Comedy, Drama, Films, Hong Kong, Reviews, South Korea

Beautiful 2012

A great selection of short films from acclaimed Asian directors, including Tsai Ming-liang and Ann Hui…

Produced by Youku, China’s leading internet television site, for the 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival, Beautiful 2012 collects four acclaimed Asian filmmakers invited to examine the idea of beauty with very different results…

The selection begins Kim Tae-yong’s You Are More Than Beautiful. A man (Park Hee-soon, Seven Days, The Scent, The Client) has hired an actress Young-Hee (Gong Hyo-jin, Love Fiction, Crush and Blush, Volcano High, Family Ties) – who he finds out is actually a porn star – to pretend to be his fiancée and convince his ailing, hospitalised father that they are to be married. On the way to the hospital they begin to chat and get to know each other, but hat is cut short when the man receives news that his father has fallen into a coma.

Despite no longer being needed, Young-Hee slips into the hospital room and sings a Korean opera song unaccompanied to her pretend father-to-be, as well as the other equally unconscious patients in the room in a captivating scene.

It’s a solid start to the anthology from Kim Tae-yong, best known for Late Autumn, Memento Mori and Family Ties. It’s light, enjoyable, with good performances – but I wonder if Kim didn’t go for an ‘easy win’. With a jazzy guitar soundtrack throughout, we’re definitely on very familiar ground for Korean cinema – however solid the performances or direction. Gong Hyo-jin is quite brilliant, though – but then she was easily the best thing about Love Fiction!

Far more audacious comes Tsai Ming-Liang’s entry Walker. We follow a bright red robed monk (Lee Kang-Sheng, The Wayward Cloud, I Don’t Want To Sleep Alone) as he slowly, painfully steps through busy Hong Kong, with what appears to be a happy meal in his hand. Contemplating the mix of religion, commerce and Westernisation in a bustling Eastern city, this is Tsai at his very best, manipulating those awkward spaces as he does so well to full effect.

It’s funny, poignant and yes, quite beautiful, this is as much an art installation as it is a film, ending with a fabulously cheery Sam Hui song. And Tsai invites inadvertent spectators to become a part of it, as they star both at the monk and the cameras, even taking their own photos. Of all the films, Tsai captures both the spirit of the theme and project best, locating it most definitely in Hong Kong, and using Hong Kong film students to make it.

(Special mention should also go to regular Tsai Ming-Liang collaborator Lee on doing such a fine job of stretching out his movements. Seriously, you try it!)

Cinematographer turned director Gu Changwei’s (Til Death Do Us Part, Peacock, And the Spring Comes) contribution Long Tou feels awkward at best. Using a semi-documentary style, we follow various different occupants of an apartment house – customers of a teahouse having a conversation, a weight lifter, a man with a gun, a child blowing bubbles and a drug user – at what just might be the end of the world.

In Yang Weiwei’s scripts themes of children, childhood and birth crop up time and time again, mixing beauty with horrific imagery or ideas. One older teahouse patron recollections of being a child, running into a vast purple flowered field with her friends where ‘illegal children’ were dumped, ready to beat them with sticks, is particularly unpleasant, and as political as his early films as cinematographer with Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige (Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, Farewell My Concubine).

Gu Changwei seems to be showing us the other side of the coin, the ugliness that makes beauty all the more so, but the final result doesn’t quite come together.

Of course, it would be Ann Hui’s (A Simple Life, The Boat People, Summer Snow) final entry to the anthology that brings us back with a wonderfully human tale. Here we find a businessman who has decided to follow his heart and take the radical step of a gender operation to become a woman, much to the annoyance of his wife and son.

The often underrated and definitely underused nowadays, Francis Ng (The Bride With White Hair, 2000 AD, Infernal Affairs 2) pulls of a heartrending performance that respects the subject matter; there’s warm, humanity and humour, but no derision. Discussions in cafés with his transgender friends, many played by real transsexuals, are candid and funny – shedding light on a subject matter that has often, particular in Hong Kong culture, just been used for scorn.

Performances are strong, particularly Jade Leung as the wife. It’s a welcome appearance from Leung, best known for starring in Black Cat, the Hong Kong version of Nikita, and similar themed action movies in the early 90s, this proves she not only can act superbly, but also that she’s just as stunning (actually maybe more so) as she was 20 years ago!

This is a great, if mixed, collection of films, and well worth seeing!

Beautiful 2012 screened as part of the 56th London Film Festival.

About the author

Andrew Heskins
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