Sunday, March 30, 2008

HKIFF: Day 6

I didn't write any report for my viewing of Once because I gave up the ticket to work some more. Life is busy. March life is busier.

Nevertheless, I made it to my two screenings yesterday, and I'll talk about my second movie of the day more in detail because I won't be reviewing it

Sitting 3 rows behind stars Karena Lam (!!!!) and Cyndi Wang, I watched the lesbian omnibus film Candy Rain. The film is made up of 4 stories, about 4 different lesbian couples that has their own respective problems. However, it doesn't really say anything profound about neither homo nor heterosexual relationships other than whatever the narrators tell you. In fact, it's like watching four very long and damn near incoherent music videos. The music are nice, and the art direction is beautiful in that "I wish my house look that tragically hip" sort of way, but it doesn't connect at all. Worst film I've seen at the festival so far.

I also saw Shinji Aoyama's Sad Vacation, though I might not be qualified to review it. Along with Eureka and Helpless, this film completes a so-called "Kita Kyushu" trilogy by the auteur. However, I couldn't help but wonder about these characters' backstories as I was watching the film. Turns out a few of the characters are from the previous films, which was a minor annoyance, though it didn't deter from my understanding of the film. Instead, it's the film's editing style that provided the deterrence. A work worth respecting, though I'm not entirely sure about liking it yet.

Next, the final film of my HKIFF experience: Bare-Assed Japan.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

HKIFF: Day 5

It's kind of sad, but I'm already halfway through my tickets at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. Today it's films 5 and 6: The Japanese wrestling comedy Gachi Boy Wrestling with a Memory and Naoko Ogigami's Megane.

Some people criticize that the HKIFF has been getting more and more commercial films, to the point of losing its purpose. The choice of Gachi Boy may be one of those commercial films they're talking about. From the people at Robot (including uber producer Chihiro Kameyama)and Fuji TV is another underdog sports comedy that features a protagonist trying to pick up pro wrestling, despite all the odds against him. This isn't a "film festival" movie by any means, but I'm happy that the HKIFF people brought a film that wouldn't be shown in Hong Kong otherwise (no big stars, no real attractive gimmick for a broad HK audience). It's a genuine crowdpleaser with an excellent lead performance, even if it is the usual emotionally manipulative stuff.

A similarly crowdpleasing film that didn't need to resort to melodramatic theatrics is Naoko Ogigami's Magane. A simple comedy about a woman escaping city life at an un-named island where everyone spend their days being lazy next to the ocean, it features eccentric characters and no real plot to speak of. Nevertheless, I think it left more of a smile on people's face than a hearty laugh. One audience even said that being in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong, just seeing the film in therapeutic. I think that's the biggest compliment one can give to Ogigami-san (pictured above), and one that I wholeheartedly agree with.

Wednesday: The Irish film Once

Friday, March 21, 2008

HKIFF: Days 3 and 4

On the third night of the Hong Kong International Film Festival, I checked out the independent comedy-drama Sex Is No Laughing Matter, with it boy Kenichi Matsuyama starring as a college student who falls in love with an older woman. Not too much to say, though I can say it's the only screening so far where the audience did not applaud at the end of the film. However, the audience still reacted fairly well to it, especially to Yu Aoi's performance as a girl who expresses her frustrations in the cutest ways possible. However, it's the detached visual style of director Nami Iguchi will make this a film that won't travel far beyond film festivals.

By the way, anyone expecting any explicit content will be disappointed: It's definitely very tame in showing the sex.

On the other hand, the deadpan comedy Fine, Totally Fine should have little trouble reaching a wider audience that's looking for laughs more than attractive stars. In Japan, this is more well-known as comedian Yoshiyoshi Arakawa's first starring role, but for the audiences, it'll just be known as the funniest Japanese comedy so far in 2008. This is one where I would recommend everyone to not watch any trailers for. Just go in and prepared to be surprised.

After 4 movies, this is how I would rank my experience at the festival so far:

1) I Just Didn't Do It - 9.0/10, or A-
2) Fine, Totally Fine - 8.5/10, or B+
3) God Man Dog - 8/10, or B
4) Sex is No Laughing Matter - 7.5/10, or B-

Tomorrow: Wrestling With a Memory (Gachi Boy) and Glasses.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

HKIFF: Day 2

My second film of the festival is Taiwanese director Singing Chen's God Man Dog. The director herself and star Jack Kao were in attendance for a Q&A session (both autographs on ticket above), where I got a commemorative lucky charm for asking a question.

As for the film, it's an ensemble film, where three seemingly unrelated stories somehow come together in the end and say something profound about our lives. Chen first set up at least two emotionally heavy stories, but doesn't really do enough with them for us to look forward to when they come together. However, when the tragicomedy aspect begins to set in, it also began to be more enjoyable. It has enough great music, cinematography, and performances to make it a good film. However, Chen's broad scope includes too much, with the plots not really going anywhere at points.

Still, I'm a sucker for these types of stories (me being a fan of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu and all), so I would recommend God Man Dog to those who know what they're going into.

It opens in Taiwan on March 28th.

Tomorrow: Sex Is No Laughing Matter (or Don't Laugh At My Romance).

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

HKIFF: Day 1

This is my first year as a festival goer at the Hong Kong International Film Festival (I went to a screening of Hotel Rwanda 3 years ago, but that just makes me a guy going to a movie). I originally have 12 movies lined up, though now it is 11, because the screening of United Red Army I got a ticket for got canceled. 11 is considered quite minor, especially when there are people out there with 20-30 tickets. Nevertheless, on my limited budget and time (both due to me being a student), this is the best I can do this year.

Anyway, over the next 2 weeks, I'll be recapping the films I watch at the festival, though I'll leave the full-length reviews to Lovehkfilm.

My first film of the festival is Masayuki Suo's multiple-award-winning legal drama I Just Didn't Do It. Only a film geek like me would be excited that I got to see the director of Shall We Dance and the guy who acted under Clint Eastwood in person.

And there's Kantoku Suo taking a picture of the audience. I wonder if he has a blog.

Anyway, the film can be described as the long and arduous fight of a man falsely accused of groping a high school girl on the train. It's a painstakingly researched and even infuriating film that exposes the Japanese legal system for all its bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Unlike the Death Note movies, which was knee-deep in so-called moral debates about the inefficiencies of the Japanese legal system, the filmmakers know what they were doing, peeling each process layer by layer. They actually know what they're talking about, and they stick by it. Meanwhile, Death Note pretends to be making a challenging point, but really only to make one of its characters more likable.

I Just Didn't Do It is a powerful film that's also quietly intense and one of the best "message" films to come along in a while. Like I previously have written, I'll leave the bulk of my opinion for the full-length review, but it's even better than Tokyo Tower, which beat Suo's film's at the Japanese Academy Awards. It's no surprise, though: Partially quoting the film, a win for a film against the system is like a blow against the system, so how can it wn?

Tomorrow: Taiwan's God Man Dog