10 best new filmmakers selected by Li Cheuk-To

The artistic director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival picks the promising young filmmakers to watch
Liang Qi as Liu Dong in Mountain Patrol: Kekexili (2004) directed by Lu Chuan

1 / 10 Liang Qi as Liu Dong in Mountain Patrol: Kekexili (2004) directed by Lu Chuan

2 / 10

3 / 10

4 / 10

5 / 10

 Gergely Trócsányi as Balatony Kálmán in Taxidermia (2006) directed by Gyorgy Pálfi

6 / 10 Gergely Trócsányi as Balatony Kálmán in Taxidermia (2006) directed by Gyorgy Pálfi

Dragos Bucur as Cristi in Police, Adjective (2009) directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

7 / 10 Dragos Bucur as Cristi in Police, Adjective (2009) directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

8 / 10

9 / 10

Jaycee Chan as Son and Zhou Yun as Mother in The Sun Also Rises (2007) directed by Jiang Wen

10 / 10 Jaycee Chan as Son and Zhou Yun as Mother in The Sun Also Rises (2007) directed by Jiang Wen

In the run up to the 35th Hong Kong International Film Festival (20 March – 5 April), Li Cheuk-To, the festival’s artistic director, shares his choice of the 10 most promising filmmakers working today and selects one film as representative of the work of each director.

"While the future of world cinema lies on our next generation of filmmakers, some of the most talented young filmmakers have emerged from Asia and China in particular, in the past two decades or so," explains Li.


Director: Lu Chuan

Film: Mountain Patrol: Kekexili (2004)

Synopsis: Set against the exquisite backdrop of the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau, this is the tale of a group of brave locals who face death and starvation to save endangered antelope herds from a band of ruthless hunters. The film is inspired by the true story of illegal poaching in the region of Kekexili, the largest animal reserve in China. Ritai (Due Buji), the patrol’s leader, allows Beijing journalist Gayu (Zhang Lei) to tag along with the group in order to investigate the murder of a patrolman.

Li Cheuk-To says: "Lu’s approach is a restrained but committed realism that avoids sensationalism or sentimentality, with powerful and visceral results. He takes full advantage of the beauty of the unspoiled wilderness and the brutality of post-poaching carnage. The phenomenal enthusiasm that greeted Kekexili had a lot to do with the state of Chinese cinema at the time. Lu Chuan seems to have carved out a "third way" for aspiring young Chinese filmmakers, between commercial success with poor critical reception and critical acclaim without domestic release. Kekexili shows that it is possible to make films that are acceptable to Chinese censors and popular with audiences and critics both at home and abroad."


Director: Christoffer Boe

Film: Allegro (2005)

Synopsis: After a long absence, famous pianist Zetterstrøm (Ulrich Thomsen) returns from New York to his native Copenhagen on the occasion of a gala concert. A perfectionist by nature, he has one major personal flaw: he has lost the memory of his past. But when he is contacted by a messenger from a mysterious off-limits "Zone2 in the middle of the city, he connects with what lies behind him and what made him run away: his love for the captivating Andrea (Helena Christensen). He hopes for the past to come back to him, but the Zone leads him to a challenging remembrance of things past.

Li Cheuk-To says: "Although undeniably dark at times, the movie is playful with its methods of narrative, without taking itself too seriously. In many ways, the film is like a children’s story or a fairy tale, even beyond the animated segments of Zetterstrøm as a child. Allegro is full of striking ideas about the tricks people play on themselves to escape pain and suffering. Boe has made a fascinating yarn that offers explorations of narrative structure and filmmaking, but also the very nature of memory and emotion."


Director: Ning Hao

Film: Mongolian Ping Pong (2005)

Synopsis: The people who live near the border of Inner Mongolia and Mongolia never care about the changes in their lives, but still their lives are changing unnoticeably. A common white ping-pong ball floats down in the creek and comes to a stop in front of Bilike (Hurichabilike), a Mongolian boy. Having never seen a ping-pong ball, Bilike and his friends believe the ball to have magical powers. They embark on a journey to Beijing in an attempt to return the ball to what they believe to be its home.

