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April 27, 2014

Far East Film Festival - Day Three


I've come down with a cold, which of course makes any serious viewing and writing more of a challenge. But I did make a point of stepping out to Boundless, Ferris Lin's documentary about Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To.

There is very little biography here. The most history would be a few mentions of To's beginnings working in television. Mostly this is an examination of To's working methods, with the camera following To's on the production of Romancing in Thin Air, clips of several past films, and interviews with To and several of his collaborators. One of To's admirers is Jia Zhangke, high praise from the person who may be the most important filmmaker in mainland China.

One of the more interesting aspects of To's career is that in the years preceding the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, To did not immigrate as many of his peers did, either temporarily or permanently. It was also relatively recently that To made films with mainland Chinese financing, modifying his work to satisfy Chinese censors.

The big revelation is how close To was to bankruptcy in the first few years following the handover. Some how, lack of funds did not keep To from directing at least two films a year in addition to producing films for others. Financially, it was The Mission from 1999 that helped get To's Milky Way Productions back on firm footing.

Cast and crew discuss how To set up a ten minute shot for Breaking News, and his use of locations shooting in Hong Kong. What is emphasized here is To's love of Hong Kong, especially in use of the older parts of the city, including a favorite restaurant.

To regular Lam Suet gives a touching account of encouraging To at his lowest emotional and financial point, when To was sleeping on a cot at the Milky Way office, getting To to wake up and start filming. One of To's most personal films, Sparrow, filmed in small parts over the course of three years, seems less of an anomaly in learning that To would occasionally make films with incomplete or non-existent scripts, more amazing based on the polish of the final work. The title of the documentary comes from one of To's favorite songs.

Today's screening was introduced by Far East Film Festival president Sabrina Baracetti, which was followed by a video greeting from Johnnie To, an attendee at several past festivals.

Following the screening of Boundless, I was able to meet Anchalee Chaiworaporn. Freelance film critic and historian, Anchalee might best be described as the leading ambassador for Thai cinema. I had first contacted her when I lived in Chiang Mai, purchasing a copy of the the Asiexpo publication Thai Cinema. We have corresponded on occasion since then, me with information on Thai films getting some kind of release in the U.S., Anchalee with the questions on older Hollywood films. It was through Anchalee that I was able to get the available DVDs from the Thai Film Archive. Anchalee is one of the advisors of the film festival, and due in no small part to her efforts, she has helped make Thailand more than a small blip in considering "World Cinema".

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at April 27, 2014 02:58 PM