My second week at the HKIFF continues to be hardcore: three films in two days (Saturday 12:30 pm and 9 pm, followed by a 2:45 pm screening on Sunday)! First up was Yang Yang (陽陽), a Taiwanese production directed by 鄭有傑, a protege of Ang Lee. Indeed, one could find some stylistic similarities between the two directors: the fluid (handheld) camerawork, the sparse dialogue, the emphasis on mood, all remind me of the earlier works of Ang Lee (The Wedding Banquet 囍宴 and Eat Drink Man Woman 飲食男安 come to mind). The film tells the tale of a young Eurasian girl, Zhang XinYang (nicknamed Yang Yang), who is finding her breathtaking beauty more a curse than a blessing. She is on good terms with her stepsister, a relatively plain girl, who also happens to be her competitor on the track as well as off: Yang Yang is attracted to her stepsister’s boyfriend, and the feelings are clearly mutual. After much repression, YY gives in to her feelings, sleeping with the young man but swearing that it would only be one-off. The boyfriend duly dumps her stepsister, who inevitably finds out about YY’s betrayal and retaliates by slipping steroids into YY’s drink before a race. YY wins but is disgraced when she tests positive, and, realising what her stepsister did, runs away from home to become a model/actress. What ensues is a series of life lessons for YY: experiencing unrequited love, confronting her latent feelings towards her wayward birth father and learning about the hazards of showbusiness. The story was a bit all over the place, with no real narrative focus: I suppose real life is similarly random, going in multiple directions all at once. One interesting device used is the ending: YY is pictured jogging, for a long time, even up till the end of the credits. It serves as an analogy of life: whatever we experience along the way, we simply need to keep running, just like YY coping with her many setbacks along the way. A nice mood piece overall that is slightly demanding on the viewer, the film owes much to the director as well as the stars (Zhang Rongrong 張榕容 as YY, Zhang Ruijia 張睿家 as the stepsister’s boyfriend, and the actress who plays the stepsister – whose name escapes me…)
Black Ice (or Musta jää) is a darkly comical Finnish film with a plot so convoluted it makes one’s head spin. Leo and Saara are your average middle-class married couple, meaning that the husband is engaged in an affair with a younger woman, who happens to be his student Tuuli (he is a university professor in architecture). When Saara discovers her husband’s betrayal, she moves out of the house and decides to track down Leo’s mistress. Under a false name, she joins a judo class taught by Tuuli, and the two women quickly become friends. At this point it isn’t entirely clear what Saara is plotting – at times she seems rather fond of Tuuli. Her only morally suspect act is borrowing Tuuli’s mobile phone and leaving a death threat on her own voicemail, and then duly informing the police. The turning point in the story is when Leo sees the error of his ways and comes to beg for his wife’s forgiveness, and Saraa decides to give him a second chance. Tuuli, devastated by her breakup with Leo, comes to Saraa for help, but Saraa ignores her calls. Eventually Saraa plucks up the courage to face Tuuli, telling her that she is going back to her estranged husband, only to be hit with shocking news: Tuuli thinks she might be pregnant with Leo’s baby. Desperate to know the truth, Saraa resorts to drugging Tuuli and examining her by, ahem, invading her privacy (Saraa is a gynecologist, naturally). Of course Tuuli has to wake up mid-examination, which, in a most hilarious turn of events, Saraa disguises as a sexual move. A confused Tuuli is at first startled but soon complies, but Saraa suddenly stops her “invasion": she has just confirmed Tuuli’s pregnancy. They then sit awkwardly whilst Tuuli starts drawing a portrait of Saraa, all the while slowly recognising the decor and architecture of the house: she has seen this house before. Soon after it dawns on her that this is Leo’s house, and Saraa is Leo’s wife, Tuuli excuses herself, claiming that she needs to shower. Instead she wanders around and finds the study, where she confirms her suspicions. Meanwhile, Leo returns from a party to find his wife sitting in the living room, with signs that she has company. The jealous husband immediately suspects that it is a boy that Saraa slept with during their separation, and on hearing the sound of an engine, decides to go after the “lover" in his car, although it has started to snow heavily. Having drunk the remainder of the spiked drink that Saraa made, however, Leo crashes his car into a tree. He runs up to Tuuli’s car to confront the “lover", but becomes confused on recognising the driver, who tells him to walk home and drives away. Perhaps because of his drugged state, Leo ends up dying of hypothermia out in the freezing cold. Tuuli, wracked with grief and guilt, plots revenge on Saraa, but an unanticipated tustle with Leo’s sister leads to her tumbling down a flight of stairs and being rushed to emergency surgery. Who else happens to be the duty surgeon but Saraa, who somehow manages to control her emotions and saves both mother and child. Phew: what a storyline! I enjoyed very much the twisted Finnish sense of humour, and the film excels in many ways (particularly the script).
The Baader Meinhof Complex (German title: Der Baader Meinhof Komplex) chronicles the rise and fall of the Red Army Faction (RAF) in Germany, starting with their naissance in the 1960s as a group of angry youths who were disillusioned with the establishment and capitalism. Responding to the violence shown by the police and other opposing parties, they took up arms and declared war on the establishment. With Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof, amongst others, as its founders, the RAF managed to wreak havoc in Germany over many years, plotting terrorist bombings, kidnaps and bank robberies in the name of the “resistance". Meinhof, before joining the RAF, was a respected journalist: she soon became the voice of the RAF, writing its manifestos and producing quotes like “Protest is when I say this does not please me. Resistance is when I ensure what does not please me occurs no more." Like most movements, the RAF is ultimately undone by its infighting, getting so out of hand in the end that the many figureheads in turn committed suicide in prison. Not exactly lighthearted entertainment (especially for a Sunday afternoon), but the film did teach me a lot about the social and political background of those times (though of course these “fictionalized reality" films need to be taken with a pinch of salt: at least now I am aware of the events and can read about them elsewhere). Enthralling to watch from start to finish, the editing and the music provide a pulse that reflects the anarchist spirit behind the RAF movement, whilst the cast (Martina Gedeck, Moritz Bleibtreu, Johanna Wokalek, et al.) also did an impressive job.