July Rhapsody (男人四十, Ann Hui, 2002)

“Not every ending fulfils your expectations” a weary mother advises her son sharing long buried family secrets which will at least set them free if not perhaps happily. Scripted by Ivy Ho, Ann Hui’s July Rhapsody (男人四十) is as the Chinese title “a man at 40” implies a film about mid-life crises and quiet desperation as a middle-aged school teacher begins to resent the loss of his youth while transgressively drawn to a free-spirited student. 

Lam (Jacky Cheung Hok-Yau) describes himself as “stiff”, a “boring” man who teaches Chinese literature to disinterested students while privately consumed by a sense of inferiority observing with envy the yachts that litter the horizon on a trip to the beach with his son. At a reunion dinner he gets up with irritation when one of his former classmates now a wealthy financier tries to pay the bill for everyone insisting on paying his own way while perhaps exposing the sense of belittlement he feels around his more successful friends. His wife Ching (Anita Mui Yim-Fong) questions his decision pointing out that even if he could afford to pay his bit perhaps his friend Yue (Eric Kot Man-Fai) couldn’t and would feel equally insulted should Lam simply agree to pay his share too. To add insult to injury, one of his friends also wants to hire him to tutor his young son in classical Chinese poetry which leaves him feeling somewhat humiliated but on the other hand not wanting to turn the money down. 

These feelings of dissatisfaction with the way his life has turned out only intensify as he reaches the age of 40 and begins to feel his options narrowing wondering if this is really all there is. He and Ching recall a melancholy poem they learnt at school in which a scholar on a boat laments “the limitations of life” only for the poem to be ironically cut short when the couple’s younger son, Stone, comes to fetch his mum because the soup is boiling dry. Even without knowledge of the final revelations told in a two part story divided between a mother and a father to a son, we can gather that Lam married extremely young and became a father soon after. He studied at night school and became a teacher as a steady job to provide for his family and perhaps to a degree resents them for limiting his choices. His classmates, aside from Yue, all went on to find more lucrative careers while he lives in a small two bed flat snapping at his wife that he’s unlikely to find the money to buy a bigger one. 

When he irritably tells her a tube of glue they bought is “all dried up” it sounds like an insult and a way of describing their moribund relationship. Beginning to bond with free-spirited high school girl Wu (Karena Lam Ka-Yan), Lam initiates intimacy with Ching but then turns away leaving her lonely and disappointed. She meanwhile explains to him that a figure from their past whom he seems to resent has become ill and is all alone. She would like to care for him but only with Lam’s consent which he gives but grudgingly. Talking to her son, Ching admits that she isn’t sure if she’s helping this man out of pity or because she simply wants to see him suffer given the effect he has had on her life. Similarly Lam later confesses to Wu that he may have befriended Yue because he was a poor student and unpopular. At his side, Lam was always going to look good bearing out his sense of insecurity in wanting to be seen as the best, idolising his Chinese literature teacher and desperate for his praise only to find himself ironically echoing his transgressions in allowing himself to be seduced by a student. 

Ironically enough, Lam tells his son that he became a teacher because he sat behind Ching in class and wanted to stand out front so that he could see her face. Wu represents for him that same innocent teenage romance, but also a sense of the path not taken in her free-spiritedness and confidence. Lam followed the conventional path, did everything right, and now he’s unhappy. Wu rejects education and goes straight into business, supported by a wealthy father, planning to go travelling in India to look for new stock for her shop. His sons too perhaps echo his conflicting desires, Ang the older studious and responsible, and the younger Stone (changing his name to the cooler “Rocky”) uninterested in his studies. The melancholy poem which frequently recurs hints at a parting while husband and wife each attempt to resolve something but are left only with uncertainty and perhaps tragically in opposing positions in considering the further course of their lives. 

This very literary drama is related in a series of stories, Lam’s told to his son first in person and then in a letter, followed by Ching’s and the constant stream of classical Chinese poetry that floods the screen guiding the couple towards the expanse of the Yangtze River. As Ching had said, not every ending fulfils your expectations because in the end life is not so neatly packaged. There may be no real accommodation with middle-aged disappointment but there may be new ways forward to be found in resolving the traumatic past.


July Rhapsody screens at Garden Cinema, London on 10th July as part of Focus Hong Kong’s Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

Comrades, Almost a Love Story (甜蜜蜜, Peter Chan, 1996)

“Fate brings people together, no matter how far” according to a wise old chef in early ‘90s New York. He’s not wrong though Peter Chan’s seminal 1996 tale of fated romance Comrades, Almost a Love Story (甜蜜蜜) is in its own way also about partings, about the failure of dreams and the importance of timing in the way time seems to have of spinning on itself in a great shell game of interpersonal connection. But then, it seems to say, you get there in the end even if there wasn’t quite where you thought you were going. 

