My Indian Boyfriend (我的印度男友, Sri Kishore, 2021)

An awkward young man from India begins to see new possibilities in life after falling for his beautiful neighbour in Sri Kishore’s comic melodrama My Indian Boyfriend (我的印度男友). Billed as the first ever Indian-style film made in Hong Kong, Kishore’s musical romance has already come in for a degree of criticism with some objecting to what they see as a pun on a racial slur in the film’s original Cantonese title (which has since been changed) though the cross-cultural love at the film’s centre does perhaps attempt to overcome a sense of division even if cultural differences are not in the end what keeps the couple apart so much as their individual circumstances. 

The hero, Krishna (Karan Cholia), is the youngest of three siblings and moved to Hong Kong with his family as a child but has been unable to settle, finding it difficult to get a job and repeatedly stating a desire to return to India. Jasmine (Shirley Chan Yan-Yin), meanwhile, is a model and dance instructor technically engaged to sleazy businessman Richard (Justin Cheung Kin Sing) to whom she feels indebted because he took care of her family when her father died but otherwise appears not to like very much possibly because of his worryingly controlling, possessive personality. In fact, the pair’s first meeting is brokered by Richard’s unsolicited racist provocation on spotting Krishna and his Chinese friend Kong (Kaki Sham) outside the building into which Jasmine is about to move generating a sense of animosity that proves difficult to dissipate until Krishna discovers that Jasmine is actually a friend of his sister’s and thereafter falls in love with her. 

It has to be said that Krishna’s obsessive courtship crosses the line of what is considered appropriate, quite clearly making Jasmine uncomfortable and leaving her in a difficult position because of her friendship with the rest of the family. We can see that Richard is definitely bad for her (and every other woman on the planet), but to begin with it’s not clear Krishna is much better save for the fairly low bar that when he realises his behaviour is problematic he does agree to back off if occasionally trying to badger Jasmine into a platonic friendship while warning her against marrying Richard whom she already agrees is likely to make her extremely unhappy. 

Richard meanwhile is continually spitting chips, both incredibly jealous and intensely racist throwing racial slurs around at random and later sending in some of his hired thugs to have Krishna beaten up though it’s unclear why he thought doing either of these things would help to endear him to Jasmine even as he continues to leverage the financial assistance he’s given her family to imply she has no other choice but to become his wife in recompense. In fact neither of the men really give much thought to what Jasmine might want, nor does her mother (Griselda Yeung) take her feelings into consideration coming from an earlier time in which financial stability was the only concern either oblivious to Richard’s many red flags or thinking they’re worth putting up with so long he continues to provide a comfortable life. Even so Richard’s obvious racism does not seem to be so far out of line with society around him, Krishna finding himself constantly facing xenophobic microaggressions with even a prospective employer taking one look at him and openly remarking that they don’t hire South Asians followed by a justification based on a series of offensive racial stereotypes. 

The constant xenophobia along with his father’s incessant criticism fuels Krishna’s sense of futility along with his half-hearted desire to return to India where he perhaps feels he might do better free from the twin pressures of unfair parental expectation and societal prejudice. Nevertheless, his love for Jasmine forces him to confront himself and turn his life around now given a reason to start making a concrete life for himself in Hong Kong while her love for him strays a little into the uncomfortable as she’s won over by the force of his feelings and thereafter turns him into a kind of project, a fixer upper boyfriend, restoring his sense of confidence by embracing his talent for dancing so that he can begin to make something of himself while she continues to struggle with her mother’s disapproval not only because of her prejudice towards Krishna on the grounds of his ethnicity but her insistence on the debt they owe to Richard. But then as Krishna says love is love whether it’s in India or Hong Kong, and will eventually conquer all. Featuring several Bollywood-style musical sequences and some fairly questionable twists typical of romantic melodrama, Kishore’s light hearted love story does at least embody a sense of cross-cultural flow as the lovers (and their families) overcome their various prejudices to embrace the love they have for each other. 


My Indian Boyfriend screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese/English subtitles)

Bamboo Theatre (戲棚, Cheuk Cheung, 2019)

Cheuk Cheung’s otherwise observational documentary Bamboo Theatre often interrupts the action with a series of title cards beginning “this is a space”, a space for ritual, for culture, for the traditional and for its evolution both manmade and somehow spiritual. Bamboo Theatre (戲棚) is in fact Cheuk’s third documentary on the subject of Chinese opera having apparently developed an interest through a chance encounter that left him surprisingly moved, but the focus this time is as much on the building as it is on the art emphasising the ironic endurance of these transient structures forever dismantled and rebuilt in a constant process of change and renewal. 

