Saturday 24 July 2021

Shadows Review 2020 Hong Kong 殘影空間

Shadows 殘影空間
Year: 2020
Director: Glenn Chan
Writer: Felix Tsang, Kiwi Chow
Cast: Stephy Tang, Philip Keung, Tse Kwan-ho, Ben Yuen
Running Time: 94 minutes
Country: Hong Kong

The UK Premiere is on July 25th at BFI Southbank as part of the Chinese Visual Festival (Tickets)

Shadows is a dark psychological thriller with nightmarish imagery and some supernatural elements. Featuring another excellent lead performance from Stephy Tang. This has been hailed as one of the best Hong Kong films of the year.

Revolving around a sinister murder case in which a social worker is compelled by an inner voice to kill his family and commit suicide. Shot in atmospheric noir style and with a taut, twisting narrative that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats, the film features a commanding lead performance by popular actress Stephy Tang, who was herself traumatised by the emotionally gruelling shoot and the film’s delving into the darkness of the human psyche. (Chinese Visual Festival)

Glenn Chan makes his Hong Kong film debut with an ambitious thriller that will make an impression with its uniqueness and inventiveness. Out of recent Hong Kong films, it's hard to think of one that is similar. And while not everything about this film works, there is plenty to celebrate and admire.

Stephy Tang is a revelation. Over the years, she has managed to shake off the pop star image and establish herself as a serious actress. Stephy is now known for acting in challenging and dramatic roles, her most prominent being The Empty Hands and My Prince Edward. Both of these roles got her a nomination for Best Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards. After watching Shadows, it feels like she could receive a third nomination as she delivers another show-stealing performance.

This film is incredibly stylish. Featuring slick camerawork and great cinematography to give it a noir feel. There is brilliant use of lighting throughout to create the dark mood and unsettling atmosphere. When Dr Tsui enters into a patient's subconscious there is often an impressive use of imagery and visual effects on display to capture how anxious and terrifying the whole process is. It's all handled excellently.

Unfortunately, the scenes inside the patients subconscious is an intriguing idea, and it looks fantastic, but it feels like an idea that was never fully realised. This was a concept that deserved more time to be explored before the film reached its exciting and somewhat bemusing conclusion. While this gimmick might have borrowed ideas from other films, they manage to make it work and still feel fresh and it feels like more screen time should have been spent on this. 

Philip Keung co-stars as detective Ho and injects some fun into the story. Ho and Dr Tsui team up in an almost buddy-cop style trope as they investigate the crime together. His character of Ho is pretty simple and wants to work within the law and catch the bad guys, but the way he plays off of Dr Tsui is a neat contrast. There's also a side story involving his daughter which is often touching and charming.

At a trim 94 minutes, the film is a breeze, and it is entertaining from start to finish. Some extra time to fully develop the ideas and plot could have benefited the overall story, as well as more time exploring how much actual power the psychiatrists have over the patient's free will. Parts of the film are pretty ambiguous which suits the style and genre of film, but some viewers might think it's too open-ended.

Overall, Shadows is a good thriller that is visually stunning and entertaining even with its flaws.


Reviewed as part of the Chinese Visual Festival / Focus Hong Kong

Saturday 17 July 2021

Drifting 2021 Hong Kong 濁水漂流

Drifting 濁水漂流

Year: 2021
Director: Jun Li

Writer: Jun Li

Cast: Francis Ng, Loretta Lee, Tse Kwan-ho, Cecilia Choi

Running Time: 112 minutes

Country: Hong Kong

"I may be homeless. But I am not worthless."

The excellent Francis Ng is almost unrecognisable as he delivers one of his finest performances in this powerful drama about a group of homeless people. One of the very best Hong Kong films of the year.

