NYAFF 09 Review: HIGH NOON##Posted byTodd Brownat 9:11am.
[Our thanks to Ben Umstead for the following review.]Make no mistake, Mak Hei-Yan (a humble woman of 24) dazzles in her first feature film outing. She’s kind of on the opposite end of the youth film spectrum compared to David Gordon Green; While Green’s
is quietly filled with a lazy, dazed malaise and wonder, Mak’s film is pulsating with a heated concrete kineticism; an nightmarish intensity and angst, conjuring mid-century movements like Neo-Realism, but also trying out the cinematic vocabulary that has been developing in the last decade with such flicks as
Run Lola Run
City of God
. As much as it is a film that drinks deeply from the cinematic well, it is firmly grounded in the time and place of Hong Kong now and the hyper reality of youth the world over.There is no doubt that the digital age is here and our next generations will be wired from the womb. But “High Noon” isn’t overly concerned with the disconnect brought on by technology, more often than not it acknowledges the camaraderie, and most of all the casual everyday use of cell phones, cameras, video swapping and texting. This is how things are now and people can get hurt by carelessness just as easily, if not more so in the digital age.The opening act, which introduces us to an eclectic gang of seventeen-year-old boys in their last year of school, is treated as a comedy and the weakest link in the film. With nicknames like Smoothie, Sticky Dick, Nerd and Addie the boys get up to the usual hijinks of youth –skipping school, drinking, shoplifting. Here the film blares, pops, and bursts both in excessive and often dizzying visuals and sound. It tries to establish the ramshackle daze and rambunctiousness of the group but feels to be taking no direction rather quickly and cluelessly. I had a hard enough time keeping track of the boys from the get go, so I began to wonder where the film was going and then all of a sudden Mak reigns in control with one sugar infused meditative scene. It takes place at a playground; Lying down on the merry go round the boys look up at the night sky, laughing about their present and contemplating their future. From then on out Mak’s film adequately, if not astonishingly, shines and shocks till the very end.As each boys’ shadows (trouble at home, drugs, girls) come to the forefront of the film the gang’s strength is tested. As much as this once again sounds like familiar territory it isn’t. This is in part thanks to Mak’s creative instinct and eye for composition. She and cinematographer, Chan Ho-yin, are able to project the boys’ feelings across every inch of the urban landscape until the screen pulsates. It is also due to the boys’ naturalism (Non-actors, Mak found many of them in school yards and basketball courts). Certain situations may feel at first telegraphed - a venerable cornucopia of “youth in revolt” acts - yet through them none of it ever feels false.In Hong Kong the film was rated certificate III (their equivalent of NC-17 or M), though it shows no graphic sex or violence so to speak. It is all in how Mak and her fellow editors, Cheung Siu-hong and Chan Chui-hing, effectively cut a scene together, in the use of sound, reaction or counterpoint shots to suggest something of a graphic nature rather than to straight up show it. These moments can be rather harrowing, if not down right shocking and sometimes extremely upsetting; a hand, a foot on the edge of a balcony, a celebratory crowd, fireworks, a whoosh, fireworks, smiles, cheers, the moment just after impact. Mak proves capable in painting the horror and loneliness of adolescence, the fear of abnormal vs. normal, yet the film is patterned with moments of tranquility, introspection and just plain youthful exuberance, like the scene at the merry go round.While at times the film is long-winded, and meanders on the outset, Mak shows such promise as a visualist and editor, you can tell her pulse is firmly fixed on the truth of cinema… which is… as she said to me in our interview after the screening; ” I wanted to make a film where you might not understand it all, but you at least feel it.” Just see it and feel it. She’s certainly succeeded in that as across the board there are images simply exuding emotion from frame to frame that have stayed with me for days; the dusk to dawn solitary work of catching and cleaning clams, dry humping one’s girlfriend like a fish out of water on the sidewalk, the lunch circles where food is shared all around, the desperation in trying to stuff oneself into your mother’s suitcase before she leaves again, kicking, kicking, kicking burning trash as it scatters, waiting on the front steps of a 7-Eleven with bags of ice and a bloodied little boy, no more than eight, hands mangled, crying at the top of his lungs, saying how much it hurts. A carefree outing to the beach, the hope, the calmness, in warm waters… at high noon.Review by Ben Umstead
(An interview with director Mak to follow later this week)“High Noon” screens as part of the New York Asian Film Festival at the IFC Center, Tuesday June 23rd, 1:05PM