Dicky Cheung, Francis Sung, Mildred Mei-Lin Chang
WRITTEN AND DIRECTED BY
Lai Nor Ngan
"St. Joseph Freinademetz" a Unique, Intriguing Production
It seems unfair to review the film St. Joseph Freinademetz - The First Saint to Ever Serve in Hong Kong according to my usual cinematic scale, though the fact is the film was presented to The Independent Critic and I am, in fact, a film journalist. The film has the look and feel of a Fathom Event - essentially a live recording of a theatrical production based upon the life of St. Joseph Freinademetz, a name likely more familiar to those of the Catholic faith as he was the first, you guessed it, a missionary who became a saint and, thus, was the first saint ever to serve in Hong Kong.
A member of the missionary congregation Society of the Divine Word, Freinademetz was first ordained in 1875 and was assigned to the community of San Martin de Tor. However, he felt the strong calling as a missionary and within three years had moved to Steyl, Netherlands to study with the Society and within short order was on his way to China.
As noted, this "film" is actually a quite gorgeous and beautiful to behold theatrical production that has been filmed in order to reach an even wider audience. As someone who has a background in theatre, it was not a hard shifting of the mind to adapt to watching a fairly pure stage production though it might've been better to ensure a clear explanation as certain film critics simply wouldn't be comfortable reviewing such an effort.
Writer/director Lai Nor Ngan has a background in choreography and that background shines brightly in the way this film is brought to life. While the production never really loses its theatricality, the choreography helps keep the production from ever from being ineffective as a film. In fact, it's quite effective and an incredibly intelligent, intriguing production that I enjoyed from beginning to end.
The film incorporates music, dance, movement and imagery in such a way that it weaves together the power of its religious message and the intimacy of a story that essentially centers around one man's life. Upon submission it was acknowledged that St. Joseph Freinademetz is undeniably a Catholic film, yet anyone who appreciates the weaving of spirituality and storytelling into a film will find it possible to appreciate the film.
A good number of the people involved with the production are newcomers to film, including the director, and while that occasionally displays itself it also gives the film an authenticity and honesty that enhances the viewing experience.
While St. Joseph Freinademetz may not be a film for everyone, for those who can embrace stage adaptations, Fathom styled events, or simply experimental cinema there's quite a bit here to enjoy and for those of the Catholic faith I'd dare say that the film is a must see.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic