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Mid-year Hong Kong Cinema Top 10, or a list of half the movies released in 2009

Wong Cho-Lam believes that we can save Hong Kong Cinema:

Hello American people!
“Hong Kong Cinema fans, yes we can!”

If it’s not clear from his outfit and slightly darkened skin, that’s Wong Cho-Lam doing an Obama impression. Score another one against Political Correctness. I found myself so offended by the above that I immediately went to see TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN.

 Twins
Setting the art of cinema back two decades.

After seeing TF:ROTF, a friend asked me if I found the film to be racist, and I would have to say that I did. The film was racist, sexist, juvenile and immensely stupid. It also had awesome visual effects so I can’t say that I didn’t get a little of what I paid for.

Was I offended by Michael Bay’s fist-pump into my grill? Not really. To be fair, Hong Kong Cinema, which I regularly champion, has long been xenophobic and culturally insensitive too. TRANSFORMERS 2 was disturbing in its 2.5 hour onslaught of general immaturity, but if the Internet and beer commercials have taught us anything, it’s that the true measure of conventional taste can be found on a junior high school playground.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s something offensive about this picture too:

More toys
This picture makes fun of death metal aficionados and illegal aliens

On to the topic actually described in our post slug…

2009 is now half over and predictably, Hong Kong Cinema isn’t doing so hot. Up until June 30th, Hong Kong has barely seen over 20 locally-produced films, co-production or otherwise, so choosing a Top 10 at this juncture is a bit ridiculous. The top three or four films are justifiably good ones, but once you hit number 8 through 10, you’re dabbling in average if not lesser stuff.

But what the hell, I’ll post a Top 10 list anyway.

Lam Suet
“Yessss! You are the man, Kozo!”

Hey, thanks. I try.

By the way, I have to preface this list by saying that I have yet to see three films from the first half of 2009: I CORRUPT ALL COPS, A VERY SHORT LIFE and TEAM OF MIRACLE: WE WILL ROCK YOU. Kevin Ma reviewed the first two and I’ll catch all three on DVD eventually. The second one is already available, but somehow I’m not going nuts trying to squeeze it into my viewing schedule. I’d rather play more STREET FIGHTER IV on my new Samsung LCD television.

My TV
My credit card…maxed out again.

Anyway, here’s my list of notable Hong Kong movies from the first half of 2009:

RED CLIFF 2
NIGHT AND FOG
CLAUSTROPHOBIA
THE FIRST 7TH NIGHT
TACTICAL UNIT - COMRADES IN ARMS
SHORT OF LOVE
SHINJUKU INCIDENT
THE SNIPER
PERMANENT RESIDENCE
BASIC LOVE

Yes, BASIC LOVE and PERMANENT RESIDENCE made my Top 10 list for the first half of 2009. In equally disturbing news, I ate a bug.

 Bug
Hmmm…protein.

By the way, if you’re following along, the above is a reference to a blog post from a loooooong time ago, where I said I would eat a bug if LADY COP AND PAPA CROOK sucked. Well, it did and I ate a bug. I probably would not have gone through with my glib promise, but people actually mentioned this to me through email AND in person, so I somehow felt I had to keep my word. I only missed three days of work, too. The lesson I learned: word your promises carefully, so nobody can claim that you are a liar.

 Crimes are bad
“I’m going to eat a bug too…
…after an indefinite period of time
which I will not define publicly.”

Some notes: Both THE FIRST 7TH NIGHT and CLAUSTROPHOBIA are actually 2008 films, but since they weren’t counted at LoveHKFilm.com’s annual awards-fest, I’m throwing them into the ring this year. Some films I dropped from consideration were Media Asia’s CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH, which I would count as a China film due to co-production status and subject matter, and Edko’s BLOOD: THE LAST VAMPIRE, which is largely Hong Kong-produced, but should never be considered a Hong Kong film because of, well, pretty much everything about it outside of Corey Yuen. It’s also really bad.

Last year, Donnie Yen said, “There is no more Hong Kong Cinema.” I’m inclined to agree. 2009’s top Hong Kong film so far, ALL’S WELL END’S WELL 2009, deferred so much to mainland China that it’s hard to classify as a Hong Kong film. Sure, it was a virtual remake of the 1992 ALL’s WELL END’S WELL, but with mainland locations and actors, it ended up not having much of a Hong Kong identity. Back in the eighties and nineties, this wasn’t the case, as movies could survive handily despite targeting only local audiences. Nowadays, it’s all about pleasing the people up north.

This guy knows which side his bread is buttered on:

Jackie and Panda
In an effort to annoy even more of Asia,
Jackie Chan has turned to harrassing pandas

Hong Kong Cinema’s eroding identity is a problem that’s probably never going to see a solution, as the local film industry is no longer self-sufficient. Hong Kong’s former status as “Hollywood East” was completely illogical anyway, since a territory this small should never have been able to support an industry with an output of 300-400 films yearly. The movie industry of the eighties and early nineties really was lightning in a bottle. Hong Kong Cinema had it all: charismatic stars, a paying public, modest budgets, populist genres, and creative filmmakers. Which of those five factors still remains strong today? I’m betting not more than one or two.

