Warm and Energizing

in 30th Hong Kong International Film Festival

by Yen-Tuo CHANG

The HKIFF (Hong Kong International Film Festival) was held in late March, and the weather in Hong Kong was so much warmer than my hometown, Taipei. The screenings took place in 12 different venues across HK, so festivalgoers needed to take the MTR (metro), minibuses, and famous Hong Kong Island Tram (nicknamed “Ding Ding”) to move between locations. This, however, gives you an insight into the color, speed and atmosphere of urban Hong Long life. With this opportunity, as both a jury member for FIPRESCI AND a tourist, my time at the HKIFF was not only exciting, but also warm and energizing.

This year, the host had selected 12 candidates for the FIPRESCI prize, and most of those were directorial debuts from filmmakers around the world. Back home, I have been a participant of the acclaimed Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival for many years, thus, I consider it fair for me to say that the quality of the films nominated was high, with some amazing entries – considering they were made by young filmmakers.

Among them, my favorites are “End of Winter” from Korean director Kim Dae-hwan, “K” from Mongolian/Welsh director Darhad Erdenibulag/Emyrap Richard, “Borderless” from Iranian director Amirhossein Asgari, and “The Coffin in the Mountain” from Chinese director Xin Yukun.

“End of Winter” tells the story of a Korean family that is tearing itself apart internally through typical “Asian family” problems: the father is silent, the mother is controlling, and the two sons are both vulnerable in handling their own lives as well as taking up their roles within the family. There is also a future daughter-in-law that is eager to make a good impression on her mother-in-law to be but, helplessly so.

The film sets in an isolated place – a countryside cabin surrounded by a road-sealing blizzard, Kim lets the Father announces his will to divorce on his retirement day. The Mother turns into maniac, of course, but, with all members having nowhere to go, the story forces them to look deeply into their relationship with each other, saying things you won’t normally say when you’re not that desperate, and to be honest about some unchangeable circumstances in life. None of these issues is entirely new, but seeing them delivered flawlessly with so much intensity tells us a lot about the talent of this young filmmaker.

“K”, on the other hand, is definitely original in terms of idea and form. Adapted from “The Castle” by Franz Kafka, it centers on the ridiculousness of man’s interaction with others/society, especially hierarchy and bureaucracy. The protagonist K arrives in a village to access the Castle with no clearly identified reason, background or purpose. However, he was stuck due to the man in charge being unreachable, and the people willing to help him being powerless.

Like the novel, this film is not about story, but pace and repetitiveness, and it cuts frequently from indoor scenes, which represent the fragments of our modern life. All this was constructed on a Mongolian set with excellent but mostly non-professional actors, which is amazing. We meet people for reasons: to help, to love or to exchange information, yet none of them is guaranteed to last long. And once they disappear, our social life goes with them, along with the meaning of our own existence. We gave this film the FEPRISCI prize at HKIFF this year, to honor its courage and novelty.

“Borderless” is another film on the list I would like to mention, with its fairytale core and gentle touch. The story is set among a shipwreck, focusing on a boy living by himself and fishing, cooking and occasionally heading ashore to trade with the local people. One day, a surprising company breaks into his Neverland. And, since the ship is around the borderline of a war zone, this leads to a story about people from two sides facing each other and learning to live together.

This is easily the warmest film among all those I saw in HKIFF this year. It may not be that practical, but surely it’s made with a belief and understanding of how equal the value of our lives are to the way we conquer the hatred, sadness and fear facing people everyday around the world.

In contrast to the over-optimistic “Borderless”, “The Coffin in the Mountain” is a dark, elaborated social satire comedy. It was nominated for Best New Director in the Golden Horse Award last year, and was one of the highly anticipated and discussed films in the TGHFF.

The story takes place in a Chinese village with multi POVs and flashback storytelling, revealing elements of death, cheating, unexpected turns and few thoughts of good or bad or twisted love. Watching this film is so much fun, it was described as a Coen Brothers genre piece, but with a structure clearly gleaned from Christopher Nolan, whom the director says he looks up to.

In addition to the above films, there’s also “40-love” from France with a touching story, “Sworn Virgin” from Italy/Albania with a subject worthy of much more exploration. There was “Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories” which gives us a glance of the 90’s youth in Vietnam and that has an interesting use of mud in a sex scene and a bath scene. Last, but not least, is “ATA” from Tibetan director Chakme Rinpoche, which tells the story of a mother learning to let go after losing her blind son by entering the dark, spiritual world he lives in.

It’s always appealing to watch new filmmakers telling stories with new ideas. Over the years, HKIFF has become a platform for not only Asian but also newcomers around the world to show movie lovers what they’ve got. And, as I said in a letter to my two fellow jury members, “It’s not only a pleasure, but also an honor for me to be part of this”.

Edited by Tara Judah