17 April – 1 May
As one of the most important Hong Kong filmmakers and whose work has often reflected the social, cultural and political concerns pertinent to the region, Ann Hui (1947–) has worked solidly to sustain a diverse career as a director, writer and producer for the last 45 years. She has also appeared in front of the camera and it is almost impossible to imagine the Hong Kong film industry during this rich era without her presence and influence. Born in mainland China, Hui moved with her family to Hong Kong as a young child, a shift that shaped much of the focus and sensibility of her filmmaking. After writing her Masters thesis on Alain Robbe-Grillet and training at London Film School in the early 1970s, she gained experience directing for TV – including an episode of Below the Lion Rock that launched her “Vietnam Trilogy” – and became a key member of the New Wave. Although Hui personally eschews the description of herself as a feminist artist, she is undoubtedly “the most established female director in contemporary Hong Kong” (Audrey Yue). A genre pluralist, her films span martial arts, period drama, ghost stories, neo-noir, social realism and documentary. Refusing to compromise her artistic intent for commercial values, Hui consistently reworks these genres as a type of counter-cinema. She time and again engages with the power of personal and cultural memories, offering insights into Hong Kong’s fluid and diasporic identity as a refuge for mainland Chinese immigrants and global expatriates. The films selected for this season span Hui’s vast (although continually growing) and dynamic career as a director and include such key works as The Secret (1979), Boat People (1982), Song of the Exile (1990) and her most recent film, Elegies (2023).
7:00pm BOAT PEOPLE
Ann Hui (1982) 109 mins – M
Considered by many to be Hui’s masterpiece and the film that brought her to international attention, this controversial major work of the emerging Hong Kong New Wave is told from the perspective of a Japanese photojournalist (George Lam) who travels to Vietnam to report on life in the wake of the war. Inspired by interviews Hui collected with Vietnamese refugees during the making of a documentary on the subject, it won five prizes – including Best Picture and Best Director – at the Hong Kong Film Awards. Featuring a very early performance by Andy Lau in a central role.
9:05pm SONG OF THE EXILE
Ann Hui (1990) 100 mins – G
This panoramic account of a troubled mother-daughter relationship is inspired by Hui’s own life story and was scripted by frequent Hou Hsiao-Hsien collaborator Wu Nien-Jen. Deeply rooted in the events that shaped East Asian history after the end of the Pacific War, this exquisite and deeply moving Hong Kong-Taiwan co-production examines the notions of exile and diaspora from a multitude of perspectives. One of Hui’s most celebrated films, it also features a truly commanding lead performance by Maggie Cheung, a role that initiated her career transition into the acclaimed dramatic actress of Centre Stage and the key films of Wong Kar-Wai.
7:00pm THE SECRET
Ann Hui (1979) 85 mins – M
Based on a real-life double murder case that occurred in 1970, Hui’s directorial debut not only cemented her place among the rising stars of the emerging Hong Kong New Wave but also announced a filmmaker unafraid to experiment with convention and visual style. Mixing noirish elements with Italian giallo and an innovative non-linear narrative structure surveying varying points of view, the film is also a document of the melting pot of 1970s Hong Kong, a city in transition between East and West, where nothing is as it seems. With Sylvia Chang and Angie Chiu.
8:40pm OUR TIME WILL COME
Ann Hui (2017) 130 mins – M
Winner of Best Film and Best Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards, and sumptuously shot by Yu Lik-Wai, Hui’s low-key wartime epic follows a schoolteacher (Zhou Xun, in one of her richest performances) who finds herself almost casually recruited to join the Communist resistance to Japanese occupation. Eschewing the bombast typical of heroic histories, Hui foregrounds the ordinariness of her characters, handling even the action sequences with a matter-of-factness that undercuts the requisite mythologising. Featuring an evocative score by long-term Miyazaki collaborator, Joe Hisaishi. With Deannie Ip.
Ann Hui (2023) 101 mins – Unclassified 15+
An intimate documentary portrait of the poets and poetry, both literal and figurative, buried within the fabric of Hong Kong’s bustling topography. Although the Chinese title translates as “poetry”, the English title gives a more layered sense of this documentary’s investment in the overlooked wordsmiths that have found passion and nuance in the city’s sprawling diasporic identity. Drawing on interviews with contemporary poets and reflections about those who came before them, this is a clearly personal, place-centred project calling on core themes Hui has turned to throughout her career.
8:55pm VISIBLE SECRET
Ann Hui (2001) 98 mins – MA 15+
Marketed as “Hong Kong’s version of The Sixth Sense and creating a spellbinding atmosphere of ghostly hues and saturated colours facilitated by legendary cinematographer Arthur Wong (The 36th Chamber of Shaolin), spirits lurk everywhere in this playful and symptomatic reflection on both post-Handover and end of the millennium anxieties. In a return to the genre dexterity and hybridity of her early New Wave films, Hui cleverly blends comedy with horror, while respecting and exploring cultural specificities. With Shu Qi (The Assassin) and Anthony Wong.