VIFF 2011: QUATTRO HONG KONG 2 Review
Quattro Hong Kong 2 is the second instalment in a series of short films funded by and intended to promote the Hong Kong International Film Festival. This year's four shorts come from Brilliante Mendoza (Philippines), Ho Yuchang (Malaysia), Apichatpong Weerasethakal (Thailand), and Stanley Kwan (Hong Kong). Unlike recent compendiums Paris Je T'aime, or Tokyo!, this collection is rather short--all four films total just 65 minutes.
Purple: Mendoza's opener is a sweet, docu-style glimpse at two seemingly unrelated characters; an aging widower celebrating his wedding anniversary in his wife's memory, and a young man having relationship issues with his girlfriend (who never appears onscreen). Purple could have been a memorable snapshot of two distinct demographics--and their feelings of loneliness and disconnect--if it wasn't cheapened with poor English. Actually, the English used is technically correctly phrased, but the actors seemingly were not native speakers, which causes everything uttered to sound stiff, insincere and awkward. A simple change to have them speak Cantonese instead, or really whatever language they were comfortable with, could have solved this. Unfortunately, more often than not, Purple sounded like a badly dubbed HK melodrama from the 80's.
Open Verdict: Director of last year's excellent At the End of Daybreak (which also played VIFF at the time), Ho Yuchang, delivers what is pretty easily the best of the bunch in Open Verdict. Concerning a Malaysian man staying in a small hotel, smuggling exotic reptiles into Hong Kong and the cops trying to track him, the film is (among other things) a charming, eccentric look at the relationship between HK-ers and Malaysians. Specifically, the difference between a Chinese-Malaysian, and a "Malay". Director Ho was on hand for a charismatic Q&A.
M Hotel: Weerasethakal has been a festival and critical darling for the past few years, so perhaps he has enough cred to essentially do whatever he wants in a case like this. His short is 12 minutes of two young men, sitting in a hotel window, chatting and taking pictures of each other, occasionally distracted by something happening outside. The film is unsubtitled, with the audio (and to a smaller extent, the video) obscured by a disorienting sort of underwater effect. It's interesting and strange, certainly, but feels ultimately inconsequential.
13 Minutes in the Life Of...: Veteran filmmaker Stanley Kwan provides the final short, which is essentially a brief bus ride through Hong Kong--and the overheard conversations that take place during it. The characters discuss topics from shark's fin soup to mundane romantic issues, in a casual, organic way. The effect is somewhat undermined by the film's abrupt ending and on-the-nose final line, but it's good nonetheless.