The four films, One and Four and Limbo screened at TIFF, and Ahed’s Knee and The Revolution of Our Times screened at FILMeX this year translate the concept of violence in various ways — physical violence, climatic violence, the sensory violence of setting, camera language, and acting, as well as the integrated violence of politics. They brutally attack the audience, for good and for bad, both highlighting cinematic art’s immense power while testing its boundaries.
One and Four is young Tibetan director Jigme Trinley’s feature film debut. The fresh graduate grew up as a cinephile immersed in world cinema culture and was professionally trained as a director at the Beijing Film Academy. At the age of 24, he has already accumulated several years of experience working as part of film crews for major Chinese directors such as Feng Xiaogang, and, of course, his father, Pema Tseden. Unlike his father, however, Jigme Trinley’s filmmaking shows a broader vision that refers to and reflects on many existing International films although his camera is still focused on the Tibetan Plateau, making the film immediately both non-stereotypically Tibetan and non-homogeneously contemporary.
The short, snappy film features four core characters: a forest ranger (Tibetan), a poacher (Tibetan), the poacher’s contact buyer (Chinese), and a police officer (Chinese), with a supporting cast that only includes wild animals and a human corpse. The story unfolds from the point of view of the starving, alcoholic, serious-minded ranger who is tough-looking but soft at heart. As the timeline progresses, we gradually construct a fuller picture of him. But just as he is, we are successively bewildered by the true identity of the others until the end. Heavily influenced by Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight in visual design and Kurosawa Akira’s Rashomonin storytelling, the story is exclusively set in a majestic snowy forest (Qinghai Province, adjacent to Tibet) and the ranger’s log cabin. The sheer contrast between the inside (dark, cramped, warm, sheltered) and the outside (bright, vast, blizzardy, dangerous) coexists with the fact that neither the events taking place inside or outside would be tenable without the other. As the characters enter the cabin and the ranger is led out, no one & nowhere are no longer trustworthy. The montage of time and space is well played against the harsh environment, leaving little space for sentimentality but transforming it by scooping it out of a form of orthodox realism which seems to have haunted Tibetan filmmaking over a very long period of time.
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In the new film Limbo, Hong Kong director Soi Cheang pushes his depressing, violent, and ambiguous style of good versus evil to the extreme, using a highly stylized visual design. The black-and-white monochrome compresses the depth of field so that the overwhelming smother of the excessive amount of garbage that often fills the frame, the heavy rain, and the cluttered alleyways are splashed right onto the audience’s face. The image of garbage appears many times in the film in various types, volumes, and forms, presenting a Hong Kong swallowed by the dark, removing all brightness, although the reoccurring train seems to be connecting other worlds. Here, thieves, drug addicts, prostitutes, and other marginalized characters living in the darkness are no different from the garbage or the rotting corpses hidden within, living without hope and dying without anybody knowing. While the film abstracts the mountains of garbage into a colorless, spectacular landscape and alienates the audience, the veteran detective played by Gordon Lam uses his sense of smell over and over again to perceive the texture and changes of the garbage and to pull the audience back into the marrow of the stench.
Soi Cheang has worked in the Hong Kong film industry for 3 decades with major crime film directors Wilson Yip, Johnnie To, Ringo Lam, and many others. The action sequences and street chases in Limbo remain exhilarating, evoking memories of the entire history of Hong Kong crime cinema. Lam plays the overbearing, repressed detective, a role he knows inside and out; Cya Liu, the leading actress, also delivers an impressive performance playing a survivor struggling at the bottom but who hasn’t lost her conscience, a victim of sexual abuse and violence who never stops saving herself. Mason Lee, the second son of Ang Lee, plays a well-educated, young detective parachuted in this dump from the “normal world”, whose acting has yet to mature.
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Director Nadav Lapid’s intensely personal style has grown into something even more powerful in Ahed’s Knee, where the manic, yet highly choreographed camera language expresses attitudes and emotions in designed hysterics. The main character, Israeli filmmaker Y (Avshalom Pollak), arrives in the arid desert of the Arava region for a screening, where he is received by Yahalom (Nur Fibak), the young and attractive deputy director of the Ministry of Culture’s library department. Frustrated by his mother’s death and furious about the country’s censorship of culture, Y makes the immediately hostile decision to take it all out on this understanding woman of authority, even as she admires Y’s talent and takes good care of him. Y sees Yahalom as a rival, a ready representative of the regime he resents, at the same time a listener to whom he can open up, a caregiver from whom he can expect some comfort. The film culminates with Y’s catharsis of accusation towards Yahalom and the screening audience. Fast editing, violent camera shaking, unusual shooting angles, as well as the last blaze of anger all convey a very unsettling atmosphere, taking revenge on the viewers who are hiding in the comfortable darkness.
In contrast to the spouting of rage in Ahed’s Knee, The Revolution of Our Times (dir. Kiwi Chow), documentary of the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests, is immersed in a sentiment of desperation in front of a tyrannic government. The images soon get suffocatingly heavy as they recall our recent memory. The abundance of images allows us to revisit the scale, impact, and destruction of the protests, and to discover the determination, uncertainty, fear, despair, and a sense of bonding behind the bravery. Made in the midst of the social movement, the documentary is first and foremost a political expression, which is closely related to the packed house, the sobs in the dark, and the long-lasting applauses after the screening. However, it uses only one angle to tell the story, but countless ones to digest it. As hope is diminishing in the blinding light, I personally hope that violence won’t be the only thing that we remember in the future.