Z still from Trivisa, showing at the Hong Kong International Film Festival.

25 movies to watch at the 2016 Hong Kong International Film Festival

In chronological order from today until April 4, our film editor selects the festival movies you should try to see, from award winners to debutants, fantasies to documentaries, biopics and a triptych

1. Trivisa

Opening the 40th edition of the annual festival is a suitably astute inspection of the Hong Kong way of life. Produced by Johnnie To Kei-fung and directed by a trio of new talent, this exemplary crime drama imagines the crisscrossing destinies of three of the city’s most notorious criminals ahead of the pivotal moment of the 1997 handover. (March 21 and 25)

A still from A War.
2. A War

The trauma of war lives on as a domestic court case in this immaculately scripted Afghanistan war drama. A nominee for this year’s best foreign language Oscar, this third feature by Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm realistically portrays the struggle with moral accountability that an army officer must go through. (March 21 and 28)

A still from Marguerite.
3. Marguerite

A tragically untalented opera singer is the star of this exemplary French period comedy, based on the life of 1920s American socialite Florence Foster Jenkins. While Meryl Streep is next in line to play her, the tone-deaf soprano is here embodied by Catherine Frot with such conviction that her deluded aspiration feels almost touching. (March 22)

A still from Tale of Tales.
4. Tale of Tales

If you care for fantasy stories at once seriously gory, sexy and funny, look no further than this English-language oddity by Gomorrah director Matteo Garrone. This three-part adaptation of Giambattista Basile’s 17th-century fairy-tale anthology features everything from giant fleas to Salma Hayek chomping on a monster’s heart. (March 22 and 27)

A still from Francofonia.
5. Francofonia

After capturing the essence of St. Petersburg’s Hermitage in his one-take masterpiece Russian Ark, auteur Alexander Sokurov is back to give another renowned museum his mind-bending, centuries-spanning docudrama treatment – as notions of art and history collide at the Louvre in occupied Paris of the 1940s. (March 22, April 3)

A still from The Bacchus Lady.
6. The Bacchus Lady

The legendary Korean actress Youn Yuh-jung gives an acting masterclass as an ageing sex worker in this audacious film. Revolving around her many clients, as well as the Seoul community surrounding her, this gritty drama by Untold Scandal’s E J-yong takes a sympathetic look at the lives of those surviving on the edge of society. (March 23 and 25)

A still from Beautiful.
7. Beautiful 2016

As the latest output of the festival’s annual commissioned project, omnibus film Beautiful again offers a refreshing change of pace from four of the region’s most interesting filmmakers, in this case the Chinese auteur Jia Zhangke, J-horror veteran Hideo Nakata, Taiwanese actor Alec Su, and Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan. (March 23 and 28)

A still from City of Splendour.
8. Cemetery of Splendour

Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul follows up on his Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee with another sublime effort. The sociopolitical allegory is set around a former school campus that has changed its function to become a hospital for soldiers, only to be haunted by ghosts of past rulers rising from the cemetery underneath. (March 23 and 28)

Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s 1951 film A Streetcar Named Desire.
9. Listen to Me Marlon

An astonishingly revelatory documentary on one of Hollywood’s greatest icons, director Stevan Riley’s unique effort makes use of archive footage, film clips and audio tapes of Marlon Brando’s private musings over the decades to form a posthumous self-portrait, touching on subjects as varied as acting, celebrity and mortality. (March 23 and 28)

A still from Blood of My Blood.
10. Blood of My Blood

Italian master Marco Bellocchio serves up a delirious mix of whimsy and fantasy in his Venice Fipresci Prize winner, which juggles two stories: one about a witch trial during the 17th century inquisition period, and another a present-day encounter between a vampire and a tax inspector. It’s a strikingly unclassifiable film experience. (March 23, April 3)

A still from The Pearl Button.
11. The Pearl Button

After juxtaposing Chile’s history of political killings with its study of the cosmos in the transcendent Nostalgia for the Light, the great documentarist Patricio Guzmán again returns to explore the country’s gruesome past – the genocide of its indigenous people, the murders during the Pinochet years – alongside natural history. (March 23, April 3)

A still from Afar.
12. From Afar

A surprise winner of the Golden Lion award at last year’s Venice Film Festival, this riveting first feature from writer-director Lorenzo Vigas observes with detachment and subtle ambivalence the forbidden gay romance between a middle-aged man and a teenage criminal in the notoriously violent city of Caracas, Venezuela. (March 23, April 4)

