Thursday, September 06, 2007

In the Dark

Before embarking on a life on the road, I was the editor of the movies section for It was a position that gave me an excuse to see a ton of movies, a pastime that I've enjoyed since childhood. I knew before packing my bags that travel and moviegoing do not coexist. I understood that I would be giving up afternoons in the dark for bumpy bus rides and foreign landscapes.

I have managed to take in a few films over the past seven months, a meager selection that's mostly included Hollywood exports like "Spider-Man 3" and "The Bourne Ultimatum." My only brush with world or independent cinema on the big(ish) screen was in Singapore, where I saw Ken Loach's "The Wind That Shakes the Barley," more than a year after it played at Cannes. Bootleg DVDs are widely available throughout Southeast Asia, and I've been able to catch a few titles that way, but watching a poorly-digitized copy on an 11-inch computer screen is not my idea of a good time.

Hong Kong has a long history of moviemaking. It was once the world's third-largest producer of feature filma, after the U.S. and India. But the Hong Kong film industry is suffering through a prolonged slump, resulting in reduced film production and the closing of many cinemas.

Like the rest of Asia, there are few options for moviegoing in Hong Kong. So I did the next best thing and headed to the Hong Kong Film Archive. The Hong Kong Film Archive is located in a neighborhood cluttered with high-rise, concrete apartment complexes. It is a small institution, considering the output of the Hong Kong film industry over the years and the size of the population. The archive is focused on film acquisition and preservation, but it also presents film programs (this month: Luis Buñuel and a two-day Australian film festival) and exhibitions in a small gallery space.

Hong Kong Film Archive

On the day I visited, there were no screenings (probably a good thing as I'm not in a Buñuel state of mind), but there was a exhibition of film posters from the 1979 to the present.

Posters are no substitute for the flicker of a moving picture, but I enjoyed the exhibition. Most Hong Kong films do not make it to the U.S. and even as a dedicated cinephile I only recognized a few titles: films by Wong Kar-Wai and John Woo and the excellent thriller "Infernal Affairs" (expertly remade as "The Departed" by the Oscar-winning Marty Scorsese).

The posters were arranged thematically, giving a good sense of the breadth of Hong Kong cinema. There were buddy pictures, horror films, period pieces, prison dramas, thrillers and romantic comedies. Can a movie poster, which in the end is no more than a piece of marketing, be a work of art in and of itself? I think so, and this exhibit included a few keepers.


Bold Type, Small People


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