The Waves of Regret

in 46th Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Azadeh Jafari

This year, the 46th Hong Kong International Film Festival presented a hybrid edition with both in-theatre and online screenings. Due to quarantine restrictions, the Fipresci jury attended the festival online and watched six Chinese-language films in the Young Cinema Competition section. Overall, the films were promising which demonstrates that the young Chinese-language filmmakers are still as creative a force as the previous generation.

The winner of FIPRESCI prize, A New Old Play (Jiao má táng huì), directed by Qiu Jiongjiong from China, tells the story of an actor – a Chinese Sichuan Opera clown – who recalls his past life as he is waiting at the gates of Hell. Through his personal reminiscence, a history of violence, suppression and social/economic hardship in 20th century China is resurrected. The film is both a moving melodrama about the opera actors who live together like a family, and a historical epic which courageously depicts the political upheavals, the disastrous cultural revolution and the suffering of Chinese people.

Qiu, a famous artist, builds a closed confined space in a meticulously contrived mise-en-scene, which is actually a handmade theatrical stage cut off from the outside world. Using this imaginative visual approach, the filmmaker interweaves comedy and tragedy, real incidents and mythological creatures, individual viewpoint and collective memory into an amazing cinematic experience.

Another impressive film in the Young Cinema line-up was Moneyboys by C. B. Yi from Taiwan, a character study about a young gay man named Liang Fei (Kai Ko) who sells his body to make a living and provide for his family. He is a reserved, calm boy who wants to satisfy everyone around him but keeps his own conflicting emotions within. The film reveals his humiliation, suffering and brief moments of joy in different circumstances with its serene observing camera and well-composed long takes.

Moneyboys also depicts the social and familial situation of Liang Fei and his friends who work in the same business. At one point, his childhood friend Liang Long tells Fei that his uncle died from a fatal illness because of working in a coal mine. The uncle also sold his body and health for money, so Long prefers to work as a moneyboy which provides him with a more comfortable even luxurious life.

Moneyboys reminded me of Happy Together (Chun gwong cha sit, 1997) by Wong Kar-wai which also portrays the vicissitude of gay lovers. C. B. Yi’s film may even be considered as a homage to Happy Together, when considering for instance that Kai Ko’s face and restrained manners somehow resembles to Tony Leung Chiu Wai’s character who is called Lai Yiu-Fai in the film. Their names (Fei and Fai) are also quite similar.

Moneyboys is as much a story about love as it is about guilt and remorse. Several years ago, Liang Fei left his first lover Han Xiaolai behind even though he was disabled in a fight to revenge on a guy who had assaulted Fei. Now Xiaolai works as a busker and has a family. Fei wants to redeem himself by helping Xiaolai financially, however he doesn’t want Fei’s pity. The scene in which Xiaolai walks lamely behind Fei in a dark pathway is deeply affecting, it seems that they are finally reconciled with each other. However, it is impossible for them to resume their affectionate relationship as everything around them has changed and they are not the same person anymore.

The story ends with Fei’s despair and loneliness in his apartment after Long has left him. The epilogue is a bewitching dance scene between Fei and Long in a nightclub which is both joyful and poignant, because it is a flashback that belongs to the past. The dance scene elevates this bleak ending by finally showing a liberated, ecstatic, and openly laughing Fei.    

At last, I want to mention the film Fantasy. World by Freddy Tang from Taiwan. It is a controversial post
#MeToo film which could have easily been topically superficial. However, the film is very honest about its subject and the filmmaker is not afraid to delve into the intimate moments between the older teacher (as a predator) and his young student. In other words, the film shows what happens behind the closed doors and daringly depicts the sex scene between the older man and his victim. The teacher, who is superbly played by Lee Kang Sheng, manipulates the young girls for his own sexual pleasure, and though the girls accept his advances, the film argues that it is still a kind of rape which damages the victims. Fantasy. World is an effective courtroom drama in which the protagonist a lawyer named Zhang, who once defended the pervert teacher, tries to repair his previous actions by defending the new young victim. The film combines two timelines to reveal the dangers of power manipulation and the vulnerability of very young girls who still believe in fairy tales.

Azadeh Jafari
Edited by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas