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Thoughts On LoveHKFilm’s The Best Hong Kong Movies Ever Reader Vote

With just days left to go in voting for LoveHKFilm’s Best Hong Kong Movies Ever Reader Vote, it’s time to awake from my slumber and arise from my sleep to get back out on the hustings and campaign for two films that I strongly believe deserve consideration for your votes.  Also, on the off chance that any of you may care, I’ll share my vote for the “Best Hong Kong Movie Ever”.

The Best Hong Kong Movie Ever

As I am a raging megalomaniac, I’m going to start by revealing my pick for “Best Hong Kong Movie” ever.  I don’t know about you but I found the prospect of picking the Best! Hong Kong! Movie! Ever! a daunting prospect.  Sure, I’ve seen hundreds of Hong Kong films but thousands have been made so I feel sheepish about being an Arbiter of Best Moviedom.

To help me get a hold of such an unwieldy topic, I decided to fall back onto a situation that I’ve found myself in many times over the years: If you had to recommend just one Hong Kong movie to a complete neophyte, which one would you pick?  It’s an important decision because the stakes are high.  If the neophyte likes your pick, then you may be opening the door to a lifetime of an enjoyment of the wonder of Hong Kong film.  If the neophyte hates your pick, then you have squandered an opportunity to recruit one more fan to the ailing art.  For me, then, the vote boils down to if I only had one shot, one opportunity to capture the imagination of a Hong Kong movie neophyte, which movie would I recommend?

After much deliberation, I settled on three movies for final consideration.  In alphabetical order they are: A BETTER TOMORROW, KUNG FU HUSTLE and POLICE STORY.  It’s a daunting decision so my palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy, there’s vomit on my sweater already, Mom’s spaghetti … My choice for the Best Hong Kong Movie Ever is … {drum roll} … KUNG FU HUSTLE.

Stephen Chow in KUNG FU HUSTLE

The choice came down to KUNG FU HUSTLE and A BETTER TOMORROW.  POLICE STORY was a strong candidate but it is more of a Jackie Chan showcase than a Hong Kong Cinema showcase.  As I have written before, A BETTER TOMORROW is a cinematic masterpiece but KUNG FU HUSTLE edges it out narrowly because it features the signature staple of Hong Kong cinema, kung fu, and because it is a more comprehensive movie. Like A BETTER TOMORROW, KUNG FU HUSTLE has brilliant action sequences and themes of heroism and sacrifice but what makes KUNG FU HUSTLE just that little bit better is that it has a sense of whimsy that is found in many a Hong Kong film from the good (CHUNGKING EXPRESS) to the bad (ON FIRE) to the ugly (THE ETERNAL EVIL OF ASIA).  The way KUNG FU HUSTLE manages to tell a classic “good versus bad” story set in the milieu of Pigsty Alley yet include elements like mystical kung fu, a dance number and Bugs Bunny-type animation represents the best of Hong Kong cinema and that is why it’s my choice for the title of Best Hong Kong Movie Ever.

For your consideration …

To those of you who are still compiling your lists for the Reader vote, I ask, nay, beseech you to consider putting two relatively unheralded but patently deserving films on your list:  Ann Hui On-Wah’s THE WAY WE ARE and Johnnie To Kei-Fung’s EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.

Though works like SUMMER SNOW and A SIMPLE LIFE have received more acclaim, the low-key THE WAY WE ARE is Ann Hui’s best film.  It’s easy to cull drama from situations like the travails of a caregiver to an Alzheimer’s patent or the way the ravages of time takes a toll on the body and the soul.  It’s not as easy to cull drama from mundane every day situations like grocery shopping and cooking supper yet Hui manages to do just that, with great affect, in THE WAY WE ARE.

Chan Lai-Wun in THE WAY WE ARE

The opening sequence of the film which shows an old lady (played by HKFA Supporting Actress winner Chan Lai-Wan) shopping for groceries then cooking and eating dinner alone gives more insight into old age than any individual sequence found in A SIMPLE LIFE.  Similarly, there’s a scene set in, of all places, a Wellcome supermarket that says more about down-to-earth, working-class decency than you can find in any news report, documentary, essay or newspaper/magazine article.

Earlier this year, I saw the documentary, JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, about an 85 year-old man who has spent a lifetime mastering the art of making sushi.  In the end, the key to his success was the relentless pursuit of simplicity in the complex matrix of variables that go into making a piece of sushi.  With THE WAY WE ARE, Ann Hui shows that she has mastered the art of complex simplicity, a feat worthy of your consideration for a place on your list of the Best Hong Kong Films Ever.

Like Ann Hui, Johnnie To Kei-Fung is known more for films like ELECTION and LIFE WITHOUT PRINCIPLE but I believe one of his best movies is the early Milkyway Image production EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED.  On the surface, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED is a routine police procedural filled with the usual tropes:  the by-the-book squad leader, the laid-back, loose-cannon cop and the cop just looking to get by until he retires.  For good measure, To throws in a love triangle and a tale of unrequited love.  The familiar elements, however, are all just part of a brilliant plan to lull viewers into a false sense of security that serves to emphasize and heighten the message of the film:  Life is fragile because violence can erupt unexpectedly from the ordinary.


Since the film was released in 1998, there have been two real-life examples of how unspeakable tragedy lies just below the surface of the routine rhythms of life: a sunny Tuesday in New York City in September of 2001 and a peaceful Boxing Day 2004 down in the area of the Indian Ocean.  EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED has an unforgettable ending and, if you saw you it, you should not forget about it when you are putting together your ballot.

NOTE: I am aware that Patrick Yau Tat-Chi is listed as the director of EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED but it is widely-accepted that Johnnie To did the heavy lifting.  To has said as much himself.  Also, as Bill Parcells famously noted: “you are what your record says you are.”  Since EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED, Johnnie To has continued to build a prolific filmography.  Patrick Yau, not so much.

Image credits:  Sony Pictures Classics (Stephen Chow), Class Limited (Chan Lai-Wun), Milkyway Image (Simon Yam)

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