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The Best 75 Hong Kong Films of the 2010s - Numbers 20-11

It’s Day 5 of THE 75 BEST HONG KONG FILMS OF THE 2010s and I’m getting tired of this already. All the best films (i.e., all the Johnnie To or Donnie Yen films) have either placed or have no chance of showing up. Yes, I’m talking about the sadly forgotten THE LOST BLADESMAN a.k.a. ROGUE ONE PREQUEL: CHIRRUT VS BAZE, though one could also make a case for ALL’S WELL ENDS WELL 2011, which starred Donnie Yen as Arnold Cheng, a beauty salesperson whose makeup application techniques are eerily similar to Ip Man’s punches. I’m still upset that they never made the Arnold Cheng spin-off film.

Donnie and Jiang Wen
“Your support for THE LOST BLADESMAN has been disappointing.
We’re this close to coming through the screen to use our Force powers on you.”

So Day 5 features numbers 20-11 of the countdown, meaning we’re nearly at the Top 10. After this post, we’ll slow things down to maybe 5 or fewer films per post. My plan is to stretch this out and make people read THE BEST HONG KONG FILMS OF THE 2010s for at least a couple of months. You know, just like the US lockdowns.

Michael Wong
“Guys! I implore you to listen to me and stay home
because it’s what good people do. What’s that?
No, I haven’t been home in more than a week.”

Oh, and if you’re just joining us go back to the beginning and read everything from the first post. That way you can prolong the torture.

Previous entries if you feel like it:
Numbers 75-61
Numbers 60-46
Numbers 45-31
Numbers 30-21

Hit the jump to see number 20! Let’s end this before civilization collapses.

20. RIGOR MORTIS (2013) - 138 points, 2 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review

Rigor Mortis

Simon Booth calls RIGOR MORTIS “a stylish love letter to Hong Kong Cinema’s golden age,” and that’s precisely what it is. Once a maligned popstar, director Juno Mak earned instant filmmaking cred with this postmodern reimagining of the geung si film a.k.a. the Chinese hopping vampire movie. Mak hired an expert advisor (producer Takashi Shimizu, creator of the Ju-on series), and brought back the iconography (Taoism, a hopping vampire) and the stars (Chin Siu-Ho, Anthony Chan Yau), while amping up the horror and jettisoning the silliness, and it worked like gangbusters. Mak also chose not to subvert the genre using current year social politics, so the Venn diagram overlap of Chinese vampire fans and STAR WARS fans should be pretty OK with this movie. Kenny Fong says, “It’s not a particularly scary film, but its stellar cinematography and sincere effort at bringing back to life the all-but-dead hopping vampire genre is worthy of praise.” There were a few subsequent efforts this decade to keep the genre going, but neither SIFU VS. VAMPIRE nor VAMPIRE CLEANUP DEPARTMENT really made much impact. Perhaps movies like these are only acceptable to modern audiences when they’re given the postmodern or “elevated” genre treatment - because maybe people like to feel smart about revisiting trashy genres. We’ll just have to wait until the next such attempt, or at least until the release of the long-rumored RIGOR MORTIS director’s cut, to get our geung si groove back. It’s been seven years, but hopping vampires are worth waiting for.

19. VULGARIA (2012) - 146 points, 1 first place vote - LoveHKFilm Review

Vulgaria

Pang Ho-cheung’s blisteringly funny VULGARIA arrived in cinemas at just the right time, when China film censorship was on the rise and the future of local Hong Kong Cinema was in doubt. A megaton bomb of impossible-to-censor content, VULGARIA became a sizable hit and cemented Pang’s status as Hong Kong’s most irreverent filmmaker, and it did so without actually showing much vulgarity at all. VULGARIA celebrates Category III movies without putting Category III content on the screen, i.e., this is a movie that gleefully deals with taboo or offensive stuff through words, words and even more words. Stars like Chapman To, Ronald Cheng, Dada Chen, Simon Lui, Siu Yam-Yam, Jim Chim, Miriam Yeung, Fiona Sit and more show up to dish on topics like masturbation, bestiality, fellatio technique, sexual harassment, terrorist cells and other stuff that would nowadays get you cancelled for “challenging Party values”, “triggering Karens”, “flirting with the manosphere” or other euphemism that describes not catering to a real or imagined demographic that thinks it should be catered to. Jennifer Ng enjoys the film because it “harks back to when HK films didn’t care what censors thought,” which was actually a several decades ago if you think about it. Pang’s references can be esoteric, and indeed many of the jokes are only funny if you REALLY understand Cantonese and are familiar with the Hong Kong film industry. If you do and are reading this, then you’re probably still giggling about VULGARIA right now, a full eight years after it first came out. Arguably Pang Ho-cheung’s signature film, though not his highest ranked one on this list.