Jun Li follows his acclaimed trans drama Tracey with a socially conscious story focusing on the plight of the homeless in Hong Kong, based on a real life incident. Taking place against a contrasting backdrop of luxury and extreme poverty, the film follows Fai (Francis Ng), just out of jail and stuck in an endless cycle of nomadism, coming up against an uncaring government and a police force whose actions are antagonistic at best. A stunningly frank film about Hong Kong’s socio-political and economic divide, Drifting confirms Jun Li as a passionate filmmaker committed to bringing the stories of the marginalised to the screen. (Chinese Visual Festival)

Jun Li wrote and directed Drifting and based it on a 2012 court case that involved homeless people in Sham Shui Po. But rather than focusing on the court case, Li puts the characters at the forefront. Their stories, daily life and struggles are explored much deeper than surface level. There's also not too much attention on the reasons that they ended up homeless. There's a memorable scene with Fai chatting to reporters, and he explains that the media is only interested in talking about this drug use or his time spent in prison. This is an intriguing piece of social commentary on not only how the media sometimes view homeless people, but also some of the general public share a similar view. Li often makes it clear that it's not important why they are homeless, it's about their hardships and how other people treat them, even those with good intentions.

Hong Kong is a beautiful country, and the film captures this with excellent cinematography by Leung Ming-kai. The high-rise flats and skyline are on full display and often suddenly juxtaposed with the homeless camps and temporary accommodation. It's a startling contrast showing off the living conditions of the rich versus the poor, especially in Hong Kong, where apartment prices are sky-high. With more and more high-rise apartment buildings springing up anywhere there is vacant land, it makes the characters wonder where the homeless people are supposed to go.

The cast are all splendid in these often challenging roles. Francis Ng has always been a superb actor but doesn't always get the chance to show his full potential as he does here in his role as Fai. Ng has undergone a transformation of sorts and plays an extremely convincing drug addict. It's a powerful performance that easily could have gone too far, but they know exactly when to dial it back. Elsewhere, Cecilia Choi and Pak Hon Chu also shine in their supporting roles. It's always a treat to see Loletta Lee in a modern Hong Kong film especially with a film that allows her to sink her teeth into the role. Tse Kwan-ho almost steals the show with one particularly heartbreaking scene involving a video call which is sure to have award shows and festivals buzzing.

Drifting captures a true sense of realism while still being visually stunning and cinematic. The film feels almost like a docu-drama at times, with the viewers standing at the side and watching the character's lives unfold. This emphasises the helplessness as you watch this heartbreaking tale unfold. Jun Li manages to craft all of this wonderfully without the film ever becoming "poverty porn." Drifting is one of the most affecting Hong Kong films to come out in years, and it will leave you thinking about the characters and their situation long after the credits have finished rolling.


Drifting has it's UK premiere at the Chinese Visual Festival on the 15th of July 2021.

Tuesday 6 April 2021

Beyond the Dream Review 2019 Hong Kong 幻愛


Beyond the Dream
Year: 2019

Director: Kiwi Chow

Writer: Felix Tsang, Kiwi Chow

Cast: Cecilia Chow, Terrance Lau, Nina Paw, Chan-Leung Poon

Running Time: 120 minutes

Country: Hong Kong

Based on the award-winning short film Upstairs (2006), which was also directed by Kiwi Chow, Beyond the Dream became the highest-grossing domestic film in Hong Kong in 2020 since the COVID-19 pandemic. The film also won awards and nominations at a long list of festivals, including Best Adapted Screenplay award at 57th Golden Horse Awards, which is Taiwan's equivalent to the Academy Awards.

Lok (Terrance Lau) is a recovering schizophrenic who yearns for love. One day, he encounters the young and beautiful Yan (Cecilia Choi) and quickly falls in love with her. Just when he struggles whether to tell her about his illness, he has a relapse and becomes delusional. Little does he know that she’s a psychological counsellor who has a hidden agenda. The pair develops a relationship that is beyond their wildest dreams.
(Focus Hong Kong)

The film opens with a woman having a mental breakdown on a busy street and rather than anyone trying to help her, most people laugh and take photos. This is an extremely raw and powerful scene that sets the tone for an emotional drama focusing on mental illness and a romantic relationship. Upon initial viewing, this plot might start off seeming predictable, but it quickly twists and turns into something else entirely. The film becomes more complicated as Lok's psychosis worsens, and it definitely requires your full attention to completely understand what is happening in reality, and in his delusions.