Thankfully, 2009 gave us this movie, which had the best near-kiss of the year:

Close talkers
“Come closer, you handsome devil.”

Yep, after about 2 minutes of consideration, I’m giving the Best Film of 2009 - Early Edition Award to John Woo’s RED CLIFF 2 because it’s probably the most entertaining and satisfying motion picture I’ve seen this year. Is it really a Hong Kong film? That’s somewhat questionable, but at least local audiences actually went to see it. Besides, the rules of the LoveHKFilm Awards allow it.

What’s the big lesson from this whole discussion? Probably that most of the films currently on the above Top 10 list will not be present come January 2010. This year still has a slew of promising stuff coming out. Sure, not MURDERER, but WRITTEN BY already leapfrogs over most of the Top 10 list, and I’m hoping stuff like OVERHEARD, BODYGUARDS AND ASSASSINS, ON HIS MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE, VENGEANCE or the new MCDULL movie may end up knocking BASIC LOVE off this list.

Bodyguards and Assassins
If this movie is not better than PERMANENT RESIDENCE,
I’ll take an indefinite leave of absence from the Hong Kong Entertainment circle

I’ve got high hopes for Ivy Ho’s CROSSING HENNESSY too:

Crossing Hennessy
I’m betting that Tang Wei and Jacky Cheung
will break the post-MURDERER Edko Films curse

We also have STORM WARRIORS to look forward to, and between them Dante Lam and Herman Yau have about thirty movies in production.  There’s also another Wong Cho-Lam movie, plus the return of Stephy, so 2009 still has some promise. Maybe.

I just hope that audiences turn out to see these movies - yes, including the one starring Stephy. If there’s actually a paying audience for these flims, it may one day pave the way for Hong Kong Cinema to release, oh, 60 films per year if not a whopping 70. All it takes is some box office support and a little less downloading or bootleg buying. Actually giving a crap would help too.

Just remember:

Together
The best advice is always found on the side of a van

15 Responses to “Mid-year Hong Kong Cinema Top 10, or a list of half the movies released in 2009”

  1. Wongsaurus Says:

    Hi Kozo! Out of your top ten list of the moment, I’ve only seen Tactical Unit: Comrade In Arms and The Sniper. Needless to say, both were just B entertainment and hardly top grade. The lack of really good movies means that in this global recession audiences also spend their entertainment $$$ in other areas than HK movies. Also with the increasingly dominant mainland influence and the need to reach international markets, it’s no wonder that the HK film industry is waning. Over the last ten years we’ve all been sadly witnessing the slow death of HK film as we knew it. The bright spot — and I hope it is not a forlorn hope — is that perhaps this is part of a continuing evolution of HK cinema and that a new generation of filmmakers and technology will enable the creation of new and uniquely HK movies once again. A metamorphosis or a rennaisance perhaps.

  2. Panda Says:

    Hey, Kozo! Will you consider “Equation of Love and Death” for from the first half of 2009? Zhou Xun’s performance is great!

    I like your blog post! It also reminds me so many DVDs that I still have to watch to keep up with HK Cinema…

  3. Leemoy Says:

    Hello, Kozo.

    Even Hollywood have their problem to create original stories.

    Hong Kong really needs to find new talents. Wong jing has recycling himself to survive. We are near apocalypse. lol

  4. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Hi Wongsaurus, I’m of the opinion that COMRADES IN ARMS is better than B-grade, though it’s most definitely a minor release. I too am hoping for some sort of renaissance in Hong Kong Cinema, but I think it’ll only happen when local audiences support HK Cinema in greater numbers.

    Hey Panda, you are correct, I forgot to consider EQUATION OF LOVE AND DEATH. If one considers Zhou Xun as a Hong Kong actress (she’s a resident of the territory) then it does qualify as per the egregiously loose LoveHKFilm Award rules. I would put EQUATION somewhere between CLAUSTROPHOBIA and THE FIRST 7TH NIGHT, meaning we can send BASIC LOVE packing. Now if only we could find a way to get rid of PERMANENT RESIDENCE.

    Leemoy, you’re correct that Hollywood can’t think of anything original. We now have VIEWMASTER: THE MOVIE and movies based on every toy franchise imaginable coming to cinemas. Hong Kong should base films on their pastimes too. I vote for PSP WI-FI PARTY: THE MOVIE or LOITERING AT MCDONALDS or FINGER GUESSING GAMES: THE MOVIE.

    Oh wait, they already made that last one.

  5. V Says:

    Thank you, Kozo, for the mid-year evaluation. Being almost entirely dependent on buying DVDs for new Hong Kong movies, I have only seen one from your Top 10 list. Thanks to the local Asian Film Festival, I got to watch Written By a few days ago, and liked it a lot. I’m hoping that Vengeance and Crossing Hennessy turn out to be fine movies. We’ll have to wait and see.

