31st Hong Kong
China, March 20 - April 11 2007
Before the Handover to China, the Hong Kong International Film Festival has been organized (and entertained) by an official festival office of the City administration. After 1997, it passed through a period of transition, changed proprietors and the form of organization, and had more downs than ups and, for sure, a lot of problems. Only now, within the last two years and as a finally autonomous body (nevertheless sponsored by the City), the event returned to its former iportance: as a door, for Western films, to Asia, and, for Asian films, to the West. The continuity of the program could be kept and revived thanks to the programmers who stayed over the years and in spite of all changes, mainly Li Cheuk-to (now the festival’s artistic director) who’s in charge of films from the West, and Jacob Wong, the indefatigable scout of Asian cinemas.
Besides an attractive overview on recent world cinema, the festival offered a focus on “Young Romanian Cinema”, an “Asian Digital Competition” and, of course, a panorama of Hong Kong films of 2006 and 2007 (with, unfortunately, not too many exciting fims, with the exception of Ann Hui’s The Postmodern Life of My Aunt, premiered already in Toronto of 2006). A tribute was dedicated to Herman Yau, the Guangzhou-born director of Hong Kong movies. Most interesting, however, were the two sections “Chinese Renaissance” and “Indie Power”.
It seems that the unexpensive and largely available technique of digital filmmaking makes a lot of things possible that had been impossible by now, from financial or from political reason. In Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, in particular in Mainland China there’s an astonishing time of new departures, in particular of young filmmakers who wouldn’t have had any chance within the commercial or studio systems of their countries. Before We Fall in Love Again and Things We Do When We Fall in Love by James Lee (Malaysia, two parts of a trilogy, the third part being prepared) show, in an adorable freshness, the use of the camera as a pen, noting, in a diary-style, intimate relations between young people. It’s a proof that a digitally shot film is not a 35mm film shot digitally, but develops an own and new esthetics (in James Lee’s case remembering the early French New Wave of the 60s). In Betelnut, Yang Heng (China) portrays, with no illusions, the shabby everyday life of young people in a provincial town. Based on his own experience, Wie Tie tells in Distance of a young man who isn’t anymore at home in his hometown (of Huangshi), and who will not feel at home in Shanghai, whereto he moves. A similar experience reports Ying Liang in The Other Half, about alienated women and wrecked families.
In particular in China, an independent cinema came up, away from any state control, that registers like a seismograph a social, moral and spiritual atmosphere in the country — the mood of a slow decay of old values and forms of living, without them being replaced by new and better ones. These films show lonesome people, lost roots, even disappearing cultures (as the documentary The Bimo Records by Yang Rui).
This new and independent Chinese cinema (which has few chances to be released in China itself) reports of losses. To see these films in Hong Kong, was a good surprise. (Klaus Eder)