Once known for its crass commercialism and ability to turn out hundreds of films a year, Hong Kong cinema has slowed down quite a bit in the years following the handoff of the former British Colony to China. There are still a number of great directors working from the hub though, and Film Society's annual series, Hong Kong Cinema, boasts the latest films by nearly all of its leading lights. Despite SF's massive Chinese population, it's often hard to catch these regional hits, which rarely burst into mainstream theaters except for a few art-house showings and action franchises that pop now and again (Ip Man, Tsui Hark's Detective Dee), so check them out this weekend at The Vogue while you can.
Opening night begins, as it should, with the indisputable godfather of the current scene, workhorse Johnnie To (Drug War). To's latest, Blind Detective, is arguably a semi-sequel to his earlier film Mad Detective. The film, an apt showcase for superstar Andy Lau, is an only-in-Hong Kong blend of comedy, romance and action that harkens back to a pre-handoff classics. Another stalwart of Hong Kong Cinema, Wong Jing, weighs in with a massive historical epic, The Last Tycoon. Set in Shanghai in the 1930s, the action/melodrama blend boasts the return of not only HK icon Chow Yun-fat to the screen, but a nostalgic appearance by action god Sammo Hung as well. This year, for the first time I can recall, the series also makes a wise concession to fans of classic Hong Kong chop-socky with the shamelessly exciting 1984 film The Eight Diagram Pole Fighter, a Shaw Brothers treat starring kung-fu legend Gordon Liu (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) as the titular pole fighter, defending his sister from a gang of other pole-weilders.
Casual viewers may remember Singaporean director Oxide Pang from the 2002 horror mini-sensation The Eye, which he directed with his brother Danny. The sibling team has created a number of minor hits since then, but Oxide has proven a superior director on his own, crafting a number of tightly-wound fast-moving action spectacles. The Conspirators, starring notoriously tan Malay star Andy Kwok, is an example par-excellence of his ability; a tense, moody detective tale that hops between Macau, Thailand and other regional highs. The festival also screens more human-scale new works by Yan Man Yak, Kiwi Chow and Flora Lau, whose film, Bends, is gorgeously lensed by frequent Wong Kar-Wai collaborator Christopher Doyle.
SF Film Society's Hong Kong Cinema runs October 4th-6th at the Vogue Theater in the mission. Get tickets here.
The Wicker Man - Final Cut - The 40th anniversary restoration of Robin Hardy's iconic thriller, which was actually protested by actual Pagans at its original SF release in 1973, isn't the first "director's cut" of the film to emerge by a long shot, but it promises to be the last (and best). Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, Castro Theatre.
The Evil Dead - This camp horror gem from 1981 was the beginning of a lifelong love affair with actor Bruce Campbell and director Sam Raimi for many a horror geek. Skip the snore-inducing modern remake and go straight for the good stuff at midnight. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, The Clay, midnight Fri and Sat.
Mill Valley Film Festival - The Bay's most Oscar-worthy (and sometimes Oscar-baiting) film festival kicks off this weekend, boasting bold new films by Alexander McQueen (Shame) and J. C. Chandor (Margin Call) and spotlights and tributes to Dakota Fanning, Ben Stiller, Jared Leto and Z director Costa-Gavras. Smith Rafael Film Center, Marin, others. October 3-13.
Gravity - With Gravity, director Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) set out to make the most astounding 3D film ever, and it seems he may have done it. Praised as "rewriting the rules of cinema as we have known them" by The New York Times, he's dusted off a dead genre (the space film) and made something terrific, terrifying and totally new. Rotten Tomatoes: 98%, AMC Van Ness.
We Are What We Are - This chilling remake of a 2010 Mexican flick about a backwards-looking family with some very peculiar dining habits goes easy on the gore to and makes a fine addition to director Jim Mickle's (Stake Land) growing outsider horror ouvre. Rotten Tomatoes: 84%. Century 9.
Nostalghia - This sweeping vision of melancholy and longing from enigmatic Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky, his first made outside of his native Russia, took home the International Critics Prize at Cannes upon it's release, and it's still as haunting and mind-boggling today. Rotten Tomatoes: 78%, YBCA Theater.