Film Postcard: Udine, Italy
The people who gather for the Far East Film Festival each spring are by now well used to sharing the northeastern Italian city of Udine's cobbled streets with an array of Hong Kong's movie stars, so the locals don't bat an eyelid when passing the likes of Sandra Ng Kwan-yu or Chapman To Man-chat as they wander around and take in the local sights.
But what did raise eyebrows and get people yapping this year, even after the nine-day event closed on May 3, was the state of play in Hong Kong, as represented by the 15 films that came to town.
Reflections of a city at odds with itself, and with the people who run it, were on display in everything from Pang Ho-cheung's mature family drama Aberdeen - which kicked off the 16th edition of the festival on April 25 - to the short films from the collection of first-time filmmakers who took part in the government-sponsored Fresh Wave programme, among them Wan King-fai's Guilty, which deals with the case of a young student facing legal action after taking part in protests against our leaders.
That there was so much and so varied dialogue buzzing about the place pleased festival director Sabrina Baracetti, who has helped guide the festival since it started as an event solely focused on Hong Kong cinema.
"In introducing these films to a European audience we are helping create some common ground between our audience and people and cultures from the other side of the world," she says. "The world is looking to Asia now and we hope these films show that both sides have much that they share."
The spotlight shone brightly on Ng, who provided the festival's one moment of madness when set upon by a mob of autograph-hungry youngsters, and who was at pains to explain to the audience some of the more local aspects of her hit Golden Chickensss. To was also here, there and everywhere with four of his films screening, including the bawdy comedy 3-D Naked Ambition, which like Ng's hit, seemed to lose something in its translation.
However, Aberdeen and Fruit Chan Gor's post-apocalyptic The Midnight After got their messages across, with Chan coming clean on his own input into the script (based on online novel Lost on a Red Mini Bus To Taipo), including a scene where the characters take aim at the role of Chief Executive and the leadership qualities of those who have taken up the post.
But there was so much more than Hong Kong's collective worries on show across the programme of 62 films representing nine countries. Berlin Golden Bear winner Black Coal, Thin Ice also screened at Udine and its writer/director, Diao Yinan, expressed his hopes that its domestic box office success would inspire his fellow mainland filmmakers to tackle contemporary tales.
The strength and depth of South Korean cinema was another festival highlight. Yang Woo-seok's courtroom drama, The Attorney - which looks at the dodgy dealings of the Chun Doo-hwan regime during its final days - showed why it was a monster hit last year, while its star, the irrepressible Song Kang-ho, bobbed up again in Han Jae-rim's The Face Reader, a period piece that was another big hit domestically.
The rise of Philippine cinema was also on show with offerings that included veteran director Chito Rono's homage to the country's gangster films of the1970s, the madcap and ultra-stylish Shoot to Kill: Boy Golden, and Dynamite Fishing, his exposé of village vote rigging. So too was the festival's first documentary section, which featured four films and was programmed to reflect the growing stature of the genre across the region, according to Baracetti.
Australian director Andrew Leavold's The Search for Weng Weng qualified because it was almost entirely shot in the Philippines and deals with his own obsession with the 83cm "miniature James Bond" of the title, who was briefly a star in that country in the early 1980s thanks to such international hits as For Your Height Only (1981). What threatened to be somewhat of a freak show turned out to be a measured and intelligent look at the nature of fame.
The festival handed out its major award on closing night, decided by the audience, and this year the fans rallied around Japanese director Takashi Yamazaki's second world war epic The Eternal Zero.