    Nice TV, Kozo! Btw, those bugs look awfully big. Hope it was more pleasing in taste than looks.

  6. Mic Says:

    Once again, a cracking good post Kozo. One thing I appreciate is the way you actually speak out about the declining quality of HK cinema (I was the guy who emailed you a while back on the subject… although doubt you remember.)

    It’s very frustrating. I grew up with the greatness of the early 90s like the classic Stephen Chow films, the Hui brothers, and Jacky Cheung (when he actually did movies, not cameos.) Oh… and when Edison wasn’t around… lol.

    Many films were light-weight and with low budgets. But that all didn’t matter because the actors looked as if they were having a good time and a good laugh. All that made the films enjoyable and charming to watch. Now it’s all big budgets, pretty people and seeking approval from the northerners.

    Keep on digging Kozo… Sooner or later they’ll come around :)

  7. r Says:

    For anyone interested, I just saw Jeff Yang’s latest Asian Pop article is on the state of HK cinema

    The rise and fall — and rise? — of Hong Kong cinema
    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2009/07/22/apop072209.DTL

    (and I hope you didn’t actually get sick from eating that bug Kozo :p)

  8. 1lau Says:

    I’ve seen Transformers 2 at the Cinema as well. It was quite entertaining with the special effects, jokes and reference to the original story/cartoon. It wasn’t very great, the battle scenes sometimes even sucked. Some time I couldn’t see who was fighting against which enemy.

    The pictures and comments of this article was hilarious again.
    I still have to see one of the 10 movies you’ve mentioned :Lol: Red cliff one wasn’t even watched yet…

  9. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Boy, most of you have to catch up on your Hong Kong films. Most of the films in the Top 10 above are worth seeing even if they’re not really, really good. Then again, I’m of the opinion that practically anything - up to and including MURDERER - is worth seeing.

    The bug tasted fine. With some pepper and tabasco it worked out well. I was joking about getting sick, though.

    V, great you had a chance to see WRITTEN BY. Back when I was in the states and had the rare chance to see a first run Hong Kong film, it always felt very special.

    Mic, I agree these are tough times, and that the films of the 80s and 90s had a joy and fun that are sorely missing now. One day I would like to write more extensively on the subject, but I wonder if it’s possible without sounding like some bitter old man who fought in the war.

    r, thanks for the link!

    1lau, TRANSFORMERS 2 was an entertaining time at the movies - for about 1 hour. Stretched to 2.5 hours it becomes sensory overload if not sheer torture. Most people I’ve met think it’s awesome.

  10. Timo Says:

    Kozo, are you ever gonna watch those remaining TACTICAL UNITs? Because if you did, your rankings might just change a bit.

    Lawrence Lau’s two entries are VERY solid (one a bit more than the other, but both still heads and shoulders above his most recent ‘own’ films as well as the other entries in this series).

    And Andy Ng’s entry, while a lot sloppier, is still quite fun, mostly thanks to a fantastically overacting Gordon Lam who probably deserves your annual award for it.

  11. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Timo, I will try to get to those Tactical Units soon. My ability to catch stuff on DVD is non-existent at the moment. Been spending a lot of time at the cinema watching old films, if not new stuff. I will watch those Tactical Units one day. Hell, I have to or I’ll be way behind for next year’s annual awards.

    I look forward to Gordon Lam’s overacting, but I think he’s already getting competition from Aaron Kwok and Michael Wong.

  12. David Harris Says:

    Hi Kozo & everyone else

    My ability to buy DVD’s has taken a beating this year so sadly I have to report that unless you include the UK cinema edit of Red Cliff I’ve seen zero of the 10 :(

    Ah the UK cinema version of Red Cliff…..English voiceovers in a Chinese language film?!? Also ridiculously huge character intros (complete with English names & “job descriptions”) - the bromance was indeed amusing but that said once things got going it kicked butt (I almost swear I could see the join between one & two) - I hope there is a UK DVD version that has both films unedited (I’d be surprised if there wasn’t TBH)

    Michael Wong - “Lost & Found” & “Beastcops” seem SO long ago now…..

    SARFT issues are robbing HK films of a good chunk of what made them what they were. The films are getting made which is good but it sucks hard that there is a smaller box to play in - maybe HK companies should see if Bill Gates wants to get into films!

    Seriously though maybe co-productions with Western companies might be a way to greater diversity…..maybe maybe not you might just get a whole new bunch of compromises

    I remain optimistic though :)

    On a side note I’m at this very moment listening to the awesome scottish folk song from the funeral scenes in “Lost & Found” - such a great song

  13. andy Says:

    Red Cliff is all about (ancient) China, and yet it’s at the top of your list as best film. A contradiction to your China-phobia, don’t you think?

  14. TheGoldenRock Says:

    Considering that Kozo lives in Hong Kong, reviews Chinese-language films, and is Chinese, I would highly doubt that he has China-phobia.

    Idiot-phobia, on the other hand……

  15. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    @TheGoldenRock,

    Nah, I’m not Idiot-phobic either.

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