River Phoenix died five years ago, and it is a sign of the iconic status he has achieved since then that the Arts Centre is devoting a season of films to his work. He died rather too young to generate enough films for a whole season though, and so he has been paired up with his friend, and the owner of the club where he spent his last evening, Johnny Depp. The two actors didn't work together much, but they did share the same rather brave and admirable attitude that it was more important to make interesting films than Hollywood blockbusters that would make them stars. It is hard to imagine Phoenix doing what his co-star in the opening film, My Own Private Idaho, Keanu Reeves has done: blockbusters like Speed, and Chain Reaction. In My Own Private Idaho, Phoenix plays Mike, a narcoleptic rent boy who teams up with the son of the local town mayor who decides he wants to shock his father. The pair set off to search for Mike's mother, the woman he dreams about, who abandoned him years before. Gus Van Sant attempted to make the second half of the story a kind of contemporary, gay version of Shakespeare's Henry IV, Part 1, and Phoenix at least gives the impression that he understands the references. My Own Private Idaho (tomorrow, 4.15pm, September 22, 8.30pm). Risque reality Alongside the sumptuous costume dramas favoured by big names like Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige , there is a small but growing number of young mainland directors who are determined to portray contemporary China in all its drab, grubby glory. One of these is Jia Zhangke, and his first full-length feature will be screened at the Arts Centre this week. Xiao Wu, the eponymous hero of the movie, isn't actually selling himself to all comers, like Mike in My Private Idaho, but the two young men certainly move in the same kind of circles. Xiao Wu is a small-town crook living somewhere in Western China, who one day finds himself out of work when then Chinese Vice Premier Zhu Rongji's anti-corruption drive reaches his town, and he is snubbed by his old friends. Even his parents don't want to know him, the only person who will talk to him is a woman he meets in a karaoke bar. It is not the first time independent film directors have chosen to portray China's amoral youth; Zhang Yuan got into plenty of trouble for doing so in films such as Beijing Bastards, and novelist Wang Shuo has been irritating the authorities, and delighting his readers, with books about them for years. But all the same, there is something fresh about Xiao Wu, not least because the director chose to use a mainly non-professional cast, a la Ken Loach, and also because the sex scenes include full-frontal male nudity. Xiao Wu screens in Mandarin with English subtitles, tomorrow at 6.30pm, September 20 at 2.30pm, September 21 at 6.30pm and September 22 at 6.30pm. Literary ambitions The Hong Kong Players bravely take on Shakespeare this week, with a production of King Lear, set in this century and in military uniform. Giving Shakespearean tragedies a modern, martial look worked well for Ian McKellen, with Richard III, and the Royal Shakespeare Company with Othello, so here's hoping our ambitious band of amateurs do it justice. Tickets are available at the Fringe. Performances are on September 22-26, at 7.30pm. If the Hong Kong Players had known, then the group probably wouldn't have dared to stage Shakespeare in the same week that the British Council is making a huge effort to promote English literature with the Eye on Books Festival. The council has invited some very impressive names to Hong Kong, including Romesh Gunesekera, Helen Dunmore, Grace Nichol and Blake Morrison. Gunesekera will be holding a writing workshop, Dunmore and Nichol will be talking about their poetry, and Blake Morrison will be discussing his wonderful book When Did You Last See Your Father? with local writer Chip Tsao. There is also a chance to hear Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Libby Wong Chien Chi-lien read some of their favourite stories and poems in an open-air session in Hong Kong Park on September 26.