As the closing titles reveal, the number of bamboo theatres operating across Hong Kong has dropped by 30% though the traditional practice continues to endure with communities across the islands conducting ritual to honour the birth of Tin Hau, goddess of the sea. Built entirely from bamboo without the use of a single nail, the structures are a marvel of engineering yet intended to stand for less than two months, performances taking place for only three to seven days before the entire theatre is dismantled and transported to its next location to be resurrected anew. Cheuk elegises the disappearing art form through long sequences of painstaking construction scored with classical music as if to lament the dying nature of the craft while bearing testament to its survival as the company crafts its own space with its own hands not only a stage and makeshift covering but a warren of backstage corridors where costumes are steamed and pressed while actors rehearse or put on their makeup. A scenic boat is even is whipped up mid-performance seconds before being tracked on stage. 

Meanwhile, the theatre creates its own kind of spectacle outside its doors a mini festival taking place in the open air with stalls selling nicknacks and street food. The audience appears diverse, a mixture of small children accompanied by parents or grandparents along with elderly spectators attending alone, the kids well behaved and engaged with this very traditional art form. As another of the title cards reminds us, this is a space for entertaining both people and the gods, ritual and enjoyment presented with equal importance which explains perhaps how this incredibly laborious practice has managed to endure in an age which largely values convenience. 

Then again as one performer complains in one of the few scenes featuring dialogue, why don’t they put up a mobile toilet for the performers along with the rest of the structure, their personal convenience it seems valued comparatively little. A mess of hanging cloths, the backstage areas appear more spacious than one might expect, but are also subject to their own arcane rules a sign reminding women not to sit on crates for the gods though it seems unlikely anyone is doing very much sitting at all given the general business of backstage of life. Even once the audience has gone home, an old man commandeers the darkened stage to practice his art singing to an empty auditorium in an otherwise silent night. 

Having begun the film with a theatre’s construction Cheuk closes with its dismantling, foil sheeting from the roof clashing to the floor with apocalyptic intent yet also suggesting that this is how something survives, taken down in one place to be rebuilt in another the same but different, transient and eternal. In this way, xiqu opera survives its ritualised nature taking on an almost mystical dimension in its constant acts of appearance and disappearance though perhaps it’s ironic to think of something so obviously built by human hands as “intangible” culture. Even so, the enduring power of the bamboo theatre captured with an ethereal distance through Cheuk’s sensitive lensing is perhaps a sign of hope for the future in the face of persistent anxiety that such iconic local traditions are always at the risk of erasure. 


Bamboo Theatre screens in Chicago on April 2 as part of the 14th season of Asian Pop-Up Cinema.

Far Far Away (緣路山旮旯, Amos Why, 2021)

An introverted IT specialist gets a crash course in romance when he accidentally ends up dating a series of women from the far flung corners of the land in Amos Why’s charming romantic comedy, Far Far Away (緣路山旮旯). An occasionally subversive love letter to a disappearing Hong Kong, Why’s elegantly scripted romance also presents a snapshot of the contemporary society in exploring the various reasons each of the women has rejected the high status, consumerist lifestyle of the cities in favour of a more bespoke happiness elsewhere. 

At 28, Hau (Kaki Shum) has had only one relationship and is still unsure why his previous girlfriend, a former co-worker, broke up with him. His sympathetic hometown friends are forever trying to set him up while he nurses a gentle crush on another woman from the office, A Lee, but is too shy to say anything and worried that her reluctance when colleagues suggest he drive her home after a night out implies that she finds his company uncomfortable. That is not as it turns out quite the case, the reason she didn’t want him to drive her home is that she’d moved from an upscale, prestigious area to a small rural town far out of the city because she broke up with her boyfriend and couldn’t afford the rent but didn’t want anyone to know. 

