Programming a film series or festival inevitably requires a degree of compromise, depending as it does on the oft-indecipherable whims of distributors, producers and sales agents. In recognition of the challenges and frustrations involved, I prefer to give programmers the benefit of the doubt. Yet I can't help but wonder what the Film Society of Lincoln Center had in mind with "10 Years and Running: Recent Hong Kong Cinema," a retrospective series that begins tonight in New York City.

Ostensibly, the program is intended "to mark the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region" with a "series of cinematic highlights." That sounds good, but the program lacks any balance. If the aim was to provide the very best of Hong Kong cinema since 1997, then why include Initial D and Confession of Pain, two moderately enjoyable yet ultimately inconsequential films by the directing team of Andrew Lau and Alan Mak (their much better collaboration Infernal Affairs is also screening). If the goal was to provide historical perspective on the decade, why ignore completely the wave of proto-Hollywood thrillers (Downtown Torpedoes, 2000 A.D.) that flooded theaters in the late 1990's, or the plethora of romantic comedies that followed in the wake of Needing You in 2000, or recent attempts -- by directors other than Johnny To -- to reawaken the action film (Flash Point, Invisible Target)? If the goal was to highlight popular hits, where are the films of Stephen Chow (The King of Comedy, Shaolin Soccer, Kung Fu Hustle)?

Instead, the showcase is limited to the tried and true: Lau and Mak (three films), Wong Kar Wai (two films) and Johnny To (three and 1/3, counting his contribution to Triangle) fill eight of the 13 slots. That's not to denigrate the quality of the selections nor to discourage anyone from attending, but it looks like a lost opportunity to showcase less-heralded gems of recent Hong Kong cinema. All that being said, if I lived in New York I'd park myself in the theater for the entire series, which runs through October 25; I've seen most of them, but not on the big screen.
categories Cinematical