Feature of August: A Look at the 2003 Hong Kong Independent Film Festival

Fruit Chan's Realist Fantasy

Fruit Chan's Public Toilet is an attempt in the road movie genre, which means the hastening of the growing up process through the experiences on the road. This time, Fruit Chan leaves the Hong Kong locality behind and opts for a wandering environment, another new attempt on his side. Despite the road movie genre, Public Toilet is actually a continuing exploration of the noir fantasy of Hollywood Hong Kong. This time, though, the abstract concepts are given preference; the search of the miracle doctor is itself a non-realistic entry point. Together with the above said realist fantasy handling, the film is rich on fantasy. What is missing, though, is the down-to-earth feeling that is the trademark of Fruit Chan films.

From Walking to Acting

Cheung Wai-hung is without a doubt, the local director who is the most obsessed with walking. Last time in Among the Stars he has given us an actual walking experience in Causeway Bay, through a detached angle and sans dialogues and voice-over, he has captured how the people of Hong Kong are able to readjust themselves by walking in the bustling and compelling environment. This time in And Also the Eclipse, he takes the exploration of the possibility of this "walking therapy" to another level. At least one third of the film is focused on the walking experience of the characters. It seems that they can literally walk a way out of their troubles. It also alludes that there is a way out.

Most independent films feature amateur actors and there is no guarantee of a professional performance. If, indeed, a realistic performance is achieved, then the glory usually goes to the director's directing and casting. Take Yau Ching's Let's Love Hong Kong for instance, its success lies in whether the actors can convey and infect. The scene starring local cultural figure Leung Man-to as a fung shui master is a success with its fun-filled intensity. In comparison, the performances of other main characters are flat and bland. As the interactive situation involving the four women designed by the director demands high caliber acting, which is beyond the actors' capability, the richness of the script is not fully realized as a result.

The Bizarre Bypass

As for Julian Lee's Night Corridor, it is the most commercialised one among this year's independent productions. Whether in shooting or mise-en-scene, it is in line of the thriller genre. Of course the Gothic style that is always on Julian Lee's lips is there, with abundance. It can even be said that Night Corridor follows the Gothic genre to the tee: every Gothic element, murderous monkeys, forest adventures, historic mansion, even the Dorian Grey style devil's pact, you name it, it's there. I do think that no doubt it is one of the few local productions that can be actually be called Gothic. But what is left for later productions?

The real surprise, I think, is Fu Bo co-directed by Wong Ching Po and Lee Kung Lok. Besides a bizarre situation that takes the audience to the twilight zone between life and death, the more important thing is that the creators have set their eyes on a professional cast from the start. In fact, except Ng Doi-yung and Eric Tsang who give  rather bland interpretations, others like Liu Kai-chi, Paulyn Sun and Anthony Wong are quite remarkable in their performance. Their participation gives the characters the precision that the script calls for, which is what Let's Love Hong Kong lacks. Fu Bo is a bizarre film, but it ends with a down-to-earth note. It is, without reservation, my pick of the best independent film of the year.

By Tong Ching Siu

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