Best in show: highlights of the Hong Kong International Film Festival

This year's Hong Kong International Film Festival features award-winning movies from home and abroad. Film editor Yvonne Teh and the festival's artistic director Li Cheuk-to choose their top 48

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 March, 2014, 11:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 March, 2014, 6:23pm

FROM AWARD-WINNING local and foreign fare to classic thrillers and masterclasses by industry heavyweights, this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival offers a feast of cinematic delights.

The event is slightly smaller that last year's, but you wouldn't know it to look at the extraordinary programme - close to 400 screenings of 300 films, including 11 world, nine international and 68 Asian premieres, in a showcase of films from 56 territories. It is a line-up that does justice to the festival's catchline, "The world comes to Hong Kong".

One of the two opening films, Pang Ho-cheung's Aberdeen (#1), is among the world premieres. It follows three generations of a Hong Kong family who learn to cope with the trauma of the past, reconcile and move on.

Boasting a cast that includes this year's festival ambassador, Louis Koo Tin-lok, and previous ambassador Miriam Yeung Chin-wah, it's also one of 48 films (including 11 selected by the festival's artistic director Li Cheuk-to) that we think are worth calling attention to.

Other films receiving world premieres include Adam Wong Sau-ping's ICAC Investigators 2014 - Better Tomorrow (#2), which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

The festival will also showcase a retrospective programme of works depicting real-life ICAC cases that include television episodes directed by Ann Hui On-wah on her own ( The Law and Its People, #3) and in collaboration with others ( Partners and Rivals #4, and Two Cases that Shake the Earth #5).

The festival's other opening film is another ensemble work by a local director. Fruit Chan's The Midnight After (#6), which had its world premiere at the Berlin International Film Festival last month, is based on an internet sci-fi novel about the last 17 people left in a city that was formerly the home to millions.

Other notable films being screened that premiered at the Berlinale include Dante Lam Chiu-yin's That Demon Within (#7), a thriller about a policeman who dismantles a gang headed by a man he once saved from death, starring Daniel Wu Yin-cho and Nick Cheung Ka-fai.

Diao Yinan's Black Coal, Thin Ice (#8), a mainland thriller involving a tainted cop and a femme fatale, will also be screened. The film took the Berlinale's top prize, the Golden Bear, and lead actor Liao Fan went home with a Silver Bear.

Also coming to Hong Kong are veteran Japanese filmmaker Yoji Yamada's first romance, The Little House (#9) - whose female lead, Haru Kuroki, won best actress honour in Berlin - and Lou Ye's Blind Massage (#10), whose cinematographer, Zeng Jian, was awarded the Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution.

Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is the subject of a six-film tribute programme that includes About Elly (#11), which won him the Silver Bear for best director in 2009, his triple Berlin award- and Oscar-winning Nader and Simin, A Separation (2011) (#12) and his most recent film, The Past (2013) (#13), which did not make the shortlist for the best foreign language film at the Oscars, an omission that shocked many industry watchers.

Isabelle Huppert has been honoured with a festival programme that includes Michael Haneke's The Piano Teacher (2001) (#14), in which her performance as a pianist-instructor with a secret sex life won her the best actress award at the Cannes Film Festival, and Claude Chabrol's Story of Women (1988) (#15), based on the true story of the last woman guillotined in France, for which Huppert won the best actress award at the Venice International Film Festival that year.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Sino-French diplomatic relations, Huppert will attend the festival screening of her latest film, Catherine Breillat's Abuse of Weakness (#16) and deliver a masterclass. Similarly, fellow French cinema icon Catherine Deneuve will grace the screening of Emmanuelle Bercot's On My Way (#17) and conduct a masterclass, while fashion designer Agnès b. will give a talk after the screening of her directorial debut, My Name is Hmmm ... (#18).

South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho is also scheduled to give a talk. Among this year's festival highlights is a screening of Mother (#19), his 2009 revenge drama, the way that he originally envisioned it - in black and white.

Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder (#20) will be presented in a way that few viewers of the 1954 film will have seen it. It was originally shot in 3-D, and that is how the classic thriller starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly will be shown.

