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Kozo’s Top 20 Hong Kong Films of the Decade

I’m back from vacation, back in Hong Kong, and hip-deep in work. As such, this long-belated Kozo-approved Best of the Decade list is going old school. That means no countdown, few if any photos and only minor comments after each film. I’d prefer to save all my effort for the lists voted upon by the readers.

First, the standard disclaimer. The picks in my Top 20 hew pretty close to my personal faves of the decade, though I did pay extra attention to things like originality, relevance to Hong Kong Cinema, or just plain awesomeness. There are A LOT of films I regret leaving off of this list, so if you have to ask “Where is XXXX movie?” then here’s your answer: it’s probably at the #21-25 area.

Enough chatter. Here’s the list:

20. NEEDING YOU… (2000), directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai
Old habits die hard, and that’s why NEEDING YOU… comes in at #20. I’m not as crazy about this movie as I used to be, but I’d still watch it again before at least 10 other movies on this list.

19. CRAZY N’ THE CITY (2005), directed by James Yuen
I was initially hesitant in my praise of CRAZY ‘N THE CITY because it was the first film released in 2005, and I thought many better pictures would be released that year. I was wrong.

18. HIGH NOON (2008), directed by Heiward Mak
Twenty-four year-old director Heiward Mak’s youth drama has its flaws, but its a startling and accomplished debut. Sometimes pretentious too - but you know what? HIGN NOON earns it.

17. DUMPLINGS (2004), directed by Fruit Chan
Genuinely horrifying because you believe someone would do it. An aging actress elects to eat fetus-filled buns simply in hopes of looking a little younger? I’d buy that. Fruit Chan later-career foray into commercial filmmaking proves unsurprisingly better than its contemporaries.

16. ONE NITE IN MONGKOK (2004), directed by Derek Yee
An exciting crime thriller marred only by a last minute dip into pretension, this is Derek Yee at his laser-precise best. Yee’s strict attention to local geography and detail is especially good here. Johnnie To should pay attention.

15. RED CLIFF I (2008) and RED CLIFF II (2009), directed by John Woo
China made this movie possible, but it’s got John Woo from head to toe - and that makes this one of the best Hong Kong movies of the decade. Probably worth watching again and again.

14. THE EYE (2002), directed by the Pang Brothers
The Pang Brothers haven’t lived up to their promise, but that doesn’t mean we should disregard THE EYE. The elevator scene is still scary today. Too bad about that Hollywood remake, though.

13. LOVE UNDERCOVER (2002), directed by Joe Ma
Super silly and super commercial, but LOVE UNDERCOVER was probably a better time at the movies than 75% of this list. Hong Kong movies are more than just Johnnie To and Donnie Yen.

12. INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2 (2003), directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
Instead of replicating the thrills of the original, Messrs. Lau, Mak and Chong wisely tried something else: a rich gangland drama. INFERNAL AFFAIRS may have started everything, but this sequel is good enough on its own  that it deserves a mention.

11. AFTER THIS, OUR EXILE (2006), directed by Patrick Tam
A precise, harrowing character drama that still resonates four years later. AFTER THIS, OUR EXILE showed us that A) Patrick Tam should not be forgotten, B) Aaron Kwok’s acting awards aren’t flukes, and C) sometimes the big Awards shows do get their picks right.

10. THROWDOWN (2004), directed by Johnnie To
Johnnie To’s THROWDOWN is a judo smackdown of rich cinema goodness, and a love letter to everyone who’s seen better days. Probably the most enjoyable film Johnnie To has ever made.

9. SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001), directed by Stephen Chow
Stephen Chow brought his game to a whole new level with SHAOLIN SOCCER. A satisfying and even bittersweet bridge between Chow’s mo lei tau past and his SFX-heavy, let’s-appeal-to-a-global audience present.

8. MY LIFE AS MCDULL (2001), directed by Toe Yuen
Three words: dim-witted animated pig. The fact that he lives in Tai Kok Tsui, faces genuine local Hong Kong issues, and kicks ass at bun snatching is just a plus. We all could use a mom like Mrs. Mak.

7. INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002), directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak
In retrospect, this crime thriller seems a little too slick, but that may be our over-loaded geek movie brains talking, especially since IA defined the look, feel and entire content (Hello there, DEPARTED.) of countless other films. For what it is, INFERNAL AFFAIRS is nearly flawless.

6. HOLLYWOOD HONG KONG (2004), directed by Fruit Chan
A movie about Hong Kong, China and urban redevelopment but also one of the most original and oddly entertaining films to come out during the Aughts. Fruit Chan’s work is creative and startlingly assured, and it’s a crime that he’s produced so little since.

5. THE WAY WE ARE (2008), directed by Ann Hui
The most honest and genuine Hong Kong film of the decade, and you know why? Because NOTHING REALLY HAPPENS. That Ann Hui can make that journey so familiar and compelling tells us everything we need to know about her directorial skill.

4. RUNNING ON KARMA (2003), directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai
The odd tone and Andy Lau muscle suit are off-putting, but pound for pound, RUNNING ON KARMA may be the most uniquely Hong Kong movie of the decade. Johnnie To and Wai Kai-Fai go crazy with their Buddhist themes here.

3. CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON (2000), directed by Ang Lee
So influential that it should be at the Top 5 of any Hong Kong film list. Some people say its not a Hong Kong film, but the Hong Kong Film Awards disagrees. Bill Kong of Edko Pictures probably disagrees too.

2. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000), directed by Wong Kar-Wai
This movie seems even better in light of the rest of the decade, where Wong Kar-Wai seemed to be recycling just about everything. Pretty much the pinnacle of his filmography up to now.

1. ELECTION 2 (2006), directed by Johnnie To
Because I put ELECTION 2 at #1 on this list, I left off ELECTION, so hey - it’s not a oversight. Either film could be put at the top of this list, but I vote for ELECTION 2 because of how it brilliantly tells its darker-than-dark triad politics tale AND folds in nifty commentary on how the government to the north chooses to roll. Calling Johnnie To the director of the decade is not a stretch either.

Yay, wasn’t that cool? Obviously it wasn’t, but I can dream, can’t I? My one regret here is that this list did not count towards the Top 50 Hong Kong Films of the Decade vote because I didn’t come up with it earlier. I’ll try to rectify that when I run the Top 50 Hong Kong Films of the Nineties vote, which should appear in a couple of weeks or so.

Other stuff happening in 2010: I’m also going to be working on this year’s entry in the LoveHKFilm Awards, which includes the same seven people as last year. We might also get one more blog on the site. Maybe I’ll go to Italy again. Another goal is avoiding hospitalization. It’s going to be quite a year.

9 Responses to “Kozo’s Top 20 Hong Kong Films of the Decade”

  1. kyra Says:

    Why don’t anybody suggest Hollywood to stop remaking asian movies? =p
    Kozo, have you seen James cameron’s Avatar?

  2. AlHaru Says:

    I knew you were going to put NEEDING YOU somewhere, same ol’Kozo in the mood for “lady cop” :)

    But where the hell is THE SPY DAD you were talking about? Blasphemy!!

    With THE WAY WE ARE, I forgive you for not having JULY RHAPSODY. 30 years in filmmaking, Ann Hui is just getting better and better.

    @kyra: “Why don’t anybody suggest Hollywood to stop remaking asian movies?”

    Bring it up in the forum. I addressed part of it in the Maggie Q thread before reading this.

  3. glenn Says:

    I was going to compliment you on your great taste when I saw this list and then I realized that, clearly, my own taste in HK cinema has been shaped by this site for 8 years so, clearly, what I consider great taste is self-evident on your part.

    Or something like that, LOL.

    Anyway, I am happy that you listed Hollywood Hong Kong; I sort of forget about that film and then some image will come into my mind from it and I will feel like I really need to rewatch it.

    I have not seen enough of Fruit Chan’s work but that film seemed like a small masterpiece in some way.

    And uniquely HK, obviously.

    There are 5 films on that list I’ve still not seen but I’ve been putting off on Dumplings, IA2, and Red Cliff intentionally. High Noon seems to have slipped by me for some reason until now.

  4. darren Says:

    love your list, especially with election 2 as #1, i really felt it was better than the 1st, crouching tiger would easily be in my top 5 as well and Ive enjoyed every Fruit Chan movie Ive seen.

    didnt care for in the mood for love or after this, our exile but thats because i cant stand movies with long shots of not much happening, short attention span lol

    did enjoy way we are a lot though

  5. V Says:

    Thank you, Kozo, for posting your top picks. I rely on your reviews almost entirely to pick HK movies to watch, so a list of your personal favorites carries a lot of weight.

    I have yet to see High Noon and Hollywood Hong Kong. Hollywood HK has been out of print for quite some time though :(

    Hopefully in this new decade, Stephen Chow and Wong Kar-Wai will bring us some movies that make up for their (somewhat) disappointing output during the second half of the Aughts.

  6. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    @kyra, I have seen AVATAR, and it was THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER MADE. Just kidding. Awesome effects, competent everything else. The animal taming scenes were a little disturbing.

    @AlHaru, SPY DAD is one film I don’t think any amount of subliminal suggestion will help. Unlike MY WIFE IS 18, I can’t even fool myself into thinking that it’s a good film.

    @Glenn, my list is somewhat arbitrary in that I was looking to recognize different types of films - and yet still, Johnnie To gets at least 20% of the list. Your comment on how my site may have shaped some tastes is something I feel enormously guilty about. I apologize if I’ve steered some of you from having more popular and socially acceptable opinions.

  7. kyra Says:

    Avatar is another overrated hollywood movie, which is superior only in the visual effects, so many views from Miyazaki Hayao’s animes, not to mention the story..So hard to forgive them for the remake of The Ring, The Eye, and everything else, especially Scorsese for The Departed & James Cameron this time =). Looking forward for more and more great Asian movies (especially Hongkong movies) in the upcoming years

  8. Eric Says:


    Let’s not forget that Avatar was scripted like 14 years ago or something (correct me if I’m wrong).

    Besides that, a rather interesting list there Kozo :)

    I don’t usually post on the message boards but I regularly check your site for reviews, as I often wait to watch some HK movies here in Australia, gets a bit exciting when storm warriors is playing in cinemas in sydney (didn’t that bombed lol, literally I was like “no”, “why?” did that make it like this hehe).


  9. Peter Says:

    Amazing list! I was so happy to see you list ‘Running on Karma’ so high, since I rated it #1 and wasn’t sure any other people really got its rich philosophical appeal. I mean, c’mon. It’s Andy Lau in a muscle suit!

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