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May 29, 2009

Cinema Q Film Festival: Two Chinese Feasts

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Soundless Wind Chime
Kit Hung - 2009
TLA Releasing Digital Film

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Drifting Flowers/Piao lang qing chun
Zero Chou - 2008
Wolfe Video 35mm film

If Soundless Wind Chime and Drifting Flowers, as well as The Amazing Truth about Queen Raquela, are any indication, the Q Film Festival would do best to rely on films and filmmakers who have been cited by the Teddy Awards. What the winning and nominated films prove is that GLBT content is not enough, but that the films in question should be held to standard of artistry as would be applied to films seen in other film festivals. It is unfortunate that two of the better films in this particular film festival would play opposite each other, and advertised with falsely assumed gender bias. Both films are worth seeing for their own merits. Drifting Flowers is currently available on DVD, while a certain DVD release of Soundless Wind Chime has yet to be announced.

Soundless Wind Chime may be too elliptical rather than poetic as filmmaker Kit Hung may intend. Nonetheless, the succession of images and sound overcome whatever lapses there may be in the narrative. The film primarily alternates between present and past. A young man from Hong Kong, Ricky, in Switzerland for reasons he might not be able to clearly identify. Shaving himself, Ricky remembers a time when he shaved the head of his Swiss lover, Pascal. Eventually a chronology of how Ricky and Pascal first met on the streets of Hong Kong contrast with Ricky's visit to a small Swiss town where he encounters Ueli, a young man who could have been Pascal's twin.

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Hung's film is about both geographic and emotional dislocation. Ricky is apparently recent to Hong Kong from Beijing, working as a delivery boy for a neighborhood restaurant. Sharing a cramped apartment with his aunt, who works as a prostitute, a brief comment suggests that his ill mother back home thinks Ricky is working as a stock broker. The apartment he shares with Pascal is even smaller, denying this couple either emotional or physical space. Unlike Pascal who manages to get a part-time teaching job based on his limited abilities in English, his increasing abilities in Cantonese, and his easy acceptance within Hong Kong's gay scene, Ricky is the perpetual outsider no matter where he is.

One of the filmmakers Kit Hung acknowledges in the credits to his feature debut is openly gay Hong Kong director Stanley Kwan. The location of a pedestrian bridge reminded me Tsai Ming-liang's use of the skywalk in What Time is it There/. Also, the themes of love, loss and memory would bring to mind Wong Kar-wai. The major difference is that in his film, Hung makes the audience work a bit more to connect the various dots. Little is spelled out either visually or verbally. There is very little dialogue in Silent Wind Chime, and even when the characters are talking to each other, more often the conversation consists of unanswered questions. Even though there is one relatively explicit scene, of Pascal and his former lover, what Hung's interest is in the tentative relationships people make with each other, whether based on an emotional bond or an immediate need.

Hung also puts in what may seem like a visual nonsequitur in the proceedings when an elderly customer does a song and dance number. Ricky gazes around her apartment. Old photos seem to indicate that the woman was perhaps a now forgotten movie star. The musical number that the woman lip synchs to is "Atchoo Cha Cha", as done by Grace Chang, a popular Hong Kong musical star from the late Fifties though the early Sixties. IMDb being useless again in matters of Asian cinema, I am not certain if the old woman is in fact the same Wong Siu Yin who appeared in Hong Kong films fifty years ago.

While some knowledge of Chinese culture may not a requirement to for viewing Soundless Wind Chime or Zero Chou's Drifting Flowers, they may certainly add to appreciation and understanding. As in her previous Spider Lilies, Chou is interested in the conflict between forms of expression of lesbian identity against the traditional roles and expectations of Chinese tradition.

Drifting Flowers is comprised on three loosely connected short stories. In the first story, a seven year old girl, May, who becomes infatuated with the older, boyish looking Diego. Diego is the lover of May's blind sister, Jing. The conflict with tradition is illustrated by Jing's work as a masseuse, versus Jing's open relationship with Diego. May's inarticulate jealously causes her to live traditional foster family, coming to grips with her feelings only after she becomes older. The second story is about an older couple, male and female, who had a marriage of convenience. Lily is starting to get Alzheimer's while her feminine looking husband, Yen, has been diagnosed with AIDs. Lily also confuses Yen with her female lover, Ocean. The two are reunited after years of being apart, perhaps more out of necessity than love, yet there is clear mutual affection between the two. This segment is the most poignant, reminding that love of any kind is not only the provence of the young. In the third segment, a younger, high school age Diego bounds her growing breasts, and falls in love with a girl who is part of a competing street performance troupe. Diego finds self-acceptance as a boyish looking girl in love with the more obviously feminine Lily. The three segments are tied by having the main characters appear as passengers on a train, a literal symbol of life's journey.

It should be noted that Lu Yi-Ching, who frequently plays a mother in the films of Tsai Ming-liang, portrays the older Lily in Chou's film. Unlike fellow Taiwanese Tsai or Hou Hsiao-hsien, Zero Chou's films are more easily accessible though no less artistic. I would describe Chou as classical in her style of filmmaking, not to be confused with conventional. Her visual sense is usually unerring, especially in some her shots of two people within different parts of the same frame. Part of the credit would go to Chou's cinematographer and partner, Hoho Liu. Chou even has a self-referential moment when her character, Yen, walk by a wall with posters for Spider Lilies. Sexy, sad and sometimes quite funny, Spider Lilies is Chou's best film to date. Drifting Flower doesn't quite work in total, a problem that may be inherent in features created from vignettes. Still, there is no reason why Chou should not be considered one of more talented younger filmmakers to emerge in the past ten years.


Soundless Wind Chime and Drifting Flowers will play Sunday night at 8 pm.

Posted by peter at May 29, 2009 12:57 AM