Thursday, March 4, 2010

Observations on the 34th HKIFF 評論電影節

1. Props for this year's programme booklet design. A handy A4 size, perfect for on-the-go browsing/sharing and for keeping you seemingly occupied while queuing up for the next screening (even though most of those who bother to queue up are presumably avid festgoers who planned their schedules well in advance).

The cover's psychological/film noir theme also gives a good impression of seriousness unlike last year's 'hip' amateur student project, although this was summarily dismissed when I found out the images correspond with the idiotic booking assistant for Hong Kongers who prefer to be illiterate, Spin the Wheel (I can't wait to see how many people expecting gripping blockbuster tension would be 'thrilled' by the avant-garde low-budget In the Woods 浪蕩林深處).

2. Generally this year's programme is pretty good. Perhaps a shorter festival (17 days compared to last year's 23, but still relatively long compared to foreign fests) leads to careful selection, as the major films in the fest circuit more or less are covered (but see point 4 below). Very welcoming (for me personally) that they dropped last year's deliberate attempt to introduce more motivational/uplifting films- less populist/mainstream flicks, more arthouse/world cinema fare this year.

Retrospectives are outstanding and genuinely must-see (i.e. films that aren't readily available on DVD/Internet). In particular, Theo Angelopoulos' films, with its long takes and meticulous compositions, must be appreciated on the big screen. Bruce Lee's retrospective scheduling on weekdays, like last year's Film Workshop retrospective, remains awkward. Seminars for retrospectives, like those organised by Film Programmes Office, are unhelpfully held near the early screening dates- generally the public won't have seen most, if not any of the films, and if you want to encourage the public to appreciate them or contribute to discussions, then you really have to let them see the films first.

(N.B. Will we ever get to see the Nagisa Oshima 大島渚 retrospective that toured North America and Europe in 2008-09?) 

3. It's encouraging that both opening and closing slots are occupied by Hong Kong films. Those who complain that it's bad for an 'international' festival, or that these are unnecessary premieres for soon-to-be-released films, are missing the point: it's always helpful to have an international platform for showcasing what Hong Kong has to offer. HKIFF is far from (and probably will never be equal to) Cannes/Berlin/Venice/Toronto, and even in these top fests local films are given slots either in competition or gala premieres.

Also pay attention to the Hong Kong films premiering in the Hong Kong Panorama section, as well as the shorts in the Short Film Competition. How many of these will be on general release or on limited runs at Broadway Cinematheque/The Grand Cinema? Will there be another success story like last year's KJ 音樂人生?

4. Notable absences from this year's programme, some rather glaring: Werner Herzog's The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans and My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done; Tilda Swinton-starring I Am Love; Venice Silver Lion winner Women Without Men; Berlin Golden Bear winner The Milk of Sorrow; Berlin Silver Bear winner Katalin Varga; Sally Potter's Rage; Pedro Costa's Ne Change Rien; Lukas Moodysson's Mammoth; João Pedro Rodrigues' To Die Like a Man; Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are; Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles; Atom Egoyan's Chloe; Fatih Akin's Soul Kitchen; Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers; Michael Moore's Capitalism: A Love Story; James Benning's Ruhr; Young British Artist Sam Taylor-Wood's directorial debut Nowhere Boy; Samantha Morton's directorial debut The Unloved; Shinya Tsukamoto's 塚本晋也 English-remake Tetsuo: The Bullet Man; Adam Curtis' It Felt Like a Kiss; US indie The Exploding Girl; UK TV mini-series The Red Riding Trilogy; South Korean film Paju; and Anna Wintour documentary The September Issue (because if last year's Valentino, The Last Emperor 末代皇帝華倫天奴 sold out, then there's no reason why this one won't). And although last year's absences I noted have been covered in other film events in 2009, Lucrecia Martel's acclaimed The Headless Woman remains unreleased in Hong Kong.

5.  For Chinese speakers, two interviews with artistic director Li Cheuk-to 李焯桃 to listen to at and RTHK's 講東講西.


  1. "to die like a man" has been screened in last year's gay & lesbian film fest~ i guess in hk, one has to be stay obsessively alert so as not to miss any great films buried in some obscure film fests or disguised under some idiotic translated chinese titles~ =]
    i guess about half of the missing titles you mentioned will eventually be covered in other fests later this year?

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  3. gar~*: Possibly, with HKAFF, HKAIFF, Kino 2010 and next year's European Film Festival should cover a lot of it. If there's a return of the British Film Festival then most of the films will be covered. I'm very surprised why they didn't pick either of the Herzog films- both have the '怪雞' (weird) appeal that attracts (or deceives?) casual fest goers.