The 36th Hong Kong International Film Festival is still going strong more than a week into its impressive programme of World Cinema. Today's viewing included a couple of notable independent films from two of Asia's more interesting and less explored countries, as well as a revisit of arguably the most interesting zombie movie of last year.
Day 9 (31 March)
Postcards From The Zoo (dir. Edwin, Indonesia)
Winner of this year's Edward Yang New Talent Award, Indonesian director Edwin delivers his second feature film, following the well-received Blind Pig Who Wants To Fly in 2008. Postcards depicts the life of Lana, abandoned in Jakarta's zoo when she was just a small child. She grew up in the beatnik community of homeless drifters/unofficial attendants who live on the grounds and help maintain the zoo and care for the animals. Now a wide-eyed young woman, Lana (Ladya Cheryl) will soon be released from captivity and forced to fend for herself in the big scary city, but how will she survive with only a cowboy-clad magician (Nicholas Saputra) to look out for her? The film works best during its most still, unobtrusive moments, when it depicts the animal residents at rest and play in their enclosures. The elephants, tigers, and especially the giraffe appear both majestic and serene - and this is not a film about poor treatment or living conditions. However, when it attempts to develop a plot amongst its human characters, the film is less successful and in the second half appears to be drawing parallels between working in a zoo and in a massage parlour and claiming the two environments are not entirely dissimilar. But even if the film's message is somewhat confused, it is beautifully shot and successfully captures moments of profound tranquility.
The Woman In The Septic Tank (dir. Marlon N. Rivera, The Philippines)
A scathing satire on the current state of Filipino Cinema, where ravaged poverty porn is embraced with open arms on the international festival circuit, while more commercial fare is shuned for being lowbrow and impenetrable. Two ambitious young filmmakers (Kean Cipriano and JM de Guzman) struggle to get their low budget indie film into production so they can surf the festival wave all the way to the Oscars. However their story of a poverty-stricken mother of seven who is forced to sell one of her kids to a known pedophile becomes increasingly compromised as they battle production problems ranging from funding to casting and location scouting. Featuring a hilarious performance from local superstar Eugene Domingo as the prima donna they target for the lead role, Rivera displays a keen understanding of the international film festival circuit as well as a smart, knowing sense of humour. The film also gives this very site a namecheck, for which we tip our collective hat to Sr. Rivera.
Juan of the Dead (dir. Alejandro Brugues, Cuba)
I had already seen Brugues' surprisingly entertaining and politically-aware film when it played at Fantastic Fest back in September, but I still found myself at the packed midnight screening here at HKIFF. Suffice to say that the film stands up extremely well to a second viewing, with the music and the great use of Havanan locations standing out in particular. Some of the jokes certainly hit a more brutal vein than perhaps some Western viewers are used to, but more often than not the gags hit home with inventiveness and confidence. For a zombie movie to be remembered for any reason is impressive enough in this current oversaturated climate; that Juan impresses so consistently and repeatedly in its 100 minutes makes it essential viewing for all fans of the cinematic undead.
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