- Associated Press - Sunday, March 20, 2011

HONG KONG (AP) - Some of Asia’s top filmmakers screened their new movies to kick off the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival on Sunday, although the mood was subdued because of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.

Japan’s crisis cast doubt on whether its actors and directors will attend the Hong Kong festival. Popular Japanese director Shunji Iwai, a native of hard-hit Sendai city, has canceled his appearance at the Asian premiere of his first English-language movie, “Vampire.” It remains unclear whether prominent Japanese nominees like Koji Yakusho, Rinko Kikuchi and Takako Matsu will attend the awards ceremony, the Asian Film Awards, on Monday.

However, a delegation from the Tokyo International Film Festival attended Sunday’s opening ceremony.

Festival chairman Wilfred Wong expressed solidarity with Japan’s people and its film industry.

“Ever since the Hong Kong International Film Festival started 35 years ago, Japanese film has occupied an important place at the event. Our Japanese friends in the film industry have also supported the festival continuously,” Wong said. “At this difficult time, I want to deliver our sincere condolences and best wishes to the entire Japanese people, including our many friends in the film industry.”

The Hong Kong event’s two opening films were “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” a romantic comedy directed by Hong Kong veteran Johnnie To and regular partner Wai Ka-fai, and “Quattro Hong Kong 2,” which combines four shorts set in this southern Chinese financial hub made by filmmakers from Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. The omnibus work was commissioned by the Hong Kong festival.

“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart” is part of To’s recent push into the mainland Chinese market with blander fare than his signature crime thrillers, which are often too violent or gritty to pass mainland censorship. But the movie’s story of a playboy Hong Kong trader and an earnest Canadian-Chinese architect pulling all stops to win the heart of a mainland Chinese financial analyst reads like political commentary on China’s growing geopolitical clout.

To didn’t attend Sunday’s opening ceremony, but his co-director denied any political overtones in the movie.

“There is nothing like that,” Wai told The Associated Press. “This is more simple. We just wanted to capture the common dilemma that women face when choosing between two very different boys.”

The film derives much of its comedy through the unusual courtship between the main characters _ they work in neighboring office buildings and communicate by writing signs they display to each other. The narrative tool has evoked comparisons to Australian director Patrick Hughes’ hit short, “Signs,” which has received more than 6.5 million views on YouTube. Wai, however, said the Hong Kong filmmakers came up with the idea independently and only later saw “Signs.”

“If you live in Hong Kong, you’ll notice that many buildings are very close together. My home is like that,” he said.

“Quattro Hong Kong 2” draws from contributions from two Cannes-winning directors _ the Philippines’ Brillante Mendoza and Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul _ as well as Hong Kong’s Stanley Kwan and Malaysia’s Ho Yu-hang. Mendoza was named Cannes best director in 2009 for his crime thriller “Kinatay,” while Apichatpong clinched the French festival’s top prize last year with the drama “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives.”

Mendoza, who shot in Hong Kong’s flower market and Tai O, a remote fishing village known for its houses on stilts, said his short explores the generational gap in Hong Kong.

He told the AP his movie contrasts locals who cling to the past and a younger generation that is quick to adapt. “It’s about the progression of Hong Kong,” he said.

Ho, on the other hand, came up with a story of two Malaysian anti-drug agents who work with their Hong Kong counterparts.

“I brought some elements of Malaysia into this Hong Kong project because it’s very strange for me to come to Hong Kong and shoot a film about Hong Kong, which is kind of presumptuous,” he told the AP, adding that he adopted a “guerrilla-style” approach shooting in the cramped conditions of the densely populated city.




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