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Hong Kong International Film Festival 2011

"Some of Asia's top filmmakers screened their new movies to kick off the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival on Sunday, although the mood was subdued because of Japan's earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters," reports Min Lee for the AP. "Japan's crisis cast doubt on whether its actors and directors will attend the Hong Kong festival. Popular Japanese director Shunji Iwai, a native of hard-hit Sendai city, has canceled his appearance at the Asian premiere of his first English-language movie, Vampire. It remains unclear whether prominent Japanese nominees like Koji Yakusho, Rinko Kikuchi and Takako Matsu will attend the awards ceremony, the Asian Film Awards, on Monday."

Still, the show must go on in Hong Kong and the festival, which runs through April 4, opened today with Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai's Don't Go Breaking My Heart and the omnibus film Quattro Hong Kong 2 (trailer above). Don't Go is "a love-triangle story starring Hong Kong actors Louis Koo and Daniel Wu and mainland actress Gao Yuanyuan," writes Doretta Lau for the Wall Street Journal. "Mr Wai, famous for writing and producing for television before beginning his working partnership with Mr To in the mid-1990s, is being honored by the festival with a program, Wai Ka-fai, Filmmaker in Focus, featuring some of his other films. Quattro Hong Kong 2 is actually four short films, commissioned by festival organizers and shot by four well-known and award-winning Asian directors: Thailand's Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Brillante Mendoza from the Philippines, Malaysia's Ho Yu-hang and Hong Kong's Stanley Kwan."

Dean Napolitano's spoken with Kwan for the WSJ about his contribution to QHK2, "inspired by an experience he had last year while on Hong Kong's airport train to the city. Aboard the train car were Hong Kong residents returning from AsiaWorld-Expo, an exhibition complex next to the airport, visitors from mainland China and foreign travelers — all speaking different languages. 'All of a sudden it was like radio: channel 1, Mandarin; channel 2, English; channel 3, Cantonese,' Mr Kwan recalls. 'I could understand all the languages,' he says, and all the private conversations among the people sitting around him… In addition to the screening of 13 Minutes in the Lives of… at this year's festival, Mr Kwan also will present to potential investors a film project he hopes to begin shooting soon, which will be titled 'To the End of Love.'"


QHK2's page at the festival's site links to video interviews with all four directors.

For the Hollywood Reporter, Karen Chu lists "5 Films Not to Miss," and they are QHK2, Vampire, Poon Yuen-leung's Hi, Fidelity, which "marks the comeback of iconic Hong Kong actress Patricia Ha," Law Wing-cheong's crime thriller Punished, produced by Johnnie To, and Lucky Kuswandi's "transvestite superhero action comedy with a message," Madame X.

Now's a fine time to note again that David Bordwell's classic study Planet Hong Kong, now freshly revised and updated, is available for purchase as a PDF file.

Update: In a first dispatch from the city, David Bordwell offer his thoughts on Let the Bullets Fly, "China's biggest locally produced box-office hit to date… Actor-turned-director Jiang Wen is one of the PRC's most ambitious and intelligent directors. I've admired his In the Heat of the Sun (1998) and Devils on the Doorstep (2000, to be shown in its long version during the festival). Our blog files contain my impressions of his sumptuous, somewhat mystifying The Sun Also Rises (2007). But that film was a huge financial failure, and it's generally agreed that he needed a hit. He provided it in Let the Bullets Fly." It's "a showcase for action scenes, dizzying dialogue, clever running gags… and perhaps above all star performances."

Updates, 3/22: "Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives was named best picture at the fifth Asian Film Awards on Monday," reports Min Lee for the AP. "Veteran South Korean director Lee Chang-dong took home best director and best screenplay for Poetry, about an elderly woman who discovers a passion for writing poems. Lee also won best screenplay for the same movie at Cannes last year. Another South Korean, Ha Jung-woo, won best actor for his role as a minority Korean in China who becomes a contract killer in his ethnic homeland to pay off his debts in The Yellow Sea. China's Xu Fan was best actress for playing a grieving widow in her husband Feng Xiaogang's earthquake epic Aftershock, which also won for best visual effects. Feng's picture, set against the deadly 1976 earthquake in the northeastern Chinese city Tangshan, was also honored for box office performance after its massive domestic take of $100 million last year."

Also: "Farewell My Concubine director Chen Kaige says he follows his heart — and not box office predictions — when he chooses his projects, rebuffing criticism that he and his contemporaries have compromised their artistic integrity in exchange for commercial success… With Sacrifice, an adaptation of classic Chinese play about an orphan who avenges the death of his family, Chen seems to have found both popular and critical acclaim. The movie quickly became a hit after opening in Chinese theaters in December and has also received positive foreign reviews. Reviewing the movie at the Berlin Film Festival in February, Hollywood trade publication Variety called it 'a welcome return to form for Chen Kaige after a lackluster string of recent features.'"

Elizabeth Kerr in the Hollywood Reporter on QHK2: "It could have been painfully self-indulgent but the project turned out to be a charming, slightly nostalgic bit of cinema that ironically proves Hong Kong’s future is in its resident foreign nationals — or at least visiting ones."

Update, 3/29: Punished, directed by Law Wing-chong and produced by Johnnie To, "is that unusual Hong Kong film that insists that every effort to assuage male pride takes a toll in male pain as well," writes David Bordwell. "But for a film that really investigates the cost of settling accounts you have to turn to Heaven's Story. Here Zeze Takahisa, known mostly for erotic films, traces out the consequences of three killings… And as in most network narratives, part of the pleasure is wondering how the new characters we meet will tie into the ramifying web of relationships."

Maggie Lee in the Hollywood Reporter: "A love story that plays out extensively via window panes and cell phone videos, Johnnie To's first romantic drama since Linger (2008) may conceal a dark and neurotic subtext about the existential distances between urban men and women behind its gleaming, crowd-pleasing surfaces. For the most part though, Don't Go Breaking My Heart's Cinderella tale about an ordinary girl caught between two adamant admirers is VIP-class escapism."

Update, 3/30: David Bordwell gleans points on the Chinese film industry and takes notes during Jia Zhangke's three-hour master class at Filmart.

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