Heiward Mak's High Noon Review

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Heiward Mak's High Noon Review

Hong Kong films are usually littered with martial arts hero's, gunslinger legends and sex-crazed boys. Not often do you get the chance to catch a glimpse of a more realistic Hong Kong, let alone see something about their rising generation. If only because High Noon shows you just that, it's a film worth mentioning here.

Full review is hidden away after the break.

While the Asian market is not actually shy of good films, not all Asian industries have a varied catalog on display. Even large ones like the Hong Kong market have gained success on a very limited base of genres. There are of course exceptions to the rule, but they remain scarce and are often hard to track down. And so it's cool to see that some of the big names in Hong Kong are redirecting some money to young and talented directors who set out to enrich the face of their film industry. Winds of September is a project produced by Eric Tsang and sports three films. All of these films are based on the same script (written by Tom Lin - director of the Taiwanese part), but are set in a different country and feature young local talent both in front and behind the camera. In my pre-Twitch writing times I already reviewed the Taiwanese Winds of September, High Noon is the Hong Kong entry (and completing the series will be a Chinese entry).

High Noon is the story about a tight group of seven boys, more concerned about hanging out than getting a good education. They regularly skip classes, date girls and get into trouble. The film is not so much concerned by telling a straight and coherent story, but puts more focus on the chemistry within the group. All boys have their input and troubles, affecting the flow of their little ensemble, but ultimately tearing it apart. As with many relationships, they are formed within a certain context, and when that context starts to fade (graduation from school for example) there is often little left to keep the relationship going.

The film is obviously the effort of a first-time director still in touch with the themes of his work. Visually Mak was able to give the film a rather youthful facade, applying different styles and effects to portray the life of the seven boys. Sometimes using a handycam look to get in close with the group, sometimes opting for static wide shots, at one time even playing with on-screen text, avatars and a group of rotating boys. Not everything is perfectly executed, but High Noon remains visually eventful and bursts with youthful enthusiasm, which adds a lot to the feel of the film. Some scenes feel a little "too real" where the film is still aiming for a stylized look, but overall it is very pleasant to behold.

The score is pretty nice too, but not as bold as the images. Mak takes a safer route by applying soft background music that peaks in only a handful of scenes. It is probably better than selecting a series of pop songs (which is usually the case with films like these) but it would've been nice to see this handled in a more adventurous way. Adding some extra spunk to the film are the actors who all fill their roles with welcome vigor. Even though they all represent some kind of cliché, they give life to their characters and help to create an interesting group dynamic. Didn't spot too many familiar faces (unless you count Eric Tsang's mini-cameo) but I didn't miss them at all.

While watching the film I had a hard time deciding whether I really liked the film or just felt glad with the fresh approach Mak was taking. While I was taken with his enthusiastic approach it doesn't always work and it does give the film a rather flimsy edge in some scenes. When the more dramatic side is introduced in the second half of the film it takes away some of the energy and adds a more subdued feel to High Noon. It is maybe a little ironic that straying away from what makes this film so interesting kind of saved the ending for me, on the other hand it wouldn't have worked without the first half of the film.

High Noon is an interesting watch, working well as a playful drama grounded in HK youth culture. There aren't too many Hong Kong films it can be compared to, though while watching I was reminded of Royston Tan's 15:The Movie several times. If you're interested to see a different side from Hong Kong cinema and if you can appreciate the adolescent styling of the film, be sure to check this one out. It's nice that people like Tsang are willing to invest money in films like this, but it won't really help the industry if nobody's watching them.

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More about High Noon

mistereshMay 26, 2009 7:52 PM

Hong Kong films are usually littered with martial arts hero’s, gunslinger legends and sex-crazed boys.

Sorry, what?

uzumakiMay 29, 2009 10:55 PM

Way to push the stereotype that HK films are nothing but artistically bankrupt action/sex romps. How many HK films did you see before reviewing this one, two? Have you never heard of Ann Hui, Derek Yee, Wong Kar-Wai, Pang Ho-Cheung, or Fruit Chan Gor? And to say that the HK film industry gained success based on a very limited base of genres is to accept the devalued notion that all HK had and has to offer is action films, a view typically held by those who know very little about the vibrancy that is the Hong Kong film industry. Hong Kong cinema's second golden age in the 1980s was due to a number of directors fresh from TV and a lot of overseas training and produced everything from social dramas to crime epics to the uncategorizable films of Tsui Hark. Do your research, or, if at first you don't succeed, give up.

Niels MatthijsJune 21, 2009 9:17 AM

Well, I appreciate your enthusiasm, but it would be nice if you could just stay with the facts. I never stated that "HK commercial cinema is garbage", as I enjoy most of it a lot.

I'm not looking down on HK cinema at all, but just as is the case with Taiwan cinema and opposed to many other countries, the balance between different genres seems a little bit off and dramas (especially about younger people) like these really are hard to find. Or maybe I'm just missing a big, blatant corner of films, I always appreciate good tips you know :)

uzumakiJune 22, 2009 12:48 AM

Edits: And as far as Taiwanese cinema, most Taiwanese films are art films funded by outside sources as the government does not support domestic film production to any great degree.

...which means a lot of overstuffed martial arts epics and crime dramas that are made for Academy Awards consideration and are void of any sort of Hong Kongness.