Liu). After reluctantly getting married and subsequently the birth of his daughter, Louis (I don’t remember the character’s name so lets just call him Louis for now) decides that he wants to protect his daughter by hiding the fact that he is a triad ring leader. Run Papa Run was funny, enchanting, entertaining and Louis made a great performance. And I’m not just saying that because I got to take a photo with him. I predict that Run Papa Run will do really well in Hong Kong when it gets released and when it comes out on DVD we should all get a copy of it!

Oh did I also mention that it was good day because I got to do some cool touristy stuff as well? After convincing Mike to skip a screening today, he took me out to Man Mo temple where I was able to buy some souvenirs for my family. After that we took a taxi up to the Peak (the queue for the Peak tram was incredibly long and off-putting) where we got this amazing view of Hong Kong. It was nice to breathe some cleaner air as well. Too bad we didn’t have a lot of time there. Would’ve been great to be able to do some shopping.

Day 6

It was a big day today. With four screenings lined up, I made sure to fill up with a big breakfast buffet on the lower floors of the hotel: bacon, scrambled eggs, sausages, ham, taro cake, French toast, and some fruit salad. That wasn’t even all of it. I plan to have this breakfast again before I make my journey home.

I’m not an extremely educated person in the culture of anime, but I really looked forward to my first (and only) animation of the festival: Appleseed: Ex Machina. I am aware that this is the sequel to the first Appleseed movie, which I have not seen yet, so I am unable to make a comparison between the two films. Set in the far future in the city of Olympus, Ex Machina is about the attack of terrorists upon the world using mind control tactics. Deunan, faced with the difficulty of being assigned a new bioroid partner, investigates the source of the attack. It appears that Ex Machina was also created using similar animation techniques, but more refined and attractive. As a sucker for pretty pictures, my opinion of this film is indeed a prejudiced one. While being enchanted and engrossed within the film’s visuals, I tried to follow the storyline as best as I could. Since this was the first time that I had been exposed to Appleseed, I couldn’t understand all of it, but it was enough to spark excitement and suspense. I thoroughly enjoyed watching this film, but I’m probably not the right person to give good insight on it as eighty percent of my enjoyment was attributed to the amazing graphics. Actually now that I think about it, the battle scenes were the highlights of the film for me. With sleek clean movements and the perfect timing of slow motion, the fight scenes fulfilled me with battle-scene-satisfaction. Something that even great historical epics Mongol and Warlords could not do.

Taiwanese film Help Me Eros, directed by Kang-Sheng Lee was a happy surprise. The producer of this film is Ming-Liang Tsai, who is hailed as one of the most innovative directors in Asia. His works incorporate a kind of minimalism (long shots and long takes) that is quite remarkable in the sense that what you get out of his films is unexpectedly entertaining. Help Me Eros revolved around a marijuana addict, Ah Jie (played by Lee himself) who calls a helpline every time he feels suicidal. Successful and wealthy in the past, he has suddenly found himself on the biggest low of his life. With his apartment situated on top of their business, Ah Jie befriends the beetle-nut girls. These pretty and scantily dressed girls sell caffeine filled beetle-nuts to taxi and truck drivers, and for a little more money they can offer extra services. Ordinarily, if it weren’t for the film festival I probably would not have volunteered to see this film. Its explicit sex scenes made me blush, but otherwise it’s a real solid piece of work with a great story to boot.

Anyhow, I’d love to write more about the other two films that I saw today (HK film City Without Baseball and Chinese film Little Moth), but it’s really late and I got to sleep. I’ll write about them tomorrow!

Day 5

Had an early to the start today so with a quick feed from my stash of cup noodles, we (we being Mike and Adrian) rushed over to our first screening of the day, Mr. Cinema. Directed by Samson Chiu and starring Anthony Wong, Ronald Cheng, Karen Mok, and Teresa Mo, Mr. Cinema reflects the life of a poor patriotic family struggling through the ups and downs of HK city. Anthony Wong plays Uncle Kong, a selfless projectionist whose patriotic dream is to go to Tian An Men Square in Beijing to take a photograph with his family. Ronald Cheng plays his ambitious son, who instead goes to university travels around China with different get rich schemes, one of which was a thriving dog farm that fails due to a plague that killed all of his “stock”. Teresa Mo is the mother that has to put up with her son’s antics and her husband’s selfless deeds that make it increasingly difficult to keep the family alive. So as you can see Mr. Cinema makes for an interesting story and with Ronald Cheng’s goofy character, you’ll be in for a few laughs as well. It was definitely one of the more favourable films I’ve seen so far.