A still from Inside Men.
13. Inside Men

Actor Lee Byung-hun impresses as a discarded political henchman – a role that earned him the best actor prize at last week’s Asian Film Awards – in this ultra-dark fable about the power and corruption of those pulling the strings of South Korean society, from politicians and journalists to the businessmen buying their influence. (March 24, April 4)

A still from Mallory.
14. Mallory

Czech director Helena Teštíková has created another masterpiece with her time-lapse observational approach. This Karlovy Vary documentary prize winner briefly follows a heroin addict in 2002 when she got pregnant, and then catches up with her again from 2009 onwards as the homeless mother struggles to improve her life. (March 24, April 4)

A still from No Home Movie.
15. No Home Movie

An immensely personal film that also turns out to be its maker’s parting gift to the cinema world, this documentary by Chantal Akerman, who committed suicide in October, features a series of tender conversations between the Belgian avant-garde film director and her mother shortly before the latter’s death in 2014. (March 25 and 28)

A still from Sunset Song.
16. Sunset Song

Lewis Grassic Gibbons’ epic 1932 novel receives a rhapsodic adaptation by Terence Davies, the veteran British director of The Deep Blue Sea and The Long Day Closes. In a remarkable transformation, fashion It girl Agyness Deyn plays the headstrong heroine of a rural Scottish family, headed by Peter Mullan’s callous, maniacal farmer. (March 25 and 29)

A still from Kaili Blues.
17. Kaili Blues

Independent Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan makes his feature debut with this spellbinding arthouse gem. Partly set in the foggy city of its title, the director’s birthplace in Guizhou province in the country’s southwest, this dreamy road movie follows a gloomy doctor as he sets off for a winding journey to locate his neglected nephew, only to pass through strange lands that appear to distort time and space. (March 26 and 28)

A still from Chronic.
18. Chronic

After winning top prizes in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section with his high-school bullying drama After Lucia, Mexican writer-director Michel Franco makes his English-language debut with an equally bleak film about a homecare for the terminally ill, with Tim Roth playing the nurse who perseveres with hypnotic patience. (March 26 and 30)

A still from The Case of Hana & Alice.
19. The Case of Hana & Alice

Eleven years after his hit coming-of-age drama Hana & Alice, Shunji Iwai puts an end to his hiatus from fiction-film making in Japan with this bubbly prequel, which brings the 2004 film’s protagonists back to (younger) life with a new rotoscope animation technique. It’s a joy to see them crack adolescence – alongside a murder mystery. (March 26 and 31)

A still from The Lobster.
20. The Lobster

You either share Yorgos Lanthimos’ outrageously offbeat sensibilities or you don’t. The Greek director of Dogtooth and Alps certainly doesn’t disappoint with his star-studded English-language debut, which pictures a dystopian society in which people risk being turned into animals if they can’t find a matching mate within a designated period. (March 27)

A still from Arabian Nights Trilogy.
21. Arabian Nights Trilogy

If you only catch one marathon screening on March 27, skip the eight-hour A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery and stick with this humorous six-hour triptych by Portuguese director Miguel Gomes (Tabu), an ambitious attempt to morph the folktales into social commentaries on contemporary government austerity measures. (March 27, April 1-3)

A still from The Club.
22. The Club

Playing like the flipside of Spotlight, this latest effort by Chilean director Pablo Larraín to expose his country’s ills (after Tony Manero, Post Mortem, and No) turns its attention to several disgraced priests living in exile in a seaside town – all perpetrators of terrible crimes and benefactors of the Catholic church’s widespread hypocrisy. (March 27, April 3)

A still from Heart of a Dog.
23. Heart of a Dog

Laurie Anderson, the revered artist and widow of Lou Reed, delves deep into her own memories and emotions with this deeply poignant essay. Ostensibly a film inspired by her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle, this experimental effort turns out to be a haunting meditation on everything from post-9/11 anxiety to love and mortality. (March 28, April 2)

A still from Under the Sun.
24. Under the Sun

It’s an unfortunate irony that this documentary should play so much like a real-life Truman Show. Officially approved to film the propaganda façade of Pyongyang, Russian director Vitaly Mansky went along but focused instead on the colourful outtakes, including surreal instructions to actors playing out the happy socialist life. (March 30, April 1)

A still from Creepy.
25. Creepy

The festival’s closing film more than lives up to its title. Fans of horror maestro Kiyoshi Kurosawa are in for a treat with this macabre psychological thriller, which in its measured, slow-burning way evolves from a Hitchcockian detective mystery to a nightmarish vision of modern life. You won’t forget about the plastic wrap anytime soon. (April 4)

The Hong Kong International Film Festival runs from March 21 to April 4 at various venues around town. For full programme details, visit

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