18. THE MERMAID (2016) - 151.5 points, LoveHKFilm Review

The Mermaid

Aaron McGuire of @aaronsmovielog calls THE MERMAID “one of the funniest and more unique rom-coms ever made,” and yet that’s just one way of looking at this wildly creative, oddly violent and uproariously entertaining genre mishmash from inimitable comedy auteur Stephen Chow. Yet another Stephen Chow film that doesn’t star Stephen Chow, THE MERMAID features Deng Chao as jerk-off business titan Liu Xuan, who’s targeted in a honey trap laid by comely but romantically inept mermaid Shan (newcomer Jelly Lin). She’s out to avenge her mermaid clan, who are being slowly dispatched by Liu Xuan’s environment-ruining housing developments, but Liu Xuan is not all bad. Sure, he’s arrogant, self-involved and kind of a dick, but he’s also from humble beginnings, has sympathy for the downtrodden, and - most important of all - randomly belts out martial arts theme songs. There’s a lot of Stephen Chow in Liu Xuan, but that’s hardly new: Many Chow characters bear facets of his real-life personality, with redemption narratives and romantic regrets frequently used to humanize the douchier characters. Liu Xuan fits neatly into that category, making MERMAID a true treat for Chow super-fans. However, if auteur readings of Chow films are not your thing, tune in for the crappy visual effects, off-the-wall sight gags, random nonsense, and a ditzy and delightful debut from Jelly Lin. MERMAID 2 (also starring Lin) was promised but then delayed from its Lunar New Year 2020 release date for reasons unrelated to the reason every other film has been postponed. At least MERMAID 2 will actually come out sometime. As the years pass, the chances of either SHAOLIN SOCCER 2 or KUNG FU HUSTLE 2 happening grow ever dimmer.

17. MAD WORLD (2016) - 161.5 points - LoveHKFilm Review

Mad World

Life can be depressing and Hong Kong can be depressing, so it was only a matter of time before someone made a film about how life in Hong Kong is depressing. So it was with MAD WORLD, the award-winning feature debut of director Wong Chun and the movie that confirmed (if it was not already accepted) that handsome actor-model-celebrity Shawn Yue can act. The seldom-recognized Yue received a Best Actor nomination at the Hong Kong Film Awards for his portrayal of Ah Tung, who suffers from bipolar disorder and must re-acclimate himself to the world after a stint in a mental health institution. Stymied by discrimination, societal indifference, and his own self-destructive tendencies, Ah Tung struggles to get back on his feet with the help of his father (Eric Tsang), who tries but has difficulty understanding his son. Not helping matters is Ah Tung’s absent mother (Elaine Kam), whose own mental illness was obviously a huge factor in Ah Tung’s condition. MAD WORLD tackles its subject matter in a remarkably honest and observant manner, showing the difficulty of Ah Tung’s existence without resorting to pity or outrage. The film takes care not to shame Ah Tung for his problems, and yet it doesn’t make him a martyr either, allowing the audience to plainly see how depression can be a handful for Ah Tung, the people who exacerbate his illness, and even bystanders who just happen to be in his orbit. Naturally, the conflict in MAD WORLD doesn’t end in victory, as coping with depression is a long-term battle with no easy out. But that’s something that Wong Chun seems to get, so if Ah Tung ever gains just an ounce of understanding from someone - then hey, that’s basically a win. The true accomplishment of MAD WORLD is that it somehow gets the audience to see that.

