The HIFF also presents the historically game-changing Hong Kong martial arts film Come Drink with Me (King Hu, 1966) and a Masterclass with the film’s lead actress Cheng Pei Pei, often regarded as the queen of martial arts. Cheng will share her illustrious life as an actress on the world stage (Golden Swallow – dir. Chang Cheh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon – dir. Ang Lee, Lilting – dir. Hong Khaou) and as the first woman wuxia/action star in film history. The masterclass is part of a retrospective dedicated to legendary Chinese filmmaker King Hu at the HIFF. There will also be a discussion panel titled Hong Kong Cinema: Present and Future with Clarence Tsui (Senior Film Reviewer, The Hollywood Reporter) and up-and-coming Hong Kong director Wong Chun and scriptwriter Florence Chan of Mad World (2016).
The AFA Academy is also in collaboration with the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and the Hawaii Pacific University to present Asian film screenings for Hawaii’s local and international students to expand their film-viewing horizon.
Come Drink With Me & A Conversation With CHENG Pei Pei: The Queen Of Martial Arts
Director: King H
Cast: Cheng Pei Pei, Yueh Hua, Chan Hung-lit
Hong Kong, Mainland China/1966/91min
In Mandarin with English subtitles
A group of bandits, led by Jade Faced Tiger, kidnaps the governor’s son and wants to trade him for their jailed chief. The governor sends his daughter, Golden Swallow, in order to rescue his son. The young woman, a master in martial arts, is helped in her mission by Drunken Cat, a kungfu master disguised as a beggar. But they will have to defeat first Jade Faced Tiger and his poisoned darts.
One of the most seminal wuxia films, this Shaw Bros. classic from legendary director King Hu features a command performance by Cheng Pei Pei, who was dubbed the “Queen of Swords” for this iconic role as well as a long string of other female warrior-led films that she starred in for the revered studio throughout the 1960s and 1970s.
Port of Call
Director: Philip Yung
Cast: Aaron Kwok, Jessie Li, Michael Ning, Maggie Shui, Patrick Tam
Hong Kong, Mainland China/2015/121 mins
In Cantonese with English subtitles
Director Philip Yung’s Port of Call’s central incident is the brutal murder of a young 16-year-old Hunan girl who moved to Hong Kong with her family and fell into prostitution. Winding through time and grounded by Christopher Doyle’s gauzy cinematography, the film follows both the story of the young girl’s descent into sex work and Aaron Kwok’s grizzled detective as he obsessively seeks an answer to the brutality of the murder. Kwok is astonishing here in his career’s best role, with all the tics and haggard body language of a man beaten down by the violence that threatens to drown him at every turn. Stage actor Michael Ning is also chilling as the killer.
Discussion Panel – Hong Kong Cinema: Present And Future
Clarence Tsui of The Hollywood Reporter (Hong Kong office), along with Hong Kong director Wong Chun and HIFF Program Co-Director Anderson Le, discusses the making of Port of Call, as well as the current state of the Hong Kong film industry, including the challenges that many Hong Kong filmmakers face in the changing face of the Chinese film industry, as well as changing trends in international film distribution.
That Demon Within
Director: Dante Lam
Cast: Christie Chen, Nick Cheung, Liu Kai-chi, Andy On, Daniel Wu
Hong Kong, Mainland China/2014/112 mins
In Cantonese with English subtitles
One of Hong Kong’s top genre directors after a string of hits over the last few years, Dante Lam follows his character-based MMA drama Unbeatable with That Demon Within. Though it again sees Lam teaming with acclaimed actor Nick Cheung, the film is a very different proposition, a psycho drama with horror touches and violent action sequences that follows a troubled cop’s descent into madness.
Daniel Wu plays Dave Wong, an uptight Hong Kong police officer currently sidelined to a quiet security job in a hospital. One night his life is thrown into disarray after he agrees to give a blood transfusion to a seriously injured man, who turns out to be Han, the leader of the criminal Demon Gang, responsible for a recent spree of violent heists. Blamed by his colleagues for saving the life of a cop-killer, Dave finds himself cracking under the pressure after Han escapes, past traumas resurfacing, and when the bodies of the other gang members start piling up, he begins to question his sanity as he tries to track down the murderer.
Violent, flashy and well-acted, That Demon Within, is more than just another cop thriller, and Dante Lam deserves praise for trying something a little bit different or less commercial rather than pandering to Mainland audiences.
Fires on The Plain
Director: Tsukamoto Shinya
Cast Lily Franky, Yusaku Mori, Nakamura Tatsuya, Nakamura Yuko, Tsukamoto Shinya
In Japanese with English subtitles
Fires on the Plain follows a soldier, Tamura, who, along with hordes of other men, has been stranded in the jungles of the Philippines during the waning days of World War II. As Japan’s Imperial Army faces dire conditions — the men have been cut off from communication, and food is scarce — gruesome realities descend. Some men go insane. Others resort to cannibalism. Amid the brutality and hopelessness, Tamura, who has tuberculosis, flees his troop and struggles to survive.
