July 2017, arsenal cinema

Creative Visions – Hong Kong Cinema 1997–2017

WEEDS ON FIRE, 2016

Made in Hong Kong – a label that refers to films that work in a field rich with (film) history and resonance, mining the points where action and auteur cinema, the power of innovation and genre, wild rawness and technical perfection are renegotiated again and again. On the 20th anniversary of the handover of the former British crown colony to China, the ten films from the last two decades that make up "Creative Visions" provide an opportunity for audiences to grasp the hugely varied approaches employed by Hong Kong cinema and enjoy its full versatility, complexity, and dynamism. The program presents works both by major internationally renowned directors as well as promising debut films and forges a path between thrillers, melodramas, action films, sports dramas, and triad shootouts – all of them equally snapshots of a city and its inhabitants gripped by changing times and shifting social and political circumstances.

WEEDS ON FIRE (Steve Chan, 2016, 14. & 15.7., with guest Steve Chan) It's 1984 in the Hong Kong suburb of Sha Tin and a secondary school head teacher at once spirited and resolute has got it into his head to turn a lethargic, unruly class of boys into a dynamic, successful baseball team. The path to success for the newly dubbed Sha Tin Martins is as stony as to be expected and paved with a good mixture of blood, sweat, tears, and comic relief. The narrative framing device of this warmly nostalgic sports drama creates a link to the Hong Kong umbrella movement of 2014 in both unexpected and unambiguous fashion.

MAD WORLD (Wong Chun, 2016, 15.7. & 1.8.) A Hong Kong chamber drama in the most cramped of spaces, a two-header impressively played by Shawn Yue and Eric Tsang, and the story of how a father and a son cautiously connect. The latter is finally allowed to return home after a long period in a psychiatric clinic. To begin with, neither the overwhelmed father is able to find a way of dealing with his bi-polar son, nor is the son able to process the traumatic experiences of his early life. A moving, impressive plea for the idea that the truth, life's challenges, and its dark sides all have to be faced in the end.

TIME AND TIDE (Tsui Hark, 2000, 16.7.) Having always shown disdain for the boundaries between countries, genres, and functions, one of the founders of the Hong Kong New Wave returned to the territory at the end of the 90s to reengage the motifs of his cinematic beginnings in the 80s with his action extravaganza TIME AND TIDE. Rapidly edited and breathtakingly shot, the film traces how naïve, idealistic bodyguard Tyler and Taiwanese killer Jack make their way through a labyrinthine plot into which a South American mercenary, an assassination, a suitcase full of money, and Tyler and Jack's two pregnant wives are also interwoven, all restlessly moving towards the two central showdowns.

MADE IN HONG KONG (Fruit Chan, 1997, 17. & 29.7., restored version) Quite literally wrested away from mainstream Hong Kong cinema and shot on the material left over from a large-scale production, Fruit Chan’s independently produced film shows the life of three rebellious adolescents in a chaotic social housing estate just before the handover. Moon is a school dropout who works as a debt collector for a triad boss while also keeping a watchful eye on the mentally retarded Sylvester.  He also falls in love with the young Ping, who is suffering from a potentially fatal disease.

AFTER THIS OUR EXILE (Patrick Tam, 2006, 20.7. & 2.8.) Following a 17-year break from directing, which he spent as a professor at Hong Kong University, director, screenwriter, and editor Tam made his return in 2006 with this moving, multi-award winning father-son melodrama. An incessant downward spiral begins when Chow Jr and Sen are abandoned by their wife/mother, who is unable to bear life with a notorious gambler. In this new situation too, the father is incapable of taking control of his life and looking after his son. Pressured by his growing debts, Chow decides to take desperate measures.

ORDINARY HEROES (Ann Hui, 1999, 21. & 25.7.) Political activism in the Hong Kong of the 70s and 80s. Sow, Yau, and Tung each have different reasons for fighting for the demands and rights of the Chinese refugees in Hong Kong and against the rigidity of British colonial power: Sow knows the hardship of the boat people from first-hand experience, Yau is an idealistic student, and Tung is just along for the ride, although he’s mainly just in love with Sow. When they receive word of the events of Tiananmen Square in summer 1989, their shared dreams of a better world shatter. Inspired by real people, Ann Hui creates a portrait of political action, ossified principles, and the solitude of the struggle that is as free as it is moving.

PTU (Johnnie To, 2003, 22. & 29.7.) Different paths through the Hong Kong night: what begins as an (amusingly staged) free-for-all at a snack bar leads to a murder and a police officer being beaten up just a short time later, whose gun is also taken. The elite police troop PTU’s subsequent nocturnal odyssey through the Hong Kong underworld isn’t just a search for their colleague's weapon; the act of vengeance for the initial murder that seems to be brewing must also be prevented. Using deliberately feeble lighting, PTU creates a cartography of Hong Kong’s dark sides in every sense, atmospheric terrain for a foreboding thriller in which it’s soon impossible to tell the difference between good and evil.

HOLD YOU TIGHT (Stanley Kwan, 1998, 24.7. & 3.8., with guest Stanley Kwan) Following his documentary "Yang±Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema"produced in the same year, Kwan returns to the theme of homosexuality in the feature HOLD YOU TIGHT, which weaves together the lives of three men and two women between Hong Kong and Taipei before the backdrop of the handover. Young women Ah-Moon and Rosa abscond to the Taiwanese capital, although only one of them actually makes it there. A gay real estate dealer takes care of Ah-Moon's abandoned husband, to whom the young drifter Jie also feels drawn. A dance that cruises through Hong Kong, revolving around love and loss, sexuality and identity, moods and feelings.

PROTÉGÉ (Derek Yee, 2007, 26. & 31.7.) Comprehensive research in the drugs milieu forms the underpinning for this furious, bitter underworld drama about policeman and undercover detective Nick (Daniel Wu), who has spent years advancing to become the protégé of drug lord Lam Kun (Andy Lau). When the latter wants to pass on his empire to his new right-hand man, Nick’s moral dilemma comes to a head: should he bring about the downfall of the big gangsters from his new position or chose the path of criminality and riches? His love for a drug addict only makes the decision more difficult. A film of unanswered questions and inner conflicts which resists any simple judgments as a result.

A SIMPLE LIFE (Ann Hui, 2011, 28. & 30.7.) Ah Tao has worked for the Leungs for over 60 years, cleaning for them, washing for them, cooking for them, bringing up their children. Nearly all the members of the large family have left Hong Kong with the meantime, with only film producer Roger (Andy Lau) still living there on a weekly basis, who is suddenly confronted with Ah Tao's decision to move into an old people's home due to her health. Full of discipline and dignity, she attempts to get used to the home's cramped conditions, her senile housemates, and the lack of privacy. The altered circumstances also bring about a change in Roger and Ah Tao's relationship. Moving, yet totally unsentimental, masterfully steering a path between comedy and tragedy, Ann Hui's precise eye for people, places, and situations generates a great film about a seemingly simple life. (mg)

A program co-presented by Create Hong Kong, supported by Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office Berlin, and managed by the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society.