16. DREAM HOME (2010) - 164 points, 2 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review

Dream Home

Pang Ho-Cheung notches his fifth film of the BEST 75 HONG KONG FILMS OF THE 2010s, an impressive amount that pretty much cements him as the second most popular Hong Kong filmmaker of the past decade. The first? Duh, it’s Johnnie To, who already has six films on this list, and *SPOILER ALERT* he still has two more coming up. Not that Pang should slow his roll, because over the past decade he’s delivered clever and irreverent films one after the other, delighting his hardcore fans and earning many more. DREAM HOME certainly qualifies as both clever and irreverent, but Pang chooses a new genre combination with which to take the piss: the horror-slasher-satire - the latter genre represented by the film’s outrage at the Hong Kong housing market, which can charitably be described as “effing insane.” Edgy heiress Josie Ho plays Sheung, a woman who wants to buy a new flat but can’t afford it because, seriously, who can nowadays? Unable to purchase her dream home, she instead decides to drive down its price through a series of illegal activities, including but not limited to suffocation, blinding, stabbing, castration and disembowelment. How family friendly! Simon Booth calls DREAM HOME a “bloody, brutal satire of Hong Kong’s capitalist love affair,” which is apt, though it shortchanges just how grisly and extreme the whole thing is. But let’s not kid ourselves: Those extremes are also why certain audiences enjoy it so very, very much.

15. SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES (2015) - 171 points, 2 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review

SPL 2: A Time for Consequences

Why the filmmakers waited until SPL 2: A TIME FOR CONSEQUENCES to announce that there would be consequences is beyond me, because if you saw the first SPL (starring DONNNNIIIEEEEEE) you’d know that it had its share of consequences. But I digress. This thematic sequel to the neo-classic SPL offers some returning stars (Wu Jing, Simon Yam), a bunch of new ones (Max Zhang, Louis Koo), and also Tony “my elbows destroy” Jaa as they fight each other for family and justice and organ transplants. Or something. SPL 2 has a wide-ranging plot that’s hard to believe, as it spans two countries, requires a web of unlikely character connections, and sometimes relies on a ridiculous translation app for its characters to communicate. But it’s got style, bone-crunching action, and some cool flourishes that go a long way towards compensating for the fact that it’s not the original SPL. Soi Cheang directed this one, and his more playful instincts can be seen in some lyrical asides and also Max Zhang’s character, a near-silent prison warden who kicks ass while sporting a dapper tie-and-vest combo. Not to be outdone, Louis Koo sports a floppy early-eighties Aaron Kwok haircut and gets into the action by slapping around his brother (Jun Kung) while both are strapped to hospital gurneys. LP Hugo of Asian Film Strike says that SPL 2 is “much like the other two SPL films: a gut-wrenching action-tragedy and a cocktail that could only be made in Hong Kong.” He’s certainly correct about that “Made in Hong Kong” part, though back in the eighties and nineties, films like this came out every other month. Now we have to wait like five years for a new one. SPL 3 came out two years later under the title PARADOX (ranked #35 on this list) and we can only hope that someone is thinking about SPL 4. They better hurry, or all these stars might have to fight from their gurneys. Or wheelchairs or walkers.

14. JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS (2013) - 174 points, 2 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons

Never one to let things go, Stephen Chow bundled many of his pet obsessions and themes together for JOURNEY TO THE WEST: CONQUERING THE DEMONS, a new retelling of the Monkey King legend and yet another Stephen Chow film not starring Chow and co-directed by someone else (Derek Kwok of GALLANTS, if you’re curious who). This fantasy-action-comedy film was naturally a blockbuster hit, though families may want to be cautious since it features horrific imagery, e.g., a bunch human corpses hollowed out like roasted suckling pigs (seriously, I ain’t showing my kids this movie). But it’s also got plenty of classic Chow gags squeezed into and between hugely entertaining comedy-action set pieces. Tars Tarkas (not the four-armed Martian) of tarstarkas.net says JOURNEY TO THE WEST features “Chow just going nuts and referencing (a.k.a. outright swiping) things from all over the place to combine it into a great Monkey King flick.” Homages and lifts are nothing new for Chow, though he goes overboard here with a huge CGI sequence directly lifted from the PlayStation 3 game ASURA’S WRATH. In today’s global media, a swipe this extravagant is difficult to excuse, but at least nobody can accuse Chow of swiping his actors, who are actually better than you expect them to be. Wen Zhang is terrific, Shu Qi steals the show, and the casting of Huang Bo as the Monkey King (at least, his non-Monkey form) is inspired. It’s sad, then, that Chow replaced all of them (except Shu Qi, who has a brief cameo) for the sequel JOURNEY TO THE WEST: THE DEMONS STRIKE BACK, which is a lesser but still entertaining Chow (plus Tsui Hark) concoction. One can only hope they make a third one titled JOURNEY TO THE WEST: RETURN OF THE HUANG BO. I’d want Wen Zhang back too, but that may be difficult after he got cancelled. Google can tell you why.