As the film opens, simple village boy from Northern China Xiaojun (Leon Lai Ming) arrives in Hong Kong in search of a more comfortable life intending to bring his hometown girlfriend Xiaoting (Kristy Yeung Kung-Yu) to join him once he establishes himself. His first impressions of the city are not however all that positive. In a letter home, he describes the local Cantonese speakers as loud and rude, and while there are lots of people and cars there are lots of pickpockets too. It’s in venturing into a McDonald’s, that beacon of capitalist success, that he first meets Qiao (Maggie Cheung Man-Yuk), a cynical young woman hellbent on getting rich who nevertheless decides to help him by whispering in Mandarin realising he doesn’t understand the menu. Hailing from Guangdong, Qiao can speak fluent Cantonese along with some English and thus has much better prospects of succeeding in Hong Kong but takes Xiaojun under wing mostly out of loneliness though accepting a kickback to get him into an English language school where she piggybacks on lessons while working as a cleaner. Bonding through the music of Teresa Teng, they become friends, and then lovers, but Xiaojun still has his hometown girlfriend and Qiao still wants to get rich. 

As we later learn in one of the film’s many coincidences, Xiaojun and Qiao arrived on the same train if facing in different directions. Hong Kong changes each of them. When Xiaojun eventually manages to bring Xiaoting across the border, he’s no longer the simple village boy he was when he arrived while Qiao struggles with herself in her buried feelings for Xiaojun unwilling to risk the vulnerability of affection but visibly pained when confronted by Xiaojun’s responsibility to Xiaoting. She finds her mirror in tattooed gangster Pao (Eric Tsang Chi-Wai) who, like her, shrinks from love and is forever telling her to find another guy but is obviously hoping she won’t as afraid of settling as she is. 

For each of them this rootlessness is born of searching for something better yet the irony is as Xiaojun says that Hong Kong is a dream for Mainlanders, but the Mainland is not a dream for most in Hong Kong who with the Handover looming are mainly looking to leave for the Anglophone West. Qiao’s early business venture selling knock off Teresa Teng tapes fails because only Mainlanders like Teresa Teng so no-one wants to buy one and accidentally out themselves in a city often hostile to Mandarin speakers as Xiaojun has found it to be. What they chased was a taste of capitalist comforts, Qiao literally working in a McDonald’s and forever dressed in Mickey Mouse clothing which Pao ironically imitates by getting a little Mickey tattooed on his back right next to the dragon’s mouth. But when they eventually end up in the capitalist homeland of New York, a driver chows down on a greasy, disgustingly floppy hamburger while Qiao finds herself giving tours of the Statue of Liberty to Mainland tourists in town to buy Gucchi bags who tell her she made a mistake to leave for there are plenty of opportunities to make money in the new China. 

Ironically enough it’s hometown innocence that brings them back together. The ring of Xiaojun’s bicycle bell catches Qiao’s attention though she’d thought of it as a corny and bumpkinish when he’d given her rides on it in their early days in Hong Kong. Xiaojun had in fact disposed of it entirely when Xiaoting arrived partly for the same reason and partly because it reminded him of Qiao. The pair are reunited by the death of Teresa Teng which in its own way is the death of a dream and of an era but also a symbol of their shared connection, Mainlanders meeting again in this strange place neither China nor Hong Kong, comrades, almost lovers now perhaps finally in the right place at the right time to start again. Peter Chan’s aching romance my suggest that the future exists in this third space, rejecting the rampant consumerist desire which defined Qiao’s life along with the wholesome naivety of Xiaojun’s country boy innocence, but finally finds solid ground in the mutual solidarity of lonely migrants finding each other again in another new place in search of another new future. 


Comrades, Almost a Love Story screens at Soho Hotel, London on 9th July as part of Focus Hong Kong’s Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema.

Short clip (English subtitles)

Teresa Teng – Tian Mi Mi

Tales from the Occult (失衡凶間, Fruit Chan, Fung Chih-Chiang, Wesley Hoi Ip-Sang, 2022)

A collection of Hong Kongers contend with the hidden horrors of the contemporary society in the first instalment in a series of anthology horror films, Tales from the Occult (失衡凶間,). Veterans Fruit Chan and Fung Chih-Chiang are accompanied by Wesley Hoi Ip-Sang making his directorial debut as the three directors each tackle lingering terrors as the protagonists of the three chapters are quite literally haunted by past transgressions from a pop singer on the edge consumed with guilt over a teenage trauma, to a sleazy financial influencer who might inadvertently have killed a hundred people, and the denizens of a rundown tenement who are too afraid to report a possibly dangerous presence to the police lest it damage the property value of their flats. 

