One of the three new films playing at SIFF this weekend as part of their miniseries commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, along with Mad World and Cook Up a Storm, Weeds on Fire was one of the surprise hits of 2016 in Hong Kong. The based on true events story follows the founding of the Shatin Martins baseball team, and plays as a more or less conventional, and conventionally uplifting sports story, albeit with a harder edge to its story of high school youth than we see here in America. Think of it as A League of Their Own, but for the kids from Dangerous Encounters – First Kind (the English title is consciously recalling such rebellious Ringo Lam films as City on Fire and School on Fire, the film’s Chinese title means “Half a Step”, which is more generically sports-centric.)
Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.
Superficially more conventional than Beyond Zero: 1914-1918 and Back to the Soil, in its clear and direct narrative about the discovery of buried nitrate film in the Yukon. But in circling back to tell the simultaneous stories of cinema, Gold Rush, and the rise and fall of a western town, it contains multitudes. Dawson City is either a remarkable locus point of history or it’s not: who knows what forgotten histories lurk beneath our swimming pools.
In what is essentially a sequel to his greatest film, 1993’s Dazed and Confused, director Richard Linklater again sketches an ethnography of baseball-playing Texans in the Carter years. With in-coming freshman Jake (Blake Jenner), tall, broad of shoulder and square of jaw, the most all-American Jake there ever was, as our guide to the world surrounding the off-campus housing of the Southeast Texas University baseball team, the film begins hitting every known beat of the college film, taking cues especially from the juvenile romps of the late 70s and early 80s. The first of five days in the film introduces the team and establishes their various personalities and approaches to life, the end goals of which are universally baseball, woman and beer, and not necessarily in that order. Jake affably meets smooth-talking Finnegan (Glen Powell), somewhat dim Plummer (Temple Baker), henpecked farm boy Beuter (Will Brittain) and apparently insane Niles (Juston Street) among a host of other tall, healthy, reasonably handsome, hyper-competetive men. They spend their first night together drinking and dancing at a local disco and hooking up with a steady supply of casually available women. It’s exactly the kind of obnoxious fantasy of college life you’d imagine 18 year old athletes dream about. But rather than spend a whole film indulging this fantasy, Linklater expands and deepens his film, creating a film that is as much a dumb frat comedy as Dazed and Confused is a stoner comedy, which is to say not at all.