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HONG KONG FILM FESTIVAL 1999

Richard Kuipers previews the action packed feast of Hong Kong cinema coming to Australia this month (November 1999) and says the island is still alive to the sound of mayhem, but also expect the unexpected.

Following an impressive bow last year the Hong Kong Film Festival will be touring eastern capitals from November 23 until December 1. Nine recent productions, most previously unseen in Australia, make up the programme which showcases the unstoppable creativity of Hong Kong filmmakers in the wake of re-unification with the mainland. Initial wariness over the extent of Beijing's influence, the exodus of talent to Hollywood and the crippling effect of VCD (Video Compact Disc) piracy have taken their toll on Hong Kong's film industry in recent years but that hasn't stopped the emergence of new talent such as Fruit Chan and rearguard action by more seasoned campaigners Ann Hui and Gordon Chan. This entertaining selection includes stories with punchy social and political themes, along with the action spectaculars synonymous with the term Hong Kong Cinema.

"injects plenty of life"

The fabulously titled Beast Cops picked up 5 trophies at the 1999 Hong Kong Film Awards including Best Film and injects plenty of life into the old story of mismatched cops Mike (Michael Wong) and Chao (Anthony Wong) taking on the Triad. Beast Cops delivers cracking action set-pieces, furious gunplay and solid cop-buddy dynamics as the two Wongs bond as the bullets fly. Gordon Chan, best known for his 'Final Option' series, builds momentum after a somewhat sluggish start and the finale pays handsome dividends.

Also in the bullets and bloodshed camp is Patrick Yau's Expect The Unexpected. The truth in advertising title concerns an elite crime squad tracking down an apparently inept trio of jewel thieves, only to run headlong into a much more formidable outfit. Yau's third feature consolidates on the promise of his earlier The Longest Night and he elicits fine performances from Lau Ching-wan and Simon Yam as the detective duo in over their heads. Yam, noted for his full-blooded portrayal of psychos and serial killers in films like Dr Lamb and Insanity, is a revelation in his most controlled role to date.

If you saw True Romance you might remember Christian Slater meeting Patricia Arquette at an all-night grindhouse playing a festival of films starring 70's action hero Sonny Chiba. Slater was enthralled by Chiba's legendary 'Streetfighter' movies, which have since been re-issued on home video. If you want to see how the Japanese martial arts master is shaping up these days check him out as the evil Lord Conqueror in the manga adaptation The Storm Riders. Elaborate design and stunning special effects compensate for a choppy script involving two young warriors pressed into service for the old man as a means of attaining immortality. Director Andrew Lau, who pumped out six films in the Young And Dangerous series, shows plenty of flair operating on a much larger scale and makes this extravaganza well worth a look.

"festival programme"

Another veteran featured in the festival programme is Ti Lung whose career stretches back to martial arts actioners in the early 1970's and obscurity in the 80's before John Woo revived his fortunes in A Better Tomorrow (1985). Appearing as Shaun Tam, Ti Lung plays a sympathetic cop in Jacob Cheung's reworking of Charlie Chaplin's The Kid which also stars Leslie Cheung as a broker who loses it all in the Asian financial crisis, discovers an abandoned baby and decides to raise him. Jacob Cheung, Shaun Tam and Taiwanese model-tunned actress Qi Qi, who plays the boy's mother, are guests of the festival and will introduce The Kid on opening night in Sydney and Melbourne.

One of the hits of last year's festival was Made In Hong Kong, a raw slice of post colonial life directed by Fruit Chan. One of the HK's brightest talents, Chan returns with The Longest Summer; a politically charged entry in the cop-Triad genre which charts the slide into crime of a former Hong Kong military officer made redundant after the Chinese handover. The rough and ready style of Made In Hong Kong has been smoothed out but Chan's potent commentary on life after the lowering of the Union Jack hits the target.

Elsewhere in the programme there's veteran Ann Hui's Ordinary Heroes which takes a personal look at the decade leading up to the Tiananmen Square massacre; the amiable crime comedy Hitman, starring Jet Li (in his final HK film before playing the villain in Lethal Weapon 4) as the titular killer-for-hire with a conscience and the Vertigo inspired Moonlight Express, starring the hard-working Leslie Cheung as the dead-ringer of a woman's just-deceased fiance. Taiwanese-born Sylvia Chang, known on-screen for her roles in Ang Lee's Eat Drink Man Woman, the Aces Go Places series and Stanley Kwan's Full Moon In New York, is also a respected director/producer whose love story spanning twenty years Tempting Heart, should please fans of lush romance.

"there's enough in this selection to keep the faith"

If you think Hong Kong cinema is all mayhem and bloodshed, there's enough in this selection to keep the faith but there's more to the story. Now that the once-flourishing Chinatown cinema circuit in Australia is only a shadow of its former self, the Hong Kong Film Festival presents an excellent opportunity to discover that the island is still alive with imaginative and internationally accessible features.

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Beast Cops


Expect the Unexpected


The Kid


Longest Summer


Moonlight Express


Tempting Heart







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