In Wesley Hoi Ip-Sang’s opening instalment The Chink, a carefree high school girl chasing a stray cat stumbles on the body of a burglar who apparently fell from the rooftops and was trapped in a tiny cavity between two buildings. Some years later Yoyi (Cherry Ngan) has become a successful pop star but is still haunted by her failure to report the body to the police all those years ago worried that perhaps if she had he might have been saved though he had obviously been dead for some time when she found him. Her kindly psychiatrist uncle Ronald (Lawrence Cheng Tan-shui) tries to assuage her anxiety but fails to consider that there might actually be a dark presence in her new flat. Meanwhile, she’s also under considerable stress given that she’s in an ill-defined relationship with Alan, her married manager, who eventually brands her “mentally unstable”, and she’s somehow oblivious to the fact her high school best friend is clearly in love with her. Even so, as it turns out, perhaps you can also be haunted by the living while there are some threats that even the most well-meaning of psychiatrists is ill-equipped to cure. 

It’s ironic in a sense that Yoyi was provided with her new apartment as a path towards an illusionary freedom which is really only a means for Alan to exert greater control over her life while the heroine of Fung Chih-Chiang’s final sequence The Tenement has in a sense chosen seclusion in installing herself in a moribund tenement block in order to concentrate on her writing. The contrast between the two buildings couldn’t be more stark but even the tenement dwellers are paranoid about house prices while assuming the creepy, water-drenched presence encountered by author of pulpy internet novels Ginny (Sofiee Ng Hoi Yan) is an attempt by developers to scare them out of their homes amid Hong Kong’s horrifyingly competitive housing market. Still, like Yoyi they are each haunted by past transgressions but pinning the blame on former gangster Frankie Ho (Richie Jen) who was once accused of drowning a man. What began as a haunting soon descends into farce as they realise the “water ghost” seems to be a young woman who has passed away in their stairwell and decide to “dispose” of her with Frankie’s help to avoid a scandal destroying the value of their homes. But then, all is not quite as it seems as the sudden appearance of a journalist investigating a scandalous “love crime” makes clear. 

Fruit Chan’s middle chapter Dead Mall also takes aim at internet investigators and dodgy “influencers” as sleazy financial snake oil vlogger Wilson (Jerry Lamb) fetches up at a shopping centre surrounded by shoppers in masks to advertise that the mall is actually doing fine despite the economic downturn produced by the pandemic which he describes as worse than that of SARS. In reality the mall is “dead” with barely any customers and rows of shuttered stores, Wilson is simply doing a paid post in an attempt to raise its fortunes not least because the original mall was destroyed in a fire 14 years previously started by a carelessly discarded cigarette. Wilson is pursued not only by those who claim they lost money because of his terrible financial advice, but by a paranormal live streamer who has a separate grudge against him while he continues to refuse any responsibility for his actions answering only that investment carries risk and there’s no opportunity without crisis. What he discovers is perhaps that you reap what you sow, Chan frequently cutting to hugely entertained netizens baying for his blood while he attempts to outrun his fiery karma. 

In each of the increasingly humorous storylines, Chan’s being a particular highlight of wit and irony, there is a lingering dissatisfaction with the contemporary society from the pressures of the fiercely competitive housing market to the kind of financial desperation and longing for connection that fuels the consumerist emptiness of influencer culture. The jury might be out on whether there’s really any such thing as “ghosts” but the haunting is real enough even if it’s only in your mind. 


Tales from the Occult screens at the Garden Cinema, London on 9th July as part of Focus Hong Kong’s Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Anita (梅艷芳, Longman Leung Lok-man, 2021)

“I have the spirit of Hong Kong in me, I won’t resign to fate so easily” insists Anita Mui in a television interview following a year-long career break after a slap in a karaoke bar earned by standing up to a drunken gangster sparked a turf war and sent her into a temporary exile in Thailand. Running away wasn’t something Anita Mui was used to, though she had been it seems humbled by the experience and in Longman Leung Lok-man’s perhaps at times overly reverential biopic of the star who passed away of cancer at 40 in 2003, primed to rise stronger than before with greater focus and determination to serve the people of her home nation. 

Leung does indeed paint Anita (Louise Wong) as a daughter of Hong Kong, opening with her childhood as a vaudeville double act with self-sacrificing sister Ann (Fish Lew) in 1969. Jumping forward to 1982, the pair enter a TV talent competition but only Anita makes through to the final and then eventually wins launching herself into superstardom and path to success that later seems to her to have been too easy. Indeed, Leung frequently cuts to montage sequences featuring stock footage of the real Anita Mui receiving a series of awards and eventually moving into a successful film career with her appearance in Stanley Kwan’s Rouge bringing her best friend Leslie Cheung (Terrance Lau Chun-him) with her as she goes. 