My next screening wasn’t until 8, so I decided to go shopping. I have a big family at home and I’m keen to get everyone something. But there are no sales on and I have no idea what to buy. I went to Bossini and got my niece and nephews some clothes and I got my boyfriend, Wil, a Mario shirt. I’m tempted to go to Disneyland to buy some souvenirs for the rest of the men in my family, 3 older brothers, 1 brother-in-law and my dad. It’s just so hard! When my legs were about to give out, I returned to my hotel room to rest.

I headed out early to get to Ploy, the new Pen-ek Ratanaruang film. Ploy was an interesting concept and I wish I knew what was going on. Instead I can’t be sure that my interpretation of the film is the right one and as I was discussing the film with other members of the audience, many sentences began with ‘I wonder…’. If you don’t mind the filmmaker messing with your mind then by all means, the new Pen-ek film may be intriguing or even inspiring. Otherwise we can kidnap the filmmaker and beat out of him exactly what it is we don’t understand about his films.

Day 4

Today I am still disappointed that my mosquito bites don’t seem to want to go away. I’m ignoring them as much as I can, but sometimes they get really itchy. I wish I had brought some of my parent’s ointment over. It would help heal these bites much faster.

Before going to see Warlords at noon, I went by Cheapy DVD to see if I could get some bargains. My sister had requested some Korean music DVDs, but they didn’t appear to have any so I ended up getting a Nicholas Tse flick and what’s to be an interesting Japanese Sci-fi flick, Casshern.

After Peter Chan and Wai Man Yip’s Warlords, you can safely assume that I am quite sick of big historical epics now. Like Mongol, similar themes of brotherhood and woman troubles are predominant in this film. General Ma, performed by Jet Li, rises out of a mound of soldier corpses, defeated and betrayed. He makes the long trek back to civilisation and joins a large group of bandits, where instantly his talents in warfare are recognised. He forms a brotherhood between the two main leaders, Er-Hu (Andy Lau) and Wen-Xiang (Takeshi Kaneshiro) and convinces them to join the Qing dynasty army for wages and health. As they conquer each province, General Ma’s ambitions are revealed and as the other brothers find out, he will stop at nothing to realise those goals.

Warlords was entertaining and the performance of Andy Lau, as expected was really good. Takeshi will always be a favourite of mine, but I have to say that I’m not quite used to such a rough and manly Jet Li. His voice isn’t quite suited to such a strong character. I liked him in Hero better.

After watching Warlords, I walked into the screening of Secret Sunshine. Director Lee Chang-Dong won the Asian Film Award for Best Director on this film. The moment I heard those musical Korean words on screen, I took my packet of tissues out. In the past, there hasn’t been one Korean film that hasn’t made me cry. Oh, how Secret Sunshine made me cry! I really didn’t want to, but I couldn’t help it. I think the man next to me freaked out because I kept blowing my nose, and you can kind of guess how HK people feel about people with colds. Except I didn’t have a cold, I just couldn’t stop crying. Dealing with the loss of her child, Secret Sunshine delves into the life a Shin-ae (Do-yeon Joen), who grief and the pain that she feels sends a direct pang of melancholy that settles in the pit of your stomach. Korean films are notoriously long, so you can expect Secret Sunshine to drag in parts. Besides that, a well deserved award for Lee Chang-Dong, as this was a really well directed piece.

Day 3

Today I was on my own for most of the day. Everyone else had other screenings to go to, but the ones I was interested in seeing today were at a different venue. But not to worry, I made the screenings and I hardly got lost.

