beyond the multiplex

Friday, August 05, 2005

PERSISTENCE OF VISION -- When the British handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, one of the many anticipated effects was the decline of the island colony's thriving film industry. Before the transfer, leading lights such as director John Woo and action stars Chow Yun-Fat and Jackie Chan had embarked on Hollywood careers, and the perception was that the inventive, crowd-pleasing genre films of the 1990s marked a brief flowering before the oppressive new overlords had their say.

It hasn't quite panned out that way, as the Northwest Film Center's "Hong Kong Horizons" series demonstrates. The eight-film lineup shows that quality films continue to emerge from the territory, even if they don't quite approach the brilliance of such flicks as "Hard-Boiled" or "Drunken Master."

Director Johnny To has proved a worthy heir to Woo, and his 2001 film "Fulltime Killer" opens the series. Andy Lau stars as Tok, a hired gun who involves a hired cleaning girl in his rivalry with O, another professional assassin. With familiar stylistic tics -- a roving airborne camera, slow motion -- To's film could be seen as derivative, but he adds self-referential touches like Tok's obsession with action movies to give "Fulltime Killer" an almost tongue-in-cheek appeal.

Also showing is 2002's "The Eye," an intermittently eerie horror film from the Pang brothers, Oxide and Danny. It starts out creepily enough but devolves into pretty standard stuff. ("Fulltime Killer" plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday; "The Eye" plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Both films screen in the Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum.)

LOW-GRADE FEVER PITCH -- The German comedy "Liberated Zone" is one of those foreign films that prompts wonder at why it was selected for American distribution. After all, we make plenty of movies like this right here in the U.S. It's a fitfully charming, modest tale set in a backwater eastern German burg, where soccer is the ruling passion. Sylvia (Johanna Klante) is going through tough times with her boyfriend. When she meets Ade Banjo (Michael Ojake), the town's football hero and apparently its only black resident, sparks fly and complications ensue. The potential for sharp pokes at German attitudes toward minorities, the disparities between East and West or the effect of sports mania on a small town goes mostly unfulfilled. Which makes it seem even more like an American studio product. (Opens Friday at the Hollywood Theatre.)

COORDINATED CHAOS -- The annual Burning Man festival in northern Nevada has a well-earned reputation as a cacophonous freak show, an event where anything goes. That may be the case, but the documentary "Burning Man: Beyond Black Rock" looks past the veneer of insanity to reveal the meticulously orchestrated process that results in the creation and dismantling of a city of 30,000 people. With about 200 paid employees and an annual budget of $7 million, this is a big-time operation, and the film provides a fascinating look at the preparations leading up to the 2003 festival. If the climactic burn at the event's conclusion isn't as cathartic onscreen as it seems to the participants, maybe that's because this organized anarchy is the ultimate instance of "you had to be there." (Plays at 9 p.m. Friday at the Crystal Ballroom. It will be followed by an after party featuring Mutaytor, billed as an "interactive techno/retro funk ensemble." Tickets are $20.)

In his search for worthy movies of all stripes, Portland freelance writer Marc Mohan has learned that hidden treasures often lie waiting in places without stadium seating. He can be reached at

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