Jet Li returns to wuxia pian in Flying Swords of Dragon Gate
Said to be a reworking of King Hu’s Dragon Gate Inn (1966) and New Dragon Gate Inn (1992, aka Dragon Inn), Tsui Hark’s Flying Swords of Dragon Gate reunites the director with his Once Upon a Time in Chinaleading man, Jet Li. Budgeted at a reported $35 million USD, the film will be the first 3-D wuxia film. Chuck Comiskey, who served as a visual effects supervisor for James Cameron’s Avatar, has been hired as the 3-D director in charge of managing special effects. (more…)
Today’s retro review is one my favorite Hong Kong films of all-time — the Tsui Hark-produced, Ching Siu-Tung-directed Swordsman II (1992). Although I’m quite fond of the first film, this winning sequel improves on its predecessor considerably, largely due to a compelling story, great action, and the (mostly) all-new cast. The film stars my favorite actor of the 1990s, Jet Li (replacing Sam Hui), Rosamund Kwan (replacing Cheung Man), and Michelle Reis(replacing Cecillia Yip). By far the biggest addition to the cast is the singular Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia, who takes on the challenging role of Asia the Invincible, a character who is quite possibly the most memorable villain of 1990s Hong Kong cinema — spawning a sequel of “his” own and a handful of parodies, too.
For me, this is a movie of introductions. Not only was Swordsman II the very first wuxia film I ever saw, but it was also the first film I’d ever seen to feature a transgendered character. What stands out now nearly twenty years(!) later is the portrayal of Asia, who while remaining a “villain” in the traditional sense is also very human and sympathetic. He/she also happens to possess superhuman powers, badass martial arts skills, and Brigitte Lin’s striking good looks — all qualities that have helped insure the character’s cinematic immortality for some time now.
Swordsman II was an early review of mine for LoveHKFilm.com; whatever I lacked in skill or style, I hopefully made up with humor and enthusiasm. Funnily enough, Swordsman II was the first review I ever wrote to get quoted on a DVD; in this case, Optimum Asia’s UK DVD. At the very least, my parents seemed to get a kick out of it.
Anyway, for Hong Kong cinema fans, this is another must-see flick.
Best Jet Li movie ever. I will fight you if you say different.
If I voted today, perhaps Once Upon a Time in China 2would be my number one choice. As I’ve written before, Once Upon a Time in China 2 was the gateway film — it opened the door to Hong Kong cinema for me, and I jumped right on through and never looked back. I saw this sequel in Singapore back in 1992*, and was instantly smitten. My relatives kept back issues of an entertainment magazine called Eight Days, and I rummaged through them, clipping out reviews for any similar movie I could find. I would then take these clippings to the Chinese video rental place for reference, coming back with VHS copies of Fong Sai-Yuk 1 and 2, Swordsman II, etc. When I came back to the States, I bought VHS tapes through mail order (those damned 2 tape sets!), and then, because I was afraid I’d wear out the tape, I’d record those two-tape sets to a single VHS tape using a second VCR. I even printed cool stickers to make the tapes look professional. I bought books! I bought soundtracks! I was obsessed.** When Once Upon a Time in China finally showed up on region 1 DVD, I was in complete disbelief. “Cult films” had gone mainstream.
With the official LoveHKFilm.com reader poll on the Top Hong Kong Films of the 1990s now complete, I thought I might as well share my own top choices with everyone. The moment this poll was announced, I scribbled down what amounted to about twenty-five or so 90s era Hong Kong films that I absolutely loved or really, really liked. After consulting our archive and recommendation lists to make sure a really wonderful movie hadn’t completely slipped my mind, I whittled the list down to twenty choices and sent them in to Kozo. Of course, there are so many films to choose from, so even personal faves like Lost and Found and Rave Fever got cut out in the process. Before I begin, let me be clear about one thing, I had ZERO desire to create a list that would be considered as “representative” of the decade. That’s a tactic we often see in random magazine and website top ten lists (I’m looking at you, Entertainment Weekly), as a few “respectable choices” are mindlessly tacked on to add some air of legitimacy. Well, NONE of my choices were made because I thought I should fulfill somebody else’s expectations of what a top ten (or twenty in my case) list should look like. I went with my head, my heart, and my gut.