The constant obsession with men driving women home becomes a minor plot point with several of the women actively questioning why it’s necessary and occasionally even offended while forcing Hau to admit that in most cases he’s offering because he wants to spend more time with them rather than out of a general concern for their safety or simple convenience. Having abandoned the dating app he was working on at work to concentrate on a delivery/map service, he ends up bouncing all around Hong Kong visiting various women even venturing to places so far out he needs to apply for a separate permit to enter while beginning to rethink his life choices realising that the reason he’s so set on stubbornly occupying his family’s flat in the city is rooted in his childhood trauma of having lost his mother to illness and his father to the Mainland in a symbolic orphanhood that hints at the anxieties of contemporary Hong Kong. Hau’s recently married friends discuss the possibility of having children but admit that they don’t really want to do it unless they can move abroad, Hau later speculating they will go to Taiwan while his friend who goes by the ironic name “Jude Law” has a British National (Overseas) Passport. Hau himself admits that he’d never really given it much thought until recently when a prospective partner asks him if he’d ever considered moving abroad mostly to confirm he won’t suddenly announce he’s leaving once they start dating seriously because almost no one can see a future for themselves in a changing Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, each of the women has made a decision to prioritise something else rather than join the city rat race from a youthful young woman living in an idyllic coastal town while determined to marry at 29 to Hau’s college friend Melanie (Jennifer Yu Heung-Ying) who chose to work for an NGO because of the better work/life balance that meant she wouldn’t be pressured into endless overtime. Then again another of Hau’s suitors appears to be just as ambitious as any other city dweller while viewing herself superior because her family bought a flat in a provincial area 25 years previously at a preferential rate and then sold it to her at below market value but more than they paid originally which strikes Hau as an odd arrangement between parent and child but speaks to the penny pinching mean spiritedness that leads her to blow up at him because he left a nice tip at a restaurant where service was included in the bill. An artist friend is willing to put up with primitive conditions in a remote mountain village because she’d rather have the stars than city lights, while each of the women also worry that any attempt at romance is always doomed to failure because no matter how keen they are or claim to be sooner or later the guys all ask them to move back to the city prioritising their own convenience while ignoring all of the reasons they chose to live in these very specific places. 

Eventually Hau becomes the exception, realising that the where isn’t the most important question acknowledging that perhaps he’s the one who ought to move in deciding to let go of the childhood trauma in his family home in order to make a new one of his own having figured out what he wants out of life and who he wants to spend it with which in the end dictates the where. Sometimes, love is just around the corner if you’re willing to go and have a look. A gentle celebration of a disappearing Hong Kong both literally and metaphorically, Why’s charming rom-com sends its hero on a roundtrip to love figuring out his place in the world in finding that home really is where the heart is. 


Far Far Away screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Images: (C)2021 DOT 2 DOT CREATION LIMITED

The First Girl I Loved (喜歡妳是妳, Yeung Chiu-Hoi & Candy Ng Wing-Shan, 2021)

“I wonder how many people are like us, dare to like yet too frightened to love?” the heroine of Yeung Chiu-Hoi & Candy Ng Wing-Shan’s youth nostalgia romance The First Girl I Loved (喜歡妳是妳) reflects having made peace with youthful romantic disappointment. As the title implies, Yeung & Ng’s melancholy love story finds a young woman looking back on her first love while beginning to wonder if she may have misunderstood or overly mythologised her high school romance. 

Now in her late 20s, Wing (Hedwig Tam Sin-Yin) is called back to the past by a phone call from her high school best friend Sylvia (Renci Yeung) who unexpectedly asks her to be the Maid of Honour at her wedding. Wing explains that she doesn’t like wearing dresses and would usually turn the invitation down but on this occasion she can’t because Sylvia was the first girl she ever loved. Long years of friendship eventually blossomed into teenage romance but while same sex relationships might have been more acceptable than they once were, they are not condoned by the private catholic girl’s high school the pair attend which calls their parents in after they’re spotted kissing on a bus by a passing teacher. 

Though Wing’s mother is a little taken aback, neither of the girls’ fathers thinks it’s a particularly big deal if for less than progressive reasons in that as Sylvia’s father puts it nothing “bad” can happen between two girls and he’d be much less relaxed if she’d been hanging around with a boy while Wing’s agrees that it’s probably just a phase and they “won’t look back” once they’ve met the right guy. The girls meanwhile seem to flit between despair and youthful romantic idealism, Sylvia who’d earlier been the more proactive in pursuing a relationship later conceding that perhaps it is a phase after all when her otherwise sympathetic father advises her to keep a low profile in order to avoid losing her scholarship because their family is poor. More secure in her middle-class comfort, Wing is minded to fight for love, saving up to buy a ring Sylvia had admired on a shopping trip and insisting that if growing up means denying their feelings for each other she’d rather remain a child. But then for unclear reasons Wing is the one who later betrays their love in agreeing to perform a public apology admitting that her relationship with Sylvia is “shameful and unacceptable” while Sylvia tears hers up and simply leaves having planned to take full responsibility while refusing to apologise for her feelings. 

The relationship between the two women continues to ebb and flow, leaving the older Wing wondering if they were ever really in the same story or if they simply remember their high school relationship differently. Perhaps to Sylvia they really were just admittedly intense “good friends” as she was fond of saying rather than the doomed lovers Wing has branded them as in her mind. Then again could it just be that Sylvia has chosen conventionality out of a lack of courage to fight for love, Wing wondering if Sylvia has decided to marry now in order to escape a pact they’d made to reunite if neither of them had married by 30 implying that Sylvia had never been able to let of the idea that anything other than a heteronormative marriage is necessarily a failure. 

