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):
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)
I can spell this young Thai maestro’s name without any assistance (yet I can never spell “accommodation”). This should you about his importance if you didn’t know about him already.
Arabian Nights (directed by Miguel Gomes)
This year’s lineup includes quite a few tantalizing documentaries. I’m not referring to lame talking-head-interviewing and information-giving kind of documentaries. The following are a few docs crafted with the keen eye of an artist:
In Jackson Heights (directed by Fredrick Wiseman)
Wiseman is simply the greatest living documentary filmmaker. After the illuminating La Dance and Boxing Gym of recent years, he turned his camera to this diverse New York City neighborhood.
The Pearl Button (directed by Patricio Guzmán)
Guzmán spends most of his life making documentaries about his beloved Chile. To continue his exploration of the nation’s history after the sublime Nostalgia for the Light, he digs deeper into Chile’s history to tell the story of the atrocities inflicted on the continent’s native people. Expect a poetic motion picture.
Ta’ang (directed by Wang Bing)
The title refers to an ethnic minority from Myanmar who has been displaced by war. I have high hopes for Chinese director Wang Bing after his sensitive and matter-of-fact portrayal of the children in a Chinese farming village in Three Sisters.
Listen to Me Marlon (directed by Stevan Riley)
A portrait of Marlon Brando based on his personal audio recordings. I’m sold.
HKIFF usually hosts some red hot titles straight from February’s Berlin International Film Festival. This year is no exception. If you do not have the endurance for Filipino filmmaker Lav Diaz’s 8-hour epic, here are my choices.
Life After Life 枝繁葉茂(directed by Zhang Hanyi)
Ghost and/or supernatural elements in films are usually banned by the censors of Communist China. Let’s see if this Jia Zhangke-produced film can escape this fate.
I, Olga Hepnarova (directed by Tomáš Weinreb and Petr Kazda)
Based on the real life story of the last woman to be executed in Czechoslovakia (in 1975), the filmmakers illustrates the events that led to a young woman’s despair and rejection of society with aesthetics that is reminiscent of the New Wave.
There is also a mouth-watering retrospective for the 25th anniversary of Jet Tone, Wong Kar Wai’s production company. Many of Wong’s films (no In the Mood for Love, WTF) and others by his associates (such as Jeff Lau) are included and tickets are selling out fast.
Eros: The Hand* / Inchworm** (* directed by Wong Kar-wai, ** directed by Chang Chen)
The Hand is Wong Kar-wai’s segment in the 2004 anthology film that also features directors Steven Soderbergh and Michelangelo Antonioni. At this year’s festival, the 60-minute version will be shown. In addition, Inchworm, a short film directed by long-time collaborator and actor Chang Chen, will be screened.
Chungking Express (directed by Wong Kar-wai)
The only screening of my favorite movie was sold out in the morning of the first day tickets go on sale. And I couldn’t get a ticket. Two middle fingers up, fuck y’all.