Category Archives: HKAFF

HKAFF: Stray Dogs 郊遊 (2013) – Taiwan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 14th November 2013

Directed by: 蔡明亮 Tsai Ming Liang
Starring: 李康生 Lee Kang Sheng, 楊貴媚 Yang Kuei Mei

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

Support our decade of film scholarship on Asian Cinema by buying Official DVD or Blu-ray release from our Store

fromvegastomacauposter

Taiwanese director Tsai Ming Liang have always turned heads with his own unique style and with “Stray Dogs” he takes this even further by slowing and essentially freezing every waking second and frames in his latest effort. Whether this is a good or bad thing, it really depends upon the audience interpretation, but for me, there is only so much one can take, before being physically and mentally drained. The acclaimed 14 minutes scene, where Lee Kang Sheng and Lu Yi Ching are speechless and motionless starring in the distance is possibly the most exhausting 14 minutes of my life. While a film that possesses some moments here and there, may seem like cinematic magic, for the whole duration of 138 minutes, it is almost impossible to bear. Sure, it allows the audience to ponder and think beyond the film subject matter and reflect upon their own lives and problems, but surely there can be another way to show all that. In an offhand comment from director Tsai, he claims that films are too fast and what happens in real life, is really slow and everything is actually at this pace. Tsai may be correct in this statement, but a movie is about movements and in other words, a “motion picture”, otherwise, I would have went to an art gallery instead. This is not a bad film, but 138 minutes of people being motionless and doing nothing at all, is not exactly art in my dictionary.

Tsui’s regular Lee Kang Sheng stars as the failed father and husband in this film and his emotions is probably the most important thing that came out of the film. People are poor and living conditions are almost slum-like and Lee perfectly encapsulate this emotion and the constant outward stare of his face allows the audience to feel as though they too are in the movie, living those atrocious conditions. Lu Yi Ching who helps out Lee taking care of his kids at a local supermarket, reminds me of Ann Hui’s wonderfully life-paced “The Way We Are”. In fact, showing a movie in real time, where people live, eat, work, and survive can be interesting as seen in Hui’s award winning work, but “Stray Dogs” goes beyond living life and the result is an extreme that will never work.

All in all, “Stray Dogs” is not good cinema and with piss poor pacing, director Tsai has gone too far from reality. People do not just stare in the distance and motionless for an entire 14 minutes. If Tsai say he wants to reflect reality and real life, then he is wrong. Unless there is a gun pointing to my head, I am unlikely to stand outside in the rain, totally motionless, speechless and possibly mentally ill. Sometimes, the word “art” get stretched too far and for this instance, “Stray Dogs” is neither art nor film, it is just a personal film that is meant to be seen by himself and possibly only himself. I am sure, there will be fans of Tsai’s work and some colours and imagery are beautiful to look at despite the slum-like conditions, but that 14 minutes I wasted, will not come back to me. For that alone, I am bitterly regretful and disappointed. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 4/10

Support our decade of film scholarship on Asian Cinema by buying Official DVD or Blu-ray release from our Store

fromvegastomacauposter

HKAFF: Like Father, Like Son 誰調換了我的父親 そして父になる (2013) – Japan

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 14th November 2013

Directed by: 是枝裕和 Kore-eda Hirokazu
Starring: 福山雅治 Fukuyama Masaharu, 尾野真千子 Ono Machiko, Lily Franky, 真木陽子 Maki Yoko

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

Support our decade of film scholarship on Asian Cinema by buying Official DVD or Blu-ray release from our Store

fromvegastomacauposter

The beauty about this film is that it deals with the most touching issues. Director Kore-eda Hirokazu (“Nobody Knows”) is an expert in directing children (his last film – “I Wish”) and how they respond to drastic change is perfectly encapsulated in the film. The film plays on the audience emotions from the get go and not only simply engages, but keeping the audience’s teary eyed for the entire duration. This is by no means a small feat as we are constantly reminded of how difficult and unique the situation really is. Families separating are one thing, but realizing that the child you been raising for six odd years is someone else’s, is all the illuminating. 2013 is a year, where the Japanese in particular have been dealing with issue of family and “Like Father, Like Son” is right up there in terms of relevance, universal messages and life.

