Film still from CLARA LAW’s 1996 film, Floating Life. Copyright and courtesy Hibiscus Films, Sydney. 

Mar 17 2015

Mobile M+: Moving Images (Part One: Floating Life)

by Denise Tsui

Through the end of April, Hong Kong is being treated to a promising selection of cinematic finesse. Films exploring a culturally relevant genre dubbed “Hong Kong migratory cinema” are part of M+’s latest project, “Mobile M+: Moving Images.” Forget that major Hollywood blockbuster advertising at your bus stop. The 30-odd films being presented during the two-month screening program at Yau Ma Tei’s Broadway Cinematheque—Hong Kong’s much-loved art house cinema—are likely to be far more interesting for next weekend’s entertainment.

Yung Ma, associate curator for Moving Image at M+, writes that the medium of film “records, mediates and reflects the different realities” more so than other art forms. “Mobile M+: Moving Images” is a peek into Hong Kong’s visual culture through its cinematic history. The films will be accompanied by an exhibition spread across two sites, where moving image works are showcased from the museum’s expanding collection. The project examines conditions of migration and displacement, cultural assimilation and contemporary notions of home and identity.

“Mobile M+: Moving Images” launched on February 27, fittingly with a film that succinctly captured the phenomenon of emigration that engulfed Hong Kong in the lead up to its handover from Britain to China in 1997. Clara Law’s 1996 film, Floating Life, mediates the experiences of displacement in an unfamiliar land and cultural renegotiation amidst the hardships of establishing a new home. The cultural shocks are comedic at times, as Law fabricates a sharp contrast between Australian suburbia and the hyper-urbanism of Hong Kong.

Film still from CLARA LAW’s 1996 film, Floating Life. Copyright and courtesy Hibiscus Films, Sydney. 

Embodying a complex structural narrative, the film traces the lives and paths of a Hong Kong family dispersed across Germany, Hong Kong and Australia. With further references to an ancestral home in China, and a friendship network similarly emigrated to Canada, the film interweaves a pattern of orbit that is familiar to many emigrant families from Hong Kong.

The film’s cinematography is luminous and delicately constructs acutely different perceptions of each locale. Ambient scenes of Hong Kong remain ambiguous and are mostly restricted to shots of interior spaces saturated by a yellow tinge. Locations in Germany are suffused with a warm blue tone for private spaces and cool blurs for exteriors emanating a bleak and cold feeling. Australian suburbia is intensified by a subtle magnification and distinct sharpness in its depiction of desolate suburban streets and hard edges of residential interiors.

Floating Life was Law’s first feature film following her move from Hong Kong to Australia in 1994. It is also significant as the first non-English film to be produced in Australia funded under the Keating Government’s “Creative Nation” scheme. Perhaps because the film portrays astute similarities to my own experience of emigration with my family, also from Hong Kong to Australia, the film for me was deeply engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.

Denise Tsui is assistant editor at ArtAsiaPacific.