Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 04, 2019 6:19 pm 
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Hong Kong through a glass, darkly

This is one of those disapproving visions of urban corruption that makes everything look glamorous. Lee Cheuk-pan's debut Hong Kong feature won a raft of awards for its original and ravishingly stylish look at moral decay in a city it describes as "rotting," getting worse, but pretty on the top. Joining things together, besides the six people having some connection to the flying severed head that appears in the jaw-dropping opening shot, is the letter "G." The film playfully rings changes on the letter in a series of segments. G Major is the key of Bach's opening solo cello suite which the boy studying at the posh St Cassions school is constantly practicing in his little apartment, a scene often returned to that provides a still point of calm and beauty, if a fragile one. It's he who's faced with the flying head, along with the man who turns out to have "requisitioned" his apartment.

G words that appear on screen are Gut, Gastric Cancer, Groaning, Girdle, Gay, Gum, Gustav (Mahler and Klimt), Gospel, and finally GF, as the cello boy links with a girl he's long been eyeing in the ambiguous penultimate shot. There's a dog called Gustav, but that's deemed too pretentious and his name is changed to "Guts." Fancy G-word, simple G-word.

Simultaneously this is a crime drama and an experiment in self-conscious fractured narrative, one that takes the time to provide plenty of gorgeous, richly colored urban images. If Hong Kong is really doomed as the film suggests, this makes an elegant liebestod. Besides the letter G, a voiceover narration holds the fragments together, as do the constant references to the city.

The tall, pale schoolboy perfecting his Bach is Tai (pale, sculptural newcomer Lam Sen). As he's playing his cello, a man lets in a prostitute and, pulling her hair back savagely, fucks her, while Tai goes on. It's then that the severed head flies in. (This is, by the way, Apartment 6G.) The police come and question Tai, who claims amnesia.

Tai and his St. Cassians classmate Don (Kyle Li) turn out to have been drawn into criminal doings, and Tai's flat has been taken over by a very corrupt cop, Lung (Chapman To of Tsui Wai-kyung's two Infernal Affairs cop movies). Lung's wife dies of gastric cancer and he hooks up with a glamorous but jaded Mainland sex worker, Xao Mei ((Huang Lu)), whose red lipstick and red dress are screen poetry thanks to Karl Tam's lovely cinematography.

Also important is Yu Ting (Hanna Chan), a classmate of Tai and Don and the daughter of Lung, who is smart but constantly bullied. ( "I'm not liked, but I don't care," her voiceover declares.) Yu Ting seems pure as the driven snow, till she becomes involved giving blow jobs to the straitlaced "Christian" teacher Markus (Alan Yuk) and a scandal ensues. (There doesn't seem to be a G-word for cunnilingus, alas.) This event shows there is decadence behind the prim school uniforms the youths in the story are always wearing.

Even though I watched this film under conditions considerably less than ideal, I was impressed by both the sensibility and the style. I almost felt I might be in the presence of a talent worthy of Wong Kar-wai and with the same unique, fractured vision, sui generis, heavy with conceits and eroticism. One must admire the well-worked out screenplay of Kurt Chiang Chung-yu as well as what Richard Kuipers in his admiring Variety review refers to as "Barfuss Hui’s outstanding stream-of-consciousness editing," not to mention Joe Ng's deft score, which neatly traces, and guides us in following, the film's mercurial mood-shifts.

One to watch - not just the film, but the director. This is yet another calling card for Hon Kong's maintaining its unique identity and independence, now again in question.

In Cantonese.

G Affairs/G saat, G殺105 mins., debuted theatrically in Hong Kong and Taiwan in Nov. 2018 and in Japan in Mar. 2019. It has appeared in three festivals: Osaka, Mar. 2019; Fantasia, and NYAFF Jul. 2019. Screened for this review at the latter.
NYAFF Showtimes
Tuesday, July 9
6:30 PM


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