Both lead actors give award-worthy performances, with Terrance Lau being a huge surprise. Lau is a former TV actor and he plays this part spectacularly. Portraying someone that is mentally unwell can be a massive challenge, But Lok never takes it too far or turns the character into a stereotype. In fact, it feels like a very honest portrayal which can also become scary at times. Cecilia Choi is also wonderful and plays her roles with a subtle charm, innocence and mystery that still allows you to root for this flawed human being. Whether they are sharing a romantic moment together, or having a full-blown argument, they have great natural on-screen chemistry that enthrals your full attention.

While the cast and plot are rightfully praised, the production aspects also need commending. The camerawork is rich and varied. And the cinematography and pale colour palette are stunning. The look and feel of this film gel perfectly together, and it's honestly a visual treat. And the shallow depth of field enhances the dream-like nature of the story. The production values raise the expectation of this from another independent film to something greater.

Beyond the Dream is a Hong Kong film through and through, but it's also unique in its film-making methods. The locations used on-screen aren't what people have come to expect in their Hong Kong cinema. They don't spend time glamorising the neon lights and busy shopping streets, and instead, they use their time to build up a real-world that locals actually live in. The use of trains as a plot device is marvellous at separating these characters from one another, or for bringing them closer together. Similarly, the cramped and confined high-rise apartment buildings add to the notion of not having anywhere to escape in moments of need, and that everyone knows all of your business.

While the film can be dark and challenging at times, and sometimes it becomes convoluted, intentional or not. Overall, it's an ambitious film that deserves the attention and accolades it has received thus far.


Beyond The Dream is streaming as part of the Focus Hong Kong Film Festival from the 31st of March until the 6th of April.

Thursday 1 April 2021

My Prince Edward Review 2019 Hong Kong 金都

My Prince Edward
Year: 2019

Director: Norris Wong

Writer: Norris Wong

Cast: Stephy Tang, Chu Pak-hong, Jin Kai-jie, Nina Paw, Eman Lam

Running Time: 91 minutes

Country: Hong Kong

The directorial debut of Norris Wong has been one of the most popular and acclaimed Hong Kong films of recent years, winning multiple Best Film, Best New Director and acting awards and screening at festivals around the world.

My Prince Edward is set in Prince Edward district’s Golden Plaza, a shopping mall in Hong Kong best known for bridal shops and cheap wedding supplies. Fong (Stephy Tang) is a clerk at one such bridal shop. She has been with Edward (Chu Pak Hong), the owner of a wedding photography shop in the same mall, for seven years. Everyone sees Edward as Fong’s Prince Charming, destined to head to the altar. The problem is that Fong must first sort out the sham marriage that she was paid to take part in years ago before she can get married for real. (Focus Hong Kong)

My Prince Edward is a clever play on words, set in the Prince Edward district and one of the main characters being named Edward. This small detail made me think the film was going to be a fun Rom-Com, similar in tone to something like My Best Friend's Wedding. But I was pleasantly surprised. My Prince Edward has the romance angle, but there's much more to it than that. This is a very well written story dealing with complicated topics, such as the stigma around divorce, and political issues between Hong Kong and China. The film is very honest, heartfelt and touching. This could easily have become another familiar story, but it's tackled in such an interesting and fresh way, and it leaves many parts of the story up to the viewer's interpretations.

This is not a fairy tale by any means. Stephy Wong's character Fong deals with a lot of problems that are deeper than surface level tropes. It shines a spotlight on Hong Kong marriage culture and questions who is it really for. Is it for the happy couple? Or is it to please the family? Or maybe it's a contract to stop you from leaving each other? Or maybe it's for a VISA or residency? There are clever metaphors and imagery sprinkled throughout to drive these ideas home. Fong is also feeling pressure to get married because of her age, even though she is still in her early thirties. The film is packed full of ideas that viewers can relate to.

