I’ve been spoiled for culture this month! Most recently, I attended the Taipei Film Festival, or TAIPEIFF. Having previously enjoyed the many different film festivals offered in Hong Kong, I was super enthused to get the program and spent a rainy Sunday afternoon flicking through the program in a cafe to work out which ones I wanted to see and then cross-referencing that with my schedule to make sure I could go. There is something so exciting at the prospect of having a world’s worth of films to choose from. After having made my decisions, I went got my tickets from 7-Eleven. The program have vague instructions on how to go about doing this but I needed Chinese-speaking assistance really. I wanted to get the cheaper bulk-buy discount (6 tickets for $999 – the combined individual price would have been $1200), so first I had to use the i-Bon machine do that, and then a week or so later (when the individual film tickets went on sale), I had to go back to the i-Bon with the code on the bulk ticket to select the ones I wanted to see. In some ways this is a more convenient process in that it can be done wherever you are at any time or day or night, but it’s not especially foreigner-friendly. Perhaps that’s why there were a lot fewer foreigners there compared to similar events in Hong Kong.
It was a tiring two weeks, with screenings after work or in the mornings before work but I feel culturally satiated now so it was definitely worth it. My only not so happy thought is that gender inequality was a strong theme through all of the movies I watched and while some of the films were possibly setting out to address this issue, in others it was just a fact of life. Maybe my choice of movies is to blame there, and maybe it is just the reality, but either way, I’m looking forward to Taipei International Queer Festival later in the year, hopefully that can give me some more balance or lightness, (or perhaps just escapism).
These were the films I went to:
The Foolish Bird (笨鳥)
China / 2017 / Ryuji Otsuka + Huang Ji
There was a Q&A with the ones of directors at the end of this film where she revealed that they had felt duty-bound to tell the stories of all the the women who spoke to them after their debut film, The Egg and the Stone, and in that sense, Lynn, the young protagonist is an amalgamation of the suffering of many young women in China. Life seems bleak, cruel and pretty empty – even the weather seems intent on adding to Lynn’s struggles as perpetual downpours are part of daily life in this small city in Hunan Province. Whilst filming this, the directors rented a house in the neighbourhood and hired non-actors to play all the parts (I think, although I think the main cast must have received some training), and then they shot hours and hours, just following this young left-behind girl around as she lived her life, went where young people go and did what young people do when there’s no one to answer to. Although the film is long, this slow unfurling really is worthwhile, it allows the reality of Lynn’s life to be told delicately. We met one of Teresa’s friends after the screening, he’s a film professor in Hong Kong and apparently it is a miracle that this film got screened here, it was billed to be in the Hong Kong International Film Festival earlier in the year, it was on the program but it was voluntarily withdrawn. It surprised me to hear that since Hong Kong has challenged the censors before with films like 10 Years which won the 35th Hong Kong Film Awards despite and which was screened in public locations all across Hong Kong after its short run in the cinemas was terminated. I suppose the fact that it was a locally produced film might have helped maintain Hong Kongers’ interests for long enough for it to gain some momentum. Unsurprisingly, The Foolish Bird has so far been unsuccessful in securing screening rights in the mainland.
India / 2017 / Sanal Kumar Sasidharan
I probably would choose to give this one a miss if I could go back and choose my films again. Unscripted and shot in one night, it was an exercise in building up the tension for absolutely no reward. This was all the more frustrating because the director looked to be grappling with some issues which are worthy of being aired, the safety of women in India and the double standards of causal misogyny and goddess worship in conservative patriarchal societies.
The Hounds of Love
Australia / 2017 / Ben Young
I feel I should start this by saying that this film is not going to be winning any awards for feminist film of the year, (rebellious teenage girl selected as a victim whilst disobeying her mother, first teenage girl victim is left pretty much nameless, pretty sure it wouldn’t pass the Bechdel test), with that caveat out of the way, I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed this one, in fact it was my favourite film out of all six that I saw and the one that my mind has kept returning to. It was an exceptionally tight and tense thriller which had unbearable, anxiety inducing situations right up to the final scene. The gear shifts from mundane to brutal and several extended, beautifully shot slow motion scenes heightened the repulsion and fear. It also had some good music: Cat Stevens and The Cure along with some queasy usage of Christmas songs.
South Korea / 2016 / Sang-chan Kim
This was my second solo viewing of the festival and this film grew on me as I watched, mostly because the film allowed the characters’ details to be painted in layer-by-layer as their interactions with different people gradually revealed more about them. This helped explain the motivations behind some of their actions – each time a new character was introduced I struggling to like or relate to them at first, but upon finding out more it became easy to soften and want to see them overcome their troubles. The basic premise is that there is a struggling, small town karaoke bar where – each for their own reason – a collection of outsiders have holed up and are escaping the world outside. Almost all of the film is set in the dated interior of Addiction Karaoke, and three of the four main characters almost never leave which makes the whole film feel at times claustrophobic. This setup presents moments of visual kitschness and humour as well as showing the uglier side of humanity.
A Decent Woman (Los Decentes)
Argentina / 2016 / Lukas Valenta Rinner
I really enjoyed the majority of this film, I liked the pacing, I liked the camera work and the colours, I enjoyed seeing the relationships between the characters, I was intrigued by Belen’s awkward physicality and I loved the banal hilarity of watching humans go about daily activities sans clothes. What I didn’t enjoy so much was the ending. Aparently this director has form with abrupt gear changes – he’s claimed that he chose this ending to “provide catharsis” and I’m not sure I would have known how to end it myself, but still, I’m sure there was another way.
Town in a Lake (Matangtubig)
The Philippines / 2015 / Jet Leyco
I got wrong footed on this one – I didn’t pay enough attention to the abductors in the opening scenes and as such I was left struggling to catch up the whole way. I think that the crime at the centre of this film was perpetrated by two officials, but I’m not really sure. It was hard to make out detail anyway since so much of this film made use of very dim lighting, details were lost to the murk. It felt almost like maybe a similar thing has happened with the subtitles, sometimes I felt that I must have missed some nuance of speech which would have explained a characters actions. Everything that I’d read about this film before going to see it suggested that it talked about corruption and media (over)involvement in the lives of grieving families, which is true, but it felt like I was missing something. Towards the end there was a supernatural element added to the melee which was just an extra confusion for me.