Arizona Hong Kong drama
A who’s who of top talent in the post-1996 era
Fruit Chan (b. 1959)
Chan began his career in the early Eighties as an assistant director and sometime actor in mainstream films. His first directing credit was the Sixties-set ghost film Finale in Blood (93), which served early notice of the director’s taste for oddball comedy and genre experimentation. But with 1997’s Made in Hong Kong, Chan engineered a collision of independent filmmaking and mass entertainment that became his trademark. Flipping off the pretentious local indie scene, his punchy, undisciplined take on the youth film used a DIY approach to woo mainstream moviegoers. The film’s arrival was accompanied by tales of Chan scrounging leftover film stock, discovering a lead actor skateboarding on the street, and shooting guerrilla-style with minimal crew—an unprecedented blast of indie street-cred for a movie slated for the multiplex.
Chan quickly capitalized on his cachet by presenting this hit as the first part of a trilogy centered on the city’s handover to China, following up with The Longest Summer (98), about local soldiers left in the lurch after the British forces headed home, and Little Cheung (00), a neighborhood drama centered on a 9-year-old boy. All three display a knack for exploring the lives of fringe dwellers, and all showcase Chan’s talent for self-promotion and for drawing out disarming performances from unknowns.
Chan’s filmmaking remained offbeat after “the handover trilogy, ” starting with Durian Durian (00), a thoughtful Hong Kong– and Mainland-set film following a young female sex worker and using the pungent fruit of the title as a motif. This was followed by the absurdist village-set Hollywood Hong Kong (01), about a young Mainland prostitute who turns a tight-knit Hong Kong neighborhood on its ear, and the notably bizarre, DV-shot Public Toilet (02), a globe-trotting network of narratives each set in close proximity to a lavatory. His most commercially successful film from this period, however, was Dumplings (04). Expanded from its original form as a 40-minute segment of Peter Chan’s omnibus Three… Extremes (04), it’s an elegantly shot horror movie about a rich middle-aged woman whose quest for youth leads her to embrace a diet of rejuvenating dumplings made from aborted fetuses.