For one week, Metrograph Pictures will be virtually screening a new restoration of Fruit Chan’s 1997 Made in Hong Kong, a lofty piece that explores abject teenagers in subsidized housing. Newcomer Sam Lee stars as Autumn Moon, a high school dropout that becomes a loan shark after his father left for a second family. Throughout the film, Autumn provides the intermittent voiceover, a narration of restrained self-awareness and conviction of a bleak future often postulated by a disenfranchised generation. He saunters through streets and hallways with abrasion and can charm into coercion for most situations, but still remains an enigmatic presence on-screen. When his life stops in its tracks after meeting Ping (Neiky Yim), the daughter of a single mother who owes money to his boss, Autumn’s psyche becomes more prismatic, away from the darkness of abandon and into a fragmented purpose.
On a cursory glance, Made in Hong Kong sounds like a declaration from a desultory Gen X. Without initially intending to, the film had represented as a cultural response to Great Britain’s handover of the city to China in the summer before its release. Its reflexive timing to a historical event could have tucked this away into a bombastic thesis of young despondency, which, from the featured triad members to the disillusioned acts of rebellion, isn’t too far off. But under the same sunlight, it’s almost independently aloof in its mission to showcase the city’s youths, especially those affected by chronic illnesses and the sparse accommodations in housing projects. Attuning to controversy with exploitation, it can be as thunderous as Larry Clark’s Kids and as demure as Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin.
Chan doesn’t spare a moment to idle, a feat that’s more admirable knowing that the film salvages leftover reels from previous projects he’s worked on. Autumn is performed with a natural buoyancy of a gangly, reckless teenager that it’s difficult to believe that any scene was rehearsed at all. The jarring compositions between the bare necessities of living conditions and the violent imagination of adolescents make for a set design that demands permanence behind these characters, teetering between desolation and absurdity. When a peer, Susan, commits suicide early in the film, her death is a smear of periwinkle, a hue that feels as dreamlike as dark blue in later scenes feels nightmarish. As generations up and go, pieces like this will remain an important twinkle in the waves, and Made in Hong Kong freely swims between social and historic, nonchalant and with feeling.
Made in Hong Kong
dir. Fruit Chan
New restoration — available via Metrograph on 11/27-12/4!
While you’re there, check out their interview with director Fruit Chan.
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