What do a surrogate mother, wily detectives, Kung Fu, a young man on the hunt for his parents' killer and a grasshopper all have in common? Why, it's the Hong Kong Film Festival. The festival, presented by the San Francisco Film Society kicks of this Friday with a whole host of films that will stimulate the senses and challenge many a person's conception of what Hong Kong is all about.
The small island, resting on the edge of a vast continent and spilling out into the sea, has an inordinately wealthy population, high density, a rigorous free trade market and a prodigious film industry. As such it mirrors that other great Metropolis -- New York City, the birthplace and oft used subject of American film. Not surprisingly, Hong Kong is known as the place where East meets West and could be considered our partner in crime, capitalism and carpe diem.
Many of the films revel in stylistically gritty cinematography, fast-paced editing and heart attack producing action sequences. In this vein is Conspirators, a contemporary interpretation of the traditional tale of the vendetta.
The film tells the story of Malaysian-born Chan Tam (Aaron Kwok) who navigates the treacherous underworld in order to track down the men who murdered his parents 30 years earlier.
Other film offerings include love and corruption in 1930s Shanghai, the international phenomenon of the Hong Kong pop scene and a few beloved Kung Fu classics.
But the film that is a must see is A Complicated Story by Kei Shu and Kiwi Chow. Despite a title song that sounds like Dido singing in Cantonese it is a film that challenges not only narrative styles but any preconceptions about the experience of the Chinese woman.
"I have always wanted to live life on my own terms" says Yazi Liu, a young woman from mainland China studying in Hong Kong who takes a lucrative, and illegal, gig as a surrogate mother.
The fact that she is from the mainland is important as "mainlanders" are viewed by many Hong Kong residents as poor, less educated, and culturally deficient. Class is a primary theme in this film that juxtaposes the cramped and colorful areas populated by the lower classes against the archly modern, even clinical spaces of the rich and powerful. Like their Wall Street counterparts, these high rise kingpins feel they have the right to dictate human lives as long as the they can afford the fee. But Yazi Lui disobeys and rejects being bought. What follows is entirely unexpected even for those hip to the the art of the progressive film.
Just a minor example of this is the scene where a pregnant Yazi is shown -- prepare for a ghost gasp of an entire pantheon of Hollywood liberals -- drinking red wine.
The themes explored in these films are near and dear to our urban American hearts; alienation, conflicted sexuality, institutional corruption, class warfare and the need to find a shred of heroic redemption in the midst of our increasingly rapid tumble into a chaotic new world. Well, all that and the joy of a damn good story.
But though these films reveal certain cinematic commonalities, they are still distinctly representative of Hong Kong with stories embedded deeply within a cultural consciousness of shifting foreign occupiers and a clear divide between then and now. Family loyalty is an essential narrative force. Inscrutable and yet beautiful faces are in evidence. Chopsticks are used with grace.
As the connection between East and West continues to grow ever more close, both economically and culturally, it may mean that we find our most powerful mutual sympathy by simply -- going to the movies.
The festival begins on October 4th at the Vogue Theater (3290 Sacramento) and runs through the 6th.
Film tickets $12 for SFFS members, $14 general, $13 seniors, students and persons with disabilities, $10 children (12 and under); Opening Night film and party tickets $20 for SFFS members, $25 general; Box office opens September 4 for members and September 6 for the general public online at sffs.org.
For complete program information visit http://www.sffs.org/Exhibition/Fall-Season/Hong-Kong-Cinema.aspx