Also showing: Leung Ping-kwan

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 September, 2007, 12:00am

This being the age of multitasking, the presence of a poet at a film festival is no longer a surprise - especially when the bard concerned is Leung Ping-kwan, both one of Hong Kong's best-known literary figures and an avid commentator on popular culture. It's in the latter capacity that he'll be present at the Broadway Cinematheque next Wednesday, leading a discussion on the aesthetics of Korean filmmaker Lee Chang-dong, the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival's director-in-focus this year.

But Leung is much more than just a critic at the festival. Having spent years dissecting filmmakers' work to explore their psyches, Leung faces the same treatment this year as two short films he made in the 1990s - North Point Car Ferry and Moving Home - are presented in an omnibus screening titled A Poet's Chronicle.

Running to just over 70 minutes when shown together, the two works are hardly technical masterpieces, and Leung admits as much. Shot mostly on hand-held video, both films suffer from shaky camerawork, bad lighting and stilted mise-en-scene.

A large chunk of North Point just shows Leung and his artist friends sitting around and reminiscing about their days growing up, working and living in the area. Moving Home is more like a montage of home movies documenting Leung's life (and his readings in London and Hong Kong) in 1998, when he relocated from Central to Tin Shui Wai to be near his new workplace, Lingnan College (now the university).

Although Leung defends the ramshackle quality of the two pieces, citing a lack of training and hi-fidelity equipment (they were made before the days of digital editing and the splicing was done on analogue machines at the Hong Kong Arts Centre), he also says critiquing them merely on technique misses the point.

Instead, he says, North Point and Moving Home should be evaluated as a poetic record of a bygone age and the sentiments of that era. 'They are not meant to be narcissistic and inward-looking - they are pieces that should allow us to look at culture as it was then,' says Leung, now chair of Lingnan's Department of Chinese and a professor of comparative literature. As an artist, he adds, 'it's necessary to create works to look at our community and neighbourhood, rather than just sitting there and talking endlessly about preservation and all that'.

That view may explain his admiration for Lee, who began his career as a novelist before becoming a director. Lee's progression mirrors Leung's aspirations; he wrote film criticism in the 70s, screenplays for two stillborn projects by New Wave filmmaker Allen Fong Yuk-ping in the early 90s and a collection of cultural studies documentaries in the late 80s and early 90s, on subjects from vanishing landmarks to androgyny. Additionally, he has written many essays on local cinema over the past three decades.

Leung goes by the name of Yesi in print, and is the subject of critical acclaim for novels such as Cities of Memory, Cities of Fabrication and poetry collections such as A Poetry of Moving Signs. His books and essays on film culture are largely concerned with urban space, dislocation and memory, as are both North Point and Moving Home.

He says he made all his video pieces to use in his teaching and to encourage his students to make short films themselves. 'So much energy has to be spent doing films - all the shooting and all the editing. It feels so lonely. And so much labour has to go into just one film,' he says.

'When Fong couldn't get the money to finance those two films I was really frustrated. So I went back, picked up my pen and paper and stuck with them. It's an art that's easier to manage.'

A Poet's Chronicle, Sept 24, Oct 3, 7.30pm; Cinema and Literature - Creative World of Lee Chang-dong, Sept 25, 6.50pm, Broadway Cinematheque, Yau Ma Tei