The world premiere of Ip Man: The Final Fight, from Hong Kong cult icon and veteran director Herman Yau, opened the 37th Hong Kong International Film Festival on March 17 (runs till April 2). Starring Anthony Wong, Eric Tsang, Gillian Chung, Anita Yuen, Jordan Chan and Marvel Chow, this is a unique biopic of the oft-filmed Wing Chun martial arts master (1893–1972) in his later life.
The festival closes with the Asian premiere of (appropriately titled) Closed Curtain, winner of the Silver Bear for Best Script at this year's Berlin Film Festival, co-directed by Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi.
Closed Curtain is Panahi's follow-up to last year's critically praised This Is Not a Film, despite a 20-year filmmaking ban in his native Iran. Mirroring Panahi's own house arrest, the two protagonists – a screenwriter keeping a dog that Islamic law deems to be unclean, and a young woman on the run after getting caught at an illicit beach party – hide in a villa on the Caspian Sea. Fiction blurs with reality as the director enters the scene and the curtains are pulled open.
Following the condemnation of Closed Curtain and its reception at the Berlin Film Festival, Iranian government officials seized the passports of the film's co-director, Kambuzia Partovi, and actor Maryam Moghadam on March 1.With passports confiscated, Partovi and Moghadam were not be able to personally promote the film in Hong Kong – and Panahi remains under house arrest.
With over 300 titles from 68 countries and regions, the program is eclectic, boasting 56 world, international or Asian premieres. “In recent years, Hong Kong has seen a proliferation of film festivals with distinct themes and styles, offering audiences countless choices beyond mainstream productions,” says Wilfred Wong, chairman of the festival's governing body. “Indeed we love cinema for its very diversity, and as one of the most established and largest film festivals in Asia, the HKIFF has dedicated itself to presenting quality works from all over the world, while drawing luminaries and young talents from the industry to engage with the public through seminars, exhibitions, parties, and much more.”
The diversity of Chinese cinema is on display here, starting with the world premiere of Ronny Yu's star-studded period war drama, Saving General Yang, with Adam Cheng, Ekin Cheng, Chun Wu, Raymond Lam and Vic Zhou; Taiwanese American Arvin Chen's light-hearted gay dramedy Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, set in a colourful Taipei and starring Richie Jen and Mavis Fan; and the premiere of Johnnie To's chilling thriller Drug War, in which Hong Kong's heartthrob Louis Koo and China's beloved veteran Xun Honglei are locked in a life-or-death cat-and-mouse game.
The HKIFF showcases foreign-language films beyond mainstream cinema hoping to broaden the cinematic horizons of local audiences. The Passions of Latin American Cinema and Swedish Sextet, two special sections in the programme this year, feature fourteen new films in total, offering Hong Kong audiences a broader look at cinema and life in other parts of the world. For instance, Mikael Marcimain's directorial debut Call Girl, winner of the FIPRESCI prize at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival, captures the look and atmosphere of Sweden's decadent 1970s, recounting the true story of a pair of 14-year-olds recruited by a well-connected brothel madame, whose clients include some powerful politicians.
The program also showcases eight winners from the 63rd Berlin Film Festival, together with two nominees for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars: No and Rebelle (aka War Witch), the latter just a week after its Australian release and the former one month before.