13. STILL HUMAN (2018) - 178.5 points, 4 first place votes - IMDB Page

Still Human

A small movie with a smaller budget, STILL HUMAN has won plenty of admirers in only two short years since its release. Director Oliver Chan’s gentle drama is about an unusual friendship between a disabled Hong Kong man (Anthony Wong) and his domestic helper (Crisel Consunji), and how it brings out the best in themselves and those around them. In many ways this is an essential film, demonstrating that there are still many untapped areas of Hong Kong society from which to draw vital and affecting stories. Kenny Fong calls STILL HUMAN “an emotional rollercoaster of a movie. Newcomer Crisel Consunji and the ever-so-versatile Anthony Wong both give heartfelt performances that left me in a teary mess.” Valerie Soe says that the film “proves why Anthony Wong Chau-Sun is one of the greatest actors of all time.” Indeed, Wong’s performance earned him his latest Best Actor Hong Kong Film Award, and while Consunji lost her Best Actress bid, she won the Best Newcomer Hong Kong Film Award. Sadly, the film lost to crime thriller PROJECT GUTENBERG for Best Picture - and yet it actually ranked 50 slots higher than GUTENBERG in this Best Films of the 2010s reader vote. What gives here? How is it possible that Hong Kong Cinema fans, many of whom adore the film industry for its “violent delights,” could prefer an unheralded (read: not directed by Wong Kar-Wai) drama over the ultimate nostalgia bait that was Chow Yun-Fat leaping into action while brandishing two guns akimbo? Sure, on the strength of its universal message and heartwarming emotions, I can imagine STILL HUMAN ranking higher than GUTENBERG, but FIFTY places? Where were all those fans who drool over sex and zen and bullets to the head? Do better, people.

12. THE STOOL PIGEON (2010) - 209 points, 2 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review

The Stool Pigeon

Finally, the Dante Lam + Nick Cheung bromance returns to this list with a very respectable #12 rank. The frequent collaborators blew the doors off their careers with THE BEAST STALKER (2008), setting up a run of films that would establish Cheung as an A+ actor and Lam as Hong Kong’s fastest-rising action auteur. THE STOOL PIGEON is the pair’s follow-up (after Lam detoured to make FIRE OF CONSCIENCE and a STORM RIDERS animation), and casts Cheung as Don Lee, a morally murky cop who shepherds informants like Ghost Jr. (Nicholas Tse, also returning from BEAST STALKER). The film’s main story, besides Don Lee experiencing cop angst thanks to some stuff that happened sometime ago (Dante Lam loves his tortured cop characters), is how a loser criminal like Ghost Jr. deals with his thankless and quite dangerous role as an informant. There’s some fascinating stuff here about how informants become informants and how their cop handlers are actually pretty crappy - but those themes eventually get pushed to the side for your requisite thrilling action, culminating in a brutal chase/fight set in a school. STOOL PIGEON certainly has its fans: Issac Chambers of Far East Films dubs the film “the most insanely tense thriller of the decade,” while Emanuele Sacchi of Hong Kong Express calls it “classy action like in the good old days of HK.” Nicholas Tse took home a Best Actor trophy at the Hong Kong Film Awards for his intense performance, while perennial LoveHKFilm fave Guey Lun-Mei (a.k.a. Kwai Lun-Mei a.k.a. “Gooey”) appears so we absolutely MUST mention her. Nick Cheung and Dante Lam collaborated two more times in the 2010s following STOOL PIGEON, and while THAT DEMON WITHIN (2014) only ranked #85 on this list (tying with action-comedy TWO THUMBS UP), the other film has yet to show up. It might pretty soon.

