A Panoramic Window on Asian films By Max Tessier

in 29th Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Max Tessier

There is no doubt that the Hong Kong International film festival (HKIFF) is still one of the major film festivals in Asia, an event not to be missed, along with the younger Pusan, in South Korea. In spite of severe financial and sponsoring problems (like many festivals suffer nowadays), the 29th edition of the HKIFF (March 22/ April 6, 2005) was again a most interesting and diversified one.

The Asian part of the festival, programmed by Jacob Wong, was of course of the utmost interest for the Western critics, even if some of the films had been shown at previous festivals, like Berlin. It is a wide selection going from popular Hong Kong movies, such as Stephen Chow’s Kung Fu Hustle (Gong fu), or Japan’s crazy pop comedy Kamikaze girls/ Shimotsuma monogatari, by Tetsuya Nakashima, to radical, stylish “auteur films”. A number of them were presented in the Asian DV competition, a section that supports the work of young directors with a very personal twist. Young Chinese female director Liu Jayin’s Oxhide (Niupi) is certainly one of the most noticeable, with its 23 static shots mixed with family conversation (the film got the Fipresci prize in Berlin), but so are Korea’s Shing Sung-Il is lost, by Shin Jane, a very odd allegory of youth and a very special “education”, or Izumi Takahashi’s The Soup, one morning… (Aru asa, soup wa…), a realistic, frightening, portrait of a young Japanese couple undermined by the boy’s link to a religious sect. From China came the impressionistic portrait of Tang Tang, by Zhang Hanzi, a transvestite in modern Beijing, and Lu Yi Tong’s Lost in Wu Song (Wu Song da wo), a quite original debut film depicting, with a great sense of humor, the conflict between reality and fantasy, through a famous classic folk-hero of Chinese literature, which was rightly awarded the Fipresci prize. And, in the field of radical, uncompromising cinema, there was, of course, the Asian premiere of Evolution of a Filipino family, directed by Lav Diaz – the “enfant terrible” of independent Filipino cinema, a very personal, very slow, very sharp view of the Marcos era through the daily life of a peasant family, running for 10 hours and 43 minutes! See it through and love it, or leave it!

There are, naturally, too many Asian films to be reviewed here, but we should also stress the remarkable work of the Hong Kong film archive (the local Cinematheque) which offered us homages to two great classic directors, the Chinese Sun Yu (The Big Road, Queen of Sport, among others), and the Japanese Keisuke Kinoshita (24 Eyes, A Tragedy of Japan, Carmen Comes Home, etc). Besides, the festival always underlines the importance of Asian cinema by presenting prestigious Asian films for the opening and closing galas, such as Gu Chang Wei’s Peacock (Kong Que), Jia Zhangke’s The World (Shijie) , Yoji Yamada’s The Hidden Blade (Kakushiken:oni no tsume), or Hou Hsiao Hsien’s Cafe Lumiere (Kohi Jikou), among the best known international celebrities.

So, in spite of the budget cuts, the HKIFF managed to show more films (about 240, with 194 features), in more venues (sometimes too scattered, for a one man marathon…), including the brand new open air giant screen at the Tamar site. After 29 years, the oldest international film festival in Asia remains what it has always been, a stronghold of world cinema.