Fukuyama Masaharu plays a successful commercial worker who is rising up the ranks quickly. One of the great things about this film is that you can slowly witness the change that everyone goes through. In many ways, Masaharu, the father of the child changes the most and by the end of the film, he is almost irresistible in terms of bringing the audience to tears. The final scene where he chases after his so called son (played by Keita Ninomiya), is that of cinematic magic, as years of emotions finally comes full circle all in one beautifully depicted scene. Keita Ninomiya is amazing as the son that needs to come to terms of being neglected and left behind to start a new life with his blood related father (played by Lily Franky). Keita Ninomiya steals the show with every scene, as his cute-eyed looks and childhood innocence is perfectly played out. Alongside his father, their chemistry is simply magical and if Ninomiya stare at the audience, doesn’t make you watery, then I don’t know what will. Ono Machiko is also brilliant as the mother torn in between all the proceeding. In fact, you feel for the mother the most. Having raised and spend almost every waking hour with the six year old, while her husband spend 24/7 at work, Ono Machiko is ultimately the one that suffers the most. Her restrained and hugely underrated performance is to be complimented. Everyone plays there part extremely well, as the other side of the family experiencing the same issues (played by Lily Franky and Yôko Maki) provides a different side to parenthood. Franky and Maki represents the working class, where their down to earth nature makes them reflect the brutal reality of life as well as the internal turmoil of the situation.

All in all, “Like Father, Like Son” is really one of those almost perfect films, where one cannot find any faults within. Some may find the ending inconclusive, but to me, it is the perfect way to end the film and the final scene where the father chases after the son will likely stay within the audience hearts long after the credit rolls. I am not sure why local Hong Kong cinema rarely deals with issues like these and with the local industry dearth with genuine ideas and mainland censorship, more films like these can certainly help. Essentially, “Like Father, Like Son” is one of those rare films that keep the audience totally engaged, thoroughly profound, fully emoted and ultimately refreshing. In the scale of perfect cinema, this stands quite close. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 9/10

Support our decade of film scholarship on Asian Cinema by buying Official DVD or Blu-ray release from our Store

fromvegastomacauposter

HKAFF: Our Sunhi 我們的善熙 (2013) – South Korea

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 8th November 2013

Directed by: 洪尚秀 Hong Sang-soo
Starring: 鄭有美 Jung Yu-mi, 鄭在詠 Jung Jae-young, 金相中 Kim Sang-joong, 李善均 Lee Sun-kyun

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

Support the site by buying this DVD or Blu-ray from our HK Neo Distribution Ebay Store

My feelings towards filmmaker Hang Sang-soo has so far been mixed. To be honest, I only discovered director Hang at 2013 Hong Kong International Film Festival, where I was in infuriated with his “Nobody’s Daughter Haewon” and equally concerned with the disappointing “In Another Country“. Luckily, his latest exploration of women, “Our Sunhi” is far more like “Haewon” than “Country”. For some reason, Hang’s films are very similar to Woody Allen’s style. In that the offhand and witty dialogue are a central focus. Not to mention the repetition of the same classical theme song throughout provides more than a few laughs whenever it is played over and over again. Hang uses a unique camera work style where he likes let the scenes and characters to play out themselves, with a wide shot in the beginning, before an obvious closing in as the topic of interest between the characters intensify. In essence, “Our Sunhi” may not break any grounds and most likely not Hang’s best work, but it remains a highly enjoyable film in its own particular style.

Jung Yu-mi plays Hang’s muse in this film and despite everyone being totally in love with her, her looks are quite frankly ordinary and borderline attractive to say the least. However Jung Yu-mi is magnetic whenever on-screen as there is something about her flawed and indecisive female character that makes the audience want to know more about her. However, by the end of the film, it is easy for the audience to realize a fact, we still know nothing about her, including her motivations to cultivate and surround herself with interlinked guys. In fact, Jung Yu-mi seems to be the only character to be without morals and constantly seen to be self-fish and self centered. Lee Sun-kyun plays her love sicken former boyfriend, whose inability to let go of Jung Yu-mi is both comedic and frustrating for the audience. While we laugh at him, we all know at some point in our lives, we were exactly like that. Jung Jae-young plays the wise old friend whose purpose in the movie is to provide everyone with the same advice over and over again. If you dig deep and keep digging, until you reach your limits, then you will truly understand yourself. Essentially, knowing what you can’t do, leads to a true understanding of oneself. As for the professor, while a true academic, is a total failure when coming to the idea or notion of love. His underlying love for his student provides the film with one of its best moments, especially when he revises the reference letter into essentially a love letter.

All in all, “Our Sunhi” is probably not an upgrade of “Nobody Daughter’s Haewon”, but director Hang Sang-soo is fast becoming the Korean’s Woody Allen prologue. His understanding of women is both deep, insightful and at times with love and hate. Witty dialogue, classic soundtrack, with a focus on characters and simple camera work is fast becoming Hang’s personally style. As with most of Hang’s films, the focus on random and meeting people by chance and everything that happens after it remains very much his core concern. The funny thing about his films is that most of the characters we will either have come across in our lives in one way or another. I enjoyed “Our Sunhi” for its duration, but in terms of lingering afterthoughts, it could have been more substantial. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 7.5/10

Support our decade of film scholarships and writing by liking our Facebook page.

