Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Saturday, April 29, time 3.00 PM

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Shed Skin Papa

An acclaimed theatre production gets a classy big-screen makeover in Shed Skin Papa, a quirky comedy-drama from stage and film talent Roy Szeto. The old man of the title is Tian Yat-hung (Francis Ng), father to failing filmmaker Lik-hang (Louis Koo). Following the death of his mother (Jessie Li), the debt-laden younger son takes up care for his father, who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s, and he also deals with a toxic career path and a wife (Jacky Cai) who wants to file for divorce.
Things take a sudden turn for the weird when Dad’s skin starts peeling and he begins to not only look more youthful but also think clearly, too. After an MRI shows that Yat-hung is 20 years younger than his real age and his corpse-like old skin is discovered at home, a strange realisation sets in: Dad has moulted, and he somehow turned back the clock as well.
That transformation isn’t the last for Yat-hung. Further skin-shedding follows and he gets increasingly youthful, with Lik-hang able to look back in time at each stage and gain deeper insight into his parents’ lives. Up to now, Lik-hang hasn’t been close with his father, but as he comes to learn more about his old man’s history a stronger bond could finally take root. And with it, too, could be a chance for Lik-hang to finally find inspiration to turn his own troubled life around.

Based on the theatre work Nukegara by Japanese playwright Tsukuda Norihiko, Shed Skin Papa arrives in cinemas with a strong pedigree. Director Szeto first staged the play in Hong Kong in 2011 as Shed Skin, and the production scooped up seven Hong Kong Drama Awards in the following year. Popular demand fuelled a re-run in 2014 before Szeto set about taking the material to the silver screen.
The appeal of the stage play for cinema adaptation is clear as soon as Shed Skin Papa launches into Yat-hung’s repeated fantastical transformations, which peak when the father’s many iterations appear in a single scene. Szeto couples impressive makeup and effects with a delightful, wide-ranging performance from Francis Ng to great cinematic effect as the peculiar journey unfolds. (Ng handles scenes of reverse ageing up to a point, however: his son Feynman takes over in the youngest age.)

Further drama comes in with Lik-hang’s troubled relationship with wife Lai-wah and the tension that sets in when an old classmate and actress (Kristal Tin) re-enters the scene, while more touching and off-beat material arrives when the early years of the parents play out, complete with a colourful diversion into aviation thrills. And while Shed Skin Papa may come from the theatre, the narrative is very much linked to local film thematically, highlighting Lik-hang’s career blowout after flying high with an award-winning directing debut. Drawing together so much in an easy-going pop-cinema package, and bringing out fine performances from across the cast, Szeto shows he’s a key talent not only in helming theatre works but in serving up cinema crowd-pleasers too.
Tim Youngs
Film director: 
Roy Szeto
Year: 
2016
Running time: 
105

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