If there’s a defining quality beyond her defiance that Leung is keen to capture, it’s Anita’s generosity and kindheartness. In the opening sequence, the 6-year-old Anita goes to great pains to rescue a balloon trapped in a tree for a little boy who then runs off happily forgetting to say thank you. Ann tells her off for going to trouble for someone who couldn’t even be bothered to say thanks but as she said it makes no difference she’d just just have told him it was no bother and the whole thing would be a waste of time. Her path to fame is not one of ruthless, she is keen to pay it forward and to help others where she can. She is obviously pained when her sister is cut from the competition and mindful of her feelings while bonding with life-long friend Leslie Cheung after his performance at a nightclub bombs while hers is a hit thanks in part to her ability to charm her audience in three different languages switching from Cantonese to Mandarin for a contingent of Taiwanese guests and Japanese for a gaggle of businessmen sitting at the back during a rendition of classic unifier Teresa Teng’s Tsugunai. 

Then again, though we see much of Anita Mui’s post-comeback charity work including that to raise money for flood victims in Taiwan, we obviously do not see any of her pro-democracy political activism or role in assisting those fleeing the Mainland after Tiananmen Square. Such controversial aspects of her life may be taboo for the contemporary Hong Kong or indeed Mainland censor, as perhaps are any overt references to Leslie Cheung’s sexuality even if Anita’s other key relationship, her stylist Eddie, is played with a degree of camp by a fatherly Louis Koo. For similar reasons, despite the emphasis on supporting other artists her major protege Denise Ho, who was recently arrested for her support of Hong Kong independence, is also absent. 

Meanwhile, the film is otherwise preoccupied with a more literal kind of maternity in directly contrasting the course of Anita’s life with that of her sister Ann who married and had children but later passed away of the same disease that would claim Anita just a few years later. The film presents her life as one of romantic sacrifice, that she was forced to choose between love and career and never found true romantic fulfilment. The love of her life, according to the film, was Japanese idol Yuki Godo (Ayumu Nakajima) who was more or less ordered to break up with her because the Japanese idol industry is much more controlling of its stars than that of Hong Kong, only his real life counterpart Masahiko Kondo was actually involved in a fair amount of scandal a short time later having become engaged to a Japanese idol who broke into his apartment and attempted to take her own life after he broke up with her and began dating another pop star. Anita is often described as the Hong Kong Momoe Yamaguchi with whom she shares her low and husky voice as well as rebellious energy, though Momoe Yamaguchi in fact retired quite abruptly after marrying her on-screen co-star and devoted herself to becoming the perfect housewife and mother in an echo of the romantic destiny the film implies continually eluded Anita culminating in her decision to marry the stage during her final concert. 

At the end, however, the film returns to her as a daughter of Hong Kong embodying a spirit of rebellion it subversively hints is now in danger of being lost. Yet Anita refused to resign herself to fate, ignoring her doctor’s advice to stop singing after developing polyps in her vocal chords and again when told to stop working during her treatment for cancer. Her defiance and resilience along with the conviction that anything is possible if you want it enough echo the spirit of Hong Kong in 2003 though later wounded by her loss and that of Leslie Cheung who tragically took his own life a few months before Anita too passed away. Featuring a star-making turn from model Louise Wong in her first acting role, Leung’s brassy drama capturing the fervent energy of Hong Kong in its pre-Handover heyday is a fitting tribute to the enduring spirit of its defiant heroine. 


Anita screens at the Soho Hotel, London on 8th July as part of Focus Hong Kong’s Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema.

International trailer (English subtitles)

Teresa Teng’s Tsugunai

Momoe Yamaguchi – 曼珠沙華 (Manjushaka)

Anita Mui – 曼珠沙華

Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema Comes to London 8th to 10th July

Focus Hong Kong is back this July with Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema, a touring film programme marking the 25th anniversary of the Handover presented in partnership with Create Hong Kong. Opening with the highly anticipated Anita Mui biopic Anita, the festival will close with the legendary actress’ final screen appearance in the landmark 2004 Ann Hui drama, July Rhapsody.

Friday 8 July, 7pm: Opening Gala Anita (Soho Hotel)

Longman Leung’s highly anticipated biopic of iconic Cantopop superstar and revered Hong Kong actress Anita Mui who sadly passed away after battling cervical cancer at the young age 40 in 2003.

