Preview: The 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival

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The 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival boasts a lineup of 240 feature films that will be screened between March 21st and April 4th. Frankly, there are murmurs of a mid-life crisis as what was once Asia’s marquee film festival in the 1980s and early 90s—mainly for being the springboard for China’s Fifth Generation—has now rendered as a mere feast for local cinephiles. That is not necessarily a bad thing, depending on what one expects from the festival. Numerous factors—including the shameful decline (or death) of the local film industry, the emergence of Busan and other festivals in Asia, the expansion of the Chinese market—has contributed to this identity shift.

But for moviegoers, the show goes on. The vast lineup spanning works from 66 countries can be overwhelming. At the risk of missing out many worthy titles, here are a few of my picks (I haven’t seen any of them, so it’s an educated guess):

ART HOUSE

Bleak Street (directed by Arturo Ripstein)

The Mexican veteran who made The Caste of Purity directs this black-and-white crime film featuring two midget luchadores. I (and you) do not need to read any further.

No Home Movie (directed by Chantal Akerman)

This is experimental filmmaker and feminist cinema trailblazer Chantal Akerman’s last film before her suicide last year. Her groundbreaking Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles is also playing at this year’s festival. Pay your respects to this irreplaceable artist.

Cemetery of Splendor (directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul) Continue reading “Preview: The 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival”

Best 25 Films of 2015 (Part 2, #1-12)

As I’m making this list, I realized how difficult it is to compare and rank films which I have seen 10 months apart from each other. Obviously my feelings for those I’ve watched recently are a lot clearer than my impression for films I watched last summer. Hence, for example, the difference between #12 and #9 is probably not quite set in stone. Nevertheless, this rounds up a good year for me as a film lover. (For #13-25, please click here.)

12. Creed (USA), directed by Ryan Coogler

Make fun of Stallone all you want, but he has created a couple of the most iconic movie characters in the past 30-plus years. Having witnessed the ups and downs of Rocky the character and the film series after all these years, I am pleased to see him passing the torch to the right people—director Ryan Coogler and actor Michael B. Jordan—instead of running it to the ground like some of his less fortunate forays (Rocky V). As heartwarming as it is to see Stallone finally getting the award recognition that has eluded him since the first Rocky, Jordan proves to be a formidable successor to the people’s champ,carrying the film not only with his physical prowess but also defining its soul with great vulnerability. Coogler did a magnificent job at taking a legendary franchise to a new direction while applying his artful touch (how about that boxing match in one long take?) to this expectations-defying spin-off. Also, the focus on Philadelphia’s black neighborhoods and the titular character’s backstory has inadvertently (or craftily) imbued Creed with the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement.

11. Force Majeure (Sweden), directed by Ruben Östlund

Force Majeure doesn’t just mine social awkwardness for jokes, but delves deeper into its characters’ insecurities, making this a thoroughly fascinating yet cringe-worthy affair. Writer-director Ruben Östlund, who used to direct skiing films, fills the whole film with an unshakable air of eeriness and malaise as a family trudges through the rest of its vacation in the aftermath of a near crisis. The result is a painfully funny critique of the masculine mystique.

10. Mistress America (USA), directed by Noah Baumbach

“She was the last cowboy, all romance and failure. The world was changing, and her kind didn’t have anywhere to go. Being a beacon of hope for lesser people is a lonely business.” Nothing sums up Greta Gerwig’s Brooke better than this gleefully maudlin and idealized tribute by the younger Tracy (Lola Kirke). Director and co-writer Noah Baumbach teams up with Gerwig once again after the magical Frances Ha for another take on friendship and the perpetual dreamer who is not so young anymore. Gone are the hip black-and-white New Wave-inspired aesthetics, and in comes the madcap screwball comedy that is reminiscent of Lubitsch and Sturges (or a nod to Baumbach’s mentor Bogdanovich). The scene in which Brooke and company confront her ex-friend Mamie-Claire (best name of the year) at her house with cats, husband, guest and neighbor in tow captures the cast’s frantic energy Continue reading “Best 25 Films of 2015 (Part 2, #1-12)”

Best 25 Films of 2015 (Part 1, #13-25)

It took me a while to watch most of the films that should be in the running (The Hateful Eight, Carol) and there are still a few (Anomalisa, 45 Years) I haven’t watched yet. But here’s the first part of my humble selection.

25. Port of Call (Hong Kong), directed by Philip Yung


Up-and-coming Hong Kong director Philip Yung disguises a story of urban alienation and loneliness under the premise of a grisly murder. Yung displays an intimate interest in his characters in this thoroughly researched piece. The film’s intricate narrative structure pays off thanks to the shrewd editing work and audacity on the filmmakers’ part, which is sadly rare in Hong Kong these days. Young actors Michael Ning and Jessi Li shine in their roles as the killer and the victim of this chilling real-life tragedy that speaks volumes about Hong Kong values.

24. Alive (South Korea), directed by Park Jung-bum


Why continue to live when everything works against you with no end in sight? Writer-director-star Park Jung-bum’s searing performance as a modern-day secular version of Job who works exploitative jobs in order to support his unstable sister and young niece is as admirable as it is challenging for the duration of 175 minutes.

23. Tangerine (USA), directed by Sean Baker


Let this be a wakeup call for filmmakers everywhere. It’s high time to hire transgender actors to play transgender roles, as the ladies of Tangerine have proven themselves to be more than capable. Also, we have witnessed the apex of iPhone cinematography.

22. Carol (USA), directed by Todd Haynes


Everything seems so perfect in Todd Haynes’s 1950s forbidden love story—Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara’s performances, the cinematography, the production design, the music and so on. Yet I still feel being kept at arm’s length by this film. Nevertheless, the fact that Haynes manages to improve from the sweeping Far From Heaven should deserve any moviegoer’s applause. Continue reading “Best 25 Films of 2015 (Part 1, #13-25)”