Hong Kong International film festival 2014

Posted on May 20, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

The 38th Hong Kong's International film festival took place from 24th March to 7th April, and I was able to see some films that are yet to be released or may not even get general releases.

As always, with so many films and limited time, it was hard to narrow the selection down. I wanted to see about 20 films but ended up with 9 only and here are some of my favourites:


Jodorowsky's Dune

As a fan of art house and foreign films, I was a bit surprised not to have heard of the Paris-based Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky before the film festival. And having seen Dune before, I remembered clearly that it ( a commercial and critical flop) was made by David Lynch and not Jodorowsky. Out of curiosity I booked a double bill to see both Jodorowsky's new film followed by this documentary, and I was quite blown away by what I saw.

Directed by Frank Pavich, this documentary is about a vision of an artist and the most influential and ambitious film that was never made. I am sure like everyone else who saw this would wonder, "what if this film was actually made? Would it have been as successful as Star Wars or as disastrous as David Lynch's Dune?". Yet even though it was never made, the creative team Jodorowsky had assembled for the film, including Moebius and Swiss artist H. R. Giger (who died last week) brought their ideas and visuals to films like Star Wars, Alien and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Jodorowsky himself is a passionate, eccentric and inspiring character, and the reason why I have never heard of him was because he has not made a film for the last 23 years. The documentary's director attended the Q & A session, and answered many audience's questions including the whereabouts of the mysterious storyboards that thought to have indirectly inspired other directors. Twenty copies of the hefty art book were produced to show to potential backers, and now only two are known to exist, so what happened to the rest? Like the fate of the film, we shall never know.



The Dance of Reality

La danza de la realidad ( its Spanish title) is based on Alejandro Jodorowsky's autobiography of the same name. Not only this is Jodorowsky's first film is 23 years, it is also co-produced by former Dune producer, Michel Seydoux whom he hasn't been in touch with for 35 years. Thanks to Pavich's documentary on Dune, the two old friends reunited and broke the silence after all these years. Interestingly, the actor who plays Jodorowsky's father is his real son, Brontis and Alejandro plays a small part as himself.

This film has to be one of the most bizarre, surreal, dark, comical and beautiful films that I have ever seen. I would love to see Jodorowsky direct my favourite novel by Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, which I think shares many similar qualities as this film. Jodorowsky is an artist, and this film is a peek into his artistic mind. It is not without flaws ( I think 130 mins is too long), but it is not to admire the director's creativity, passion and courage to be so 'open' about his past and relationship with his father. The film is made for 'himself' rather than aiming to please the audience, I wonder how many working directors are able to do this these days? Being true to your own vision and going against the grain is never easy, but sometimes it is the only way to find peace within yourself.




Directed by Hong Khaou, and starring Ben Whishaw and Cheng Pei Pei, this low-budget BBC productio set in London is a sensitive and touching story on grief, communication and human relationships. It is rather slow paced but there are many funny moments, mostly provided by Peter Bowles. The performances by the two leads are excellent, esp. Whishaw, who is very convincing and shows great depth and vulnerability that is rare to find on screen in today's macho culture.



Blind massage

Directed by prominent Chinese director Ye Lou, this film is based on a novel by Bi Feiyu about a group of blind masseurs/masseuses working and living together in a Nanjing massage centre. The film reveals issues that the sight-impaired have to deal with on daily basis, including emotional, financial and sexual ones. Although some of the actors are sightless, most of the leads are not, yet the acting is convincing and captivating. My only complaint would be some of the over-dramatic/gruesome scenes, I am not sure if they are necessary apart from making the viewers feel uneasy. But the overall tone and pace work well, and the cinematography is creative and at times allow the viewers to 'sense' the impaired vision.



Journey to the West

After the disappointing 'Face (Visage)', I was a bit hesitate about seeing Taiwanese director, Tsai Ming Liang's new film. Luckily this new documentary is not only intriguing, it is imaginative, meditative, and beautifully shot. Inspired by the life of Xuanzang, a Chinese Buddhist monk who trekked from China to India for 17 years in the seventh-century. The documentary follows a Buddhist monk ( played by his long-term collaborator/real-life partner, Lee Kang-sheng) practising walking meditation in different parts of Marseille. For about an hour, viewers follow the monk around the city, and get a glimpse of the city life, its people and their reactions (or non-reactions) towards the monk. Tsai's slow-paced directing style is not for everyone, but I found it quite insightful and fascinating and I can't wait to watch his previous award-winning feature film, Stray Dogs.



Villa 69

Directed by Ayten Amin, Villa 69 is Egyptian drama about illness, death, memories and intimacy. Shot entirely in an old but beautifully-designed house, the film follows Hussein, a terminally-ill man who chooses to live (while waiting to die) in isolation. His life is turned upside down when his sister and her teenage son move in regardless of his objection. Egyptian heart-throb and activist, Khaled Abu Al Naja (still good-looking and charming beneath the make-up) plays a role who is about 20 years older than his actual age, but manages to deliver a convincing portrait of a grumpy, lonely, eccentric, snobbish and charismatic man. However, I wonder if his role is played by someone less good-looking and charming, would the audience still be as sympathetic towards his character? I think Khaled is very good actor, but he is probably a miscast in this film... Since I am not familiar with the Egyptian cinema scene, I would pick someone like Harvey Keitel, Ben Kingsley or Om Puri (British Asian) as the Western equivalents for this role. Khaled is simply too 'perfect' for this!




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