An opening film of this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival and the Silver Bear winner for Best Film Music at the 56th Berlin International Film Festival, Isabella by the up-and-coming Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung (彭浩翔) quietly creeps into local theaters today.
The film addresses the handover of Macau and Hong Kong to China through a father-daughter relationship.
Set on the eve of the 1999 reversion of Macau to Chinese rule, the film tells the story of a disgraced policeman named Shing (Chapman To) who has been suspended from the service and faces charges of involvement with a triad gang's smuggling activities. In the stifling summer heat, a girl named Yan (Isabella Leong) crashes into his crumbling life. After a one-night-stand with Shing, Yan claims to be his daughter, the product of a high-school relationship with Hua, who died of cancer one year previously.
Locked out of her apartment, Yan becomes desperate when her dog Isabella is thrown out on the street by her landlord. Shing feels obligated to help her find Isabella, the name Hua used when she was a teen-ager. The two gradually form a bond and find solace in reconciliation with each other and the past.
Beautifully shot in dense and contrasting tones with a sense of nostalgia that conjures up Wang Kar-wai's (王家衛) cinematic grammar, the story of a long-lost daughter reuniting with her father is a metaphor for the cultural and political complexities Hong Kong and Macau face today.
Director Pang skillfully forms a visual representation of discourses on power relations and the formulation of identity. Accentuated by composer Peter Kam's (金培達) Portuguese sound-track, the characters are destined to wander between multiple identities, swinging between Chinese ethnicity, provincial singularity and their colonial past.
Directed by: Pang Ho-cheung (彭浩翔)
Starring: Chapman To (杜汶澤) as Shing, Isabella Leong (梁洛施) as Yan, Anthony Wong (黃秋生) as Shing's boss
Taiwan Release: Today
Running time: 91 minutes
Language: Cantonese with Chinese subtitles
Emerald Horizon: Shonenko's Stories (綠的海平面)
Directed by: Kuo Liang-yin (郭亮吟)
Screening Venues: Institute of Ilan History (宜蘭縣史館) tomorrow; Taiwan Image Blog (台灣影像部落格) on May 20; Kaohsiung Municipal Film Archive (高雄市電影圖書館) from May 21 to May 26; Cultural Affairs Bureau of Hsinchu County (新竹縣文化局) on May 27; Taipei County Government Administration Building (台北縣政府行政大樓) on May 28
Running time: 65 minutes
Language: Mandarin and Taiwanese with Chinese subtitles
On a more local note, Emerald Horizon: Shonenko's Stories (綠的海平線), by documentary filmmaker Kuo Liang-yin (郭亮吟) has began an islandwide schedule of screenings which will run until the end of this month.
A film of great historical value, Emerald Horizon reveals the hitherto untold stories of Taiwanese child laborers, or shonenko, who were sent to Japan to manufacture fighter planes during WWII. Most of the 8,419 Taiwanese child laborers, aged 12 to 14, came from poor families and wished to receive an education and find paid work in Japan as promised in their contracts. But their dreams were never fulfilled as Japan surrendered to the Allied powers. Some of the children stayed on in Japan, while others returned home. Another group moved to China.
It took director Kuo and her crew four years to complete the film. They interviewed more than 40 former child laborers living in Taiwan, Japan and China, and selected eight as lead characters in the film. Through interviews and archive footage, pieces of Taiwan's lost history have been reconstructed.
"I found out about the child laborers story while working on my previous film Searching for the Zero Fighters (尋找1946消失的日本飛機) eight years ago. There weren't any records about their fate. So I took up the job myself," Kuo said.
For complete information on screening times and venues, visit the film's official Web site at www.shonenko.com.
Kuo said that the film would also be screened with English subtitles at a film festival in Taipei at the end of next month.