Time does indeed seem to be a factor, the girls recreating the one minute scene from Days of Being Wild with a clock which has no second hand symbolising the timelessness of their youthful love while forever afterwards they seem to be haunted by ticking clocks implying that their romance has a shelf life. Even so, Yeung & Ng try to have their cake and eat it too, the climactic wedding taking place on a symbolic level between Sylvia and Wing echoing their mock high school wedding as they walk down the aisle together with Sylvia pained and conflicted in her choice while Wing reflects that they will always be “best friends” no matter what happens in the future having reclaimed her happy memories of her high school love reassured by Sylvia’s coded reactions that love is really what it was that existed between them. Replete with early 2000s nostalgia, Yeung & Ng’s tragic romance nevertheless ends on a hopeful note in managing to salvage the friendship from a faded love even if lacking the courage to fight for authenticity in an often conservative society.


The First Girl I Loved screens 13th/16th March as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese / English subtitles)

Elisa’s Day (遺愛, Alan Fung Chi-hang, 2021)

The legacy of abandonment visits itself on a trio of displaced Hong Kongers in Alan Fung Chi-hang’s melancholy crime drama, Elisa’s Day (遺愛). Set over 20 years from the Handover to the contemporary era, Fung draws inspiration from a real life crime while casting his ambivalent policeman, himself an orphan, as an ironic hero whose single act of compassion ends in a tragedy for which he feels he may not even have the right to atone. 

Fung begins, however, in the present day as Inspector Fai (Ronald Cheng Chung-Kei) prepares to collect his daughter who is shortly to be released from prison. Flashing back, we’re introduced to Daisy (Carol To Hei-Ling), a pale and distant young woman picked up for suspected drug trafficking while momentarily captivated by a familiar song and carrying a bunch of roses. From there we head further back, all the way to 1996 when 15-year-old Elisa (Hanna Chan Hon-Na) discovers she is pregnant by her bad boy boyfriend Man-Wai (Tony Wu Tsz-Tung). Each abandoned by their parents, the pair decide to run away together and find solace in a family of three, but as expected economic impossibility disrupts their search for happiness. Man-Wai joins the triads and eventually agrees to become a hitman, temporarily separated from Elisa and their daughter while lying low in Thailand. A then Sergeant Fai remains hot on his trail, keeping tabs on Elisa who unwittingly brings her young baby to the cinema where his adoptive mother Auntie Bo (Anna Ng Yuen-Yee) runs the box office, the pair of them becoming surrogate parents to the lonely little girl while Elisa is forced to turn to sex work when Man-Wai’s triad bosses fail to uphold their end of the bargain. 

“Everyone’s gone leaving only me behind” Elisa laments, learning that her estranged mother plans to move to the UK with her second family abandoning her once again in another, more complete sense. Trapped behind in a rundown area of the city, she finds herself caught between conflicting realities. Man-Wai pledges to stay with her forever but is soon gone eventually returning with promises of taking her to Thailand their dream of a better life symbolised by the red roses he brings with him that he claims reminded him of her. Man-Wai meanwhile is constantly told by his triad bosses that the future lies in Mainland China, a place he is originally so reluctant to travel that that he thinks killing is a better option only to later submit himself once again leaving Elisa alone in Hong Kong with no money and only a dwindling hope of ever achieving the familial bliss she longed for when she decided to run away with Man-Wai. 

For his part, Fai is also an orphan though his fate his was different in that he was found by Auntie Bo who gave him a loving home. Even so he has his share of guilt, feeling responsible for Auntie Bo’s spinsterhood fearing that she never married or had children of her own because taking him in made it impossible in the more conservative Hong Kong of 70s and 80s. Ironically enough they become a surrogate family for the infant Daisy, but it’s Fai’s sense of empathy that eventually provokes tragedy in his decision not to arrest Man-Wai on his return seeing how much he loves his family and wanting to give him a chance to put things right rather than take a little girl’s father away from her. Unable to forgive himself, he abandons his responsibilities only to be reminded of them later finally ending the cycle by being willing to accept the responsibility which has been left for him. 

Transitioning through the Hong Kong Handover, Fung evokes a sense of continual displacement, Elisa’s life destroyed firstly through abandonment and then through conflicted desires torn between a potential Thailand paradise and Mainland reality while longing only for a stable home(land). Daisy is offered something similar, her drug trafficker boyfriend to promising to take her to Thailand on their next run, the drugs ironically concealed in a bouquet of red roses just like those her father once brought for her mother. Her only salvation lies in the arms of Fai, a literal authority figure, reassuming his paternal responsibility and thereby restoring a sense of familial and political stability. Told in fragmentary, non-linear fashion, Fung’s melancholy tale of the legacies of abandonment and an innocent love eroded by economic and social realities eventually finds hope in familial repair and the remaking of a home in self-defined family.


