Academic journal article CineAction

Chinese Language Films: The 24th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2000

Academic journal article CineAction

Chinese Language Films: The 24th Hong Kong International Film Festival 2000

Article excerpt

Perhaps the greatest "cinematographic" experience in Hong Kong is one that's always available, the view from the Kowloon waterfront to Hong Kong Island: a sweep of Causeway Bay, Wanchai and Central's skyscrapers in an extreme long shot, super wide-angle view, with mountains above and the harbour in the foreground. This urban vista, unmatched, in my experience, in its verve, evening dazzle, glamour and viscerally thrilling elan, might have insinuated its character into the Hong Kong cinema experience. For the city's films, with their cinematographic flair -- their primary reliance on visuality, on the thrill of the image (rather than narrative structure, or the written quality of a screenplay) -- may owe something to this ever-present challenge of the cityscape.

This view can be savoured, perhaps not so coincidentally, just outside of the Hong Kong Film Festival's headquarters, at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. Among the festivals that I've covered, Hong Kong's is easily the most relaxed, accommodating, and pleasant to navigate and survive. Central venues are conveniently close to each other. As an added bonus, one is "required" to take the 10 minute Star Ferry ride frequently, as a kind of shuttle between venues in Tsimshatsui (the Cultural Centre, the Science Museum) and those in Central (HK City Hall, the Arts Centre). This provides thrilling panoramas of the harbour and offers sea breezes that serve as a welcome refreshing tonic, recharging one's film-viewing batteries between screenings.

The HKIFF has managed until this year to weather the post-1997 change of regime without major disruption. There are pressures on the programmers, but they existed before 1997 as well. Self-censorship has always been an issue, but the festival's programmers have a distinguished reputation of not shying away from provocative choices of films. In the festival's early years (before 1982), these choices sometimes attracted the unwanted attention of British colonial censorship. And after the beginning of negotiations with the mainland in 1984, the HKIFF was not reluctant, on occasion, to defy pressure from the mainland Chinese Film Bureau. Though this body had other ways of influencing the films to be shown in Hong Kong. This year, for example, Liu Bingjian's Man Man Woman Woman, an unauthorised PRC film that deals in a fanciful and sympathetic way with Beijing's gay subculture, was withdrawn by the director, at the behest of mainland film authorities, shortly before the festival opened.

Rivalled only by South Korea's Pusan film festival, and supported by second-string festivals in Singapore, Taipei, and Tokyo, Hong Kong remains the central annual East Asian film event. Perhaps not for long, if mainland culture authorities have their way. The now biennial Shanghai International Film Festival still has a long way to go, and will not, for obvious reasons, have the programming freedom in the foreseeable future that Hong Kong enjoys today. But as Shanghai vies to re-establish its status as Greater China's film capital, its own festival will have to take on greater and greater importance.

The HKIFF manages to serve several constituencies and fill different needs. For Hong Kongers, it is an essential window to the rest of the world's cinema. Local screens are pretty much restricted to a combination of locally produced films and Hollywood product, leavened with whatever else is trendy at the moment. And at this moment, the trend is East Asia. Films from Japan (especially in horror and action genres), Korea (horror, again) and even a few from Thailand are appearing on Hong Kong screens. The city has one cinema devoted to art house film, the Broadway Cinematheque, with exemplary international programming. The Hong Chance to Die, which the festival chose to highlight as a "closing film", was little more than a grimly violent, increasingly shrill by-the-numbers exercise in gangster genre filmmaking: technically accomplished, but shallow and unmemorable. …

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