Apart from workaholics like Hong Sang-soo, Korean film directors usually introduce a new film every two years. This also means that every two years the attention of foreign audiences is drawn to new releases of established directors. And every so often there is a whole bunch of premieres all within one year – as was the case in 2016. So it is not a coincidence that Korean cinema in this year’s Filmasia programme features mainly young filmmakers. The No. 1 box-office hit of this year was Jang Hoon’s historical drama A Taxi Driver which attracted audience by a popular mix of grand emotions and recreation of events from a recent history, namely the 1980 Gwangju Uprising. The Fortress and The Battleship Island are other examples of films based on actual events. While the former is a reconstruction of events during the Qing invasion to Korea in 1636, directed by the versatile multi-genre craftsman, Hwang Dong-hyuk, the latter is a spectacular epic film from WWII describing an escape from a Japanese working camp made by Ryoo Seung-wan, an expert on modern action thrillers. But Korean films do not only explore the past. Park Hoon-jung, who caught attention with the screenplay for I Saw the Devil which was directed by Kim Jee-woon, builds his directorial projects on ingenious conflicts between characters. This year he released the elaborate thriller V.I.P in which investigators from the South and North Korea as well as the Interpol have to join forces in the hunt for a cunning serial killer. The Villainess caused a stir in the genre of action movies, with breathtaking sequences that are both physically challenging and originally choreographed.

In addition to Korea’s box-office hits, this year’s Filmasia will also present a unique collection of Hong Kong movies selected to mark the twentieth anniversary of the former British colony handover to China. In cooperation with Create Hong Kong organisation and with the help of Hong Kong’s critic Roger Garcia, who is coming to Prague with other guests, we have selected ten motion pictures that show the stylistic and genre diversity of Hong Kong film industry. The collection includes both latest feature films like Paradox by the action master Wilson Yip, as well as iconic titles from the past two decades, such as Infernal Affairs or Love In a Puff. We are very excited that we can finally introduce several movies that we have wanted to show the Czech audience for a number of years. This is the case of PTU by Johnnie To, Ann Hui’s intimate melodrama The Way We Are, and the cult film Made in Hong Kong, directed by Fruit Chan, dealing with turbulent times and sentiments of people in the commemorated year of 1997.



This programme of films “Creative Visions: Hong Kong Cinema 1997-2017” has been curated to celebrate Hong Kong cinema over the past two decades. In that time we have seen a generation of filmmakers.

The continued creativity of Hong Kong filmmakers, has evolved from the trends established by the heady mix of New Wave artistic ambitions and action genres of the 1980s. Today for example, a New Wave pioneer like Tsui Hark has found a broad canvas for his grand visions in the blockbuster special effects films he makes in China often as co-productions with Hong Kong.

A look at films over the past 20 years allows us to trace the later careers of these pioneering filmmakers from the Hong Kong New Wave of the early 1980s, and to be impressed that their creative energies continue undiminished. Ann Hui’s The Way We Are (2008) is rooted in 1950s Cantonese cinema of domestic compassion, which captures at its heart the essential humanity of a society often characterized as materialistic. It tells its story of a working class family through what is not said – somewhat unexpected perhaps from an industry that is known for all-out action cinema. Hui’s work, including the award-winning A Simple Life (2011) shows a profound maturing of her world view which she has distilled into the essence of Hong Kong life.

Hong Kong and its cinema however do not dwell on the past. A cosmopolitan city is always on the move. As a crossroad of Asia, Hong Kong absorbs and synthesizes experiences and ideas whether in the arts or in commerce. Two filmmakers who have forcefully emerged in our time period are quite different, but in their own way, each demonstrates a synthesis of cinema.

Perhaps the most recognizable Hong Kong film director internationally, Wong Kar-Wai has created worlds of his own inflected with aesthetics and experiences not only from Hong Kong and China, but also South America, France, America and beyond. If Wong’s work is essentially a contemplation of culture and non-verbal communication (his auteurist trope of yearning is almost a preferred means of expression), this gestation finds high expression in his 2013 work The Grandmaster where different martial arts styles jostle like the babble of languages – words become fists, sentences become patterns. The syntaxes of martial arts are kicked around, thrown up in the air, understood and misunderstood. Yearning is a consequence of “lost in translation.”