11. UNBEATABLE (2013) - 218.5 points, 2 first place votes - LoveHKFilm Review

Unbeatable

Oh, here’s that last Dante Lam film. Lam may be more widely known for tortured cops and firearm action, but his greatest work of the 2010s was arguably this sports drama starring his former partner-in-bromance Nick Cheung alongside his future bromantic buddy Eddie Peng (after this film, Peng and Lam collaborated on TO THE FORE, OPERATION MEKONG and THE RESCUE). Cheung and Peng worked out like complete madmen for this MMA (mixed martial arts) drama, and UNBEATABLE offers plenty of lingering looks at their sweat-drenched, glistening abs to satiate fans of such matters. Cheung plays former boxer Ching Fai, who gets back into the game to train up-and-coming MMA fighter Si-Qi (Peng), but circumstances arise that compel Ching Fai to exit retirement and enter the ring himself. Despite UNBEATABLE’s intense action, the film’s title refers less to fighting in the ring than it does to simply struggling through life. Ching Fai, Si-Qi and single mother Ming Jun (Mei Ting, playing the third lead character) are all beaten down people who have to pick themselves up to soldier on, and Lam weaves his character themes with his action set pieces marvelously. UNBEATABLE was nominated for a slew of Hong Kong Film Awards and won only one. But that single win was huge: Nick Cheung took home the Best Actor award over Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in THE GRANDMASTER, marking the only time that Tony Leung Chiu-Wai has ever lost a Best Actor Hong Kong Film Award when nominated for a Wong Kar-Wai film. Wow, to think that Hong Kong’s greatest actor ever could be taken down by the star of EVERY DOG HAS ITS DATE. Nick is coming for Tony’s Marvel contract next.

So Dante Lam and Nick Cheung exit the BEST 75 HONG KONG MOVIES OF THE 2010s with a one-two punch. Yes, that means you won’t be seeing OPERATION MEKONG, THAT DEMON WITHIN, INTEGRITY, THE TROUGH, NIGHTFALL or any of the FROM VEGAS TO MACAU movies in the Top 10. Of those films, the only one I vaguely regret not making this list is OPERATION MEKONG, and even then a Top 10 finish would be way too high. MEKONG would be OK at #55 or #69. THE VEGAS TO MACAU movies should straight up be in the 600s.

See you at our next post when we reveal numbers 10-6 of this thing. We’re nearing the end. Well, of the reader vote, not the world. Though, if you think about it, we seem pretty close to that too.

7 Responses to “The Best 75 Hong Kong Films of the 2010s - Numbers 20-11”

  1. Tim Chuma Says:

    I completely forgot I had seen some of these or they would have been on my list especially Conquering the Demons as I did an entire page devoted to Shu Qi making funny faces from the movie on my site. I forgot about SPL 2 so hard it is not even on my master list of all the Asian cinema I have watched since 2000 and that is a lot.

  2. Phil Says:

    I loved Still Human based off Anthony Wong’s performance alone. Totally owned all the scenes he was in, truly a gift to Hong Kong cinema.

    Unbeatable was peak Nick Cheung for me; seems like he hasn’t had many noteworthy performances since. I did like him in Keeper of Darkness, was pretty solid there but he’s kinda been coasting since.

  3. Valerie Soe Says:

    But what about COOK UP A STORM?

  4. Webmaster Kozo Says:

    Knowing what I do about the rest of the write-ups, I’d wager that COOK UP A STORM doesn’t get mentioned anymore.

  5. J Says:

    So happy to see both MAD WORLD and STILL HUMAN rank so high, especially as you note, for low-key humanistic dramas placing so much higher than tired genre shootouts. These 2 films hopefully represent the future of HK cinema.

  6. Kenny Says:

    Nick Cheung and Dante Lam may be out of the race, but I still have high hopes that Wong Jing will appear somewhere in the top ten. Future X-Cop was certainly a masterclass in sci-fi film making. Plus, Future Cops did take the coveted first place in the top 90s list…

  7. Veronica Says:

    fun, fun, fun. From the beginning, I had many “What!?”s and the rank didn’t matter any more to me. Still fun to see the results. fun, fun, fun. Thank you! Let’s see the top ten!

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