Saturday 9 July

12:00: Comrades, Almost a Love Story + Peter Chan holo-presence (Soho Hotel)

Maggie Cheung and Leon Lai star as a pair of star-crossed Mainlanders seeking new futures in Hong Kong. While he, naive and earnest, hopes to make enough money to marry his hometown girlfriend, she, more cynical, seeks security in consumerism but the pair are finally brought together by the music of Teresa Teng.

16:30: The First Girl I Loved (Garden Cinema)

A young woman begins to re-evaluate her teenage romance when her first love asks her to be maid of honour at her wedding in Yeung Chiu-hoi & Candy Ng Wing-shan’s youth nostalgia romance. Review.


19:00: Tales From the Occult (Garden Cinema)

Three-part horror anthology featuring contributions from Fruit Chan, Fung Chih Chiang, and Wesley Hoi Ip Sang exploring the hidden horrors of the contemporary Hong Kong society.

Sunday 10 July

12:30: Hand Rolled Cigarette (Garden Cinema)

Gordon Lam stars as a former British soldier unable to adjust to the post-handover society and trapped in a triad-adjacent existence while bonding with a South Asian migrant on the run from gangsters from whom his cousin stole a large amount of drugs. Review.

15:30 : Breakout Brothers (Garden Cinema)

A cheerful triad who wants to give his mother a kidney transplant, a falsely convicted architect, and a veteran inmate who wants to see his daughter get married decide to break out of prison but discover that it’s friendship that sets them free in Mak Ho-Pong’s cartoonish crime caper. Review.


18:00: Closing Gala July Rhapsody (Garden Cinema)

Landmark 2004 drama from Ann Hui featuring Anita Mui in her final screen role as the wife of a schoolteacher (Jackie Cheung) whose marriage is destabilised when an old lover returns from abroad and her husband is tempted by the attentions of a precocious student.

Making Waves – Navigators of Hong Kong Cinema runs in London 8 to 10 July at Soho Hotel and the Garden Cinema. The programme will also be touring to cities around the world including: Udine, Shanghai, Bali, Bangkok, Singapore, Sydney, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tokyo, Warsaw, Prague, Dubai, and Hong Kong later in the year with full details to be available via the Making Waves website in due course. Tickets are already on sale via Focus Hong Kong and you can keep up to date with all the latest news via Focus Hong Kong’s official websiteFacebook PageTwitter account, and Instagram channel.

Chinese Visual Festival 2021 Announces Full Lineup

The Chinese Visual Festival returns for its 10th edition with another handpicked selection of contemporary Sinophone cinema taking place at the BFI Southbank and Genesis Cinema 15th to 25th July. Opening with Drifting and closing with Shadows, the festival will also include a Focus Hong Kong strand promising a rare screening of Johnnie To’s 2003 missing gun thriller PTU, while Vision Taiwan will feature screenings of satirical zombie movie Get the Hell Out and all-female Shakespeare adaptation As We Like It which screens in conjunction with Queer East alongside transgender documentary The Two Lives of Ermao.

15th July: Drifting

Tracey‘s Jun Li returns with a socially conscious drama exploring the lives of the increasingly marginalised homeless of contemporary Hong Kong.

16th July: As We Like It

A romantic exile meanders through an internet free corner of Taipei in Chen Hung-i & Muni Wei’s all-female adaptation of the Shakespeare play. Review.

17th July: Love Poem

Director Wang Xiaozhen stars in a meta exploration of art and marriage.

19th July: The Two Lives of Ermao

Documentary focussing on the life of a transgender woman in contemporary China.

20th July: PTU

Johnnie To’s ironic 2003 noir farce in which a bumbling policeman’s missing gun provokes an escalating crisis.

22nd July: Get the Hell Out

An idealistic former MP and a hapless, besotted security guard attempt to fight their way out of a zombiefied parliament in Wang I-Fan’s absurdist satire. Review.

23rd July: Cinema Comrades

Free online event featuring a discussion of Sinophone queer cinema as well as three short films.

24th July: Swimming Out Till The Sea Turns Blue

Literary documentary from Jia Zhangke focussing on three generations of Chinese authors.

25th July: Shadows

Psychological noir starring Stephy Tang as a psychiatrist with a brain tumour which allows her to enter her patients’ traumatic memories. Teaming up with Philip Keung’s cynical cop, she finds herself in a battle of wits with a rival shrink who just might be a serial killer by proxy.

The Chinese Visual Festival runs at BFI Southbank and Genesis Cinema 15th – 25th July. Full details for all the films are available via the official website and you can keep up with all the festival’s latest details via the official Facebook PageTwitter account, and Instagram channel.

