Last night I had the privilege of being invited to a special New York Asian Film Festival pre-screening for High Noon. After being incredibly disappointed not to see Gary Cooper or Grace Kelly anywhere on screen, I was quite happy to see to a fine film about lower-class youth in Hong Kong. Director Mak Hei-yan was there to introduce the film and conduct a Q&A afterwards.

It was a little surprising to see the screening taking place at the Tribeca Grand Hotel, but indeed, tucked in beneath the hotel was a plush screening room that seated 100 people. State of the art projection! Surround sound! Leather seats that don’t recline! It was all very fancy and thankfully laid-back.

Due to some unfortunate technical problems during the screening it wouldn’t be fair for me to review the full film, but I was incredibly impressed with it. When’s the last time you saw a Hong Kong film that depicted teenagers in a somewhat negative light?
It starts off fairly innocently as it focuses on seven high school
boys who pal around, getting into trouble at school for no real good
reason except boredom and the usual teenage rebellion. But things get
progressively worse as they all start to have that jarring transition
into adulthood. Teen pregnancy, suicide, violence… all the worst you
can experience as a kid is explored here.
The easiest way to describe it would probably be as Kids in Hong Kong, but that’s a horribly cheap way to demonstrate what director Mak has accomplished here. I can’t remember the last time a film has so accurately nailed what it’s like to be a stupid teenager, getting into trouble and shirking school to hang out with your friends. Perhaps it is the director’s youth that allowed her to get a handle on what so many have failed, as she was only 22 herself when she directed this film. Rounding up kids from the neighborhood and instructing them to simply roleplay, she managed to get some great, realistic performances out of them and make a truly powerful film.

It’s also elicited a fair bit of controversy, as the film has somehow managed to snag a Category III rating. It’s basically the equivalent of an NC-17 over there, and so unfair I can’t even begin to tell you. High Noon has only tiny glimpses of violence, sex and drug use, but it was apparently the fact that they were underage that made the ratings board balk and give it the rating that usually only pornographic films get (as well as some notable horror films, of course).
The film does have its problems- like with the musical choices that are a little overbearing and beat you over the head, but if a movie like this wasn’t rough it wouldn’t feel authentic. Indeed, as Mak explained in the Q&A after the film, most of the stories were from her own youth growing up in Hong Kong.

The Q&A was fantastic, perhaps aided by the fact that this is Mak’s first film and that she was so well-spoken, andclear in her intentions making the film. So many directors seem like they’re just going down a list of talking points and stories from their experience, but she seemed amazed that her film is getting around so much and talked at length about the process of creating it. She wanted the world to know that this how some kids live, and while it may be shocking to a film-going public that never sees this side of things, it makes an important message. This is a director to watch, people.

After, we all went next door to fill ourselves with booze and spring rolls and shmooze with the rest of the journalist and industry folk. A really great night, one that got everyone excited about what’s to come next week when the Festival really kicks off.

High Noon is screening on Tuesday June 23rd- unfortunately at 1:05 PM. If you get a chance to see it it’s highly recommended, so pick up tickets through The NYAFF’s official site here!