My Prince Edward is wonderfully directed, especially for a debut director. The film has snappy pacing and editing. And at a trim 91 minutes, it never outstays its welcome. It also takes its time with the characters and gives them time to develop and breathe. There's some stunning camerawork and cinematography placed throughout. Their apartment has a massive neon sign attached to the building which often illuminates the street and their bedroom with a pink haze. One shot that stood out, in particular, involved an overhead camera while both characters lay in bed with the neon shining in the window to light their faces. There's also a subtle nod to a famous shot from In The Mood For Love if you really pay attention.


The small cast were excellent and their character differences made them all stand out from one another. Stephy Tang has turned into a brilliant actress, and this comes across as a very natural performance for her. She received a nomination for Best Actress at the Hong Kong Film Awards for this role, which is well deserved. Chu Pak-hong plays the role of Edward, and during half of the film, you will spend your time wanting to strangle him. His character is overprotective, a tad annoying and even sometimes disinterested. But deep down you can tell that he honestly loves Fong. None of the characters in this film are perfect, and it doesn't ever try to pretend they are. 

My Prince Edward is a modern and uniquely Hong Kong story. It's made specifically with Hong Kong in mind, and it wouldn't quite work if it was set anywhere else. But, the story and the characters are completely universal, and everyone could get something different out of it. Norris Wong has cemented her name as a new director to keep an eye on.


My Prince Edward is streaming as part of the Focus Hong Kong Film Festival from the 31st of March until the 6th of April.

Thursday 4 March 2021

From Miyamoto to You Review 2019 宮本から君へ

Miyamoto 宮本から君へ
Year: 2019

Director: Tetsuya Mariko

Writer: Hideki Arai (manga), Tetsuya Mariko, Takehiko Minato

Cast: Sosuke Ikematsu, Yu Aoi, Arata Iura, Wataru Ichinose, Kenichi Matsuyama

Running Time: 129 minutes

Country: Japan

Tetsuya Mariko's follow up to his 2016 controversial hit Destruction Babies is 'Miyamoto,' an adaptation of an award-winning manga and TV Mini-Series. Sosuke Ikematsu won the Kinema Jumpo Best Actor Award for his role in this film.

A quirky tale of high-octane love is told through the eyes of a hot-blooded stationary salesman, Miyamoto (IKEMATSU Sosuke), as he falls hard for Yasuko (AOI Yu) upon their introduction. At first using Miyamoto to get rid of an unwanted boyfriend, Yasuko ends up growing attached to the overzealous admirer and the two enter a relationship. Soon however, their love is put to the test when he fails to protect her from a violent assault and their volatile relationship devolves with increasing pace until it reaches an explosive and melodramatic finale. (Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme)

Going into this film blind made for an interesting experience. I had only seen the poster on the Japan Foundation website and underneath it was listed as "Quirky, Romance, Drama," so I had assumed it would be a Japanese romance similar to something like Cyborg She. This couldn't have been further from the truth. What I watched was an extreme, violent, unpredictable and sometimes humorous story dealing with themes of toxic masculinity (not a term I use often, but it is what it is). Looking back at the listing, there is a warning stating it features "scenes of a very strong violent/sexual/abusive nature." While the experience of the film is heightened when you watch it unprepared, I am glad they attached this warning because the sexual abuse scene is realistic and tough to watch. It completely caught me off guard and it might be distressing to people that don't watch as much violent cinema. 

Hiroshi Miyamoto is played by actor Ikematsu Sosuke and he channels everything about this character. He spends most of the film either whispering nervously while he speaks or full-blown shouting while he is losing control of everything around him and seeking revenge. Even though he is a flawed character, and quite selfish, you will be rallying behind him by the end. His overall goal is to become more of a "man" and summoning up the bravery to protect his wife and have a happy relationship... Although, his reason for doing this is much more complicated than it originally seems.

