Year in Review: Best of 2016

In Jackson Heights

In Jackson Heights (Fredrick Wiseman, USA)

Arabian Nights Trilogy (Miguel Gomes, Portugal)


Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, USA)

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, Germany)

The Handmaiden

Green Room (Jeremy Saulnier, USA)

Happy Hour (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)

The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, South Korea)

Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand) Continue reading “Year in Review: Best of 2016”

2016 Watched List

So I did not end up watching 30 films last December (final count: 17). But the following is a full list of all 130 feature films (and some shorts) I have watched in 2016.

The Duke of Burgundy
100 Yen Love
Hard to be a God
The Revenant
Older Brother, Younger Sister
Ex Machina
Ten Years 十年
Scott Pilgrim vs The World
Three Colors: Blue
Three Colors: White
Happy Hour
Touching the Skin of Eeriness
News From Home

The Running Man
The Terminator
Terminator 2
Kindergarten Cop
Scattered Cloud
The Hateful Eight
Daughters, Wives and a Mother

Fist of Fury 1991 新精武門1991
The Mobfathers 選老頂
Life After Life枝繁葉茂
Louder Than Bombs
No Home Movie
In Jackson Heights
Arabian Nights 1 Continue reading “2016 Watched List”

30 Movies in 31 Days (3)

6. Victoria (directed by Sebastian Schipper, 2015)


Creating a film with one single continuous shot is a gimmick. Hitchcock tried to fake one with Rope many moons ago by zooming into an actor’s back every time there is a cut—a laughable attempt to say the least (but I do think the film itself is underappreciated). Sokurov’s historical epic Russian Ark is probably the most revered film truly consisted of one continuous take. But that should have been the end of it. I’ll say it again: shooting a movie in one uninterrupted take is a fucking gimmick, and nothing more. Birdman needlessly pretends to do so. Ooh-la-la, big fucking deal. Technical marvels should serve some sort of aesthetic or narrative purpose. But such needless gimmick often adds little value to the film, and more often than not, becomes a distracting weakness. Victoria is a textbook example. Clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, this quasi-thriller of a young woman’s night gone wrong could really use some heavy editing. The first 45 minutes of her meeting four dubious guys for some beer on a rooftop does not have to last all that long if we do not have to follow them on every street corner and every elevator ride. Glossing the scenes over with some Nils Frahm music does not make them any more tolerable. Due to uninterrupted shooting, the filmmakers are obligated to fill the screen with unnecessary actions and half-baked characterizations. Okay, I get it. Victoria is a failed conservatory student in a foreign city (Berlin). So she might as well go rob a bank with some dudes she just met. You think that’s incredibly stupid? Do it in one single shot so the focus will not be on all that is wrong with the film.

30 Films in 31 Days (2)

Since I’m trying to report on every film I watched as the month goes by, I’ll have to keep it brief.

4. The Witch (directed by Robert Eggers, 2016)


End of the year also means catching up with films I’ve missed from the previous months. There are quite a few that never played in Hong Kong. The Witch is one of them. Hailed as the breakout horror of the year (like last year’s It Follows), this “New England folklore” is touted as a piece of astute filmmaking that exceeds the expectations of its genre. And speaking as a person with no particular interest in horror films, I am pleasantly amused by this 17th century tale of a Puritan family fending for their lives and sanity in face of a mysterious evil force. The film sets its creepy tone right from the beginning with a witch making bloody body lotion out of a goddamn baby (though the goriest details are omitted from the screen). The casting is on point, featuring The Office’s Finchy (Ralph Ineson) as the father who tries to keep it together and Game of Thrones’ Lysa Arryn (Kate Dickie) as the mother on the verge of a nervous breakdown. But Anya Taylor-Joy, who plays the oldest daughter, is the real revelation here. Not only does she possess the face of waning naiveté, the young actress also embodies the repressed rage of a woman coming of age. Continue reading “30 Films in 31 Days (2)”

30 Films in 31 Days (1)

My quest to watch 30 films in the month of December got off a slow start, which was caused by my sister’s wedding and post-America illness (at least these are my excuses). I didn’t watch my first film of the month until December 6, and I’ve been playing catch-up since then. By December 11, I’m at eight films. While averaging one film per day is really nothing for a full-time critic, the same cannot be said for an average dude who has other priorities in life. At least, I’m free enough to give this a go in December. For those who are interested, here are the snippets of my thoughts on the films I’ve watched so far.

1. Breaking the Waves (directed by Lars Von Trier, 1996)


I watched this for the 20th anniversary of Broadway Cinematheque, which got me all excited about seeing it in 35mm. Okay, I get that any old print is going to have some signs of wear and tear but this print they were showing is beyond watchable. I’ve seen my fair share of damaged prints (most were way older than 1996) during my days working at the Hong Kong Film Archive, but this print’s color is absolutely unrecognizable and the flickering in the first reel is out of control. The only reason that stopped me from making a formal complaint is the low admission price of HK$20 but I still consider it to be highly irresponsible for the cinema to have the audience endure 2 hours and 39 minutes of such quality. It definitely gave 35mm a bad name for those who were uninitiated.

But thank goodness I’ve seen this Lars Von Trier classic before and am a big fan of it. This film does not cease to move me. It is still mind-blowing how a film about a woman misguidedly sacrifices herself for her paralyzed husband by fucking random gross men is one of the greatest stories about love and faith. Transcending and demolishing Continue reading “30 Films in 31 Days (1)”

Preview: The 40th Hong Kong International Film Festival


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) 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)”