There’s more to movies than superhero sequels
Summer is here and with it the annual onslaught of superhero blockbusters and animated features aimed at families. Like the superhero fare, all-ages animated fare has been on a downward spiral for the last few years, with numbing sequels and cutesy overkill. Let’s face it, we don’t need Despicable Me’s Minions hogging the second and third films. So it is with great relief that the inaugural Hong Kong Kids International Film Festival (KIFF) has arrived. It’s a modest event to be sure, but if it works, parents can at least make a guilt-free deal with little ones: one Cars 3 for one The Red Turtle.
KIFF’s 22 screenings spanning two weeks have classics worth sharing with the next generations as well as thoughtful, illuminating, and indeed challenging new films from around the world. Each film will be followed by a short Q&A with a local industry professional to help explain what the children have just seen. It’s a way to cultivate a film culture, imbue an appreciation for film as an art form and break down any complex messages.
Among the highlights are Mel Stuart’s 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the vaguely subversive adaptation of the Roald Dahl book that puts Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s dumbed down pretender to shame. Gene Wilder’s cranky Willy and the four horrible children Charlie has to contend with are the kind of complex characters that remain worth watching 40 years later.
On the local front, Toe Yuen’s McDull, Prince de la Bun does an understated job of focusing on the fears and hopes of Hong Kong kids and families, and has a far deeper understanding of the city and its quirks than the simple animation would suggest. Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The Young and Prodigious TS Spivet is an old-fashioned coming-of-age story about a 10-year-old science prodigy with a painful past and the cross-country trip that heals his broken family. It’s unabashedly sentimental and the kind of sweet storytelling you don’t want to like, but probably will.
But if KIFF has any standouts, they would be March of the Penguins 2: The Call, Blanka, and The Red Turtle. Opening the festival, Luc Jacquet’s followup to his 2006 Oscar-winning documentary, March of the Penguins, The Call was shot in Antarctica over two months in gorgeous 4K and with some stellar underwater sequences. If The Call has any flaws, it’s the lack of acknowledgement of climate change and its impact on these birds’ fragile existence.
From the Philippines, Kohki Hasei’s Blanka is a slice of life drama about a homeless girl, Blanka (Cydel Gabutero), surviving on the streets of Manila, trying to “buy” herself a mother. Failing at that, she strikes up a friendship with Peter, a blind street musician, with whom she eventually partners as a musical act. It’s about a child whose life is worlds away from that of the kids in this city — even though it’s geographically close.
Finally, the gorgeously illustrated The Red Turtle by Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit is a powerful, silent fable about humanity’s relationship with nature. Every time a castaway on a deserted island attempts to leave, a giant red turtle stops him. Co-produced by Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli (its first international collaboration), Turtle is elegant in its simplicity and grandiose in its affirmation of life, and it is like no other cartoon the kids are likely to see this year. If they only get to see one, make it this one. Here’s hoping for a second KIFF in 2018.
Toe Yuen’s animation film about the adventures of McDull the pig, is an allegory of the fears and hopes of a typical Hong Kong kid.
TheRedTurtle by Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit is a powerful, silent fable about humanity’s relationship with nature.
Bride’s Pool by Kong Kai-ming captures gorgeous nature with photographic precision.