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.