Published: 10:10, April 5, 2024 | Updated: 16:57, April 5, 2024
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Cinema nouveau
By Mathew Scott

The 48th Hong Kong International Film Festival is packed with firsts — from a tete-a-tete with Oscar-nominated director Martin McDonagh to a concert featuring music composed on the spot. Mathew Scott reports. 


The ongoing 48th edition of Hong Kong International Film Festival has certainly cast its net wide in curating a program that boasts more than 190 films from 62 countries and regions. The festival is hosting five world premieres, six international premieres and 64 Asian premieres across its 12-day run. 

From the outset, the festival’s ambition has been to cater to those interested in the craft of filmmaking. This year HKIFF’s ever-popular master classes featured the British-Irish multiple Oscar-nominee Martin McDonagh (The Banshees of Inisherin, 2022) and talks by the likes of veteran Spanish director Victor Erice (The Spirit of the Beehive, 1973).

All Shall Be Well (2024), directed by Ray Yeung. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

All the Long Nights (2024), directed by Shô Miyake. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Albert Lee, executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society, which runs the annual HKIFF, is pleased to have engineered McDonagh’s maiden Hong Kong visit. 

“Over the past decade, I have talked to many Asian and Chinese filmmakers, and they all think very, very highly of Martin. I know a lot of people who are excited by the chance to see him and Erice. Both of them always have a lot to share about their films and also filmmaking in general. It’s a great chance for young filmmakers to learn from them,” Lee says.

Fresh Off Markham (2024), directed by Trevor Choi. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Hollywood Hong Kong (2001), directed by Fruit Chan. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Weird and wonderful

The festival opened with Ray Yeung’s All Shall Be Well (2024), a film about a lesbian couple in their 60s. It had won the Teddy Award for best LGBTQ-themed feature film at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival in February. 

Fruit Chan is this year’s filmmaker in focus, and the festival is screening 10 of his films, including Durian Durian (2000) and The Abortionist (2019). 

The eight films selected for the Firebird Awards’ Young Cinema Competition (Chinese Language) include three that focus on the lives of the Chinese diaspora — Kurt Yuen’s Fresh Off Markham (2024), A Song Sung Blue (2023) by Geng Zihan and Chong Keat-aun’s Snow in Midsummer (2020).

Lee is keen to have the future generation of Hong Kong filmmakers check out the sometimes weird and generally wonderful world created by the French provocateur Jean Eustache. The festival is showing three of his feature films — A Dirty Story (1977), screened together with the short, The Photos of Alix (1980); My Little Loves (1974); and The Mother and the Whore (1973). 

For the live concert Gift, Eiko Ishibashi creates an extempore soundtrack to images cut from the Ryusuke Hamaguchi film Evil Does Not Exist (2023). (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

My Little Loves (1974), directed by Jean Eustache. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Boost for emerging talents 

At the Hong Kong Filmart held in March — often regarded as an unofficial industry warmup for the HKIFF — the big news was that the local film and television industry would soon receive a HK$5 billion ($639 million) boost via a five-year Hong Kong Cultural and Art Industry Revitalization Program driven by the e-commerce and entertainment giant Alibaba.

There was also encouragement for emerging filmmakers in the form of awards at the annual Hong Kong-Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) program (see sidebar) and a new HKIFF Industry-CAA China Genre Initiative to promote the more commercially leaning works of Chinese cinema.

“It all seems to be happening,” Lee says. “The industry has been very busy. We are working closely with the talent agency CAA China toward promoting genre films and that is a first for Hong Kong. We hope to encourage more Chinese-language filmmakers to become involved.”

The Banshees of Inisherin (2022), directed by Martin McDonagh. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

The Spirit of the Beehive (1974), directed by Victor Erice. (PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)

Instant music

The Asian premiere of Gift — a unique live collaboration between Japanese Oscar-winner Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Drive My Car, 2021) and his go-to composer Eiko Ishibashi, on March 30 — was a festival highlight. Ishibashi composes an extempore soundtrack during the show, as she responds to images cut from Hamaguchi’s Evil Does Not Exist (2023) — their most recent film together.

“I don’t see these images before the concert, only react to them in the moment, and the audience can react to both things,” Ishibashi explains.

She hopes that the experience can help broaden the horizons of the audience in terms of what constitutes a cinematic experience.

“I like to explore new things, and new ways of presenting my work, and I think that is an important part of being featured at a film festival where you should always try something new,” Ishibashi says.

The festival draws to a close on Monday, with Japanese director Shô Miyake’s achingly romantic All the Long Nights (2024) making its Asian premiere.