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High Noon

High Noon

The boys of High Noon

AKA: Winds of September - The Hong Kong Chapter
Chinese: 烈日當空  
Year: 2008
Director: Heiward Mak Hei-Yan
Producer: Eric Tsang Chi-Wai
Writer: Heiward Mak Hei-Yan
Cast: Lam Yiu-Sing, Sham Ka-Kei, Anjo Leung Hiu-Fung, Liu Pak-Wing, Wu Wing-Tung, Hyun Tin-Yeung, Chan Yiu-Wing, Venus Wong Man-Yik, Yu Mun-Ming, Wan Yeung-Ming, Jo Koo
The Skinny: The Hong Kong chapter of the Eric Tsang-produced Winds of September youth film series starts poorly but improves so much that it becomes surprisingly compelling. Cheap, fast, unpolished, and not bad at all.
by Kozo:

The Hong Kong chapter of the Eric Tsang-produced Winds of September youth film trilogy, High Noon quickly establishes its own distinct personality. 24 year-old director Heiward Mak introduces the protagonists of her seven-boy bunch in chintzy, even annoying fashion, using a bouncy soundtrack and cheesy freeze frames to identify each boy's face and name, before diving full force into the film's assemblage of hot button high-school issues and hyper-emotional overacting. The film is immediately similar and different from director Tom Lin's Winds of September - The Taiwan Chapter, as it possesses the same general themes of youth and friendship, but it goes about exploring them in a vastly different way. Unlike The Taiwan Chapter, High Noon takes place in Hong Kong, it's shot in video, and it starts in what looks like an ill-advised, wannabe hip cinema fashion. However, while the initial response may be one of aversion, the film improves greatly before it's over.

Wing (Lam Yiu-Sing) starts the school term a loner, but soon falls in with a crowd of fellows who welcome him into their ranks. A disparate bunch, the group spends their school days screwing around, getting into fights, and singing karaoke. They also smoke, swear, and go about demonstrating their unique personalities, which range from dedicated bookworm to stalwart friend to fat prankster, closet drug user, and two-timing playboy. That last member gets his exploits publicized in an embarrassing manner ripped straight from the headlines: he makes a video of his sexual exploits on his camera phone, only to have it sent to the unsuspecting masses. He's actually not too embarrassed, but the girl (Yu Mun-Ming) doesn't seem too thrilled that she's now on everybody's mobile phone or PSP. Meanwhile, Wing contends with his crappy home life, where his father (Wan Yeung-Ming) sometimes uses him as a punching bag. There's also an all-important exam coming up at the end of the year. Yeah, it's high school, all right.

At least, it's high school in Hong Kong. Like The Taiwan Chapter, High Noon takes a group of seven boys and uses the dissolution of their friendship to explore their environment and their emotions. The Taiwan Chapter was picturesque and quietly melodramatic - a successful case study in Taiwanese film style that managed to both explore and idealize the end of innocence. High Noon doesn't idealize youth, choosing to present more sordid content than the Taiwan chapter ever did. These kids seem to be courting worse fates than their Taiwanese counterparts, and aren't actively doing much to prevent a bad end. The film alternates between hopelessness and youthful revelry, making it uneven. Occasionally, the film's hip style and obvious themes even make it feel a bit pandering.

But the film does definitely feel like "Hong Kong" - especially when compared to the previous entry's "Taiwan". Heiward Mak uses a variety of flashy, sometimes ill-advised technique, like dream sequences, heavy voiceover, and MTV-influenced montage. While sometimes alienating, the technique does aptly convey Hong Kong's fast-paced, independent, and hyper-emotional nature. The kids in High Noon fight hopelessness and despair, but their circumstances are not favorable and sometimes their elders simply can't or won't help. As such, the sometimes-bouncy tone works as counterpoint to whatever individual pain these kids are experiencing. Loneliness, neglect, frustration - the kids escape these things through their daily play, and pass their time in an understandably careless fashion. That is, until the bottom drops out and they find themselves staring into the abyss.

Winds of September - The Taiwan Chapter feels like it's as much about Taiwan cinema as it is about youth, and likewise High Noon channels a prevailing impression of Hong Kong Cinema. The production is a cheap and dirty one, but it possesses surprising power and emotion. The film does eventually resort to some clichés, including the cloying use of spoken metaphor (undue metaphor is perhaps Hong Kong Cinema's most tired signifier). Choices like that betray Heiward Mak's inexperience, but the ultimate package that she puts together is surprising and worth appreciating. Mak has a fine eye, finding moments to sneak in the occasional beautiful image, and she uses her Category III rating wisely, delivering surprising but not exploitative content that feels real - exaggerated and hyperemotional though it may be. The film sometimes feels calculated, and it's hard to credit it as entirely real because it's a very manipulated form of reality, designed to elicit a response rather than simply speak for itself. But the film finds strengths in its heightened emotions and its daring, and is fast, unpolished, and ultimately felt. In many ways, one could say that it channels the Hong Kong Cinema spirit. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, 2008)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
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