Tuesday, June 23, 2009

NYAFF ’09: High Noon

If ever there were a place where kids grow up in a socially structured environment, surely it must be Hong Kong. Well, maybe not always. While the prospect of the fast-approaching Beijing Olympics would seem to be a harbinger of great things, seven Hong Kong kids are not immune to the ill effects of broken homes, peer pressure, and street violence in Mak Hei-yan’s High Noon (trailer here), which screens tomorrow afternoon at the New York Asian Film Festival.

Hong Kong kids have never been so connected, seamlessly networked to each other through i-phones and psps. Yet, they also seem to be completely alienated emotionally, living meaningless lives of hollow hedonism. Seven such boys have banded together in what might uncharitably be called a gang. However, they do provide each other some semblance of social support as they drift aimlessly through life.

Each of the seven fits a certain personality type. There is the overweight joker, the slightly older ladies man, and the Billy Elliott-like would-be dancer. Wing, the newest member of the clique, is an aspiring artist who will suffer for his sensitive nature as tragedy starts to envelope his circle. When loverboy seduces a young innocent girl, he naturally films it on his handheld device to share with his friends. Much to the poor girl’s humiliation, it inevitably spreads like wildfire across the internet, leading to recriminations within the group, cracking their sense of solidarity. From that point on, life degenerates precipitously for the boys.

Directed by the twenty-four year old Mak Hei-yan, and featuring a primary cast of the average age of seventeen, Noon has an explicitly youthful look and feel. Mak gives the kids deliberately camping teeny bopper introductions, but eventually settles into a gritty documentary style, which often looks as if it could have been filmed on one of their phones. All seven boys are quite natural on-screen, with Lam Yiu-Sing a particular standout as Wing, the conscience of the group. Also notable is Yu Mun-Ming’s small but heartbreaking supporting turn as their exploited victim.

Noon is part of The Winds of September, a triptych of films conceived by Eric Tsang as an examination of contemporary youth culture in three closely-related Asian territories: Taiwan, Hong Kong, and the forthcoming Mainland China. While screening as part of NYAFF’s focus on Hong Kong films, Noon is a radical departure from the HK action tradition. Though many of the kids are borderline delinquents, when violence erupts it is absolutely shocking and disturbingly realistic.

The relentless Noon can be an exhausting viewing experience. It is not for all tastes, but its unsentimental portrait of youth in existential crisis has an undeniable power, which heralds the arrival of a talented new filmmaker. It’s only NYAFF screening will be held Tuesday afternoon (6/23) at the IFC Film Center.