The New Asian Cinema

in 28th Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Sudhir Nandgaonkar

The Hong Kong International Film Festival took a fresh breath of air — literally. This year the 28th HKIFF stepped out of the shadow of the SARS scare and organised the festival with renewed enthusiasm.

The notable feature this year was the fact that HKIFF has moved away from government control to carve out its independent identity. Now on, it will function as the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, and will hold monthly screenings of films from July 4, 2004. The society will throw open its membership and organize the festival as an annual international event.

The 28th edition of the HKIFF screened more than 250 films with a special emphasis on Asian cinema in general and Chinese cinema in particular. The festival has an international competition section for world cinema, while 14 Asian films compete for the FIPRESCI prize.

With such a large presence of Asian films in the festival, one could easily spot new trends emerging in Asian cinema, though countries like Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were not represented at the festival.

In the 20th century, the Asian cinema was nurtured by masters who had their contrasting style of film-making – stunningly mounted action sequences in Kurosawa’s cinema, consummate passions in Ozu’s, Satyajit Ray’s simple, lyrical narrative style. The young Asian directors of the 21st century seem to be replacing the styles of the old masters. These new directors are interested in inner conflicts of human beings. They adopt complex narratives and depict passionate true to life sex acts.

Chinese young director Zhu Wen, who won the FIPRESCI prize as well as the Best Picture award for his film “South of the Clouds”, is a director to be watched in future. His film revolves around the trials and tribulations of a man who finds himself in the second half of his life. The film needs to be admired for its “sensitivity and many levels of meaning.” Wen gently unfolds the conflicts of an old man harassed by the circumstances. It subtly expresses the theme of dream and reality, of primitiveness and civilization.

Like Wen, the other films that showcased this new style and the emerging sensibility of Asian cinema include “The Missing” (Taiwan), “Floating Landscapes” (Hong Kong), “The Fear of Intimacy” (Hong Kong), and “Good Morning Beijing” (China).

Another subject that the young directors are increasingly exploring is the globalisation of world economy. The phenomenon of globalisation is influencing the young mind and slowly replacing the “destiny” factor in Asia. Films like “Let The Wind Blow” (India), “My Beautiful Washing Machine” (Malaysia), and “The Capitalist Manifesto” (South Korea) explored the impact of globalisation on the common man.

Another interesting trend spotted among the Asian directors was the way they have chosen to make films in the Digital Video format. Many directors are turning to DV to meet the budget constraints. As a result, HKIFF organised a competition section to accommodate DV films. Digital Video will definitely offer more freedom to film-makers in future.

These new trends brought its own liveliness to the 28th HKIFF, but India — which makes the world’s highest numbers of films per year (900 films) — had only one film representing it at the festival.