Original trailer (English / Traditional Chinese subtitles)

Just 1 Day (給我1天, Erica Li, 2021)

“Who has time for nostalgia with all the novelties out there?” asks the heroine of screenwriter Erica Li’s directorial debut Just 1 Day (給我1天), an adaptation of her own novel. She does, as it turns out, in fact that’s all she may eventually have time for in this tale of romantic transience as she, in a sense, learns to seize her future by living in the past through reconnecting with a childhood friend. 

Now in her early 30s, bank clerk Angelfish (Charlene Choi Cheuk-Yin) is an unfulfilled career woman who enjoys her job chiefly for the ability to be of service to others. Meanwhile, she’s trapped in a potentially dead end relationship with a man who she’s recently discovered has a longterm girlfriend in Canada he never gets round to breaking up with. Attending a primary school reunion marking the institution’s imminent relocation, Angelfish runs into a long lost childhood friend, Mosaic (Wong Cho-lam), now a sketch artist with a sizeable online following. Unbeknownst to her, Mosaic has long been carrying a torch but never had the courage to say anything partly because of a hangup about his short stature. As we later discover, however, he’s running out of time. Paying a visit to the bank where Angelfish works to enquire about insurance he reveals he’s suffering from the same condition that killed his father, ALS, and potentially has only a few more years to live. Shooting his shot, he asks Angelfish to spend just one day with him as his “girlfriend” to cross it off his list. Provided there’s no funny stuff, she agrees but of course discovers something far more profound than a fleeting connection. 

This being Angelfish’s story, Mosaic’s illness is more or less treated as a plot device intended to confront her with her own sense of mortality so that she reassesses her life choices in order seek true happiness. Mosaic in fact teaches her this when explaining the concept of a vanishing line so that she might learn to fix her eyes on the horizon and see the rest of the world in relation to it. Meanwhile, the fact that ALS is a degenerative condition is also aligned with the idea of a world slowly disappearing, the eventual message paradoxically amounting to the notion that nothing ever really disappears because it continues to exist in the hearts and minds of everyone that remembers it. In order to preserve this sense of “nostalgia”, Mosaic meticulously sketches the old Hong Kong before its inevitable destruction while Angelfish finds her vocation in recreating it through miniature diorama. 

The conflict is brought home to her in the opposing natures of her two men, boyfriend Ken chuckling at her distress over the destruction of a local landmark by claiming that the old has to go to make way for the new, but later finding himself unable to break up with his longterm girlfriend out of a sense of expectation and obligation. One might say he is similarly trapped by “nostalgia”, or at least an emotional coward either too afraid to take a risk on new love or unwilling to abandon the security of the familiar. Her female friends, meanwhile, present two opposing paths, one a free spirited flight attendant and the other a conventional housewife whose dreams of the perfect family are eventually dashed on discovering her husband’s infidelity. To that extent, what Angelfish chooses is a kind of independence in wedding herself to a memory while paradoxically living in the moment in the knowledge that her love has its own vanishing point. 

Though boasting cinematography by Christopher Doyle, Just 1 Day is fairly conventional in shooting style akin to many other contemporary Hong Kong dramas save its brief segues into the past and eventual transition into an artificial world of nostalgic memory. Nevertheless as much a love letter to a disappearing Hong Kong as a tearjerking romantic dramedy or inspirational tale of a soon to be middle-aged woman finding fulfilment in following her heart, Just 1 Day effortlessly sells its central messages of living life to the full while making and preserving memories that will, it assures, sustain you when all else is gone. 


Teaser trailer (English subtitles)

An Autumn’s Tale (秋天的童話, Mabel Cheung, 1987)

Cherie Chung and Chow Yun-fat find love in exile in Mabel Cheung’s charming New York rom-com, An Autumn’s Tale (秋天的童話). Penned by Alex Law, Cheung’s breezy chronicle of love and handover anxiety is subtle and sophisticated romance for grownups finding its youthful heroine stepping into herself in stepping away from home springboarding from emotional heartbreak into personal growth while beginning to fall for her equally lost and hoplelessly diffident yet larger than life new city neighbour. 

After two years of patient saving, Jennifer (Cherie Chung Chor-hung) is finally heading to New York to reunite with hometown boyfriend Vincent (Danny Chan Pak-keung) and study acting in the city. Her mother has put her in touch with a distant relative who is apparently a former sailor turned big man in Chinatown nicknamed “Figurehead” (Chow Yun-fat) who’s agreed to pick her up from the airport and sort her out with a flat. What Jennifer hasn’t disclosed is that she hasn’t told Vincent she’s coming and plans to surprise him when he returns from a baseball game in Boston. When she arrives, however, she discovers not only that Figurehead has somewhat misrepresented his level of success but that Vincent is seeing someone else and places little value on their past relationship, viewing his hometown girlfriend as childish and unsophisticated now he’s a big city guy changed by his new environment but not for the better. 

