Hong Kong: Pioneering Work

in 43rd Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Teréz Vincze

The 43rd Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) took place between March 18th and April 1st, 2019. One of the oldest film festivals in Asia, HKIFF built a global reputation on its pioneering work programming Asian films and retrospectives back when Asian and Hong Kong cinema was not well known to the international community.

Over the course of 15 days at 12 venues, HKIFF43 presented over 230 titles from 63 countries and regions, of which 64 were world, international, or Asian premieres. The festival kicked off with the world premiere of Renny Harlin’s Chinese language crime thriller Bodies at Rest at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, with the Asian premiere of By the Grace of God, the Berlinale Grand Jury Prize winner by François Ozon, closing the festival on April 1st.

Films from all over the world competed for the festival’s Firebird Awards in four sections: Young Cinema (Chinese Language), Young Cinema (World), Documentary, and Short Film. The long-running Young Cinema Competition, to further nurture and support emerging directors, was expanded this year with a new section for Chinese language films. The awards were decided by juries dedicated to each section, and the FIPRESCI jury awarded the International Critics Prize to a film competing in the Young Cinema Competition.

As part of this year’s special events, the HKIFF presented the ‘Centenary of Korean Cinema’ program, a screening of 10 all-time classics and critically-acclaimed new films from South Korea. Included in the selection were works by classic directors such as SHIN Sang-ok, KIM Ki-young, and IM Kwon-taek, and contemporary classics by directors such as LEE Chang-dong and BONG Joon-ho. The specially-curated program ‘The Passion of Latin American Cinema’ featured 14 outstanding films by renowned auteurs and young upcoming filmmakers from the continent. Eight of these films had their Asian premieres at the festival.

Legendary action master Sammo HUNG was HKIFF43’s Filmmaker in Focus. The festival presented a career retrospective by screening 10 of his seminal works, and he also attended a seminar to share his experiences in the film industry with the audience. This year’s festival also paid tribute to the legendary Chinese actress LI Lihua. A pioneering actress of Chinese cinema, LI (1924-2017) holds a number of records in film history: She was the first winner of two Golden Horse Best Actress Awards, and the first Chinese female lead in a major Hollywood production (China Doll, Dir: Frank Borzage, 1958). Her virtuosity and versatility were represented through a selection of four restored classics from the 1940s through the 1960s.

HKIFF43 also paid tribute to the group of filmmakers who brought Chinese cinema to the international spotlight in the 1980s: the Fifth Generation of Chinese directors. These directors – mainly graduates from the Beijing Film Academy – led a movement of visual experimentation rich in social allegory, giving rise to a new form of Chinese cinema that challenged traditional worldviews and contemporary society. Five films from the 1980s were screened during the festival, among them CHEN Kaige’s Yellow Earth (1984) and ZHANG Yimou’s directorial debut Red Sorghum (1988).

The highlights of the festival included three master classes, conducted by two-time Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, South Korean director LEE Chang-dong, and actor-director JIANG Wen.

Teréz Vincze
Edited by Ross Chen