Lovers of Hollywood fare have not been neglected. Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause (1955) (#21) and Terrence Malick's first feature Badlands (#22), are included in the "Restored Classics" programme, along with Italian auteur Roberto Rossellini's L'Amore (1948) (#23) and Filipino Lino Brocka's noir classic, Manila in the Claws of Light (1975) (#24).

Three notable documentaries are among the more contemporary US films on offer. Alex Gibney's The Armstrong Lie (#25) chronicles the rise and fall from grace of cyclist Lance Armstrong, Errol Morris' The Unknown Known (#26) places the spotlight on former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, while 84-year-old Frederick Wiseman's At Berkeley (#27) trains its sights on the University of California's flagship branch during the autumn 2010 semester.

The festival continues to make a point of including works from less mainstream territories. This year there is a Latin American cinema programme, along with selections from countries such as Georgia ( Blind Dates #28) and Kazakhstan ( Harmony Lessons #29).

Closer to home, other highlights include four films directed by Jiang Wen, including his maiden directorial effort In the Heat of the Sun (1994) (#30) - the first film from the mainland to win best film at the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival and Awards - and his Cannes Grand Prize of the Jury-winning Devils on the Doorstep (2000) (#31).

There are also restored versions of four films by Japanese master Yasujiro Ozu, including his first venture into colour, Equinox Flower (1958) (#32), and his final film, Late Autumn (1960) (#33).

In addition, the Hong Kong Film Archive has organised a Hong Kong gangster film series featuring popular classics such as Chang Cheh and Pao Hsueh-li's The Boxer from Shantung (1972) (#34) and John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986) (#35).

There is also one of the territory's earliest gangster films, Tang Huang's Tradition (1955) (#36), and New York Chinatown (1982) (#37), which stars Alan Tang Kwong-wing as a gangster.

An associate programme, this series runs through to May 11, so the film fun will continue after the festival officially comes to a close.


View pointers: 11 to watch out for

We asked HK International Film Festival Society artistic director Li Cheuk-to to highlight 10 films that might fly under the radar of most festival-goers. Unable to stop at just 10, he came up with the following list of 11 to seek out.

Jodorowsky’s Dune: Considered “the Greatest Film Never Made” by many critics, cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s doomed adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic Dune had a major impact on future films of the genre from Star Wars to Alien and Prometheus. Frank Pavich’s documentary about the ambitious project is revealing and entertaining.

Violet (right): Shot on both 65mm and the digital Alexa, Belgian director Bas Devos’ Berlin Generation 14 plus Grand Prix winner impresses with its daring and evocative storytelling in this touching study of teenage grief.

Macondo: This drama’s title character is an 11- y ear-old Chechen refugee on the outskirts of Vienna. A cruel story of youth, it has a documentary feel. It’s unsentimental, and ultimately moving.

The Turning: With a stellar cast including Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Rose Byrne, this ambitious adaptation of Tim Winton’s best-selling collection of 17 interwoven short stories may prove to be a milestone in Australian cinema.

My Sweet Pepper Land: A modern Western, Kurdish-style, complete with the Good, the Bad and the Beauty. Golshifteh Farahani shines again in this genre bender with over the top humour and wild imagination.

Barber’s Tales: Actress Eugene Domingo gives a layered performance as a grieving widow pulled into helping rebel forces in this political melodrama and crowd-pleaser from the Philippines.

Top of the Lake: Set and shot in her native New Zealand 20 years after The Piano, Jane Campion is back on top form with this absorbing yet disturbing crime saga that recalls Twin Peaks. Originally made for television, it’s shown in two parts at the fest.

The Desert of the Tartars (right): A major rediscovery after restoration in recent years, this 1976 meditation on the futility of war and human existence impresses with its dreamlike existential atmosphere.

Tim’s Vermeer: This documentary examining the 17 th-century Dutch master’s technique is a must-see for art lovers or anyone interested in the connection between art and technology. Intriguing.

Cairo Drive: With a nation’s co llective psyche revealed in its chaotic traffic, this delightful mix of humour and current events deserves to be seen alongside another Egyptian documentary, The Square, which was nominated for an Oscar this year.


For the full programme, go to