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Hong Kong Film Festival
by Michael Collins

The Hong Kong Film Festival collects together an interesting spread of films from the SAR. The festival highlights some films that are a bit different to the action fests that we have come to know and love (or hate). This year the festival highlights the work of Jonnie To - a director and producer whose work has spanned over twenty years. The films are an eclectic bunch, and while they may not be the best the region has to offer, they do provide an insight into what else is going on from this powerhouse of world cinema.

Needing You

Needing You amusingly describes itself as making You've Got Mail and Sleepless In Seattle look, "tamer than lame." I don't know about you, but those sort of films could be made to look lame by a horse that's had its legs amputated, been dead for several years and had tattooed on its forehead, "Dude, I'm so lame."

Be that as it may, that description is useful in giving you an idea what Needing You is like. In this romantic comedy from director Jonnie To, Kinki (Sammi Cheung) is your usual stumbling mumbling klutz genius. Her business brilliance catches the attention of Andy (Andy Lau). So they spend the rest of the film doing exactly what you expect in a romantic comedy.

There is no need for this film to get a general lease in your local cinema. Not because it is a bad film or anything, it's just that we get plenty enough of these type of films from America and so there's just no need for any more. While Jonnie To's direction is frantic and well paced this film is really nothing to search out.

Forever and Ever

Forever and Ever is - naturally enough - about things that don't last forever.

Played in a series or flashbacks Forever and Ever concentrates on a woman whose son dies from complications arising from AIDS. She meets up with a prostitute who has recently found out she's HIV positive. The two of them together help each other to deal with their grief and to have acceptance to what life and has thrown at them.

This film reminds of those made-for-TV films from the 80s and early 90s. It's all sincere, touching and funny, but the sentimentality is spread on so thick that even Steven Spielberg would be calling for restraint.

Sylvia Chang as the mother is excellent, but Raymond To should have pulled on the reins a bit to keep the film from being so over blown.

Visible Secret

When June (Shu Qi) was a young child she witnessed a tragic street accident. Now in young adulthood, she is cursed with being able to see ghosts through her left eye. Kind of like Haley Osment without the sickly cuteness.

Understandably she's rather angsty about all this ghosty nonsense and to top it all off she's got a cheating boyfriend. To get away from her man, she picks up Peter (Eason Chen) in a bar. Peter helps June cope with her curse and to find out why she was cursed in the first place.

This is an interesting combination of old Chinese mythology with modern urban drama.

Hong Kong does cool angst rather well and so the film has a high standard to live up to. Visible Secret nearly makes the grade, but not quite. June come across as not all that likable and you begin to wonder what Peter would want to have anything to do with her in the first place.

The film looks suitably dark and shadowy and makes a reasonable effort in building an atmosphere of paranoia and woe. Rather like life, really

A Fighter's Blues

This film is probably the best directorial effort of the festival. Emotionally powerful, a solid engaging story line and sprinklings of quality performances make A Fighter's Blues an excellent effort.

Mong Fu (Andy Lau, again), a kick-boxer, attracts the attention of Thai doco filmmaker Pim (Intira Jaroenpura) and a relationship begins to blossom. The relationship is interrupted before it really gets going though when Mong Fu is thrown in jail. More than ten years later, Mong Fu is released and goes searching for Pim, while confronting the demons that caused his incarceration.

Boxing has that car crash attraction for me. While it's undeniably brutal I can't turn away from it. This boxing film doesn't hold anything back in showing how brutal it can be. The raw and honest portrayal of the fighting is also present in the story and the characters. This is excellent stuff, thoughtfully and imaginatively directed by Daniel Lee Yan-kong.

Running Out Of Time

What do you do if your doctor has just told you that you only have a matter of weeks to live? What should you do with the last days of your life?

If you're Cheung (Andy Lau, yes again) you decide to have some fun with it. Cause some mischief and go out with a bang.

And so Cheung, an old jewel thief, decides to get mixed up with a finance company robbery, a kidnapping or two, couple of bomb threats, fake murders, and of course getting The Girl. Now that's what I call palliative care.

Again this is a film that has a very American feel to it. It won a best actor award for Lau from the Hong Kong Film Awards and it does have a certain amount of charm without it having anything particularly unique to Hong Kong about it.

Despite this it's rather funny and engaging and the plot twists and turns and has you guessing in vain what Cheung will do next. This is an amusing, entertaining film in showing a man at his most dangerous - when he has nothing to lose.

Wu Yen

While some of the earlier films got the festival off to a slow start the quality entertainment kicks in with Wu Yen. Tired of well meaning, but ultimately a little dull explorations into the human condition? Then Wu Yen's for you with fart jokes and bizarre kinky sex swapping lesbian love triangle. Wa-hey! Now we're talking!

In a rather complex plot that doesn't matter in the slightest, this old folk legend involves Emperor Qi - a feckless, cowardly leader, Wu Yen - a warrior princess, and The Fox Fairy.

The emperor is male, and the fox fairy is whatever sex it wants to be. In brilliant casting, both are played by women. So throw in Wu Yen and you'll be left wondering through out the entire film just who the hell is wearing the trousers in this despot regime.

This gloriously over the top comedy will leave you with permanently raised eyebrows as you try and comprehend the madness on screen.

Puerile and childish? Yes.

A must see? Definitely.

Lan Yu

Lan Yu is a dark sombre story of Hangdong (Hu Jan) and his relationship with Lan Yu (Liu Le).

It is a simply told story of their relationship drifting apart and then together again and then to territories unknown as the two men work out what they want for themselves and from each other.

It is photographed well, and the leads do a fine job, yet the film didn't quite engage with me, and I left it thinking that I missed something special that I couldn't quite grasp.

Juliet In Love

Francis Ng plays Jordan, a small time crim who gets in trouble with the wrong big time crim, N.T. On (Simon Yam). Jordan owes money to N.T. after an altercation in a restaurant and has no prospects to pay it back. A chance meeting in a hospital leads to Jordan with N.T.'s baby and Judy, a waitress at the restaurant.

This complex film's major strength is its characters. They are multilayered, complex and very real.

The film could have easily lapsed into cliché farce (such as when Jordan is left with the baby), but instead it takes off into new and unexpected directions.

This is all down to the top notch script by Matt Chow and Wilson Yip. An excellent film that deservedly had the special place of opening the festival.


Who's really responsible for all that's going on?

That's the question you'll be asking in Comeuppance - A type of crime, farce comedy from director Derek Chiu.

All the characters in the film tend to have something not quite right about them. Especially Patrick Tam, who plays a photo lab technician who starts to get into the revenge business. On his tail are a police officer and a journalist. Both are a worry. The police officer because he just might be a bit dumb, and the journalist because he is so dumb.

Does it all come together brilliantly at the end? Well no, not really. The premise for the film is an interesting variation of the media pop murderer star, but the script seemed a bit lumpy and the direction tended to be toilsome.

Overall the festival's films lacked the broad appeal of some of the better known films from Hong Kong. Yet it nevertheless provides the opportunity to see some of the other genres that Hong Kong cinema can do very well indeed. Forever and Ever had an emotional weight not usually scene from the region, as well as a combination of genres to provide interesting results. The festival is worth checking out with A Fighter's Blues and Running Out Of Time probably being the best of the bunch - pick carefully and you should be rewarded.

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originally posted: 10/03/01 22:21:24
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