“There is a dangerous virus spreading through Hong Kong. It is not atypical pneumonia. It is panic.” When I received this email from a friend living in Hong Kong, I decided not to cancel my flight. I wanted to see the reality behind the horror distributed by western media. Also, as every year (since my first visit more than ten years ago), I wanted to check what’s going on in one of the world’s most vibrant cinema industries.
Leslie Cheung.The news weren’t too good. First of April, Leslie Cheung committed suicide. For the past two decades, he has been a beloved actor and an icon of Hong Kong Canto-pop. Out of the 47 films he starred in, the most famous ones were John Woo’s A better Tomorrow, Tsui Hark’s A Chinese Ghost Story and Days of Being Wild by Wong Kar-wai.
A couple of days before the Film Festival started, the 22nd Hong Kong Film Awards Gala, under normal circumstances one of the most glittering events of the year, took place in a black and somber mood, to remind of recent events. Also, the 27th Hong Kong Film Festival opened with a minute of silence in memory of Cheung.
According to director-producer Peter Chan, the Hong Kong film industry and the audience turned during the last year more and more towards genre films. It seems indeed that police stories and horror flicks dominate the market. The Hong Kong Panorama section reflected this. This year, the horror films were of a variety of types and many of them were quite innovative, or at least interesting (The Eye, Three – Going Home, Night Corridor, The Mummy, Aged 19). The highlights of police action films were PTU directed by Johnny To and Infernal Affairs by Andrew Lau. The latter film won about half of the local Oscars this year.
For me, the most interesting part of the program was the retrospective of the Shaw Brothers Film Studio. Starting from the 50’s, the Shaws (“Hollywood in the East”) were producing Cantonese and Mandarin films in Hong Kong. For decades those films were buried in vaults. Now the films were shown to promote their release on DVD. It was very enjoyable to appreciate some of the new restored prints on the big screen.
Outside the Film Festival, I couldn’t help myself to go and sneak into “normal”, commercial cinema. Most of the movies seemed to be quite deserted. According to the local press, SARS had a disastrous effect on Hong Kong’s cinemas with last month’s taking down by 50 per cent. Luckily, the virus didn’t hit too much the festival’s ticket sales. Quite many of the screenings were sold out.
© FIPRESCI 2003