Young directors Michelle Hung, Li Cheuk-shing, Cheung Yin-kei and Jun Li and their short movies are part of the Hong Kong 2017 Fresh Wave Short Film Competition. Now at its 11th edition, Fresh Wave is an independent organization founded by Johnnie To, to fund Hong Kong young talents in filmmaking, showcase their projects and give them a truly effective platform to start their career from. Fresh Wave Alumni includes Jevons Au of “Ten Years” and “Trivisa” and Wong Chun of multi-awarded Mad World.
4 of these short movies from talented filmmakers screened at the Fresh Wave section of Five Flavours
“Little Shop of Grotesque” by Michelle Hung Tsz-ching
In a stylish, all-white flower shop, Molly (Che Wing-hei) works with passion and devotion to her plants. However, her fondness for the green world verges on obsession, as she feels a special bond with them and she thinks she knows exactly what they need just listening to them. Occasionally in her mind, she can even hear the little pesky insects crawling up and down, a menace to her beloved flora. But Molly is also a plant creative, in the strict sense, as she is experimenting with seeds and bulbs with the aim of creating a new breed of flowers. In the shop attic, Molly has set up a little greenhouse and she is eager to go to great length to make sure her favourite creation gets all the nutrients she needs.
Michele Hung’s short is a pleasant take on a very familiar horror caper, even the title reveals her source material hence we are not going to be shocked or surprised by the plot line destination. On the other hand, this film offers a very enjoyable ride for us to savor along the way. All the details are carefully thought out, the cold, icy lights are clinically creepy, the sharp cinematography and the sound engineering turn harmless little insects into ominous presages and create an ensemble that is full of character. Furthermore, we can spot a hint at the unspoken desires and concerns of a ripening girl. As the young director has stated in an interview, she loves horror movies and ‘’Little Shop of Grotesque’’ is her tribute to the genre and in days where the supernatural is going through difficult times due to Mainland censorship, we applaud Michelle’s bold choice.
“Realism” by Li Cheuk-shing
Li Cheuk-shing’s work “Realism” revolves around a young film director and her crew working in Hong Kong. In this specular plot, they are about filming a documentary about Lee Hoi Tung, a young, local sex worker and they seem at first committed to tell the true story about this girl and give her a way to express her true feelings. Indeed, the girl has plenty to say! When in front of the camera, she is extremely confident and opinionated and unravels her sharp political motivations behind her life choices. Earnestly she talks about oppression, patriarchy and touches all the “right” topics. However, as the film progresses we detect a different side of the tale. Just turn the camera off and you’ll see lies, indifference and a script whose only purpose is to gain visibility and commercial success.
This sharp reflection about fabricated true and realistic lies in cinema is a sort of meta-movie, which cleverly turns into an insidious trap. Eventually, we might even wonder if the director is fooling us too, creating a machination in order to be included into the very Fresh Wave Festival we are watching and this is the brilliant point she’s making. Being a mockumentary about a documentary (or the other way round?) the visual is totally austere with no ornaments of sorts as the camera focuses exclusively on the solid and spontaneous performances, and creates a casual feeling of work in progress.
Refreshingly, this is food for thought and itself a strong political statement about the filtered reality we get through the media and it is especially poignant being set in the shadow of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong.
“Life on the Line” by Cheung Yin-kei
We are immediately informed that Nim is back at work after experiencing an extremely traumatic event. As a matter of fact, her work is not a simple one as she is the chief counselor in a suicide helpline and she has a reputation for solving most of the cases she got through the line. She knows how to talk to people and what are the best things to say to dissuade the callers from committing an extreme act. Unexpectedly one night she receives a call from someone she seems to recognize, someone who has had a tragic role in her life. Will she use her position to get revenge and set the score? She certainly could …
“Life on the Line” takes the fast pacing and suspense from a classic revenge thriller/melodrama of the great Hong Kong tradition but Cheung Yin-kei (here in the triple role of director, writer and cinematographer) takes another route and turn it into a consideration about not only morality and ethnic but also responsible life-choices. The cinematography is impeccable and alternates dark noir-style passages with brighter and hopeful takes, and the two protagonists are utterly convincing.
“Liu Yang He” by Jun Li
Sweet and touching, Jun Li’s little movie is a story of an unlikely bond. Kah-kah (played by actress Rain Lau) is a prostitute in Hong Kong. Not young anymore she receives her guests in a tiny flat where she offers massages and all sort of sexual services, and sometimes also a bowl of soup, seasoned with compassion. One day a new client appears and after a hesitant beginning, he reveals his disability, an amputated leg. Unbothered, Kah-kah reveals her own defect on a hand, the result of a factory accident. They are both from Mainland China although with very different life stories.
Fil Rouge of the movie (and its title) is the Liu Yang He o Liu Yang River, which flows in the Hunan Province, where Kah Kah comes from. It is a strong reference to the Cultural Revolution as it is also an extremely popular folk song of the Agrarian Reform times praising Chairman Mao and the hard work in the fields, and an occasion to brush themes like the Chinese migration in Hong Kong the feeling of transience of many Hongkongers, besides little hints about the sex trade in Hong Kong, work alienation, and tiny city flats. The whole movie is set in the confined space of Kah-Kah apartment and is shot in a truly professional and elegant way making some clever use of mirrors, not only as space enhancer but also as a framing device. “Liu Yang He” has won the Fresh Wave Open Division Best Film Award.
With evocative quality and provocative substance, these selected works deliver a taste of what we would like to see more at the cinema and it’s a promising starting point for these fresh Hongkongers.