Human Communication: Relationship in a Village, Social Alienation in a Modern World

in 39th Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Matthew Ching Hang Cheng

The 38th Hong Kong International Film Festival screened about 300 films in two weeks, with an obvious emphasis on restored classics, Asian, Chinese and local Hong Kong cinema. This year The HKIFF has an international competition section for world cinema; 12 films compete for the FIPRESCI prize, including films directed by new filmmakers from Taiwan, Mainland China, Japan, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Egypt, Austria, Brazil and the USA.

Korean young director Lee Yong-seung won the FIPRESCI prize for his film 10 Minutes. This film is about a young man trying to survive in a competitive workplace. The plot is simple but contains some deep observations about family, the education system and relationships. The film revolves around a group of employees. Young Ho-Chan is an intern trying to get a full-time position. In the beginning, all employees are so nice and easy to get along with; after an interview, when the position he was hoping for goes to a pretty young woman, Ho-chan needs to face the reclamations of his colleagues and family.

The film needs to be admired for its simplicity, for how it shows the life and struggle of a young man in a precise manner. The director depicts the conflicts of the honest young man and his hyper-critical colleagues, especially at the end of the film, when everyone in the office joins in an earthquake exercise and acts like something happened, while in reality nothing is going on. This finale expresses the conflict between trying to be an honest man and becoming a conformist in a hypocritical society.

Besides 10 Minutes, other films that showcased the trouble of human relationships or social alienation included Taiwanese director Chienn Hsiang’s Exit, Austrian director Sudabeh Mortezai’s Macondo, American director Josephine Decker’s Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, and Japanese director Sakamoto Ayumi’s Forma, Chinese director Zhao Dayong’s Shadow Days and Chinese director Yang Heng’s Lake August.

Exit conveys the midlife crisis of a woman in Kaohsiung through the outstanding performance of Chen Shiang-Chyi. Macondo is about Chechen refugee problems in Austria, a good combination of realism with a social-humanist approach. Thou Wast Mild and Lovely is an experiment in showing the life, violence and loneliness of a farm family and worker. It bears the influence of literary naturalism and the work of John Steinbeck. Forma shares some similar themes with Thou Wast Mild and Lovely, but the background is modern Japan, with a creative story structure made by the young. Shadow Days offers a very deep reflection about one-child policy and loss of beliefs in modern China. Lake August is about how a young man of the lost generation is ironically rescued by a family relationship.

In my opinion, Japanese director Tsuta Tetsuichiro’s The Tale of Iya is the second best film after 10 Minutes, exploring the impact of modernization on some village people in Iya, a mountain valley in Tokushima Prefecture. The Tale of Iya is the only new film in the festival shot in 35mm. The director shows the tough life of farmer, a young girl lives who with the old farmer, a young man who tries to find an alternative life in Iya, and the western activists protecting the village as foreigners. The main theme concerns the struggle between modernization and tradition. In the second half of the film, the director shifts the tone with some magical realism and offers hope through traditional ways of living. The Tale of Iya is a poetic film that touches everyone.

Edited by José Teodoro