Fires on the Plain is a film that presents war as the zenith of humanity, and Tsukamoto doesn’t pull back on the casualties of war, environmentally and psychologically. Unlike other modern war films that purport to be grimy and gritty, there is zero glamorization here and some scenes are brutal; but perhaps today’s audiences are desensitized to more fictional depictions of rotting corpses and flying limbs from a weekly episode of The Walking Dead.
What Tsukamoto has made is a film that ditches conventional narrative tropes in favor of a hellscape journey of one man losing his sanity as each layer of civility and the rules of war are peeled away as he loses his humanity and literally becomes the walking dead.
Director: Woo Min-Ho
Cast : Lee Byung-Hun, Cho Seung-Woo, Baek Yun-Shick
South Korea/2015/130 mins
In Korean with English subtitles
Based on a webtoon by Yoon Tae-ho, Inside Men – the highest-grossing R-rated film in South Korean history—infiltrates and exposes the seedy alliances between politics, media, and the country’s chaebol (mega-corporations), the triumvirate that holds the nation’s real power.
Congressman Jang Pil-woo is on the doorstep of the Korean presidency, thanks to strong support (i.e. piles of money) from the CEO of a major car company and an influential newspaper editor. But Jang’s path to the presidency is blocked by an unlikely pair of obstacles in Ahn (Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun, who was just featured in the new remake of The Magnificent Seven), a one-handed thug motivated by revenge, and Woo, a fiery prosecutor with his own dreams of power.
Not that long ago, it was almost unthinkable to openly criticize the almighty chaebol in Korea, but Inside Men is the latest in a string of films (including Ryoo Seung-wan’s Veteran) to portray the leaders of major corporations as demon despots from the foulest hell.
Director : Neeraj Ghaywan
Cast: Richa Chadda, Vicky Kaushal, Sanjai Mishra, Pankaj Tripathi, Sweta Tripathi
In Hindi with English subtitles
Varanasi (formerly Benares) and its burning ghats furnish the unsettling backdrop to interlocked love stories, showing young Indians bucking sexual, moral and caste traditions. Masaan, the Hindi word for crematorium, is part of the new generation of indie films whose clear intent is to set ablaze a hidebound society’s constrictions on personal liberty.
In the opening scenes, a young couple is shyly trysting for the first time in a cheap hotel room when a squad of angry, muscular police break in. Insulted, brutally beaten and threatened with ruin, this scene ends in tragedy, as the young woman is whisked off to jail. This is Devi (played by an understated, very self-possessed Richa Chadda), an educated and surprisingly independent young woman who tells the police she went to the rendezvous in the hotel “out of curiosity.” To save his family’s honor, Devi’s father, a former Sanskrit teacher who now sells trinkets on the ghats, is forced to pay off an impossible bribe to the police captain to keep her shame under wraps.
In the second tale, the tall, romantically good-looking Deepak (Vicky Kaushal) is a follower of social media. When he takes up a bet with his pals and asks the pretty Shaalu Gipta (Shweta Tripathi) to be his Facebook friend, it all seems harmless – until they meet and fall in love. The problem is that Shaalu is a middle-class girl from a way higher caste than Deepak, who comes from a long line of corpse-burners on the ghats, miserable souls with faces darkened from the fire, who sift through ashes for bits of gold and valuables.
All the young actors turn in strongly delineated performances that sharpen an understanding of their characters. The brightly blazing bonfires on the river banks at night are among the film’s most eerie and memorable scenes, lensed with an eye to the spectacular by cinematographer Avinash Arun Dhaware.
Masaan won a special jury prize for a film debut in Cannes’ Certain Regard as well as a Fipresci mention, boding well for the directorial debut for director Neeraj Ghaywan.
Director: Kongdej Jaturanrasamee
Cast: Krisana Panpeng, Waruntorn Paonil, Toni Rakkaen
In Thai with English subtitles
Centered on an Instagram-preoccupied 26-year-old whose reunion with high-school friends triggers second thoughts about her impending marriage, SNAP represents another impressive achievement by leading indie writer-director Kongdej Jaturanrasamee (TANG WONG). Setting his tale against the backdrop of Thailand’s 2014 military coup, Jaturanrasamee has fashioned an absorbing study of young locals grappling with personal identity in an atmosphere of political instability and social disharmony.
Pueng, daughter of a military colonel, has planned to marry Mann, a young lieutenant with a promising future. On the day Martial Law is announced, she receives a wedding invitation from a high school friend back in her hometown. Upon her return to Chanthaburi, Pueng is reunited with her old friends and encounters Boy, her first love in high school. The unresolved feelings between Pueng and Boy resurface as they relive the old memories of their youthful days.
A romantic drama that explores the woes of Thai millennials, SNAP plays out like a Shunji Iwai film, with evocative direction and naturalistic acting especially when old classmates reunite, and the feelings of “what could have been” flood through the story like a raging river. This is a story about generational nostalgia invaded by technology and politics. The result is an important work that lingers both in the mind and heart.