December 31st, 2012
Hello, and welcome to Day 7 of the BEST 200 HONG KONG FILMS EVER. This is a list of recommended Hong Kong films as decided upon by actual readers of LoveHKFilm.com, an incredibly old Hong Kong Cinema website that is oddly still online after 10 years.
Personal note: I started this website as an amateur to film writing (which you can tell if you read the earlier reviews) but after 10 years the site still receives attention and some respected people even compliment us from time to time. My whole career as an editor and writer can basically be credited to this website. I’m pretty thankful for that.
Hey, did anyone else out there build a successful career despite not having the experience or proven skills to recommend them?
Edison and me: bros for life.
If you’ve been following this countdown, there have been some surprises and some interesting choices, but from here on out, things get a lot more predictable. The films that you expect to show up do, and the films that you don’t expect to show up don’t. Ergo, INFERNAL AFFAIRS: it’s out there somewhere. Also, RAPED BY AN ANGEL: forget it, it ain’t happening.
If you want proof, you should go back and check out the previous entries in this countdown. Anyway, besides seeing that INFERNAL AFFAIRS does not show up yet, going back allows you the chance to see this thing as it was meant to be seen: in order. Otherwise you’re just flipping to the back of the book and ruining it for yourself — you know, like Billy Crystal does in WHEN HARRY MET SALLY. Yeah, we’re really dating ourselves with that reference.
Hit the jump and let’s meet numbers 40-21!
40. FIST OF LEGEND (1994), directed by Gordon Chan - 84.5 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review
It’s the legend of Chen Zhen — except instead of DONNNNIEEE or BRRRRUUUCCCEE it’s JJEEETTTTTTTT as the pupil of Huo Yuanjia who gets all sawed off and looks to tear the Japanese a new one. Andrew Chan gushes, “The fight scenes are pitch perfect and Jet Li is in top form. The final fight scene with Billy Chow remains one of action cinema moments of the century.” Tim Chmielewski chimes in, saying “Even though this movie is a remake of an earlier Bruce Lee movie, it stands on its own as a classic.” It’s also a lot less incendiary than either the Bruce Lee or Donnie Yen iterations, and even features Chen Zhen in a romance with a Japanese girl! Man, that would not fly nowadays. With any luck, this won’t be the only Chen Zhen movie to show up on this list. FIST OF LEGEND ranked #19 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 90s.
39. HAPPY TOGETHER (1997), directed by Wong Kar-Wai - 88.5 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review
Hong Kong Cinema cum slash fiction fans had a field day with HAPPY TOGETHER, because it cast two of Hong Kong’s most drool-worthy leading men as lovers in Buenos Aires who break up, make up, break up again and then get so passive-aggressively vindictive that there’s pretty much no way to go back. But go forward? That’s a direction that’s always available. Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai are the bickering lovers, and each turns in a performance so incredibly flawed and pathetic that they become recognizable, frighteningly real figures. Directed by that Wong Kar-Wai guy — maybe you’ve heard of him? Ranked an unlucky #13 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 90s.
38. COME DRINK WITH ME (1966), directed by King Hu - 95 points - LoveHKFilm Review
Hey, it’s the King Hu movie that we’re actually allowed to put on this list! This swordplay classic is arguably the most beloved Shaw Brothers martial arts film ever (Note: we used the word arguably), and is easily the signature work of the studio’s kung-fu princess Cheng Pei-Pei. The action here is grounded but exacting and mesmerizing in its staging. Says Adam DiPiazza, “The action may look primitive today, but COME DRINK WITH ME just may be the most overall well-directed film in the Shaw Bros. catalogue.” Followed by the sequel GOLDEN SWALLOW, but King Hu did not direct and for some reason nobody really talks about it. Hmmm.
37. MR. VAMPIRE (1985), directed by Ricky Lau Koon-Wai - 96.5 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review
If nothing else, MR. VAMPIRE provided the the quintessential role for the late Lam Ching-Ying, he of the wacky eyebrows and venerable screen presence. Lam is the Taoist priest who helps a ragtag bunch (including Chin Siu-Ho, Moon Lee and Ricky Hui) battle tough hopping vampires, and this Sammo Hung-produced horror-comedy is so good that it launched an entire genre of similar and also inferior copycat films. Says Root, “A childhood of impersonating Lam Ching-Ying attempts at ghostly exorcisms may have skewed my view a little, but I find this the most watchable, likable horror-comedy out there with a lovable cast and great fight sequences. And it’s genuinely funny too.” Ranked an incredibly respectable #11 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 80s.