I Still Remember (二次人生, Lik Ho, 2021)

“I didn’t want to be left alone” admits the hero of Lik Ho’s sporting drama I Still Remember (二次人生) as he watches others his age pull relentlessly ahead of him while he languishes behind drained of all energy and sense of forward motion. Yet reuniting with an equally disillusioned father figure and a young woman battling a different sort of malaise, he eventually comes to realise that he’s never really been “alone” at all but has perhaps suffered a kind of self abandonment, standing on the sidelines cheering for everyone else but failing to cheer for himself or realise that others are in fact attempting to cheer for him only he couldn’t hear them. 

Now around 30, Lee Chi-hang (Tony Wu Tsz-Tung) has an unsatisfying job in real estate working for his childhood best friend (Johnny Hui) which is just as well because he’s regarded by many as the office dead weight and most of his colleagues are running bets on when he’ll eventually be fired. Raised by a single mother (Michelle Lo Mik-Suet), his father having passed away before he was born, Chi-hang was brought up to believe an “ordinary life” was good enough but also feels guilty that he hasn’t made good on his mother’s hopes for him and despite having attended university has no real sense of ambition in life. “How can you be so useless?” his exasperated girlfriend (Sofiee Ng Hoi Yan) eventually asks him, abruptly exiting his life as she leaves to pursue her own personal growth and fulfilment tired of waiting for Chi-hang to step up. 

Attending a reunion for his primary school class brings him back into contact with Mr. Wong (Patrick Tam Yiu-Man), his former PE teacher who had also been something of a surrogate father as he and his wife often looked after him while his mother worked. Mr. Wong it seems has troubles of his own in that his wife Wai-Ying (Isabel Chan Yat-Ning) is suffering with a longterm illness which is why he’s given up teaching and opened a sporting goods store which is itself floundering. Bamboozled into taking part in Mr. Wong’s camping trip, Chi-hang finds himself enlisted to help mentor a young woman, Tin-sum (Toby Choi Yu-Tung), who wants to lose weight and triumph in a 5k race in the hope of winning a trip to Japan to meet her idol, a handsome Japanese pop star (Alston Li Ka-Ho). 

Unlike Chi-hang, Tin-sum is not “alone” in that she appears to have a pair of extremely loving and supportive parents who let her know that whatever happens in the race they’re proud of her all the same. Yet she also finds herself on the receiving end of social prejudice, rejected by the mean girls in her idol fan club who arbitrarily introduce a weight limit for race entrants in order to “preserve the image of Hong Kong” while the competition also provokes a falling out with her best friend (Jocelyn Choi Zung Sze) who ends up siding with the bullies. Chi-hang meanwhile admits that he doesn’t really take his mentoring duties very seriously, too busy “running away” from his own problems to be much use in tackling anyone else’s.  

Yet through picking up the pace, each of the beleaguered runners begins to find direction in the finish line. Rediscovering the sense of joy and possibility he had as a small boy in primary school, Chi-hang realises that he’s never been as alone as he thought he was, all of the people in his life have been running at his side all along rooting for his success. While Tin-sum gains a new sense of self-confidence in finishing out her 5k without being pressured to lose weight or give up her appetite for life, Mr. Wong finds a sense of relief in being able to pass on the baton to a surrogate son in the now more self-assured Chi-hang finally figuring himself out and taking control over his future. Atmospheric shots of the nighttime city filled with a sense of melancholy alienation give way to poignant flashbacks of cherry blossom in bloom outside the primary school where Mr & Mrs Wong first met and bonded with little Chi-hang, while he realises that he does indeed “still remember” the sense of security, positivity, and energy he had as a child as he steps up the pace building the “ordinary life” his mother had envisaged for him. 


I Still Remember streams in the UK 31st March to 6th April as part of Focus Hong Kong. Readers in Chicago will also have the opportunity to catch it at Lincoln Yards Drive-In on April 17 as part of Asian Pop-Up Cinema’s Season 12.

Clip (English subtitles)

Focus Hong Kong Returns for Online Easter Edition

Following the successful Chinese New Year edition, Focus Hong Kong is back for Easter with another fantastic selection of recent, and not so recent, cinema hits from Hong Kong streaming in the UK from 31st March to 6th April including six features (four contemporary and two classics) along with another round of Fresh Wave Shorts.

I Still Remember

A dejected real estate agent, a young woman hoping to lose weight to run with her idol, and a retired PE teacher trying to keep a promise to his late wife find direction in running in Lik Ho’s sporting drama.

Beyond the Dream

Traumatised romantics struggle to move beyond the dream of love in Kiwi Chow’s elegantly composed romantic psychodrama. Review.

My Prince Edward

(C)My Prince Edward Film Production Limited
(C)My Prince Edward Film Production Limited

A young woman begins to consider her choices when her controlling boyfriend proposes and she’s forced to deal with the fallout from a sham marriage in Norris Wong’s humorous exploration of contemporary relationships. Review.

