Sunday, November 26, 2006

More Viewing in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a special place of course for many of us - a homecoming of sorts where you feel like you are at the source of so many pleasurable and purifying moments spent watching their films bedazzle and bewitch you. Around you are constant reminders of this – posters with Andy, Sammi and Carina welcoming you with gigantic smiles or landmarks that nudge your memory of hazy scenes in some long ago seen film. The rough streets of the Young and Dangerous, the sad women standing on the corners of Temple Street, the glitzy neon lights of the hostess bars, the steep steps where Jackie fought off the villains in Mr. Canton and Lady Rose, Hong Kong University where Hsu Chi fell in love in City of Glass, checking into the Evergreen Hotel as did Daniel Wu in One Night in Mongkok and eating at a table where Edison makes his first Hong Kong kill in Dog Bite Dog – all these images of past films wander through the city like ghosts – as much a part of it as the Star Ferry or the Night Market . These trips to Hong Kong are special even if I barely get to touch the surface – just small postcards to remind myself to return again someday.

Two more films seen in HK.

Still Life (China) 2006 – this was my first belated exploration of the works of director Jia Zhangke and after seeing this I feel rather foolish in having avoided his earlier films – “Platform” (2000), “Unknown Pleasures” (2002) and “The World” (2004). I am not really sure why I did so other than a mild prejudice against slow, static and socially relevant films which I assume these to be. Not that “Still Life” doesn’t fall squarely into this characterization. But rather than finding myself impatient with its skeletal plotting and thinly sketched characters I found it to be a powerful, fascinating and soulful look at the tumultuous social changes taking place in China as it rushes towards a free market economy – and the human cost of those left behind. In near documentary style, Jia captures a society that is becoming totally uprooted and mobile, where all the tenuous bonds of family and community are on the verge of disintegration. Shot on HD, the picture is astonishingly clean and clear and there is little artificial separation between film and audience – it is as if looking out your window and seeing this human and national drama take place.

Back in 1993 China embarked on a massive hydroelectric project on the Yangtze River in the Three Gorges area that would over time displace nearly 1.5 million people and cover up long standing communities in water. The price of progress say the authorities – a colossal human tragedy say its critics. Into this chaotic milieu comes Han Sanming looking for his wife and daughter who left him sixteen years previously. He is a coalminer from Shanxi (where the director grew up) and after all these years he has a yearning to see his daughter, but the address he has is now under water and he stubbornly attempts to track them down. To pay his way, he takes on the hard work of breaking down the buildings before the water comes and makes acquaintances with others who have either come from elsewhere to find work or those who are being forced out – one of them being an amusing Chow Yun Fat “A Better Tomorrow” imitator – but there seems little chance of a better tomorrow for these people. With the stunning landscapes of the Three Gorges as a backdrop and peculiar moments of fancy (a spaceship taking off or people dancing on a bridge), the film never feels heavy handed – rather it is a snapshot of history on the move and one that still has a long ways to go.

This film won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival. Jia also made a documentary called “Dong” about the Three Gorges Dam and from what I read some of it leaks into the film with similar dialogue and an inn keeper who plays himself in the film. The town of Fengjie where the film was shot is now under water.

My rating for this film: 9.0

First Love (Japan) (Hatsukoi)

Director: Yukinari Hanawa
Year: 2006
Length: 114 minutes


Anonymous said...

Oh lucky you!!! It's minus 25 celsius in Edmonton, AB today. I'd much rather be in a theatre in Hong Kong watching the new Louis Koo/ Jackie Chan movie than freezing my butt off here!

Take care,

Brian said...

Actually I will be back in the cold of NYC in about 2 weeks! Have to admit that as much as I love warm weather I do miss the seasonal changes and will enjoy the cold icy weather - for about a week! Of course minus 25 celsius is another story all together - no thanks!