36. INFERNAL AFFAIRS 2 (2003), directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak - 100.5 points, 2 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review
Making a sequel to THE GREATEST FILM EVER sounds like a difficult task, but the INFERNAL AFFAIRS team was up to the task with INFERNAL AFFAIRS II. Instead of a tense crime thriller, Andrew Lau, Alan Mak and Felix Chong give us a meaty epic drama that actually made its universally-praised predecessor better. Heck, some people even think that the sequel is superior to the original — like Valerie Soe, who opines that the film is “ranked higher than its predecessor due to its increased complexity and emotional weight, its operatic scope, and another outstanding performance by Francis Ng.” Followed by INFERNAL AFFAIRS III, but we’ll just whistle innocently and look the other way. Ranked #9 on our list of TOP 50 HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE AUGHTS.
35. AN AUTUMN’S TALE (1987), directed by Mabel Cheung - 102.5 points - LoveHKFilm Review
One of the most finest little movies around, AN AUTUMN’S TALE rules because of Chow Yun-Fat, Cherie Chung, Chow Yun-Fat and Chow Yun-Fat. Oh, and also Chow Yun-Fat. Mark Gor kicks ass and takes names as Samuel Pang, a normal dude living in New York City who so far in life has amounted to a big fat zero. One day his cousin Jenny (Cherie Chung) enters his life and then he decides to change. Aaand…that’s the film. Really. But like with most films, it’s not the story you tell but how you tell it, and director Mabel Cheung and screenwriter Alex Law tell this one exceptionally well. Sensitive, subtle, unforced, understated, natural, sympathetic, endearing, simple and pure. These are the adjectives that best describe what Cheung and Law accomplish here, and if you need an adjective for the sum totality, then how about this one: perfect. AN AUTUMN’S TALE ranked #8 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 80s, which is surprising because this film has no guns, blood or gangsters. But it does have Chow.
34. ELECTION (2005), directed by Johnnie To - 110 points - LoveHKFilm Review
You know, there are some people (like me) who think ELECTION is actually inferior to ELECTION 2. No matter: it soundly walloped ELECTION 2 in our reader vote so we must sing its praises. And there’s much to sing about, from its enthralling examination of the triad underworld to its dry black comedy to its smart, detailed performances. Also, as Lee Rankin will tell you, “ELECTION has one of the best shock endings in not only Hong Kong cinema history, but of any film I have seen, Hong Kong or otherwise.” Said ending involves fishing and a big rock, but you’ll have to see the film to get the rest. Ranked #6 on our list of TOP 50 HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE AUGHTs, meaning there were only five films ranked higher. Subtraction is difficult.
John Woo returned to Chinese Cinema in a big way in 2008 with the first of his RED CLIFF films, about the pivotal defeat of magnificent bastard Cao Cao (Zhang Fengyi) by the Wei-Sun coalition led by Sun Quan (Chang Chen) and Liu Bei (Yao Yong). The key characters, however, are Zhou Yun (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Zhuge Liang (Takeshi Kaneshiro), rival strategists who team up while engaging in some of the most artful bromance ever put to film. Despite being a costume epic, RED CLIFF fits neatly with John Woo’s romantic aesthetic — and it should, since many of his famous heroic bloodshed tropes were actually taken from THREE KINGDOMS lore. The RED CLIFF movies are a stirring achievement and a fun way to watch John Woo come full circle. Now if only he would work with Chow Yun-Fat again. Ranked #13 on our list of TOP 50 HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE AUGHTS.
32. FONG SAI YUK (1993), directed by Corey Yuen Kwai - 111 points - LoveHKFilm Review
Valerie Soe calls FONG SAI YUK, “A really fun and frantic kung-fu movie with a smiling Jet Li and his kick-ass mom, awesomely played by Josephine Siao.” Really, FONG SAI YUK has too much of too many good things. This movie has everything: history, gender issues, situation comedy, romance, drama, singing, crying and action. Tons and tons of action. The uneven mishmash of genres can be off-putting but Corey Yuen and company handle everything with such likable, graceful panache that its impossible to not smile as it all unfolds before you. For further proof of FONG SAI YUK’s dominance, one only need look at FONG SAI YUK II, which is pretty good in its own right. But is it as good as FONG SAI YUK? No freaking way. Ranked #12 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 90s.
31. HERO (2002), directed by Zhang Yimou - 118 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review
It’s Jet Li again, but HERO is not a Jet Li movie like FONG sAI YUK. HERO is a movie with Jet Li, and Zhang Yimou uses the martial arts superstar’s iconic presence to add extra layers to this RASHOMON-like art film about the true nature of heroism and how different colors can represent different things (At least, that’s what film school taught us). Some people question if HERO is really a Hong Kong film — after all, it’s directed by China’s most celebrated director plus features suspiciously pro-China themes. Then again, the cast feature HK Cinema mainstays Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung and Donnie Yen, plus the Hong Kong Film Awards treats HERO as a Hong Kong film. Whatever, we’ll just say the movie is very, very good and end the discussion there. Ranked #7 on our list of TOP 50 HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE AUGHTS — so it looks like we consider it a Hong Kong movie too.