Tracey

50-something Tai-hung is a married father of two grown-up children living a conventional life in contemporary Hong Kong, but a phone call informing him that a childhood friend has passed away forces him into a reconsideration of his life choices and a long delayed acceptance of a transgender identity in Li Jun’s moving drama. Screening in collaboration with Queer EastReview.

Throw Down

Louis Koo stars in Johnnie To’s 2004 classic as a former judo champ turned depressed barman unexpectedly challenged by Aaron Kwok’s young tough and former rival Tony Leung Ka-fai while his ageing mentor also enlists him to save the failing dojo and a girl from Taiwan needs his help to shield her from evil gangsters.

Once Upon a Time in China

Tsui Hark’s classic 1991 take on the legend of Wong Fei-hung and first in the cycle of films starring Jet Li as the umbrella wielding martial artist.

“Tickets” are on sale now via the official website for the reasonable price of £2.99 for features while shorts stream for free and an all access pass is also available for £8.99. You can keep up to date with all the latest news via the official websiteFacebook PageTwitter account, and Instagram channel.

Till We Meet Again (生前约死后, Steven Ma, 2019)

“What if you let go of my hand and I get lost?” an over anxious little boy asks his mother. “Then you should stay where you are,” she tells him, “Mum will definitely come back for you.” It’s an instruction the now adult Wai (Steven Ma Chun-Wai) has perhaps taken too literally, struggling under the weight of grief and filial guilt while standing still waiting for his mother to find him again in the hope of earning her forgiveness for a sin he does not quite want to remember. Semi-autobiographical, Steven Ma’s Till We Meet (生前约死后) again is at once a dark psychodrama of man undone by loss but also a deeply touching evocation of an unbreakable mother son bond. 

Now a solitary salesman, 30-something Wai has only one wish – to reunite with his mother whom he hasn’t seen in over 10 years fearing that she bears some kind of grudge against him. We in fact see Mui (Josephine Koo Mei-Wah), his mother, angrily telling another woman, Lai (Bee Wong Chiu-Yam), that she refuses to see her son though the scene is not quite as it first seems. After abruptly quitting his job, Wai wanders out into the street and endures some kind of mental breakdown after which he visits his psychiatrist who reminds him that his mother is dead and has been for some time. 

Wai avows that he doesn’t like taking his medication because it makes him feel “sluggish” but increasingly finds his mental universe fracturing, shifting between sepia-tinted memories of his early childhood during which his mother first became ill and his life as a young man during which she suffered a relapse and later passed away. We begin to doubt Wai’s perception, uncertain if people and events he encounters are “real” or a product of his psychosis. His mother, ghost or merely spectre of memory, hovers on the sidelines apparently unwilling to see him though perhaps for his own good in hoping he will finally be able to move on and learn to be happy in acceptance of his loss. 

Tracey (Jennifer Yu Heung-Ying), his perhaps unrealistically invested psychiatrist, reminds Wai that he isn’t the only person who’s ever been bereaved or felt abandoned, left behind by those who have gone far away. She herself lost her mother young and was then abandoned by her father who left her in the care of an uncle who too abandoned her and ran off with all her father’s money. Another ghostly, perhaps imagined, conversation with Mui reveals that again Tracey may not have the full story and may never get it but unlike Wai may still have the chance to achieve a kind of closure with the traumatic past. He meanwhile carries the burden of his repressed guilt as it slowly works its way to the surface, cutting through his fragile psyche like a knife. 

While Mui’s conversations with third parties presumably taking place entirely within Wai’s mind may hint at a deeper psychological crisis they are essentially attempts to work out his guilt and shame, one-sided dialogues that eventually guide him back towards an acceptance of the truth he was intent on forgetting beginning with the traumatic fact of his mother’s death. Perhaps to some Wai’s maternal attachment may seem extreme, as the psychiatrist echoes in reminding him he’s not the only son to suffer such catastrophic loss, but it’s underpinned by a sense of filial guilt that lies at the heart of their bond in his worry that his own distress pushed Mui into pursuing a path she may otherwise have rejected on the grounds it would only cause her more pain for an additional few weeks of life. 

Trapped in his grief and guilt, Wai staggers through a nightmarish existence elegantly manifested in Ma’s abrupt tonal shifts as Wai finds himself staggering along a darkened corridor complete with faulty lighting and a single exit, while the sky itself seems to brighten to more romantic tones as he embraces a fantasy of a happier time drawing closer either to a kind of closure or the victory of his delusion whichever way you wish to read it. A painful journey through guilt and grieving, Ma’s unsparing drama provides few easy answers for living with loss but does perhaps allow its hero a degree of escape if only in unreality. 