Li Cheuk-To says: "[Mongolian Ping Pong] is an anomaly among Chinese independent productions. A children’s film with characters who belong to a minority, it managed to skirt the ire of the censors. The absence of exoticism and stereotypes in Mongolian Ping Pong is especially noteworthy. Both respectful and self-respecting, it is full of humor and wisdom. [It] showcases Ning Hao’s ingenuity and comic talent. Even the most mundane events in the everyday life depicted are imbued with a strong poetical sense. Nothing demonstrates Ning’s self-confidence better than his decision never to show an actual ping-pong game."


Director: Liu Jiayin

Film: Oxhide II (2009)

Synopsis: Liu Jiayin’s sequel to Oxhide (Niu pi, 2004) centers around a family of three preparing dumplings for dinner. In nine real-time sequences, Liu Jiayin and her parents play themselves and show the delicate balance of a family struggling to make ends meet with limited resources. The family must consider the repercussions of their failing family business and come up with a strategy together.

Li Cheuk-To says: "Despite resembling a modest, no-budget movie, Oxhide II is a groundbreaking work in Chinese independent cinema because of its experimental daring and originality. By breaking the scene up into nine shots [Liu Jiayin] forms a visually geometrical structure that manages to be compelling and dynamic, even for a contemporary audience used to rapidly changing scenes and camera angles. Liu shows a maturity far beyond her years in her understanding of family dynamics and the ways of the world, and she displays a sense of self-deprecatory humor in facing adversity."


Director: Zhang Lu

Film: Grain in Ear (2005)

Synopsis: As a single Korean-Chinese mother, Cui Shunji (Liu Lianji) supports herself and her son by selling pickles as an unlicensed vendor. Shunji and Kim (Zhu Guangxuan) fall in love, but since Kim is married, they must keep their affair a secret. Life seems promising for Shunji when Sergeant Wang (Wang Tonghui), a regular customer, takes pity on her and helps her obtain a business permit for her pickle cart. Shunji’s good fortune, however, quickly takes a tragic turn for the worse, and she considers the ultimate form of revenge.

Li Cheuk-To says: "Grain in Ear places greater emphasis on emotion and character-driven drama, and features understated acting and static camerawork. The result has won [Zhang Lu] awards at festivals ranging from Cannes to Pusan. The characters in Grain in Ear speak and act lethargically, conveying the disintegration of an agricultural society which may be bankrupt before it can even benefit from industrialization. The fixed camera positions emphasize the compressed living space of the characters and suggest a daily rhythm that has almost come to a standstill. Funded mostly from sources in South Korea and the West, [Zhang's] subsequent works target the international art-house circuit rather than the official distribution network within China."


Director: Gyorgy Pálfi

Film: Taxidermia (2006)

Synopsis: This film follows three stories – those of a grandfather, father, and son – linked together by recurring motifs. The dim grandfather, an orderly during World War II, lives in his bizarre fantasies. The father seeks success as a stop athlete in the postwar Soviet era. The grandson, a meek, small-boned taxidermist, yearns for something greater: immortality. He wants to create the most perfect work of art of all time by stuffing his own torso. Historical fact and surrealism become intertwined in this film, based in part on the stories of Hungarian writer Lajos Parti Nagy.

Li Cheuk-To says: "The elements of the story are bound together with idiosyncratic humor and compelling visual techniques, some of which take the form of grotesque body horror. Pálfi weaves these three tales together expertly with a strong thematic narrative and beautiful technical virtuosity. Long crane shots contrast with extreme close-ups to simultaneously distance us from the characters and underline the intensely personal nature of these three stories. Taxidermia has a hyperreal sense of grotesque detail, and yet the characterization of each protagonist firmly grounds the film in the real world."


Director: Corneliu Porumboiu

Film: Police, Adjective (2009)

Synopsis: Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a policeman who refuses to arrest a young man who offers hashish to two of his schoolmates. In Romania, even offering drugs is punished severely by the law, but Cristi believes that the law will change. He does not want to bear the burden of a young man’s fate, one whom he considers merely irresponsible. To Cristi’s boss (Vlad Ivanov), however, the word conscience has a totally different meaning.

