On the 2nd of November I attended the East Winds Festival which is the UK’s only major showcase of East Asian cinema outside London and the first of it’s kind taking place in the midlands; Coventry university to be exact. The film festival is a celebration of East Asian film and culture; the festival showcases the work of artists from Hong Kong, China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam in genres ranging from action and horror through to comedy and romance. I attend the 3rd day of the 4 day festival to see that the festivities were in full swing with: TV cameras set up, staff in traditional east Asian attire, Japanese video games being demonstrated and beautiful origami birds hanging from the ceiling of the Hub where the screenings took place.
Wandering through the hub, before the first film of the day-Triad, I was viewing trailers of the films being premiered here I was impressed by the diversity of them all seeing that was a film for every personality. Coming into the festival with no experience of Japanese cinema I was intrigued by the trailers and film cardboard cuts on display. The event was sponsored by Nissan the car manufacturer which provided note pads and pens which came in handy when writing notes for my upcoming film reviews also a few of their cars were dotted around the university campus decorated with the East Winds logo. The whole event is hosted by the universities East Asian Film Society whom are extremely passionate about cinema, I found it rather inspiring that a university society could stir up such a buzz and be associated with Third Window Films, the UK’s largest distributor of Japanese film.
The first of the films I saw was called Triad, which is all based around the underground societies of Chinese transnational organised crime organisations called as the name suggests; Triad. Directed by Daniel Chan this gangster action film stars William Chan Wai-Ting as an unassuming Mongkok student who after him and his mother are saved from bullies at the local market by member of the Triad decides himself that he would also like to join the gang with the initial intentions of looking after his mother but this quickly change into something much darker.
If you’re a blood thirsty testosterone filled male I’m sure this film would appeal to you as the action kicks off right at the start of the film as we are thrown back in time to 1997 where the peace is disturbed and three friends William, Edward and Derek are beaten by thugs in the area as they try and fail to stand up to them but are saved by a member of the Triad. In awe of this mysterious life as a Triad member they beg to be apart of the gang and are warned that this life style is not ‘fun’ and isn’t for those who have the chance of a bright fuether ahead of them but undeterred they join, with a series of initiation tasks such as being tattooed and blood bonding all three friends join the Triad.
However it’s not all fighting and brother bonding as there is something there for the more female friendly audience in the form of William’s no nonsense love interest played by the beautiful Michelle Wai, whom we were lucky enough to meet after the screening. The on screen chemistry between the two wasn’t exactly smoking hot more of a mild simmer but still enough to tug at your heart strings when things weren’t exactly going their way.
The film spans a decade showing the ups and downs the three friends being apart of the Triad including some truly shocking fight scene which were epic verging on the gruesome and the tragedy of choosing money over love.
The cinematography of the film was very true to the Japanese style often panning dramatically over each character and in major scenes of the film cutting in with a piece of music with lyrics to convey the essence of what had just happened or the consequences of the scene to the audience in order to make an impact it. To me though, watching as a westerner, I thought splicing in dramatic music to a slow motion clip seemed too cliquey and almost comical as it reminded me of a movie spoof of some kind.
Personally I really enjoyed this film especially considering I was made to read subtitles. I’d only ever seen one subtitled foreign film before attending this film festival and that was only by accident as my friend originally thought the film was in English! Though I initially found it difficult to alternate from viewing the happings on screen and reading the subtitles I managed to do both after a while even forgetting that it was in Japanese I was so engrossed with this fast passed never boring film.
Though there were some flaws; such as the illogical way one of the main charters dies as I saw that there were other more obvious options for him to take that wouldn’t lead to his death, so as a result the death did not impact me as much as it maybe should have because I felt as though he could have saved himself if he wanted to. Plus I thought all the characters were rather underdeveloped and the actors were limited because the characters they played experiences that made them who they are as people weren’t really explored.
Overall I really loved the film even with a few flaws here and there. It managed to keep the audience at the edge of their seat the entire movie plus the ending had a really interesting twits that surprised me considering the film followed a rather stereotypical path the ending really made you walk away rethinking the whole film.
After the film we were delighted to be included in a Q&A session with the lead actress and love interest in the film model turned actress Michelle Wai. She explained with her translator on hand that her life is so different from the one she was portraying in the film that she found it difficult to do but the 2-year research the filmmakers did on the Triad films portray the way of life in the most accurate way they can manage. Michelle also mentioned that her favourite western actress as Natalie Portman and would like to act in similar roles as she has. Wai also expressed her fears of being seen as a sex symbol and not taken seriously as an actress as she explains that Hong Kong media seem to only force on love her love scenes, which puts pressure on the rising star.
The second film I watched was The Midas Touch which is about a successful debt collector named Chiu, he takes pity on a group of wannabe starlets when he goes to collect the debt from the agency they are signed with. Naively thinking that he can do a better job in launching their careers, Chiu takes over the company in lieu of the debt but starts to realise he may have bitten off more than he can chew. The film is directed by Andrew Fung whom we were lucky enough to snag a Q∓A with at the end of the screening also.
The film is a slapstick comedy with a few funny moments dotted around the film especially the starting sequence of the film where the bumbling Chiu is mistakenly arrested and the classic gag of his trousers dropping takes effect. Another funny moment is when the 7 wannabes show what ‘talents’ they possess which earned a few laughs from the crowds. However as the film progressed the funnier moments dwindled and the film became less of a comedy and more heartfelt as Chui becomes more desperate and hires experienced talent manager Suen to aid him. The relationship between these two characters is not clear at all and I had a hard time deciphering whether or not us as an audience we’re suppose to link them together romantically or not.
The cinematography of this film was very good and had elements that often reminded me of a Hollywood blockbuster as the sets were colourful, interesting to observe and the lighting very good as the whole look of the film was very pleasing to the eye. Nothing partially stood out as cheap or out of place in the film which kept me, as an audience members, attention focused on the screen because if the cinematography failed to do this I’m sure the over acting of the cast members would have gotten to me greatly.
I understand that this is a slapstick comedy but even then the overacting almost forced looking behaviour of some cast members made the plot unbelievable and I was not invested in the film at all. Personally I prefer wittier and verbal comedy than slapstick, I didn’t think there were enough laugh out load moments in the film and when the characters were facing serious issues the scenes felt rather uncomfortable. This could be because as director Andrew Fung mentioned in the Q&A session the wanna be starlets cast in the film were just that- with no formal training. I suppose the initial idea of this was to create a sense of realism as the girls are more or less playing themselves however I feel like this failed miserably as their performance on screen was amateurish. This was only made worse and more amplified by the presence of actual actors interacting with the untrained.
To end I would say this film is generic and forgettable as the script is mediocre and isn’t as cleverly executed as it could of been. I see potential in the concept of looking deeper into celebrity culture and making fun of it but this film is a half hearted attempt at doing so.