Asian Debuts: Auspicious Beginnings By Kelly Yang

in 32nd Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Kelly Yang

Under the simple criteria of Asian directors’ first features, the entries to the FIPRESCI Prize at this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival demonstrated an astonishing variety — from the commercial to the socially conscious, from mass entertainment to markedly individual expressions, all deserved cheers for their vitality.

My personal favourite, also recognized unanimously by the jury, was Thai director Aditya Assarat’s Wonderful Town, a piece of filmic art that gently captures the passage of time in a small town through its people, their emotions and the pain behind their tranquillity. He is an architect escaping from the city; she is a shy inn-keeper hiding in the countryside. Their interaction is shown through meticulous mise-en-scene, where the mundane is merely a cover for great anguish and emotion. What seems to be an insignificant rendezvous turns out to have devastating consequences, in much the same way as ripples on the surface of the ocean can turn into a tsunami.

Set in contemporary Fujian, Weng Shou Ming’s Fujian Blue reminds one of the early works of Hou Hsiao-hsien, where destructive and confused young people are a mere reflection of the absurdity of the society in which they exist. The characters’ unfulfilled dreams of going to England are echoed by their entrapped setting; furthermore, the film is also a reflection on the distance from, and intimacy with our own motherland.

The only Japanese entry, Yosuki Fujita’s Fine, Totally Fine (Zenzen Daijobu) is a rare comedy that has won critical praises. Through the old bookstore run by a father and son, the director’s wry humour and fast pacing gives us an alternative view of the values and philosophy of his strange protagonist. Success can be the realization of one’s dreams, no matter how silly or trivial, and with its attainment comes contentment and happiness.

China’s Little Moth (Xue chan) and Malaysia’s Flower in the Pocket offered two statements on the possibilities of the digital video medium. Tao Peng’s Little Moth, which centres on the trade of child beggars, skilfully employs the DV camera to follow its protagonists and bring the audience closer to the locations, lending the production an almost documentary-like authenticity. Dealing with the lives of two little brothers and their single-parent father, Liew Seng Tat’s Flower in the Pocket also benefits from the digital camera’s facility with long takes, successfully capturing the affectionate, confused lives of the boys. The complex ethnicity of Malaysia is also displayed in its pure form.

Chronicling the education of a young girl, Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (Buda As Sharm Foru Rikht) — directed by Hana Makhmalbaf, the youngest daughter of the Makhmalbaf family — is an indictment of the Taliban’s ravagement of Afghanistan. Through a combination of animation and live action, Taiwanese director Gilles Ya-Che Yang’s Orz Boyz is a tender tale of childhood fantasy and growing up, featuring particularly impressive performances by actors both young and elderly.

Though they are from different cultures, with different aesthetic roots, the colourful debuts by these Asian directors have us looking forward to their next films with anticipation.