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Chinese Visual Festival: Hong Kong Shorts

June 12, 2013

FestivalsFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


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One particularly exciting part of the Chinese Visual Festival was the opportunity to attend an evening that premiered a range of short films made in Hong Kong. Hong Kong has always held a prestigious place in world cinema, has long been a leading distributor; had its ups and downs and has a significant cult following. The Hong Kong Film Industry, like the city itself, has an interesting history and has provided us with great directors such as Lo Wei and the brilliant second wave director Wong Kar-wai. It’s for this reason that the opportunity to sample some modern Hong Kong cinema was a tantalising prospect.

To really get to know a city you need to first get to know its people and what they eat. The grand buildings, lights and sights are great but it’s in the everyday that you find the essence of a city. Director, Ho Chung Ken understands this and, as a result, has made an insightful film called Sam Hui Yat. This film takes you through a day in the life of a local Hong Kong Dim Sum restaurant. Ho Chung Ken offers a grass roots look at everyday life in the city, introducing audiences to the three busy partners who run the restaurant and his assortment of customers. Though not particularly ground breaking this is an endearing film and a good introduction to the city.

The Changed Knots, the second film to be screened during the evening, felt like a natural progression from the first film and offers a survey of how modernisation affects tradition. With a subject matter that is poignant globally, director Siu Yu Yin focusses his film on the last days of trading at a traditional Wa Kwai Fresh Market, which is being forced to close after the management contractors decide to use the property for new developments. The way that employees and customers approach this change with an accepting and practical attitude speaks a lot about the city’s ability to cope with change and how one must adapt in an increasingly modernized world. This film really leaves you thinking.

Wong Yan Chun’s Life, Beyond Life, transports audiences into a very different part of Hong Kong than its predecessors. This film offers a stunning portrayal of life in a Buddhist Monastery and it is an enchanting piece of film making. Wong Yan Chun incorporates images of nature to exemplify the calm and peaceful life of the monks and their connections with their immediate and outward environments.  This film is beautifully shot and a pleasure to behold from beginning to end.

In stark contrast, the next film Left Behind contains violent and impactful subject matter. This short film offers an insight into human suffering and despair, but captured in a subtle and poignant manner as director Leung Yu introduces audiences to a family who are coming to terms with their mother’s death after she’s committed suicide by throwing herself out of the window. This forces audiences to contemplate not just the sudden death of a loved one but the subject of coming to terms with suicide, and trying to find peace and understanding after it’s occurred. This is one very powerful short film which handles a tough subject with much thought.

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It seems only right that an evening that has so far transported audiences through different parts of the city, varying emotions, lifestyles and times should finish with a film that shows what it’s like to have grown old in Hong Kong. In her film, called This Pair, director Wong Yee Mei offers a personal and touching look at the life of her elderly grandmother. It is not a positive end as her Grandmother lives a desolate life, in which she spends a lot of time alone despite living with her family. Her family do not treat her with respect and the film explores the fragmented relationship between Yee Mei’s Mother and Grandmother and the reasons behind it. As a result it explores how life in Hong Kong is changing and values, ideas, families and lifestyles conflict as this occurs. Another thought provoking film.

The evening was beautifully curated, offering an assortment of films that felt organic in their fit and order of screening. It offered the opportunity to encounter and explore Hong Kong cinema today and be introduced to some interesting directors. It also inspired a greater investigation into Hong Kong’s fascinating cinematic history in order to contextualise what we encompass coming out of its film industry today.  It was a real highlight of the festival.

Kerry Flint.