Rioting in Hong Kong has become one of those social norms and pretty much a common occurrence. The reason for this is fairly simple, back in the 1970s and 1980s, if you work hard enough the poor class can rise to the middle class, while the middle class can move on to the upper class. However since the handover in 1997, the new generation graduating out of universities can struck in low paying jobs or simply unemployed, while the cost of living and house prices continue to rise to unprecedented levels. The result is the working class goes poorer and middle class move into the working, while the only benefit goes to the richer becoming forever richer. In essence, Hong Kong is becoming just like they feared – China. Such is the backdrop of student Lo Chin-yip’s documentary about Hong Kong people receiving the basic of human rights – one person one vote.
Days After n Coming is really a mix bag of a film. In the opening 60 minutes the film is well shot, extremely well edited and capturing all the correct moments of those action packed riots. The best thing about this quadrant is that it feels objective enough. However come the final 30 minutes Lo seems to be promoting some sort of personal agenda and society. The result is that the documentary feels like 30 minutes too long and spoiled by an extremely subjective final quadrant of a film.
All in all, Days After n Coming is an extremely good effort from first time director Lo Chin-yip and shooting a good documentary that feels like entertainment in an involving way is never easy. If the film ended in its first cut of an hour, it is almost flawless, but the final 30 minutes seems too much like self promotion. Call me a critic, a documentary is meant to be as objective as possible, and by leaning towards a particular agenda in an obvious way spoiled all the hard yards that Lo tried so hard to maintain in the beginning. At the end of the day, the film does highlight the real issues going on in Hong Kong at the moment that cannot be ignored and clearly not sustainable for an ambitious society. Still, Days After n Coming is easily a good enough effort and ignoring the final third, it is a documentary worth watching and thinking about…
By being the opening film of the 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival, Declaration of War is a film that touches the audience hearts, but more importantly it talks about real humans, real events, real emotions and real surroundings. For that alone director and main actress deserves a simple round of applause. It is not easy to go through a traumatic experience and come out strongly by telling her life story through films. This film works because the director never stray away from its core issue of a couple dealing with their child having a brain trauma and all the other issues that goes along with it – losing money, jobs, lifestyle, relationships and ultimately themselves. It should be complimented that the film yet is about to play with a sense of humor along the way.
Valerie Donzelli not only carries the film as the mother and wife, but directs a film that is so personal to her. It was my honour to meet such a strong lady at the festival. In the scene where she ran and ran in the hospital corridors until she collapses is a perfect example of originality in her camera work and her ability to depicts and communicate a difficult moment. Likewise her former partner Jeremie Elkaim excels in a role that compliments Valerie and two display amazing chemistry that cannot just be manufactured.
All in all, Declaration of War is very much a personal film, about how a child’s illness can affect almost everything in his parents life. Dealing with difficult times like these is never easy and often the wear and tear will stop any couple from living their lives. Points should be given to Valerie for being able to so convincing portray these emotions. Although the film seems raw at times, War is very much a perfect example of how an extremely personal film can still affect the audience. While the film may never be a masterpiece, Valerie have certainly created and shared something special…
“Love Letter: Dearest, Do you know how much in love with you I am? Did I trip? Did I stumble – lose my balance, graze my knee, graze my heart? I know I’m in love when I see you. I know when I long to see you, I’m on fire. Not a muscle has moved. Leaves hang unruffled by any breeze. The air is still. I have fallen in love without taking a step. You are all wrong for me and I know it, but I can no longer care for my thoughts unless they are thoughts of you. When I am close to you, I feel your hair brush my cheek when it does not. I look away from you sometimes, then I look back. When I tie my shoes, when I peel an orange, when I drive my car, when I lie down each night without you, I remain, Yours”
Peter Chan’s first venture into Hollywood was a massive cultural barrier. Not unlike, Wong Kar Wai’s poorly executed, but well meaning “My Blueberry Night”, the premise seems very much Korean and the idea of a love letter creating multiple opportunities of love is more corny and cheesy than believable. Seriously if you see an untitled love letter randomly on a table at someone’s else home, it is very likely that you will take it seriously to heart and take it as a piece of salt instead. The answer is clear and the whole idea is flawed from the beginning. Here is how Chan works his magic on the audience and trick us to believe and takes us along the ride in a somewhat light hearted and slightly heart-warming view of nothing else than love.
In one of Kate Capshaw’s final on-screen display, she is ably casted as a single middle aged woman trying to find love again despite the odds. In fact the film would not have been watchable if not for Capshaw’s performance and Chan’s persistent style of direction. I have always called Chan a romantic director as he goes for the depth of characters and their stories in unprecedented details. Unfortunately, in this film, Chan is clearly lost in translation and it’s a definite shame.
All in all, like most Asian directors cutting it out in the golden mountain of Hollywood, Chan is unable to replicate his best works. No matter how you see this film from whatever angle, for a Hollywood movie it is just too corny to connect with the Western audience and for the Asian audience we have seen too many Comrades, Alan and Eric and countless better cinematic experience. Still, Chan did not fully fail as some fun can still be had, except by his standards, this is an epic fail by all proportions….
The much anticipated, banned Mainland movie about the sex industry was actually more disappointing than enjoyable. With a bunch of eagerly awaiting audience looking forward to see some genuine female body parts and beautiful faces, but we are left with over exposure of camera shots focusing on male than their more petite counterparts. It is even more shameful to say that the film was banned in China. When in essence there is really nothing out of place or daring about this film. Surely, it showed the darker side of the sex industry, but it offers no new insights into the oldest profession in the world. Still, despite this, Sauna on Moon is still better than average and for passable entertainment, some fun can still be had.
The real problem of this film is that no actors/actresses really stood out to be remembered, but rather everyone seems to be happy enough to play bit-part characters. This can be explained by the director (Zou Peng) himself, that he used a lot of people he know and real people from the sex industry in this film. In a way, it is actually commendable to the director for even attempting this kind of touching genre in the Mainland territory. Surely, he had to work within the strict boundaries and cautious restrictions. Even though the film is banned from release, the last thing, Zou Peng wanted is to be banned and arrested from film making forever.
All in all, Sauna on Moon is not a bad film, but it feels like a product that doesn’t walk the talks, doesn’t show enough feminine body parts to strike a chord with the demanding and expecting audience. Cutting this kind of superficial entertainment value, the film is rather tame in its message of alluding hope, dreams and pursue of what people wanted in life with some famous events like the Chinese Space expedition. The reality is life sucks and it sucks more if you work in the sex industry, but somehow you can still dream in Sauna on Moon. In other words, keep dreaming… Neo rates it 6/10
Writing about Asian and World cinema since 2004 (Member of Film Critic Circle of Australia and Australian Academy Cinema Television Arts)