Mad Detective, directed by Johnnie To and Wai Kar-Fai has been my favourite film so far. Some may say that it’s silly and that it’s something we can hardly take seriously, but isn’t that why HK cinema is great? Okay, not all of you will agree with that, so maybe I like HK cinema for all the wrong reasons. Getting back on track though, Ching-Wan Lau, who plays Inspector Bun, keeps up a hilarious performance throughout the film. While characters with an extensive back-story aren’t so rare in films like Mad Detective and Triangle, Lau’s character also had a depth of eccentricity that made him an increasingly interesting person as the movie progressed. While conducting an investigation he locks himself within a suitcase and asks his partner to roll him down several flight of stairs and as a gift to his retiring superior officer, he cuts off his right ear and hands it over. So it’s no wonder he is known as the mad detective. But as you’ll find out when you see the film, he isn’t mad simply because of his crazy investigative methods.

Moving on from Mad Detective, I returned to the same cinema to watch Ang Lee’s latest, Lust, Caution. Every one told me that it wasn’t really great, but I had to be stubborn and see for myself. I have to say though, even with lowered expectations, I can’t help but to agree with those critics. I feel bad, because I really wanted to give Ang Lee a chance. He’s done some great stuff in the past and I really wanted to be impressed. The cinematography and the production design were beautiful and the main actress, Wei Tang gave a stunning performance. What I felt lacked was the chemistry and the tension between the main characters. Sure the lust was there, but the story gave the impression that there was more than just lust, that there was true love as well and I just didn’t feel that.

So as you can imagine after seeing Lust, Caution I had a craving to be moved and touched (ermm not literally). And I was hoping that Mongol (directed by Russian filmmaker Segei Bodrov) would do the trick. The story of Mongol is based on the tale of Ghengis Khan’s rise to supremacy. This was a great film to look at. It has all the elements of a great historical epic: set and costume design, studly men, awesome visual effects and more importantly the great battle scenes. It has a bit of a long duration and parts of it feel slow, but the battle scenes are spectacular. Unfortunately it didn’t quite move me the way I wanted to be moved. Better luck tomorrow I guess. Maybe I should watch a chick-flick at some stage.

Day 2

While I slowly learn how to find my way around Hong Kong, I look forward to going to my first screening of the film festival, Triangle. It seems appropriate that the first movie I see is a film directed by some of HK’s most popular filmmakers: Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To. As a result you have a movie that’s chaotic and confusing courtesy of Tsui Hark, some mad action and complicated relationships courtesy of Ringo Lam and then some impossibilities becoming the possible courtesy of Johnnie To. Triangle is a fun action film that Heroic Cinema readers will most definitely be entertained by. It is hard to describe what the storyline is about. There is a mix of complex relationships, insanity and that underlying message that screams out to me every time I watch a movie like Triangle: do not get involved with the wrong people. I wish to not be beaten up into a pulp while I am here in HK.

Louis Koo seems to surprise me every time. For some reason, I can’t help but to underestimate his acting abilities when I am about to see a film of his. I guess his past TVB (HK TV station) stardom has a lasting impression on me. Koo’s character is a poor man trying to earn money to look after his elderly mother, and as a result ends up commencing a connection with a group of triad members. He is also involved with a corrupt cop and his own friends are about to begin a mission to infiltrate a government building and dig up a chest of treasures. Koo’s character has placed himself in the middle of this “triangle” so you can imagine the mess he’ll be in if one point of this “triangle” was to find out about the other. Well, if you can’t imagine, just think of crazy driving and insane angry people fighting over wealth.

Day 1

Coming to Hong Kong for the first time, my high school dream of visiting and experiencing this city is now finally realised. However, this is also my first time alone and away from home so I will apologise in advance for my emotional state. Yes, I am a grown woman, but I am an immature grown woman and I have to admit that being so far away from home is taking up every bit of courage on my part to not lose it. Right! Now that’s over and done with, I shall get down to business.

Not much in store for today actually. Went down to Filmart via bus number 9 and a star ferry ride. I didn’t quite know what to expect. After all this is my first film festival (ever). Lots of stalls and a lot of content for many of the world’s buyers out there, but unfortunately not too many freebies for me. One thing I did learn though is that a sequel to Storm Riders is coming soon and it’s looks really exciting. Not sure if Ekin Cheng will be in this one, but one thing is for sure: it looks to be epic with lavish production design and value.

Anyway, there will be plenty more to come tomorrow. There’s at least three screenings to be at and I registered for the digital media networking conference, which I hope I’ll be able to make.

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