Yu Aoi is a wonderfully talented actress. Her strengths in convincingly handling the emotional scenes in Miyamoto are simply remarkable. Yu Aoi carries the weight of these events and adds much-needed depth to the serious issues that this film tackles. The sexual abuse and the fallout leaves many questions up to the viewer. What is the correct response and action? Is it more violence? It also challenges the viewer to question, are you are getting revenge for the person that has been wronged, or is it for yourself?

For the most part, the storytelling is crafted very well. The pacing sags a touch in the middle but picks up for an enthralling finale. The non-linear plot adds to the suspense of the story as you are greeted by Miyamoto looking battered and bruised, and then discover what happened to him through a sequence of flashbacks. This enhances the overall unpredictability of the film, where you often assume the worst. It becomes a little convoluted at times, especially trying to figure out the current timeline. Thankfully, that never becomes a major issue, but a little more clarity would have been welcome at times.

The antagonist of Takuma Mabuchi played by Wataru Ichinose is completely despicable in every way. There is no grey area involved with him. Takuma Mabuchi is exactly the driving force the film needed, and I don't think there will be one single viewer who doesn't want to see him get his comeuppance. The final confrontation between the protagonist and antagonist is brilliantly staged. It's a no-nonsense, realistic and violent brawl. It pulls no punches and some moments will have viewers squirming in their seats. The payoff is definitely worth the wait and viewers are rewarded with a thrilling piece of filmmaking.

Miyamoto is a unique film. The clever marketing from the poster and synopsis, leave the majority to your own assumptions. This could also be seen as a negative, as some people might skip on it, believing it to be a general romantic drama. If you don't mind violence and dark themes in your films, this is worthy of watching and dissecting the meaning behind it all.


Reviewed as part of  The Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme

Sunday 28 February 2021

A Beloved Wife Review 2019 喜劇 愛妻物語

A Beloved Wife 喜劇 愛妻物語
Year: 2019
Director: Shin Adachi

Writer: Shin Adachi

Cast: Gaku Hamada, Asami Mizukawa, Chise Niitsu

Running Time: 115 minutes

Country: Japan

Shin Adachi adapts his own semi-autobiographical novel focusing on the love/hate relationship of a married couple. Winner of the Best Screenplay Awards at the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival.

Gota (HAMADA Gaku) is an unsuccessful screenwriter struggling to catch his big break and is seemingly set upon in all areas of his life; teetering on the brink of financial ruin, unable to push through a relentless writer’s block, and besieged by a wife that openly despises him while refusing all of his sexual advances. One day, despite strong resistance from his wife (MIZUKAWA Asami), Gota drags his family on an impromptu and ill-funded research trip in the hope that it will kick start his career and improve his ailing marriage. (The Japan Foundation)

Gaku Hamada is one of the most likeable and sympathetic actors in recent memory. For fans of Third Window Films, you will recognize him from a string of great movies, including Fish Story, Sake Bomb and See You Tomorrow Everyone. Gaku almost has a childlike immature quality and innocence, that always makes you feel compassion for him, even in A Beloved Wife when he is acting like a pervert. This simple story relies on both leads to be terrific, and thankfully they are.

Asami Mizukawa plays the role of the wife, and she is not a very easy person. I have to admit, while Asami was excellent in the role, and I know she was not supposed to be a completely likeable character. There were moments when her character became grating and I wondered why her husband would put up with it. Her constant abuse and put-downs become tiresome, even for the viewer. And it makes you wonder, why would this couple continue rather than break up? It could be in part, due to their daughter, who is completely adorable and offers some warming moments between the family. But, it appears there is more to the couple's relationship. Almost like they are playing a game. A game where Gota is abused but he either oddly enjoys it, or he puts up with it because he really wants sex. They both appear disappointed in their own life, and that is what is causing the friction.

Most viewers will know people in a relationship like this one. Some viewers might even be in a similar relationship themselves. And that is one of the strongest elements of the film; realism. The portrayal of the characters, the way they talk and interact with one another, and their relationship habits are incredibly honest and realistic. Although they are played up to the extreme for comedic affect.

