Once again, it saddens my heart that the Hong Kong International Film Festival has started without me. Again. My polite requests for free festival pass and airfare and a full month at The Peninsula Kowloon go unheard. Seriously though. Every year when I look at the program, I have the same reaction: giddy excitement like I am 10 years-old and it is the night before Christmas and extreme panic that the world is turning without me and I am living in some sort of void.
What's the big deal with the HKIFF? Well, no doubt most of it has to do with my personal preferences. First, it's in Hong Kong. I love Hong Kong - it is really an amazing city even without the Film Festival. Second, is the HKIFF's wide range of programs with a natural penchant for focusing on the locals, specifically the Mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong itself. What other film festival has programs on Maya Deren, Ishii Yuya, Gus Van Sant, Zhu Shilin and Eric Tsang.
Because I like to wallow in the misery, I'm going to highlight some of the things I will be missing:
Epic Times, Simple Stories: The World of Zhu Shilin
This program is the gem that will very likely not be repeated anywhere else. Hosted by the HK Film Archive (which has cool programs 365, and a great library), this program includes 24 films starting with Two Stars (1931) for which he wrote the screenplay and ending with his last film Garden of Repose (1964). When the HK Film Archives does something they do it right: to accompany this retrospective, they have also published a book on Zhu Shilin. I would be at every one of these screenings with book in hand.
Asian Digital Competition, Chinese Renaissance, Young Taiwanese Cinema
These three programs are just full to the rim with films that look interesting but may easily fade away after their moment in the sun. The Asian Digital Competition has four Mainland entries, two Japanese and two Malaysian. Malaysian Flower in the Pocket got quite a bit of attention at Rotterdam and Mainland Little Moth was nominated for screenplay at the Asian Film Awards, but in reality any one of these could be a hidden gem. Right now it is the Chinese Renaissance section that is getting the most attention due to quintessential Mainland maneuvering of pulling a film, Lost, Indulgence by Zhang Yibai, because it had not been cleared by sensors. (The film is scheduled to play at Tribeca next month. The screen shots look awesome, and it stars one of my favorite actresses Karen Mok.) Of the films not canceled in this category: a new film by Wang Xiaoshuai, In Love We Trust; a wing-nut, two-part deal by Ning Hao entitled In the Soul Ultimate Nation/In Dreams Begin Responsibility (claiming to contain Tianjinese, my trained dialect!) that looks cool; Night Train by Diao Yinan which I have been dying to see, and the totally distasteful poorly timed propaganda film A Railway in he Cloud. The Young Taiwanese Cinema contains Lee Kang-sheng's as-sexy-as-you-can-get Help Me Eros, a couple of films with girls looking longingly at each other, which I have always advocated for, and five other films that look equally as interesting. I really really wish access to films from Taiwan wasn't non-existent.
Special Presentation: Wang Bing's Crude Oil
Wang Bing's Fengming is also screening, but Crude Oil is more like Wang's West of the Tracks kicked up a notch. I have looked at the web page like six times, and unless I am mistaken, this documentary about oil production in western China is 14 hours long. I don't even know what to say about that, other than I would love to see it.
The One and Only Edward Yang
The HKIFF presents a full retrospective of Yang's work. I can't say that I am a fan of Yang's, but I don't really feel like I have been given an opportunity. I've seen A Brighter Summer Day with a very young Chang Chen, but it is a distant memory at best, and of course I have seen A One and a Two which I didn't really care for. At the very least, I hope his death will bring about the release of his films on DVD somewhere in the world.
This is really only the tip of the iceberg. Browsing through the titles is somewhat overwhelming. Other films screening that make me wonder why I didn't just load up my credit card and go: Peter Greenaway's Nightwatching; new film from Ann Hui The Way We Are; Guy Maddin's My Winnipeg; Masayuki Suo's critically acclaimed I Just Didn't Do It; omnibus films The State of the World and Memories (both with an entry by Pedro Costa); Hong Sang-soo's Night and Day; Carlos Reygadas Silent Light; cult-o-rama galore in the Midnight Heat section; socially relevant documentaries that seem to be off the radar in the Humanitarian Awards for Documentaries program; a showcase on Czech films and Israeli films...should I go on? Well you get the point.
I'm pretty sure I said it last year, so I may as well say it again: next year I am going!
On that note, there is really no point in my lamenting the fact that I am not in Hong Kong , especially when there is plenty going on locally to keep me more than occupied. Case and point: Naomi Kawase's visit to the Twin Cities along with screenings of four of her breathtaking films.