30. PROJECT A (1983), directed by Jackie Chan - 119 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review
The top ranked Three Brothers film on our TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 80s list, clocking in at #6, which means no more Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao team-ups for the remainder of this countdown. That’s a shame because the Three Brothers made some amazing Hong Kong Cinema and should arguably been given a Top 15 finish for one of their films. But no matter, we’re here to talk about PROJECT A and there’s too much to talk about. Martin says about PROJECT A: “For my money, this is Jackie Chan’s best. A showcase of all Jackie’s finest attributes, excellent and exciting action and genuinely funny comedy, on a massive scale. It doesn’t hurt to have Sammo and Yuen Biao in there too!” Indeed the stunts and action here are spectacular, and Chan’s comedy timing is only enhanced when he has two incredibly good actors and stunt performers as his screen mates. Genres and filmmakers come and go, but seeing a winning, death-defying collaboration like the Three Brothers again? Probably not in our lifetime.
29. GOD OF GAMBLERS (1989), directed by Wong Jing - 122 points, 2 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review
Let’s look at the story of GOD OF GAMBLERS: It’s about a smarmy gambling expert who wears awesome suits but becomes a fashion-impaired man-child when he gets hit on the head with a rock. However, when he eats chocolate he suddenly regains his amazing shuffling skills but not his fashion sense. Furthermore, he hangs out with a low-level gangster who raids Michael Jackson’s wardrobe and looks like that producer guy in A SIMPLE LIFE. How can this be the recipe for one of the BEST HONG KONG FILMS EVER? Well, it is and that’s because of Chow Yun-Fat, whose ability to do anything in a movie is legendary, and Wong Jing, whose ability to try anything in a movie is legendary. Add both together and you get a movie that’s so off the chain entertaining that you can’t help but like it. And if you don’t then you probably had no childhood. Ranked #7 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 80s, above many films that were a lot less fun.
28. CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON (2000), directed by Ang Lee - 122.5 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review
Adam DiPiazza says, “The way Bruce Lee introduced previous generations to martial arts films, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON was my generation’s introduction.” That sounds about right, because previously martial arts films were seen as creatively-choreographed chopsocky, and post-CROUCHING TIGER they became artful, elegant epics with punches and kicks that impacted the soul as well as the body. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON basically changed martial arts films forever. No longer were King Hu movies the outliers in a sea of bloody, hokey bash-em-ups. Now the outliers are movies featuring Jiang Luxia and Philip Ng and directed by Dennis Law, and now every big name director is lining up to try out a fancy-schmancy costume film choreographed by Yuen Woo-Ping or Ching Siu-Tung. Ang Lee’s to blame for all of this and he’s earned our scorn and also our undying admiration. Because hey, CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON is freaking amazing. Appropriately ranked #12 on our list of TOP 50 HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE AUGHTS.
27. FIST OF FURY (1972), directed by Lo Wei - 122.5 points, 3 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review
Chen Zhen makes his last and most poignant appearance on this list with FIST OF FURY a.k.a. THE CHINESE CONNECTION — and yes, that is a spoiler that you won’t be seeing Andrew Lau’s THE LEGEND OF THE FIST - THE RETURN OF CHEN ZHEN show up. Huo Yuanjia student Chen Zhen gets his most charismatic incarnation thanks to Bruce Lee, whose performance is so powerful and righteous it probably swelled Chinese nationalist pride to its seventies peak. Snowblood says of the film, “Chen Zhen smashing the “No dogs and Chinese allowed” sign is possibly the most powerful moment of any Hong Kong film ever.” Also of note is the film’s dark ending, which feels much more appropriate for the subject matter the happier endings witnessed in FIST OF LEGEND or LEGEND OF THE FIST. Even though we didn’t hold a reader vote for TOP 100 HONG KONG FILMS OF THE 70s, it’s more than likely that FIST OF FURY would have ended up at #1.
26. A MOMENT OF ROMANCE (1990), directed by Benny Chan - 124 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review
Back in 1990, every guy wanted to be Andy Lau in A MOMENT OF ROMANCE. That is, they wanted to be an awesome triad dude with cool hair, a cool motorcycle and a screw-the-establishment attitude. Simultaneously, every girl wanted to be Wu Chien-Lien. That is, they wanted to reject against the patriarchal order by hooking up with a dreamy rebel with a cool motorcycle and a bad attitude. That’s what MOMENT OF ROMANCE taught us, and even though we all saw how badly it ended for Andy Lau and Wu Chien-Lien, people still wanted to be them. Why didn’t people want to be Chow Yun-Fat and Joey Wong from FRACTURED FOLLIES instead? Sure, the guy wore a pineapple costume but he also sings while running down the street in said costume. And hey, the girl was pretty. Surely the FRACTURED FOLLIES dream was one worth wanting? No matter, everyone chose MOMENT OF ROMANCE. Like San Te, who says “To be honest, before watching A MOMENT OF ROMANCE I thought that all HK movies were about action. I was wrong. Also, I bought a motorcycle after this.” You see? When will these kids learn? Ranked #21 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 90s.