Jennifer’s culture shock on arriving in late 80s New York is instantly apparent as “Figgy” takes her back to the rundown Chinatown slum where he is living to a flat which looks like no-one’s been up there in 20 years, still has a gas-operated refrigerator, and is filled with the last tenant’s abandoned belongings. Perhaps bearing out the realities of the international dream, Figgy has obviously been telling everyone back home how great his life is in New York and how well he’s been doing for himself while living aimlessly in the city spending his days drinking, gambling, and fighting paralysed by anxiety and too frightened to move forward. Even so he does his best to help Jennifer adjust to life in New York, helping her fix up the apartment and trying to be sympathetic after witnessing her brutal breakup with the no-good Vincent.

Then again, “We belong to two different worlds” she eventually reflects in trying to decide not only if she’s fallen in love with Figgy or he her but if he’s really got longterm potential. She says he makes her feel free, but as she becomes more used to life in New York and less afraid of its differences she grows eager to see the rest of the world while Figgy, 10 years older, claims he’s seen it all already and has no real desire to go anywhere anymore. To him, everything in New York is just an inferior version of something they already had in Hong Kong, broadway musicals are “yankee opera”, pizza is “yankee pancakes”, the music of Americana street musicians is “yankee tunes” that remind him of a Chinese funeral march. While he works in a Chinese restaurant for Chinese people, Jennifer gets a job at an upscale place going by the name “Big Panda” run by a sleazy friend of woman she babysits for that is intent on selling a Westernised idea of China to the locals. Trying to play the big shot in his ill-fitting suit, Figgy doesn’t even understand the menu or the extortionately priced itemised bill presented to him in English but recklessly throws $20 bills at the tip-happy waiter. His only dream is to open a small restaurant on a pier overlooking the ocean that Jennifer convinces him to name “Sampan” like the boat but also in honour of his English name, Samuel Pang. While Jennifer continues to move forward, Figgy remains diffident, too afraid to voice his feelings and consumed by a sense of under-confidence that leaves him unable to pursue either his dream or innocent love. 

To put it bluntly it’s the 33-year-old Figgy who is not really ready for serious romance while through her failed relationship with Vincent and growing experience of independent city living Jennifer is beginning to figure out what it is she wants out of life and out of love. Their romance can’t blossom until they meet each other as equals, Figgy finally pulling himself together and gaining the confidence to chase both love and his dreams. A beautifully understated, naturalistic romance with an ending to rival Comrades Almost a Love Story, An Autumn’s Tale is also love letter to the city of New York with all of its danger and possibility as two lost youngsters learn to find a home in each other while discovering the courage to become themselves.


An Autumn’s Tale screens at the BFI 25th January as part of Focus Hong Kong

Original trailer (no subtitles)

All U Need Is Love (總是有愛在隔離, Vincent Kok Tak-chiu, 2021)

All things considered, there are worse places to quarantine than a five star hotel especially if it’s free but then again forced proximity with those you love, or those you don’t, can prove emotionally difficult. An old school ensemble comedy, Vincent Kok’s All U Need Is Love (總是有愛在隔離) features a host of A-list stars each providing their talent for free in order to support the struggling Hong Kong film industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic but as its name suggests eventually offers a small ray of hope that the enforced period of reflection may have fostered a spirit of mutual solidarity and personal growth. 

Kok opens, however, with a tense chase sequence as a shifty looking man runs from the authorities at the airport only to be picked up by the PPE-clad Epidemic Task Force who whisk him away to a secret location where he’s placed inside a weird bubble and interrogated by Louis Koo. Several more top HK stars including Gordon Lam fetch up in the bubble each implicating the Grande Hotel as the centre of of a coronavirus cluster at which point an order is given to place it under total lockdown requiring everyone inside to remain for a 14-day quarantine. 

Essentially a series of intersecting skits, Kok’s ramshackle drama nevertheless has its moments of satire as the hotel chief takes to the stairs for an inspirational speech in which he frequently slips into English and bizarrely likens himself to the captain of the Titanic because we all know how well that went. He spends the rest of the picture trying to escape without anyone noticing while his dejected security guard/brother tries to bump him off. Meanwhile, two gangsters develop a homoerotic bromance while plotting how best to profiteer off the pandemic through smuggling anti-COVID paraphernalia just as panic buying takes hold on the outside. 

