Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Movies from HKIFF

Every year I would pick and enjoy a few movies out of the Hong Kong International Film Festival lineup. This year is a particularly good crop and here are my pickings:

Homecoming (Dir: Joe Dante; USA) -- A horror flick and a parody film made for Showtime television, and what all liberals (yours truly included) would love to see happen to George W. Bush's 2004 presidential campaign. Iraqi war dead came back to life, uh, no, more like zombies only with only one "purpose in life" -- to vote against Bush. When the administration was behind, they re-engineered a "Florida II" and won anyway, only to anger dead soldiers from all wars to rise up. An intelligent script includes a healthy dosage of American politics including halirious parodies of the likes of Ann Coulter and Karl Rove. "Homecoming" is great escapist fun to keep up our liberal spirits in this age of Bush stupidity.

Su-Ki-Da (Dir: Ishikawa Hiroshi; Japan) -- A stylishly produced Japanese love story about Yosuke and Yu spanning from teen to adulthood. It's all just about love not expressed. After an accident separating them since their teens, they were reunited in Tokyo, but fate just had to make sure that they almost didn't make it. The first part of the movie was just too slow but obviously this was part of the whole scheme, creating a spare and quiet ambience. The repeated shots of the blue sky with white clouds were enough to make us envy from Hong Kong, though.

Night Watch (Dir: Timur Bekmambetov; Russia) -- Russia's gritty answer to Hong Kong's "My Date With A Vampire" or Hollywood's Matrix and Lord of the Rings, Night Watch (Nochnoy Dozor) is a blast! "For as long as humanity has existed, there have been "Others" among us; Witches, Vampires and Shape-Shifters who are soldiers in the eternal ware between Light and Dark. Light Others protect mankind from Dark Others, who plague and torture humans. Ancient prophecy foretells that one day the Great One will arrive who can end the threat of an apocalyptic battle between Light and Dark Others. That day has come, and the Great One, once he or she is identified, must choose whether to destroy the light within or battle the surrounding darkness. The choice will reveal mankind's destiny." A Must See! I want to watch the sequel Day Watch -- record-breaking box office hit in Russia (I'm sure it's on BT somewhere but...) -- and a third film will even be a Hollywood production!

Princess Raccoon (Dir: Seijun Suzuki; Japan) -- A delightful Kabuki-esque operetta sprinkled with disco and lavishly colorful sets and costumes, the story tells of the love story between a young prince (whose father, obsessed with ego for his own beauty, wants to kill the young man, in a spin on good old Snow White) and a princess raccoon from "Cathay" (most-of-the-time Chinese speaking and singing Zhang Ziyi). A delightful Yakushimaru Hiroko, teenage idol from the early 80s, plays the raccoon caretaker of the princess. Keep an open mind about what you see and hear, and you can really enjoy this unconventional and creative little gem.

The Silent Holy Stones (Dir: Wanmacaidan; China) -- The first Tibetan film by a Tibetan director, who was a first-timer and winning a directorial debut award from China's Golden Rooster awards. The calm story about a young lama monk going home for his new year's holidays is plain and straightly told but there is just not a dry moment. The crash between old tradition and new technologies was marked by VCDs of the "Monkey King". Yet life goes on. Before we have a chance to see Tibet for our own, this seems as close an encounter with common daily Tibetan lives as we can get.

The Ants (Dir: Ikeya Kaoru; Japan) -- This documentary with no narration follows WaichOkumura's fight for justice and redemption. A World War II solidier left in China after the Japanese surrendered, fighting a secret war under a pact between Japanese and Kuomintang generals, Okumura and his fellow soldiers from the 1st Imperial Army was denied their reparatiosn and honors. Watching his comrades gradually passing out of old age, Okumura travelled to Taiyuan, Shanxi, China, to recover evidence of the secret pact, but the Japanese court still ignored their pleas. On film, we see Okumura lament the young girls going to pray at the Yasukuni Shrine about their lack of knowledge about the truths of Japan's involvement in the war, and we also see him heckling the horrific militant right-wingers in Yasukuni. But Okumura did not mutter a word of apology to the people he and his fellow soldiers killed in China -- yet he burnt incense on the execution ground in Taiyuan. The most poignant moment in the film was Okumura's conversation with an old Chinese woman in Shanxi who was raped by the Japanese when she was a teenagers. Okumura did not apologize directly, but it was the Chinese woman telling him, effectively: "you don't look like such a bad person now, go home and tell your wife about what you did, and redeem yourself." This sums up the cultural differences and the views of the war from China and Japan.

Dead Run (Dir: Sabu; Japan) -- How does a young man from a perfectly normal family take a turn to arsons, gangsters, murders and death? Class and identity conflicts between the communities of the two sides of a shoreline. Fragile family relationships breaking down as soon as any minor little thing goes wrong. A defiant young girl may have with a tough mind of her own, but fate as perverted as it us would deny her of running -- her own way of yearning for freedom and independence. Add to these the fascination with life beyond the suburb, life more than the common would make the young man's fate crossed with gangsters and child molesters. Radical but deeply touching, "Dead Run" laments the human spirit in a weird and twisted world.

Good Night, and Good Luck (Dir: George Clooney; USA) -- I wonder how many people in the Hong Kong audience have heard about Edward R. Murrow before this movie. Or maybe even among the so-called journalists in Hong Kong who have no clues about grace and professionalism under pressure. The treatment is even handed though and not overly self-righteous. It was asked, "who doesn't self-censor?" This movie is a great effort by George Clooney proving that he can be much more than a pretty face -- being the director, co-writer and co-star in this black-and-white film. CBS anchor Murrow and his team took on Joseph McCarthy in the middle of his communist witch hunt in the 1950s. David Strathairn leads a cast of smooth performance by Jeff Daniels, Robert Downey Jr., Frank Langella and Clooney. This movie should be made classroom material for students in journalism, history and political science, or even secondary school general education for that matter.

The Producer (Dir: Susan Stroman; USA) -- A motion picture remake of the 1968 Mel Brooks musical with Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Uma Thurman and Will Ferrell, this is a delightful little fare on show business -- safe and no big surprises. The light-hearted gay production of "Springtime for Hitler" is enough for a few laughs. Passable for say an inflight movie. But if one has to compare, "Princess Raccoon" would be a much better musical in both creativity and entertainment.


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