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A quick look at film screening at this year’s event.
Love in the Buff
HKIFF — Opening-Night Film
You don’t have to have seen Pang Ho-cheung‘s 2010 comedy Love in a Puff to be amused by its equally hip and sassy sequel, Love in the Buff. Well received when it opened the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Hong Kong-Chinese coprod has a waiting audience and can be expected to gain ground on its predecessor in Asian markets. Both witty and raunchy, the film brings back the two original lover-protagonists as they break up and make up between Hong Kong and Beijing. Not only Hong Kong, but also mainland China is made to look like a very modern, happening place with its disco, bar and club scene for upwardly mobile thirtysomethings. While much of the film’s raucous humor might be lost on Western audiences, Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yue‘s down-to-earth, laid-back acting keeps the film grounded in an everyday reality. Despite a bit of wheel-spinning toward the end, Pang offers another painfully on-target analysis of modern love in all its truth and lies that won’t be lost in translation. — Deborah Young
Hong Kong Filmart (Sales Agent: Gaumont Int’l)
While capturing some of the abrasive edginess of Drive helmer Nicolas Winding Refn‘s 1996 Danish thriller, on which it is based, the London-set remake Pusher manages to rise above standard drug-dealer/gangster fare thanks to a strong cast led by Richard Coyle. U.S. rights have been acquired by the Weinsteins for their VOD-oriented label Radius-TWC, and video seems the most probable outlet after a European theatrical run. With Refn as executive producer, Spanish helmer Luis Prieto makes his English-language debut with this gritty look at one nightmarish week during which small-time pusher Frank (Coyle) plummets into a downward spiral after he crosses local drug kingpin Milo (drolly played by Zlatko Buric, who reprises his role from the Danish film). It’s hard to find a new angle on this oft-told tale, but Prieto wisely shifts the focus to the inner conflicts of the increasingly desperate dealer. However unsavory Frank’s actions, Coyle keeps him within human bounds and never forsakes audience sympathy completely. — D.Y.
The Tall Man
Hong Kong Filmart (Sales Agent: SND Groupe M6)
If you spliced the DNA from any entry in the recent Gallic horror wave with the Pacific Northwest setting of the Twilight series, you might get something resembling The Tall Man, a twisting horror thriller set in the depressed and depressing mining town Cold Rock, where 18 children have vanished. Executive producer Jessica Biel plays nurse Julia Denning, whose son David is the latest victim. Director Pascal Laugier created a stir with his blood-soaked psychological horror film Martyrs in 2008, but audiences looking for more of the same in Tall Man will be equally thrilled and disappointed. Laugier taps into a similar conspiracy story but without the earlier film’s graphic violence. And again the director shows off a knack for arresting images but a leaden touch when it comes to narrative. But that shouldn’t prevent this France/Canada co-production from at least moderate success on the genre circuit and in urban markets, given the right marketing. — Elizabeth Kerr
White Deer Plain
HKIFF — Closing-Night Film
After winning the Berlin Golden Bear in 2007 for his Mongolian drama Tuya’s Marriage, Chinese director Wang Quan’an ambitiously brings Chen Zhongshi‘s sweeping 1993 historical novel White Deer Plain to the big screen. Unfortunately, this impressively lensed and scaled work flounders for focus, and not even its unusually explicit sex scenes can rescue the three-hour opus from ennui. Tracing two peasant families from 1910 to 1938, the film presents historical and personal horrors (beatings, beheadings and executions) in fleeting, tableaux-like scenes of little emotional impact. Although its stunning look might draw a limited release in some territories, this is an art film even for Chinese viewers. The one entry point for Western audiences is the character of Xiao’e, a beautiful, bold and capricious young woman who joins peasant society as an unwelcome outsider. But even here, the focus is blurred when it should be steady. While his lusty peasants recall Zhang Yimou‘s Red Sorghum, Quan’an lacks the narrative skill to pull off such a long and complex story. –- D.Y.
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