Nevertheless, it can’t be denied that All U Need Is Love is also guilty of some rather old fashioned, sexist humour particularly in the antics of a pair of old men (Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Eric Tsang reprising their roles from Men Suddenly in Black) and their minions who misled their wives in order to embark on a sexual odyssey only to have their plans both improved and then ruined by the quarantine order. Meanwhile, a young couple who were in the hotel preparing for their wedding banquet ironically scheduled for the last day of the quarantine find themselves at loggerheads as the man gets cold feet over his fiancée’s bridezilla micromanaging, and her father undergoes a total makeover while continuously watching Japanese pornography in his room. 

Watching it all, a little girl, Cici, becomes the moral voice of the pandemic innocently hoping that nature will continue to heal itself even after the sickness ends. It’s she who shows the gangsters the error of their ways in pointing out that if they steal all the anti-COVID equipment then they will end up being more at risk because no one else is protected, while she also softens the heart of the hotel’s cynical manager to the point that he too makes a lengthy speech about becoming a better person thanks to his experiences during in the pandemic. 

During their enforced proximity friends and strangers have indeed needed to rediscover their love for their fellow man as they band together in mutual solidarity waiting for their freedom. Culminating in an oddly uplifting wedding decked out with balloons and messages from friends and family played via iPad, Kok’s anarchic ensemble farce does its best to discover a silver lining among the fear and anxiety of the pandemic as it ironically brings people together through driving them apart. Along with his A-list cast, Kok throws in a series of movie parodies and pop culture references from an impromptu rendition of Baby Shark to a surprise appearance from the Landlady from Kung Fu Hustle as well as a suitably random cameo from Jackie Chan. Repurposing the traditional Lunar New Year movie, All U Need is Love is a classic nonsense comedy designed to lighten the mood in these trying times while celebrating the essence of Hong Kong cinema through, arguably, its most idiosyncratic of genres. 


All U Need Is Love streamed as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (Traditional Chinese/English subtitles)

Weeds on Fire (點五步, Steve Chan Chi-Fat, 2016)

“Even though disappointed, do not lose hope” reads a piece of graffiti in the closing moments of Steve Chan Chi-fat’s nostalgic coming-of-age drama Weeds on Fire (點五步). Though touted as a baseball movie, as incongruous as that may sound given that the sport is a niche interest in contemporary Hong Kong, Chan’s strangely hopeful if quietly melancholy tale of ‘80s Sha Tin is bookended by scenes of the present day city in the midst of the Umbrella Movement protests the story the hero wants to offer seemingly intended for an audience of dejected youngsters as confused and disappointed as he once was in order to encourage them that what’s important isn’t winning or losing but staying the course and gaining the confidence to take the first step. 

Now in his mid-40s, Lung (Lam Yiu-sing) casts his mind back to the Hong Kong of 1984 when he lived on a rundown council estate in Sha Tin and attended a high school with a less than stellar academic record. A shy and nerdy boy, he was often bullied but always had childhood friend Wai (Tony Wu Tsz-tung), physically imposing and with a confident swagger, at his back. When the city comes up with additional funding for schools to use in the promotion of sport their enterprising headmaster Lu Kwong-fai (Liu Kai-chi) hatches on the idea of starting the region’s very first local high school baseball team, recruiting both Wai and Lung in the hope of teaching them teamwork and discipline. Nevertheless, being teammates begins to place a strain on their friendship and it becomes clear that the boys are destined for different paths. Wai quits the team in a huff and leaves school, mooching round in pool bars and hanging out with triads while Lung steps up to the plate but is troubled by the loss of his friendship and the fracturing relationship between his unhappily married parents. 

Chan somewhat unsubtly ties Lung’s personal development to that of Hong Kong as he finds himself coming of age in era of anxiety. The world is literally changing around him, 1984 being as says the year that the redevelopment of Sha Tin began in earnest while it also marked the signing of the Sino-British Declaration paving the way for the transfer of power in the 1997 Handover. A young man, Lung wants to “change” himself in that he longs for the confidence to ask out a young woman he’s developed a crush on but is too shy and disappointed in himself for doing nothing when witnessing her being harassed by a drunken creep in the lift of the apartment block where they both live. Yet in other ways change frightens him and really he wants everything to stay the same believing that saying nothing will maintain the status quo only to realise that there are situations over which he has no real control. 

His headmaster and coach of the baseball team Lu admits that he set Wai and Lung against each other in order to encourage him to come out from his friend’s shadow embracing his own identity and discovering a sense of self-confidence. Yet Lung continues to struggle, a little lost unable to find clear direction in his life while everything changes around him occasionally consumed by a sense of despair as perhaps are the young protestors in believing their movement has failed. In baseball what he realises that it isn’t about winning or losing but having the confidence to step up to the plate, subtly telling the protestors to hang in there because there’s still time to turn this around. “I never said we had to win”, inspirational coach Lu reminds the boys, “but I did say never give up!”.

