Although it’s comforting to see established names like Johnnie To, Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam still cranking out films, the Hong Kong film industry can’t limp along relying on its ’80s and ’90s pioneers forever. So it’s a welcome sight to see a young new director arrive on the scene.
A 25-year-old former TVB director, Chan Chi-fat was the winner of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau’s First Feature Film Initiative (FFFI), a belated government programme to help inject some new blood into the ailing HK film industry. Weeds on Fire is the initiative’s first fruit and director Chan’s debut, a decent coming of age tale told through the prism of a sports movie.
Based on the true story of the Shatin Martins, Hong Kong’s first youth baseball team, the story focuses on two housing estate troublemakers – Tse Chi-lung (Lam Yiu-sing) and Fan Chun-wai (Tony Wu Tsz-tung) – who get roped into their principal’s misfit baseball team.
From start to finish the story goes through predictable motions. There are the initial humiliations as the team members get to grips with learning the unfamiliar sport, followed by a rise to success. And, of course, there are off-field rivalries and entanglements to add to the drama. None of this is original and there are some narrative gaps, but it’s well shot and competently told. There’s also a welcome absense of the kind of crass humour, tacky celebrity roles and sad bandwagoning of trends that dog many worse local efforts.
The film’s greatest strength, however, is its elegiac tone that supposits the 1980s as Hong Kong’s golden age. With its era-appropriate soundtrack and plenty of nods back to the 80s, it’s a comforting nostalgia trip. With the city once again uncertain of its future direction, this theme of past glories ought to find a ready audience, even among those who can barely remember the era, if at all.
With Trivisa and Ten Years also released in the last 12 months and put together by relatively new names, the local film industry might finally be turning a corner. Weeds on Fire is not as strong as the aforementioned films, but even if director Chan hasn’t hit a home run, he’s made it to first base. Here’s hoping local cinema can stop looking back at previous achievements and start looking ahead to exciting new creations. Douglas Parkes