The humour is awkward, at times very awkward. If you don't enjoy cringe, then it might not be for you. However, there are some great laughs to be had. The moments usually come from Gota when he is in full-on horny mode. Some of the situations he gets himself into, and the way he tries to use them as his ticket to sex, are genuinely eye-covering funny. On the other side of the spectrum, there are some very sweet comical moments between Gota and his daughter which should enact more of a playful chuckle. 
To stop the film from becoming too dark and depressing, most of it is set in Kagawa Prefecture. Featuring beautiful beach backdrops, it's a sharp juxtaposition of how toxic their marriage has become. There's also a lighthearted, bordering on comical score, which often lifts the mood and makes you forget about how unhappy the marriage has become... Until the fighting starts again.

There are moments when A Beloved Wife shows more heart, usually during the flashback scenes, and it honestly starts to make you care for them both. I only wish there was more of this. Sometimes watching this film felt like a chore, and other times I wanted to reach through the screen and give them both a slap. When we view glimpses into their past, I felt more of a connection with their relationship, but these were few and far between. More of these moments would have done wonders for the pacing. It starts to become a bit of a burden at nearly two hours and would have benefited from a little trim around the edges.


Thursday 11 February 2021

Till We Meet Again Review 2019 Hong Kong 生前約死後

Till We Meet Again 生前約死後

Year: 2019

Director: Steven Ma

Writer: Steven Ma

Cast: Steven Ma, Josephine Ku, Jennifer Yu, Himmy Wong

Running Time: 97 minutes

Country: Hong Kong

Steven Ma directs this extremely personal story dealing with mental illness, which might be almost too dark and realistic.

Mui leaves her family after an irreversible mistake made by her son Ka-wai. Years have passed, and Ka-wai is living a solitary life, now working as a salesman, still trying to look for an explanation for it all and desperately hoping to see his mother again. As the truth is gradually unveiled, Ka-wai’s own world begins to crumble.

It's clear from the start, this is a story based on real experiences. Steven Ma, who wrote, directs and stars in this film, based it on his own battles with mental health and how he dealt with his mother's death. He literally wears his heart on his sleeve for this film and doesn't shy away from showing how scary it can be to live with a mental illness, especially if the help you are getting is not working. Steven Ma does a decent job acting throughout, he shines more in the mental breakdown scenes rather than the emotional moments with his family.

The film doesn't focus on a plot, it's more about showing how dark the world can seem when you are dealing with grief and depression. And this is something the film is extremely successful at. There are moments throughout that are so troublesome and realistic, that it was tough to watch. The way they depict panic attacks is downright scary. This is eye-opening for someone that hasn't experienced this themselves. The sheer realism and not shying away from these elements, no matter how dark it gets, is something that needs to be applauded.

While the story is a little bumpy, between the psychosis and the flashbacks, the film never becomes too confusing. In part this is due to the flashbacks being colour-graded differently from the rest of the film. If it wasn't for this subtle touch, it could become confusing as some of the flashbacks so long that you might forget as you slowly adjust to the visual style.

Oddly, there is something else going on which leads to a twist later on in the film. This feels like it was added to give the film more of a cinematic feel. It's not clear if they thought the writing was more clever than it actually is, because everyone can see this coming. It's not bad, just very predictable. However, after the twist, they spend too much time explaining what happened, but it's already crystal clear to viewers. They could have cut out most of the explanation and the film work have flowed better overall. Although the film is only 97 minutes, it could have used a bit of a trim to fix some pacing issues.

Problems aside, this feels like an important film and story. It's one of the most realistic portrayals of mental health issues problems that we have had on screen. And while it might feel dark and depressing at times to watch, that is how it keeps up its accuracy. Till We Meet Again might not be for everyone, but if this is a topic of interest for you, then there is plenty in here to digest.


Till We Meet Again is streaming as part of the Focus Hong Kong Film Festival from the 9th of February at 10:00 GMT until the 15th of February at 23:59 GMT.