Loosely based on the real life story of the Shatin Martins though as the closing credit reel reveals the original team were primary school children rather than high schoolers, Chan shifts away from sporting drama towards the more familiar youth movie metaphor of two former friends heading in different directions, the good boy knuckling down while the “bad” becomes a victim of his own hotheaded arrogance even if managing to repair his fractured friendship with Lung before tragedy strikes. Filled with memories of Handover anxiety and a healthy dose of ‘80s nostalgia, the film’s incongruous jauntiness is perhaps at odds with the gravity of the tale though that is perhaps itself part of the message the older Lung has for the young. “This is the city where I grew up. It’s become increasingly unfamiliar” he laments striding through streets filled with tents occupied by student protestors, sympathising with their cause while offering them a note of melancholy hope in his own, sometimes painful, tale of finding his feet in a changing Hong Kong. 


Weeds on Fire streams in Poland until Nov. 29 as part of the 15th Five Flavours Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Inside the Red Brick Wall (理大圍城, Hong Kong Documentary Filmmakers, 2020)

“We can’t afford to be afraid” insists a protestor trapped inside the siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University during the 2019 protests sparked by opposition to the Extradition Law Amendment Bill. Credited only to the Hong Kong Documentary Filmmakers collective, its directors for obvious reasons choosing to remain anonymous, Inside the Red Brick Wall (理大圍城) is a visceral exploration of life behind the barricades as the trapped youngsters, some of whom are under the age of 18, grow increasingly frustrated and afraid, desperate for escape but fearful of police violence. 

The police, it has to be said, do not come out of this well. While the protestors blast local hip hop highly critical of law enforcement, the officers negotiating via loud speaker repeatedly troll them with ironic pop songs with titles such as “Surrounded” or “Ambush From Ten Sides” while otherwise taunting them with ridiculous insults and talking about going out to kill cockroaches. Such deliberate provocation at least giving the impression that they are merely looking for an excuse to storm the university does not endear them to the protestors trapped inside most of whom already want to leave but not if it means walking out into the arms of the police. With the mounting hysteria, it isn’t even the immediacy of the threat that causes the most anxiety but the possibilities of its aftermath, many fearing not just police brutality but sexual violence and that their mistreatment will not end with their arrest. This is one reason that many struggle to trust a cohort of high school principals who are permitted to enter the university in order to lead out some of the school-aged protestors, promising to protect them from the police batons in order to deliver them to their homes safely and directly. In return the protestors are asked to provide their IDs, leading many to fear they will simply be arrested the following morning. 

Nevertheless, as the situation inside begins to decline it becomes clear to many that they must leave by whatever means possible, some engaging in potentially dangerous escape attempts such as abseiling from a bridge to be met by friends on motorbikes, or exiting through the sewers. Others debate the wisdom of leaving at all, correctly as it turns out surmising that the police will eventually be forced to end the siege because allowing it to continue is simply far too expensive. Even so, these are extremely young people under intense strain, mentally and physically exhausted while also fearing for their lives. Remarking that many have made their wills, one young man insists it’s not death he fears, he’s prepared for that, but that he may die in here and no one would know.  

The necessity of hiding their faces, the documentarians are scrupulous in blurring even the faintest trace of identifiable features, adds to the sense of the collective which becomes in the eyes of some at least their best weapon of defence. Yet through repeated attempts to break through the blockade and the gradual shedding of those who cannot endure any longer deciding to accept the threat of arrest and surrender, the group necessarily weakened causing many to fear their reduced numbers leave them increasingly vulnerable. Some protestors loudly harangue their friends for leaving, while others offer only comfort as their fellow protestors tearfully apologise but can clearly remain no longer. A few pledge to wait it out while debating the ethical dimensions of leaving if it means abandoning those who are already too injured to make their own way out. 

In the midst of the action, the documentarians hover over blood-stained helmets and the aftermath of violence but are also relatively free to record police brutality seemingly ignored by officers otherwise pinning protestors to the floor and in some cases recklessly firing rubber bullets in close proximity even at one point appearing to fire directly at the back of a fleeing protestor’s head. Interrupting these scenes with shots of empty corridors – discarded clothing, a lone shoe inches away from the fire, all those battered umbrellas – the filmmakers evoke an almost apocalyptic atmosphere of total desolation offering little hope for the future in a society dominated by fear and authoritarianism. 


Inside the Red Brick Wall screened as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival

Trailer (dialogue free)