New York Film Festival: Signal 8

A still from “Signal 8.”
A still from “Signal 8.”

Dir. Simon Liu. 14 minutes.

A montage of squalid, dystopic images from Hong Kong, Simon Liu’s “Signal 8” is obviously fortunately timed for a serious reception.

There’s nothing explicitly sinister about the portrait of urban life Liu draws for us: images of Hongkongers riding escalators and visiting amusement parks are all, at least superficially, very mundane. Perhaps it’s Liu’s focus on the machinery that creates an ominous atmosphere: everywhere, citizens are enclosed by machines or watched over by them, appearing dwarfed by an all-surrounding brutalist architecture. Even a shot of automatic lawn sprinklers can be creepy, given the right context. Liu’s idea is clear: that Hongkongers exist at the mercy of an overwhelmingly extensive and all-penetrating system, a claim that seems hard to dispute at this point.

At times, it does feel as if Liu just spent a week collecting footage around Hong Kong and then cobbled it together and called it a movie. All the same, this tungsten-lit, water-stained hell is worth 14 minutes to experience.