Till We Meet Again streams in the UK until 15th February as part of Focus Hong Kong

Original trailer (English / Traditional Chinese subtitles)

Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (新蜀山劍俠, Tsui Hark, 1983)

“I never imagined that the righteous would not only refuse to unite, but also be incapable of action” laments a reluctant soldier realising there are no heroes coming to the rescue in Tsui Hark’s SFX-laden fantasy wuxia, Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (新蜀山劍俠). Inspired by the work of Huanzhulouzhu (Li Shoumin), Tsui’s feudal fable marked a departure from the more “realistic” swordplay movies which were popular at the time harking back to an earlier era of fantastic adventures which drew inspiration from traditional Chinese folklore. It was also, however, an attempt to prove that Hong Kong could rival Hollywood in the post-Star Wars world, blending what might now be viewed as fairly camp but then cutting-edge special effects with classic wuxia action. 

Accordingly, after a brief voice over, Tsui opens with a world in chaos in which several factions are currently vying for hegemony over the hotly contested, mystical and mountainous terrain of Shu. Lowly retainer Ti Ming-Chi (Yuen Biao) has been tasked with delivering a message regarding troop movements to his superiors, but there is a difference of opinion in the chain of command as to whether to attack by land or sea. Placed in an impossible position, Ming-Chi eventually sees himself pledge to obey both captains, only for infighting to emerge within the group forcing him to flee for his life which is how he encounters “Fatty” (Sammo Hung Kam-Bo), a soldier from a rival faction and discovers, quite ironically, that they are from neighbouring villages which makes their rivalry all the more ridiculous. In the course of his attempt to escape, Ming-Chi falls into a mountain crevasse and finds himself entering a mysterious cave which takes him to another world in which he becomes similarly embroiled in a war against the evil Demon Cult which apparently practices child sacrifice and then uses the bones as a kind of magical armour. 

A reluctant soldier, Ming-Chi finds himself captivated by the “Great Hero” Ting Yin (Adam Cheng Siu-Chow) and determines to become his disciple while the pair form an uneasy alliance with a pair of similarly matched Buddhist monks, master Hsiao Yu (Damian Lau Chung-Yan) and his assistant I-Chen (Mang Hoi), also hot on the trail of the Demon Cult. Finding this world also confusing, he is nevertheless reassured by I-Chen’s simple explanation “they’re bad, we’re good” as the two masters face off against the Demon Lord, but comes to discover it’s not quite all as black and white as it seems and this world too is torn apart by chaos and disorder because “the hearts of men are so corrupt.” Ming-Chi begs Ting Yin to use his “peerless martial arts skills” to “save mankind”, but Ting Yin cynically tells him his best course of action is to retreat into the mountains and avoid human society because “neither you nor I have the ability to bring about change”. 

Yet Ming-Chi remains pure of heart, certain that “as long as everyone puts in the effort, peace can be restored under heaven”. “Teach me martial arts and once I’ve mastered it, I can fight oppression, help the weak, and save the masses” he pleads, but Ting Yin once again refuses him. In fact, in one of the later SFX sequences, Ting Yin will “transfer” his martial arts knowledge near instantly via a laying on of hands assisted by some elaborate prosthetics which see Ming-Chi’s body warp and bubble to accept it. Nevertheless, the lesson that Ming-Chi begins to learn, bonding with fellow assistant I-Chen who ignored his master’s petty parting words to bid him goodbye to hope they meet again along the way, is that the masters care only for themselves and are no better than the warring nobles from his own lands, obsessed with their rival sects and ideologies. If they want to save the world they’ll have to save themselves through mutual solidarity in pursuit of their goal, tracking down a pair of mystical swords which are the only way to end the demonic threat for good. 

There might of course be an added dimension to this allegory in the Hong Kong of 1983 which is perhaps also beginning to feel like disputed territory coveted by duplicitous elites who fight amongst themselves while ordinary people suffer, but Tsui is in any case more interested in zany action and excuses to employ zeitgeisty special effects making full use of the technology of the day from lasers to animation along with in-camera stunts to recreate his epic fantasy world in which old men can keep evil at bay for as long as 49 days using nothing but their powerfully hairy eyebrows and a fancy mirror. With small roles for Brigitte Lin and Moon Lee as an ice queen with a warm heart presiding over an all female palace and her spiky guard respectively, Tsui’s bonkers fairytale moves on at a glorious, confusing pace but is nevertheless filled with warmth and humanity as the goodhearted heroes attempt to head off the folly of war with human solidarity. 


Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain streams in the UK 9th to 15th February as part of Focus Hong Kong

Eureka release trailer (english subtitles)