HKAFF: The Black Square 黒四角 (2013) – Japan / China

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 7th November 2013

Directed by: 奧原浩志 Okuhara Hiroshi
Starring: 中泉英雄 Nakaizumi Hideo, 丹紅 Dan Hong

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

Believe me, I am someone that can sit through the longest and slowest of films. Just earlier this year, I managed to sit through a 10 hour film at the Hong Kong International Film Festival. The Black Square suffers from a terribly prolonged first act that just seems to drag on forever, without purpose or intention. The audiences are simply bored or disinterested, people wanders around at a slow pace. Director Okuhara Hiroshi shot the film in a totally Japanese pacing style, despite setting entirely in Beijing, China. The film does eventually get back as it reaches towards the final 40 minutes, where an actual form of storytelling is being established. There are some moment where the audience can resonance especially in the final stage of this largely dormant film, but sometimes, a little too late, is precisely too late.

Hideo Nakaizumi is charismatic and equally stoic as the Japanese guy who walks through a black square and enters Planet Earth. There is a level of coldness about him that the audience cannot relate towards and it is not until near to the end of the film, where he begins to open ups a little, that we begin to understand his motivations. Still, Nakaizmi may stand up tall and look adequately cool, he is unable to justify the abnormally drenched running time of over 140 minutes.

All in all, The Black Square is the kind of film that fails largely on the engaging scale and almost inducing a sleeping effect on the audience. Despite a final act, trying to wrap things up and touching upon on a few life issues and playing with time. There is probably some sort of life defining message that the director is trying so hard to tell. By the end of the film, the audience is so exhausted from the uninteresting journey taken that nothing is really worth learning about. Despite the redeeming final act, The Black Square is really hard to recommend. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 4/10

Support our decade of film scholarships and writing by liking our Facebook page.

HKAFF: The Extreme Sukiyaki 無味壽喜燒 ジ、エクストリーム、スキヤキ (2013) – Japan [World Premiere]

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA FIPRESCI
Review Date: 4th November 2013

Directed by: 前田司郎 Maeda Shiro
Starring: 窪塚洋介 Kubozaka Yosuke, 井浦新 Iura Arata, 倉科加奈 Kurashina Kana, 市川實日子 Ichikawa Mikako

Reviewed at 10th Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2013

Support the site by buying this DVD or Blu-ray from our HK Neo Distribution Ebay Store

This is an interesting method of film-making. Like most Japanese cinema, the film starts of slowly, but what makes “The Extreme Sukiyaki” stands out even more, is the film purposely lacks a point of direction, which precisely links with the character’s life and goals. The characters in this film all lack a direction in where they are going in life and perhaps more easily emphasized as a quarter life crisis. Everyone seems lost and their futures are so spontaneous and random that director Shiro Maeda simply follows suit. It seems as though Maeda is following a journey and decisions just as the character decides to do this and that. Everything seems to lack a certain degree of planning, except for the group ultimate goal of eating beef sukiyaki. Although the opening 30 minutes may bore you to death, it must be said that once you overcome it, the film simply grows onto you and makes you understand the characters just that little more at the turn of very scenes and decision making.

Yosuke Kubozuka takes on the lead role as a lazy nobody who have achieved nothing in his life. He takes his life, as one day at a time, but like in the middle of the film, his reunited former friend played by Arata Lura commented, there is something about Yosuke that makes you want to act or inspire you to do more. What I find especially fascinating is whenever Lura interacts with his old college flame played by Mikako Ichikawa. While Mikako thinks she have moved on and grown up in life and way of thinking, Lura is still living like he was 11 years ago. The two contains enough chemistry to hold the film together and provides the sparks of former flame interactions that make the film all the more interesting to follow. While Yosuke’s girlfriend (played by Kana Kurashina), who is clearly younger provides the three former college friends with a shadow of themselves.

All in all, “The Extreme Sukiyaki” is an interesting directorial debut from the scriptwriter of the wonderful “A Story of Yonosuke“. Director Shiro Maeda is able to let the events flow, where everything seems to be running at real time. The fact that none of the characters know what they want to achieve in life or even precisely what their plan for tomorrow is, Maeda succeeds in making the audience feel the same way about the film. Maybe it is just me, but I found this aspect of film-making unique and refreshingly different. Still, there is nothing conclusive about this film, it lacks an introduction and by the end of the film, I am not sure, we learn much about these characters despite going on a road trip with them. Sure by the end of the film, we see the motivation and reason behind Arata Lura finding his friends in the first place, but the fact that everything seems so aimless, makes it increasingly frustrating for the audience to relate. Still, “The Extreme Sukiyaki” remains one of those films where you simply follow the characters on whatever journey they are taking, even if it is not entirely rewarding. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 6.5/10

Support our decade of film scholarships and writing by liking our Facebook page.