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Siraj Syed


Siraj Syed is the India Correspondent for FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the International Federation of Film Critics. He is a Film Festival Correspondent since 1976, Film-critic since 1969 and a Feature-writer since 1970. He is also an acting and dialogue coach. 

 

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Spring. Seeing Hong Kong again: Review by Siraj Syed

Spring. Seeing Hong Kong again: Review by Siraj Syed

How do you define a city? Or, rather, how do you re-define a city, after two years of a pandemic? Covid had varying casualties across the world, and Hong Konghad its share. The 5th wave of the deadly virus brought with it 20,082 new cases, while the total number of confirmed infections exceeded one million. That is a huge number, considering the city’s population of about 7 million. But while the severe impact of the disease meant a toned down life-style, the vibrant city is bouncing back with tenacity and resilience, and with her unique charm. Spring 2022 augured the return of the good times.

Alex, a middle-aged New Zealander (judging from his accent) who has lived in Hong Kong for 22 years, has documented both the, hard times and the return of good times, in this film, Spring. Seeing Hong Kong again. It is a 25 minutes 27 seconds short documentary which captures the vignettes of Hong Kong, not as a professional project, but as a labour of love.

Since Chinese New Year fell on 01 February this year, when the pandemic was still posing a real threat, the Hong Kongers celebrated it quietly. Alex juxtaposes this with the zestful celebration in 2019, pre Coronavirus, which he had filmed. We see the fire dragon dance, so much a part of life in Chinese countries, which began as a ritual, in the 19th century, to keep the plague off. It is part of Chinese intangible cultural heritage. And there is also a glimpse of the famous Cantonese Opera Troupe, another intangible included in the list of UNESCO’s Chinese Cultural Heritage.

In the film, we meet a few characters and get a peek into their lives and professions. These include a young Cantonese Opera Artiste, Henry, whose debut at age 15, was documented by Alex. Henry is unable to perform because performances at the legendary Sunbeam theatre have been suspended, as a signboard declares. Not too long ago, at the same place, there used to be House Full signboards. And what attracted audiences to these performances, Alex’s camera has captured in full glory.

Quarantine meant that persons like Henry could turn a disability into an opportunity. Once, while going for a performance, Henry got caught in the (2019) riot area, and then landed in a traffic jam. But he did make it to the theatre in the end. Henry fell victim to the Coronavirus Covid 19, and managed to survive, thanks to timely help and the support of his theatre apprentices and friends, who brought him rare medicines, both local, and sent from Mainland China.

We move with Alex, who describes Hong Kong as “such an interesting place, with the atmosphere and vitality that I have never seen in any other place.” He talks to a Muslim man (and later another Muslim) and asks him whether he got Permanent Residency after living there for seven years, as is the rule. The man affirms, and Alex adds, “I did the same”. Very interestingly, we see Alex interacting with a Chinese website designer, who explains to him the nuances of the elements and reasons why certain things cannot be changed. Alex also gives the three most compelling reasons that distinguish Hong Kong from the rest of the countries in the world: it is the free-est economy, the most competitive country and third biggest financial centre of the world.

Next, we get to meet Dolphin Ho, an investment advisor, who kept working during the pandemic, gives honest professional advice to his would-be clients, feels there will be a massive burst of clients in the future and a lot of China Concept shares will enter Hong Kong. Alex then introduces us to his daughter, who is planning to study abroad, but hopes to return to Hong Kong.

And then there is Amy, the native Hong Kong born girl, who just loves the city. She is doing what a lot of us should be doing: helping the elderly and children in need, including her own, lonely, grandfather. She also teaches Chinese to children who were not born in Hong Kong. Amy typifies what a good human should be, and Alex captures her persona in a few minutes, quietly, unobtrusively.

French director Benoit Lelievre (Le Miroir d'Alice, There, Smoking Kills, À ton image..., Funk off, Staying Awake - ze miouzical) is also a cinematographer, writer and producer. That explains the great economy of footage, and the wonderful use of the candid camera. He dwells on each character, or the location, just long enough to bring out the necessary plot point, and then moves on. Nobody is really acting, so there is no basis for judging the ‘performances’ of the personalities featured in the film. With a handful of ‘characters’ and a collage of the cultural, social and financial aspects of the ‘happening city’, using no background music at all, Lelievre gives you a highly representative video picture postcard of Hong Kong. Alex, who is identified only by his first name and it is not mentioned whether he is an actor or not, does not dominate the narrative, the Hong Kongers do.

Max Harot and Peter Liu, the cinematographers, have got their basics right. There are several drone shots of skyscrapers, shots of food-courts, butcher-shops, fish being fried, vegetable and fruit markets, but none of them indulgent or going over-board. They have the subjects walking at an angle sometimes, yet it appears all so natural. Editor Mendy Clark has packaged so much into such a short duration, and the best part is that she has used no rapid cutting, jump-cuts or flash-cuts, which would be out of place in a film of this nature. In three or four shots, the sub-titles disappear too fast, without enough ‘stay’, before we can read them. This is obviously no issue when you are watching it on video, where you can go back and freeze those frames, but seeing it on the big screen might present a little difficulty to non-Chinese speakers.

Spring might be over, but it did bring glad tidings to Hong Kong and many other parts of the world. Things have almost totally normalised, the characters in ‘Spring. Seeing Hong Kong Again’ have a spring in their step, and will see better times now. Those who have been to Hong Kong before, it is time to see it again. For first time visitors, there is so much to tempt you, attract you and pull you, to the city. Chances are that once you have seen it, you will be seeing it again, rather soon. And what’s more, the Hong Kong cinemas have reopened on 20 April!

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About Siraj Syed

Syed Siraj
(Siraj Associates)

Siraj Syed is a film-critic since 1970 and a Former President of the Freelance Film Journalists' Combine of India.

He is the India Correspondent of FilmFestivals.com and a member of FIPRESCI, the international Federation of Film Critics, Munich, Germany

Siraj Syed has contributed over 1,015 articles on cinema, international film festivals, conventions, exhibitions, etc., most recently, at IFFI (Goa), MIFF (Mumbai), MFF/MAMI (Mumbai) and CommunicAsia (Singapore). He often edits film festival daily bulletins.

He is also an actor and a dubbing artiste. Further, he has been teaching media, acting and dubbing at over 30 institutes in India and Singapore, since 1984.


Bandra West, Mumbai

India



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