Li Cheuk-To says: "Police, Adjective is an intensely personal commentary on the director’s nation. At a time when Romania is struggling to define itself, the film is a subtle and effective commentary on the relationship between the individual and the state. Police, Adjective won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes and only gathered more accolades as it toured the festival circuit. Porumboiu is quickly establishing himself as a new master among Romanian filmmakers with his first two witty, insightful productions."


Director: Izumi Takahashi

Film: The Soup, One Morning (2005)

Synopsis: Kitagawa (Hiromasa Hirosue) suffers from a panic disorder and, unable to keep his job, begins to secretly frequent the seminars of a religious cult. His girlfriend, Shizu (Akie Namiki), makes every effort to bring him back to normalcy. But Kitagawa’s illness cannot be cured, and he refuses to abandon the cult. Meanwhile, Shizu is forced to quit her own job when her company relocates, and her frustration escalates as she is unable to find a new job. All of these things take a toll on the couple’s relationship, and their separation eventually becomes inevitable.

Li Cheuk-To says: "The Soup, One Morning (Aru asa, soup wa, 2004), winner of [Japan’s] Grand Prize in 2004, signaled the arrival of a filmmaking duo of exceptional talent. The director, Izumi Takahashi, was catapulted to immediate fame, while the lead actor, Hiromasa Hirosue, was subsequently able to direct his own first feature. The Soup, One Morning is a typical zero-budget independent production. There are only two main actors, both nonprofessional, and all the indoor scenes were shot in Hirosue’s apartment. The actors doubled as the crew, and when not on camera, each would assist by holding the microphone just out of sight. Shooting was done with a DV camera owned by Takahashi. But rather than being cramped by such meager resources, a talented director like Takahashi [turns] them into his advantage; Takahashi overcomes his limited shooting locations by creatively reworking shots and using voiceover."


Director: Hans Weingartner

Film: The Edukators (2004)

Synopsis: Jule (Julia Jentsch) is a waitress who can’t make ends meet. She moves in with her boyfriend Peter (Stipe Erceg) and his friend Jan (Daniel Brühl), two young men united by their passion to change the world. While Peter is away on vacation, feelings between Jan and Jule intensify. Jan and Jule impulsively break into the home of Hardenberg (Burghart Klaussner), a well-to-do stranger, but their growing passion has made them careless. When they’re forced to return the following night to retrieve a forgotten cell phone, Hardenberg surprises them. After calling Peter for help, the trio decides to kidnap Hardenberg and hide in the mountains.

Li Cheuk-To says: "Popular with audiences around the world, [The Edukators] garnered a Palme d’Or nomination at Cannes in 2004. At least one reason for its success is undoubtedly the film’s sense of humor and Weingartner’s lightness of touch when dealing with issues such as anti-capitalist sentiment, greed, terrorism, and rampant consumerism. For although the plot includes trespassing and kidnapping, The Edukators is punctuated with fresh air, bright sunlight, and childlike optimism. The script throughout gives voice to the disillusionment and disappointment felt by today’s youth over the abandoned ideals of their parents’ generation."


Director: Jiang Wen

Film: The Sun Also Rises (2007)

Synopsis: Jian Wen’s third directorial work weaves the stories of four narratives, set in 1958 and 1976 in a Yunan village, a college campus, and the Gobi Desert. The first tale tells the story of a widow, played by Zhou Yun, who goes mad and abandons her son (Jaycee Chan). In the second story, college professor Old Tang (Jiang Wen) has an affair with the campus doctor (Joan Chen), who longs for Young Liang (Anthony Wong). Old Tang and his wife (Kong Wei) meet the abandoned son from the first tale in three parts, and in the fourth act, the characters and stories are woven together in the Gobi desert.

Li Cheuk-To says: "Coming after years of enforced inaction, The Sun Also Rises represents the culmination of [Jiang Wen’s] creative energies, boasting a scope so broad and an imagination so boundless that the movie takes everybody by surprise. In contemporary Chinese industry circles, where marketability trumps all other considerations, Jiang remains uncompromising with his artistic integrity. Naturally, he falls out of favor with viewers whose sensitivity was developed from daily doses of TV dramas, but as a film that goes against popular taste, The Sun Also Rises offers an invaluable comment on the vulgarity of the age."


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