The last time I composed a top ten list, I chose to do a countdown. I did so for at least three reasons: 1) I was modeling it after current AICN and former CHUD.com critic, Jeremy “Mr. Beaks” Smith’s ambitious Top 100 Films of the Decade countdown, 2) a LoveHKFilm.com’s reader’s poll countdown was already under way, and I thought that readers might be interested to know if my picks coincided with their own, in anticipation of the final ten, and 3) it seemed like writing and posting about my choices in piecemeal fashion made a lot more sense than crafting an overlong and unwieldy blog post that nobody would want to read. Sounds logical enough, right?
Well, this time around, I’m going to do things a little differently. Not only is the 90s readers’ poll long over, but I just really don’t have a desire to write about every movie that I chose with the same level of depth. Instead of a countdown, I’m gonna just lay it all out here and then talk about some of the films in separate blog posts.
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire — WHOOPS! Wrong epic saga.
If you’re wondering how I could confuse The Founding of a Republic – a star-studded Mainland Chinese film made to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China — with one of George Lucas’s blockbuster space operas, let me explain (and reveal my once fervent Star Wars fanaticism in the process): The Fall of the Republic was one of many rumored titles for the third film of the Prequel Trilogy, as we all presumed the Republic made way for the Empire in the Original Trilogy (in fact, the Republic is the Empire — just under new management).
Anyway, to get back on point — I finally caught The Founding of a Republic over the winter break, and boy was I disappointed! What a snooze! I have to admit that the movie is often pretty to look at despite the required presence of numerous unattractive and/or middle-aged political figures. And I suppose it’s sort of amusing when each of the big-time Chinese celebs (Jet Li, Andy Lau, Zhang Ziyi, Donnie Yen, Leon Lai, etc) show up for their thirty-second cameos, but let’s be real about this — the movie could use a LOT of work.
Since Kozo recently asked the readers of LoveHKFilm.com to send in a list of their favorite Hong Kong films of the last decade, it got me to thinking about what my top picks would be if I had to come up with a list of my own. That bit of brainstorming turned into – wouldn’t you know it? – my very own top ten list! Originally, I planned to talk about twenty-five Hong Kong films that I really, really liked, but after hashing out all the flicks I could possibly mention, I soon realized that this would be too big a task to complete in so short a period of time. I mean, I should be spending my holiday celebrating Christmas and the New Year (not to mention passing my qualifying exams for the PhD), right?
So, I’ve whittled down my choices to cover what I think are the top ten Hong Kong films of the last decade. Be warned — when I say “Top Ten,” my definition lies somewhere between “best” and “favorite.” As with any list, my personal biases will become blatantly obvious, and I make no apologies for them.
Some of you may bristle when you see that this list is not filled to the brim with all of Johnnie To’s creative output between 2000 and 2009. I’ll try to address the reason for this potential ”oversight” if any of To’s films actually make it onto my list. Similarly, you might see a slight bias in favor of films that came out in the early part of the decade. The reason for this inclination is simple — I think they made better films back then (or at least more of them anyway). If that makes me sound like a gruff old timer, so be it.
In any event, the list is meant as a) a fun little celebration of the last decade of Hong Kong cinema and b) the perfect jumping off point for you to discuss your own top picks in the comments section. So don’t take ‘em too seriously, enjoy the walk down memory lane, and, of course…
10. Infernal Affairs (2002)
Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai square off in an iconic scene from Infernal Affairs
If Infernal Affairs 3 had been a better movie, I would’ve bent the rules and listed all three films here as a trilogy. Although the third film has grown on me (like a fungus!), it’s not nearly as good as the first two entries in ”The Legend” (as the series was billed in HK advertisements. I think they meant to say ”saga.”). I’m sure some people might have a beef with this choice because they think Infernal Affairs 2 or Colour of the Truth is a better film. While I acknowledge that both films are solid genre flicks, I find that I have little interest in revisiting either of them when perusing my own back catalog of Hong Kong movies. To put it bluntly, the first Infernal Affairshas something that those two films simply don’t possess – across-the-board star wattage.