Last year, the seeds planted by the Hong Kong’s Fresh Wave International Short Film Festival finally came to fruition when films by its alumni – namely Trivisa (樹大招風), Mad World (一念無明), and Ten Years (十年) – won critical acclaim across the region.

For the past 11 years, the festival has provided a platform (and a decent budget) for young emerging filmmakers to show off their skills without any external artistic or commercial influence. Many of its former participants have since entered the film industry in different positions, proving that the master plan that Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council laid out 11 years ago was truly effective after all.

This year’s Five Flavours Film Festival in Warsaw, Poland is highlighting four vastly different entries from this year’s festival. These films cover different genres and explore complex themes that are rarely seen in the hyper-commercial world of Hong Kong cinema.

Actor-director Jun Li won the festival’s best film and best director awards in the open division this year with Liu Yang He (瀏陽河), a finely tuned chamber piece about the emotionally ambiguous relationship between a prostitute from mainland China (played by longtime character actress Rain Lau) and a social worker. With a sense of maturity beyond the typical Fresh Wave entry, Liu Yang He is a very promising effort by Li, who also co-stars in upcoming indie drama I Miss You When I See You (看見你便想見你).

Also about a prostitute is Realism (現實主義) in the student division. Starting off as a mockumentary about a girl who uses compensated dating as a form of resistance against the patriarchy (don’t worry, the film doesn’t take it seriously, either), Realism eventually turns into an intriguing examination of the documentary format and questions the “truths” that the genre presents. The student division, which is made up of representatives from higher education institutes in Hong Kong, has always been a hit-and-miss section, but Realism is one of the more interesting entries that I’ve seen from the division in the history of the competition.

Even with their limited budget, some participants make valiant attempts into genre cinema. While that usually yields mixed results in Fresh Wave, Michelle Hung’s Little Shop of Grotesque in the open division represents one of the more effective attempts at horror in the competition. Set in the a flower shop, the psychological drama follows a flower shop assistant who becomes increasingly unhinged as she tries to breed her own flower. The art direction – especially the plant designs – is especially stellar considering the limited means of the typical Fresh Wave film, and a female-led horror film is always worth looking out for.

While Fresh Wave presents a platform for young filmmakers to delve into the experimental, there are also filmmakers who choose to make use of more traditional forms of storytelling. In the vein of Academy Award-winning British short The Phone Call, Life on the Line (命懸一念) by burgeoning scriptwriter Ashley Cheung – also the daughter of Man on the Brink (邊緣人) director Alex Cheung – is a cleverly scripted melodrama about a counselor on a suicide prevention hotline (played by Hong Kong indie queen Joman Chiang) whose latest call has a surprising tie to a tragedy in her life.

As Hong Kong commercial cinema continues to grapple with its identity amidst an uncertain future, the Fresh Wave competition shows that there are still plenty of young talented storytellers ready to prove their worth whenever an adventurous investor is ready to give them a chance.

Five Flavours’ Fresh Wave program will be screened at 17:00 on Friday, November 17th. Admission is free, and the filmmakers will be present at the screening.

Asia in Cinema is a media partner of this year’s Five Flavours Film Festival