In his own way, Johnnie To has also become a face of Hong Kong cinema. His prolific output comprises forays into a range of genres often reflecting the times and also the flow of global cinema, one reason why his works resonate so well with overseas audiences. To moves through different universes – the Melvillian constellation of his gangster films, a Planet Noir with a Bressonian atmosphere (PTU, The Mission), a Tati-esque construction for the musical Office, the romantic comedies that take on a host of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Western angles. Yet each film bears his distinctive signature, the sign of a true auteur who through all the filmic references, genres, conventions, emerges triumphant as a genuine original. Part of this originality stems from his fluency at handling narrative and ensemble cast, often working with a regular stable of actors that includes Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Anthony Wong, Lam Suet and for many years, Wong Tin-lam the often neglected but great director of the post-war Cantonese film era, e.g. The Wild, Wild Rose (1960) who stands as a kind of cipher for Johnnie To’s own contemporary studio-level output and the link to the rich traditions of Hong Kong cinema.

The programme also includes some staples of Hong Kong crime and action films – Infernal Affairs (2002) is renown partly because of its Oscar-winning Hollywood remake by Martin Scorsese (The Departed, 2006). But it is a work that stands on its own merits, once again synthesizing elements from east and west (including Scorsese himself!) that have served Hong Kong films so well in the past. The new Wilson Yip film Paradox takes a dark turn into the Luc Besson track of the Taken series. However, Paradox reminds us of another feature of Hong Kong cinema – its engagement with neighbouring cinemas and countries. Set in Thailand, Paradox follows an honourable tradition of Hong Kong films drawing on Thai action that stretches back even before Bruce Lee in The Big Boss. With the presence of Tony Jaa, Paradox raises again the debate between Hong Kong and Thai martial arts.

Of the younger generation who have emerged in the past 20 years, overseas and local audiences have heard and responded to the voice of Pang Ho-Cheung. In true Hong Kong tradition, Pang embodies a kind of quirkiness that is neither a whimsy nor an affectation, but grounded in reality. Watching his films in Hong Kong cinemas in the early 2000s, what has always impressed me is that the people in the audience often look like some of the people on the screen. Pang has shown himself expert at the quirky comedy which seemingly racy is surprisingly chaste and touching. From AV to Vulgaria we see a mind that revels in the morality of immorality. With his Love in the… (Puff/Buff/Cuff) group of films covering the up and down relationship of a skittish couple in Hong Kong, Beijing, Taipei, he has found a narrative to suit his delicate touch and reached a wide audience.

With films by Heiward Mak (High Noon), Derek Kwok and Clement Cheng (Gallants), Wong Chun (Mad World), Philip Yung (Port of Call), Adam Wong (The Way We Dance) among others, we are witnessing the gradual emergence of a new generation of filmmakers. To most of the world, Hong Kong cinema is characterized by action and genre films, and these younger filmmakers naturally bring a new perspective to its popular genres. Gallants pays homage to kung fu cinema and includes also the iconic Teddy Robin, perhaps one of the most versatile talents in Hong Kong popular culture. A pop singer of renown (he emerged in the 1960s), and actor, composer, director, and producer in films, Robin was one of the key members of Cinema City (others included Tsui Hark, Karl Maka) which helped bring the Hong Kong industry into the modern world. Like Eric Tsang (another Cinema City alumnus), Robin has taken it upon himself to engage with the new generation of filmmakers, helping them produce films that are rooted in a Hong Kong sensibility. Robin himself has not rested on his laurels – we welcome his new film as director and actor – Lucid Dreams in this Prague programme.

Last but not least we are pleased to include the restored 4K version of Fruit Chan’s pioneering indie film Made in Hong Kong. Produced in 1997, it seems fitting for this key work to see the digital light of day in 2017. Shot on leftover stock (provided by Andy Lau), this tale of a young, listless gangster who befriends a terminally ill teenage girl explores themes of personal identity, endings and beginnings, and individuals facing their futility.

The selection is far from comprehensive but we hope that the programme gives a flavor of the characteristics of Hong Kong cinema from the past two decades, and that this taste will leave our audiences hungry for more films from Hong Kong!

Roger Garcia