Friday, April 24, 2009

33rd International Hong Kong Film Festival Award Winners

The fest will run from March 22 to April 13 and here are the films in the Asian Digital Competition.

Glamorous Youth, Philip Yung, 2009
Youth, and life in general, is anything but glamorous for a group of students and their families in Yung’s melancholic social drama. Romantic woes and confused sexuality for both young and old, internal and external parental conflict and feelings of isolation afflict individuals from all strata of Hong Kong society, underscoring their commonalities as much as it does their differences. In a city of conspicuous wealth and its new status as part of a larger nation, the families feel only anxiety and powerlessness about the bliss they should be seeking.

Perfect Life, Emily Tang, 2009 (co produced by Jia Zhan-ke! – absolutely must be seen)
Like her co-producer Jia Zhangke’s recent films, Emily Tang’s sensitively observed Perfect Life experiments with the documentary and fiction form, cross-cutting them to reveal parallels and contrasts within China’s new social and economic reality. The first segment revolves around a working-class girl (superbly played by Yao Qianyu) who dreams of leaving her broken home, and a charismatic conman who leads her south. The second part switches to a documentary format, focusing on a Mainland woman in Hong Kong who is struggling to become independent. Their tales are fundamentally linked by their mutual desire for a better life. Winner of the Golden Digital Award.


Er Dong, Yang Jin, 2008
The titular Er Dong is a brawny teenager who lives with his ultra-Christian mother. Prone to fights and troubles, his exasperated parent soon banishes him to a Christian boarding school, where he seemingly begins to reform. However, a bout of truancy leads to his expulsion, but not before he elopes with a girl named Chang E. After she becomes pregnant, he takes the responsibility of breadwinner. But a recurring nightmare about selling his own child unravels a shocking revelation. Er Dong is a realistic and refreshing coming-of-age film whereby the protagonist actually never really grows up but falls into a recurring pattern of vice.

Naked of Defenses, Ichii Masahide, Japan, 2008
Winner at Japan’s PIA Film Festival and the New Currents in Pusan, this moving, a naturalistic yet deceptively simple tale of two women strikes a realistic chord in its gradual build-up of a friendship. Ritsuko works in a local plastic factory that has recently hired a pregnant newcomer, Chinatsu. At first, the two women sense an affinity. But Ritsuko, who is trying to come to terms with her miscarriage and her loveless marriage, alternates between envy and hatred for her new friend. Director Ichii effortlessly lets the tale come to its own natural conclusion, giving the women space to bond over their shared maternal instincts.

Call if You Need Me, James Lee, Malasia, 2009
James Lee’s newest indie film is a classic brotherhood gangster yarn fronted by a lead turn by local music wunderkind Pete Teo. Ah Soon and Or Kia are two cousins who grew up together in a small village. As an adult, aggressive Ah Soon now lives in the city and works as a debt collector. He invites Or Kia, the simpler and more righteous of the two, to join his expanding business. It would be Ping, Ah Soon’s new girlfriend, who would act as the bridge between the two men, as the age-old themes of loyalty and honor are explored. This understated work marks a direct contrast to his commercial horror film, Histeria. Winner of the Silver Digital Award.

Imburnal, Sherad Anthony Sanchez, Phillipines, 2008
A controversial digital exploration of coming of age in the slums of Davao City in the Phillipines. Two boys, Rabat and Allen, live in sewers and cemeteries, surviving through petty crime. Sanchez captures an intimate, anti-narrative world of experience, sex, and conversation framed by wandering through the landscape of the glittering city. But poverty and alienation in Davao are also framed by violence – disappearances and death squads who seek to clean the city of its juvenile delinquents. A raw, complex, compelling work exploring the slums without the Hollywood/Bollywood gloss of Slumdog Millionaire’s happy ending.

Flooding in the Time of Drought, Sherman Ong, Singapore, 2009
What if Singapore has no running tap water? Despite being surrounded by the sea, the island nation must purchase such a basic natural resource from overseas. But water can also be a double-edged sword – too little or too much of it can cause death. To reflect this, Sherman Ong’s work is split in two parts, namely “Drought” and “Flood”, showing the dichotomy that exists between our relationship with the vital element. Originally made as an installation for the Singapore Biennale, this fusion of documentary and fiction narrative depicts the lives of foreign migrants while the topic of death and impending catastrophe surrounds them.

Daytime Drinking, Noh Young-seok, South Korea, 2008
In Korea, it is a customary thing to accept when one is offered a drink. Noh Young-seok’s hilarious debut will hit close to home for those who understand this, especially in regards to the epic hangover the following day. Nursing a broken heart, Hyeok-jin gathers with friends and then becomes utterly inebriated. In a drunken haze, they all promise to take a trip the next day to the neighboring province. Unfortunately, he is the only person that actually goes. Then trough a series of mishaps that ends up with him in only his underwear, Hyeok-jin’s constant desire to go back home is constantly thwarted by more courteous offers of soju.

There are many sections in this fest and I suggest to check the Global Vision, Pan-Chinese Cinema (especially Chinese Renaissance), and the Tributes. To check all the films, docs and shorts please go here.

Since I particularly enjoyed Sandrine Pinna performance in Miao Miao, I’m really looking forward to see her again in
Yang Yang, Cheng Yu-Chieh, 2009
A moving film about youth, love, and trust haunted by metaphysical issues and personal choices – themes that emerging bicultural filmmaker Cheng has explored in his earlier films. Here, the Eurasian protagonist, Yang-Yang, is torn by loyalty to friend and teammaters and attraction to her best-friend boyfriend, until an apocalyptic vision causes her to act – and lose everything. These events, in turn, resonate later when Taiwan faces ominous conditions and Yang-Yang begins her search for a man who may be her father, with a photographer who may call her back to life even when the end threatens her world.

But also, some interesting discoveries in the lesbian interest genre:

Je Te Mangerais (You Will Be Mine), Sophie Laloy, France 2008 – with Isid Le Besco.
The film transcends being simply a Gallic spin on Single White Female. Marie moves to Lyon to study music, and to save money she moves in with an older friend of the family, Emma. What starts as a friendship of convenience disintegrates to one of mutual obsession, control and dependence, until both women lose themselves completely. Marie’s conflicting desires –for success, to seem sophisticated, for Emma and Sami, another student in her institute – ground Laloy’s study of the fragility of identity and unhealthy needs that sometimes drive us.

At Stake, Ucu Agustin, Lucky Kuswandi, Iwan Setiawan & M. Ichsan, and Ani Ema Susanti, Indonesia, 2008
Nia Dinata returns as producer for this collection of hot-topic but relevant and vital issues. This time, the filmmakers explore subject matters facing contemporary Indonesian women as wide-ranging as reproductive health, prostitution, motherhood, and homosexuality. These stories are not often addressed in a country where the perception of virginity is valued above well-being and where the female body is viewed as a dirty little secret. Through a series of compelling vignettes, the five directors sensitively examine how the law and general society have put women in a precarious position.

They will also screen Ghosted, Monika Treut, Germany and Taiwan, 2009.

All film descriptions/synopsis come from the fest site and if you live in Hong Kong I suggest you do not miss in the Asian Film Awards Screenings of 20 Nominated Films that the fest will screen in the extension activities, especially Jodhaa Akbar with Aishwayra Rai. Also check the extension activity: Ingmar Bergman: The Man Who Asked Hard Questions Exhibition.

Great fest with great movies! To check all the award winners please go here.

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