10 highlights from Hong Kong Asian Film Festival 2018, from Burning to Ash Is Purest White

  • More than 70 films from all over Asia will be shown in locations around the city during the festival
  • Established and up-and-coming Asian directors will be featured
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 November, 2018, 5:05pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2018, 6:47pm

Now in its 15th year, the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival continues to shine a spotlight on promising new filmmakers from the region, as well as showcase the latest works from established Asian auteurs.

Kicking off this week with Jun Li’s transgender drama Tracey and Oliver Chan Siu-kuen’s Still Human, HKAFF will screen more than 70 features around the city, closing with Shunji Iwai’s Chinese-language Last Letter and Fruit Chan’s Three Husbands on November 25.

From festival favourites and local initiatives to retrospectives and more, this year’s diverse line-up promises something for everyone. Below are 10 unmissable picks from this year’s selection.

1. Tracey

For his first lead role, prolific character actor Philip Keung Ho-man takes the bold, unlikely step of portraying a middle-aged man wrestling with his gender identity. A seemingly happy and unassuming husband and father on the outside, Travis has been struggling with a secret he can no longer keep hidden.

Fresh Wave award-winning director Jun Li tackles a subject that remains stubbornly taboo in Hong Kong for his first feature film. Tracey not only broaches transgender issues with sensitivity and heart, but proves a huge leap forward for both Keung and Li. Kara Wai and River Huang also star.

2. Still HumanThe latest in a string of socially conscious disability dramas to emerge from Hong Kong, Still Human stars Anthony Wong Chau-sang as a bitter, wheelchair-bound curmudgeon who experiences an emotional breakthrough after hiring Filipina helper, Evelyn (newcomer Crisel Consunji).

Echoing the true story of Xyza Cruz Bacani, Evelyn dreams of becoming a professional photographer, while enduring the endemic racial prejudice facing migrant workers in the city. What sets Still Human apart from other dramas of its kind is the infectious humour Wong brings to the film, in a delightful, layered performance sure to garner awards attention in the coming months.

3. Burning

Loosely adapted from a Haruki Murakami short story, Burning is the first feature film from celebrated South Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong since 2010’s Poetry. A bleak, emotionally detached epic chronically a generation’s detachment from the modern world, it stars Yoo Ah-in and The Walking Dead’s Steven Yuen as two young men separated by class, wealth, and education.

When both become involved with the enigmatic Hae-mi (newcomer Jeon Jong-seo), their lives become inextricably intertwined. An overwhelming critical success following its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, Burning is one of the year’s most provocative and challenging films.

4. Long Day’s Journey into Night

Twenty-nine-year-old Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan exploded onto the scene with his critically revered 2015 debut, Kaili Blues , a dreamlike odyssey through rural China featuring an audacious, time-travelling 40-minute single take at its centre.

His star-studded follow-up proves even more cinematically inventive: it is a beautifully realised neo-noir that culminates in a 55-minute 3D dream sequence. Tang Wei and Sylvia Chang star alongside Huang Jue, who plays a man returning to his hometown in search of a lost lover. What he discovers there is a labyrinthine manifestation of memories, fantasies and desires.

5. Ash Is Purest White

Following his recent successes A Touch of Sin and Mountains May Depart , Jia Zhangke again twists a three-act structure around a crime-infused narrative that chronicles the rapidly changing landscape of modern China.

As always, Jia’s wife Zhao Tao takes centre stage, as a mobster’s wife who finds herself incarcerated after pulling a gun on her husband’s would-be assassins. After five years behind bars, she is released into a world she does not recognise and goes in search of the man (played by Liao Fan) she left behind. Beautiful, melancholic and dripping in wistful nostalgia, the film finds Jia at the height of his powers.

6. The Scoundrels

A rain-drenched heist caper and wisecracking buddy movie mashed into one hugely entertaining thrill-ride, The Scoundrels hails the dynamic debut of Taiwanese writer-director Hung Tzu-hsuan.

J.C. Lin stars as a disgraced basketball star now in the pocket of a local gangster, who crosses paths with the notorious Raincoat Robber (Wu Kang-ren), wanted for a series of armoured car hold-ups. A thorny kinship develops between the two outcasts, not least when it transpires they share a common grievance, and put into action the ultimate revenge heist.

7. Cities of Last Things

Outside Japan, science fiction is an all-too rare commodity in Asian Cinema, but Ho Wi-ding’s triptych of inventive, nostalgia-tinged tales promises a bright future for the genre.

Jack Kao, Lee Hong-chi and Hsieh Chang-ying all portray protagonist Zhang Dong Ling during different chapters of his challenging life. Infidelity, police corruption, love, loss and Taiwan’s evolving landscape all play a role in Zhang’s tragic existence. Look out for an exceptional performance from Ding Ning, whose gang boss Big Sister Wang all but steals the show at the film’s climax.

8. Little Forest

A love letter to homespun nourishment and the satisfaction of a simple life, Yim Soon-rye’s Korean-language adaptation of Daisuke Igarashi’s manga is a gentle, idyllically realised delight.

Kim Tae-ri, star of Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden , plays Hye-won, a young woman who retreats from the big city and returns home to her mother’s countryside retreat. Finding the dwelling empty, she moves in, and so begins a year of self-sufficient culinary adventures, notably employing solely meat-free delicacies.

Picturesque, mouth-watering and charming throughout, Little Forest also features the great Moon So-ri as Hye-won’s influential yet elusive mother.

How Ten Years Thailand, inspired by Hong Kong film, reflects on history and politics

9. Ten Years International ProjectFollowing the critical success of Ten Years , the provocative anthology format has been taken up by filmmakers in Japan, Taiwan and Thailand, spinning tales of speculative science-fiction and imagined futures a decade from now.

Ten Years Japan, under the guidance of executive producer Hirokazu Kore-eda, explores the ageing crisis, an irradiated future and a returning military draft. Ten Years Taiwan depicts the impact of pollution on indigenous communities, the uncertain future of a post-industrial country and Taiwan’s dwindling birth rate. Meanwhile, Ten Years Thailand sees artistic expression curbed by the authorities, while the young are brainwashed by questionable, quasi-religious regimes.

Kirin Kiki, everyone’s favourite Japanese screen grandmother, on flowering late

10. Tribute to Kirin KikiHailed as the grandmother of modern Japanese cinema, actress Kirin Kiki passed away on September 15 leaving behind an incredible body of work spanning 60 years.

Prolific right up until her death, Kiki’s legacy will be celebrated through screenings of six of her films, including Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Still Walking, for which she won a Blue Ribbon Award, as well as her Japanese Academy Award winning turns in Chronicle of My Mother and Tokyo Tower.

Also included is Kiki’s most recent performance, as an ageing tea ceremony teacher imparting her knowledge in Every Day a Good Day, as apt a swan song as one could wish for.

Hong Kong Asian Film Festival runs from November 6 to 25 at various venues. For full programme details, visit hkaff.asia.

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