We have seen Hollywood, Bollywood and Lollywood but how many of us have seen a Chinese film minus Jackie Chan? And no, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon doesn’t get you points. We loved Australian TV soaps Neighbours and The Young and the Restless but do we know anything about Australian cinema?
The upcoming Dawn Film Festival brings to you a taste of cinema films from China, Korea, Japan, Canada, Italy, US, UK, France, Switzerland and Australia. There are films based on true stories, thrillers, passionate romance, comedy and war crime. So take your pick and keep the corn popping from Dec 6-8 in Karachi at Cineplex/Cinepax, Napa; then on Dec 7-8 in Lahore at Cineplex/Cinepax, Al Hamra Art and also in Islamabad at Cineplex/Cinepax, Bahria Complex. Here’s a preview of what’s in store:
Under the Hawthorn Tree (1998)
Adapted from a true story novelised by Aimi as Hawthorn Tree Forever, the film is typical of China in the ’70s. A tale of pure young love set during the Cultural Revolution, laid back and lushly shot. Devoid of political undercurrents, the film is said to be ‘unquestionably, Zhang Yimou’s simplest work’. It is not unabashedly romantic and the young couple’s innocence and modesty endorses the conservative characterisation and mood of the film, while the meticulous aura of period detail reflects the film’s melancholic stance.
Jingqiu in the last year of high school is sent to Xiping Village to learn from the peasants, and to conduct research for the school curriculum where she meets young, city-born intellectual Sun. Girl meets boy, boy likes girl and courts her with little gifts and frequent visits. When Jingqiu returns to the city, they continue to meet secretly. They promise each other to see the blossoming of a hawthorn tree (the landmark of Xiping Village) which becomes a symbol of their longing and loyalty. No, they don’t dance around it, nor sing songs but the film proudly promotes its tagline of being ‘the cleanest romance in history’.
Under the Hawthorn Tree unfolds mostly from a feminine perspective and highlights how the harmless pursuit of happiness is systematically obstructed by collective ideology — which is not an alien concept in our culture. The production quality is top drawer, especially the lighting.
Still Walking (2008)
Hirozaku Kore-eda’s sentimental journey highlights Japan’s Yokohama family’s history and emotional dynamics in the simplest possible way. The film limits itself to one day and night, most of it spent inside a house in a small seaside town where they gather every year at this time to mark the anniversary of the death of the elder son who drowned in the sea 15 years ago.
There’s a natural flow of small hatreds, resentments, joys and insecurities, superbly caught by every member of the cast but it is a messier situation than you think without pointing morals. At the end, the inner dynamics of the family are as clear in your mind as though a psychologist doodled a flow chart.
Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005)
This Korean blockbuster is as exciting as kimchi. It is the story of a remote little village where the residents live simple quiet lives, oblivious of the conflict going on in their country to the point that they have never seen guns!
An American pilot crashes just outside the village, disrupting their lives. If that wasn’t enough, a group of North Korean and South Korean soldiers find themselves stranded in the small village, too. How they accidentally destroy the little town’s food supply, disconnect and then reconnect with a dash of romance, goofy comedy, war drama, tragedy, action and social commentary makes up the rest of the film.
Memories of Murder (2003)
Based on a true story, this thriller centers on two detectives tracking a serial killer and is perhaps better than a lot of Hollywood films of this genre.
This shining example of the Korean new wave cinema will take your mind to Silence of the Lambs, Zodiac and other films based on serial killers while you get your fair share of cops and corpses in the backdrop of 1986, the year before the Korea’s first democratic elections, with signs of unrest everywhere and not just inside the headquarters where the detectives work.
The fun begins when you realise that Memories of Murder presents you with a possible suspect, and you have to decide if the evidence is good enough to speculate who the killer is!
The King and the Clown’s Love Story (2005)
No one expected this film to be the best-seller of 2005, as at the time of production it had all the elements to crash at the Korean box-office — a small budget, lack of big names and a controversial plot.
The bold film explores same-sex relationships that have been cleverly woven into the storyline in a curious manner, leaving the conservative Korean (and Pakistani) audiences deeming it not more than a love story between three males, rather than focusing on the morality angle. Moreover, the moral of the story is social class differences and friendship.
The relationship between the two clowns was never explained to the audience and their conversations have innuendo but no concrete confirmation. The performances and the cinematography are incredible, and if you are open-minded, The King and the Clown’s Love Story leaves you in awe at the end.
The Unforgiven (2005)
The award-winner is a feature-length graduation thesis film from undergraduate director Yoon Jong-bin. Despite its rough edges due to technical limitations and a low budget, the film grapples with the difficult subject of the psychological and physical violence of the lengthy and compulsory military service in Korea with an admirable level of thoughtfulness and honesty. With its clever flashback structure, the film has the outline of a mystery, and you will find the intimate character study of Tae-jeong and Seung-young endearing.
Don’t expect a professionally polished genre film nor a glorious ‘message’ but an honest, somewhat confrontational, character-driven drama.
Sonny Boy (2011)
The film stars Ricky Koole, one of Holland’s best actresses and begins in the 1920s, taking its characters through the end of the World War 2 with finely recreated period scenes.
Sonny Boy is based on a Dutch best-seller by Annejet van der Zijl which recounts the true story of an interracial romance spanning decades. Rika, separated from her husband, rents a room to Waldemar, a young black student from Surinam and here begins a passionate love affair despite the inflamed prejudice of their Dutch neighbours. The film covers so many hot-button topics that it sometimes seems like a Dutch version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner crossed with Judgment at Nuremberg.
Bon Voyage (2011)
A portrait of a middle-class Dutch family in transition which appears disarmingly gentle while there is turbulence just beneath the surface.
The Verbeeks are driving off for a three-week summer vacation in France when a phone call informs them of the family patriarch being taken gravely ill. The car turns around and takes you to the Verbeek’s pleasant home in a Dutch suburb. Each character had a plan that now changes for better or worse. Director Rogaar explores the pains of growing up, summing up and moving on, acceptance of mortality and immortality and a beautiful interplay of generations.
The Murmuring (1995)
Depicting war atrocities in depth, this Korean documentary film is about how women were abducted by the Japanese government to forcibly serve as sex slaves for the Japanese Army during World War 2.
The women who are now in their golden years have broken the silence to tell their stories. These six women victimised during the war live in a house they call “Nanum” in Seoul, and learn to read and write and paint in their endeavour to overcome the wounds that are still healing despite the decades that have passed.
Farewell My Mountain (2004)
This documentary is set in the charming backdrop of a Swiss mountain village where Robert Guillet, a cheese maker, is probably living his 54th and last season.
While giving you a taste of Swiss life and culture, Farewell My Mountain explores the declining Alpine life and questions the future of the craftsmen in the mountain villages of Switzerland who have no land or cattle to leave behind to the younger generation.
The cinematography captures the Alps in all its essence.
The Castle (1997)
Working-class, tow-truck driver and father of four Darryl Kerrigan (Michael Caton) passionately loves his Melbourne home and family, despite the fact that his children are underachievers and his home is practically in the back yard of a major international airport!
The rest of this Australian comedy is about Kerrigan’s fight through the legal system to keep his home.