05-15 November 2020

Festivals & Events


October 15, 2019

HIFF39: Will the real China please step into the light?

Program coordinator Lee Ngo writes on this year's 'Spotlight on China,' presenting six films that represent a small slice of modernity in a big country.

TO LIVE TO SING from director Johnny Ma, world premiered at Cannes.

Even though this year's SPOTLIGHT ON CHINA presents a broad spectrum of stories, there is no sufficient way to depict China thoroughly as the nation continues to play a major protagonist in the grand narrative of twenty-first century global affairs. With a current population of over 1.4 billion people and a gross domestic product of over USD$14 trillion, China alone casts a large shadow that potentially eclipses the other spotlights of the 39th Hawai‘i International Film Festival. 

Instead of selecting films that meet the impossible task of adequately representing such a vast and complicated nation, our program focuses on particular themes that transcend national sentiments and relate emotionally to audiences in Hawaii and beyond. Our six films involve stories where characters defy tradition, break through barriers, struggle against law and order, confront their demons, and find their place in a rapidly modernizing China.

We hope you consider our selection as indeed a SPOTLIGHT ON CHINA, but one that sheds light specifically on the trials of those who speak the common language of the human experience. Tickets are available by clicking on the titles below.

BALLOON: On the Tibetan grasslands, a condom sparks a series of embarrassments and dilemmas within a traditional shepherding family. Novelist and filmmaker Pema Tseden explores Tibet’s puritanical traditions and China’s one-child policy in this neorealist family drama. 

THE WILD GOOSE LAKE: With a bounty on his head, a career criminal flees to a lawless region to evade capture. Showcasing his trademark flare, director Diao Yinan crafts a powerful film noir that explores many absurd contradictions of contemporary China. 

VORTEX: Exhausting all of his funds and the money he borrowed from relatives, Liu is now in deep with gambling operators and loan sharks. With no way out, he is forced into the criminal underbelly to pay off his debt. What seems like a simple first job quickly becomes complicated when he finds a young girl in the trunk. 

SO LONG, MY SON: This modern epic film traces the lives of two families over three decades of social, political, and human upheaval in China. Following the loss of a child in a tragic accident, the destinies of these families ebb and flow through time.

TO LIVE TO SING: A Sichuan opera troupe discovers that their home is scheduled for demolition. Struggling to find a new home, the troupe copes by blending their beautiful stories with their challenged reality. 

WUSHU ORPHAN: A teacher lands his first job at a prestigious martial arts academy in remote inland China, but he and the students are expected to follow a strict curriculum. He befriends a shy pupil who also struggles to conform, and together they pave their own path to balancing strength with intellectualism, self-assurance, and peace.

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