25. THROWDOWN (2004), directed by Johnnie To - 128 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review
Though it was dismissed by some critics for not meeting the expectations of a Johnnie To film (i.e., it wasn’t a genre film so let’s not care), THROWDOWN has slowly but surely gained a loyal following. On our TOP 50 HONG KONG FILMS OF THE AUGHTS reader vote it placed #15, but in the two years since its leapfrogged most of the films ahead of it, including little titles like INFERNAL AFFAIRS II, RUNNING ON KARMA, ELECTION, HERO and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Martin calls the film, “A thrilling departure from Johnnie To’s usual M.O. — an unclassifiable judo comedy/drama type thing. Superbly shot and for all its Milkyway Image quirks, hugely uplifting.” Filipe is stronger in his praise, saying that THROWDOWN is “To at his most personal and offbeat. I know he’d disagree but I take this over anything Akira Kurosawa ever did.” You’re right, Filipe: Johnnie To would disagree. But privately he’d be tickled pink and would probably light up a huge victory cigar later. Johnnie To smokes a lot of those victory cigars.
24. GOD OF COOKERY (1996), directed by Stephen Chow - 133 points, 4 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review
Perhaps the pinnacle of the Stephen Chow “douchebag who gets his comeuppance” character template, GOD OF COOKERY is one of Chow’s most accessible comedies and easily the greatest advertisement ever for barbecued pork + a fried egg over rice. Karen Mok as Sister Turkey is also key, as she’s one of the few Chow leading ladies to successfully hold her own. About a zillion years ago they kept talking about a Hollywood remake directed by Chow and starring Jim Carrey, but that obviously isn’t happening anymore. Ranked #10 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 90s — a shocking finish since it was the highest ranked Chow movie from a decade that he basically owned, plus it doesn’t augur well for Chow’s results in the rest of this countdown. No matter. Two out of this three movies in the 21st century ensure that Chow will not go quietly.
23. ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA 2 (1992), directed by Tsui Hark - 134.5 points - LoveHKFilm Review
Finally, a Jet Li Wong Fei-Hong movie makes this list! Too bad none of the Kwan Tak-Hing films were able to rank, but really, how many of you saw HOW WONG FEI HONG DEFEATED THREE BULLIES WITH A ROD? Probably none, which may be why a Wong Fei-Hong movie starring a guy whose name is synonymous with “aircraft” makes the cut instead. This second film in Tsui Hark’s popular series is super-important anyway, because it features Wong Fei-Hong interacting with Sun Yat-Sen, plus it pits Aircraft Li versus DONNNNIIEEEE in a classic Yuen Woo-Ping choreographed duel. A terrific mix of nationalism, heroism and unbelievably imaginative martial arts. Ranked #8 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 90s.
The CHINESE ODYSSEY movies leapfrog GOD OF COOKERY in this countdown, and they probably should. Stephen Chow turns in possibly his finest acting in this brilliant mo lei tau reworking of the classic JOURNEY TO THE WEST, infused with a healthy dose of postmodern ridiculousness courtesy of director Jeff Lau. Often ignored because of his superficial resemblance to that Wong Jing fellow, Lau is one of Hong Kong’s most unique and creative directors and someone who should receive greater notice even if he did make KUNG FU CYBORG. Action, comedy, romance, an existential examination on the life and emotions of an immortal monkey — A CHINESE ODYSSEY has it all. Ranked #16 on our list of TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 90s.
21. EXILED (2006), directed by Johnnie To - 155.5 points - LoveHKFilm Review
Also known by its alternative title POSTMODERN MISSION, this Johnnie To joint ranked a shockingly high #5 on our TOP HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE AUGHTS. This film is a supremely entertaining bromance about guys with guns who love one another but won’t touch each other like those guys in HAPPY TOGETHER. Instead, they’ll shoot people together and occasionally shoot at each other — but luckily a door or a guy they love less gets in the way. Sometimes, while hanging out in the middle of nowhere, they’ll run across a convoy of gold that’s being guarded by another guy, and after a shoot out they also fall in love with him. They still won’t touch him, but they’ll gather around a fire and tell stories of other men they love who they’ve shot at or perhaps shot with. This is the story of manlier-than-manly men whose profound love for one another can only be expressed with cold steel and hot lead. This is the story of all men. This is EXILED.
Yeeha, only twenty films left! At this point you might as well start guessing what they are because you’ll probably be right. Numbers 20-11 will be up in a few days. See you in 2013.