For film aficionados in Hong Kong, the weekend of January 15 was an entertaining two and a half days of on-screen fantasy narratives, constructed urban realities and lingering questions of self-perceived truths. Following M+’s series of pop-up exhibitions and programming of the past four years, held under the title “Mobile M+,” the institution recently launched “M+ Screenings,” a new series of projects dedicated solely to exploring the various methodologies and frameworks used in the moving-image genre.
Thirteen films, animations and documentaries by Hong Kong and international filmmakers and artists were selected by Yung Ma, M+’s associate curator of moving image, and presented under the theme “Visible Places.” The central idea behind the chosen films were based around the following overarching question: “How do we see the cities and places we have lived and experienced?” Drawing upon Italian writer Italo Calvino’s 1972 novel Invisible Cities—a fictitious retelling of 13th-century explorer Marco Polo’s journeys to 55 different cities—as a departure point, Ma argued that, where words fail to convey, moving images open up a new, limitless dimension that serves as a means of visualizing “experiences, memories and desires of our lived environments.”
Friday night started with Hong Kong-born filmmaker Mak Tai Kit’s 1992 science-fiction movie Wicked City. The film follows protagonists Taki and Ken as they hunt demonic shape-shifters known as Rapters. Able to morph into the appearance of humans, Rapters have breached the mortal world for decades, engaging with mankind in a struggle for power and control. The story takes place in Hong Kong, set just prior to its 1997 handover from British colonial rule to the Chinese government. The film allegorically portrays the social apprehension that troubled many Hong Kong citizens in the lead up to the handover. At the same time, Wicked City philosophically questions what it means to feel (and fear) emotions such as love, acceptance and the desire for a sense of belonging. The abundance of puns and jokes laced throughout the film, which balances the serious undertone of the narrative, makes Wicked City thoroughly engaging and entertaining.
Saturday’s showings took cosmopolitan living as its curatorial premise, presented in three documentaries and two art films. A highlight of the day was Bitter, Sweet, Seoul (2014), a documentary portraying the urban reality of South Korea’s capital city through crowd-sourced clips, which are punctuated with footage of street riots and warfare. Filmmaking collective PARKing CHANce, consisting of brothers Park Chan-kyong and Park Chan-wook, produced the documentary after selecting 141 videos from the 11,582 submissions that they received from an open call. Earlier in the afternoon, Beijing-based filmmaker Jia Zhangke’s 24 City (2008), a curious combination of true and fabricated interviews with three generations of factory workers, gave audiences a heart-wrenching portrait of life through the voices of those who have endured modern China’s turbulent socioeconomic transformations.
Among the last day of the screenings were two films that looked toward the futuristic and the imaginary. In Cao Fei’s stop-motion animation La Town (2014), a post-apocalyptic micro-metropolis, constructed from miniature plastic model parts, envisaged the despair and unease of human catastrophe and the loss of hope. The film’s end left one laden with haunting thoughts of uncertainty. What happened to the town and its people? Who or what is responsible? Is this the end?
Also shown on the evening of the program’s final day was Mamoru Oshii’s Japanese animation cult classic Ghost in the Shell (1995), which remains a must-watch for anime and manga lovers. The science-fiction fantasy illustrates a futuristic time when cybernetic technology is able to enhance natural human capability, agility and mental capacity. At one point Major Motoko Kusanagi, team leader of a police unit of sentient cyborgs, asks her trusted partner: “How much of your body is original?” Elsewhere in the film, Kusanagi, a cyborg herself, also describes how state-of-the-art technology has allowed for the existence of “controlled metabolisms,” “computer enhanced brains,” and the ability to process the effects of alcohol in mere seconds. Ghost in the Shell, which uses Hong Kong as the blueprint for its imagined, futuristic metropolis, poses the question of what it means to be human. Does having a partially cybernetic body leave one soulless? Does consciousness make us human? How do we even define the soul? A deeply complex and philosophical film, Ghost in the Shell was a fitting close to the M+ program, despite being a heavy and demanding piece to digest on a Sunday evening. As I walked away from the comforts of the cinema and stepped back onto the streets of Hong Kong’s Yau Ma Tei district, I found myself loaded with more unanswered questions than I had began with.