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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

Archive for December, 2009

Calvin’s #1 Hong Kong Film of the Decade

1. In the Mood for Love (2000)

Mood

Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai are In the Mood for Love

Did you honestly think I would pick My Wife is 18? Well, I didn’t. If it’s any consolation, Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love does deal with a seemingly inappropriate relationship of its own — a budding romance between a man and a woman who just so happen to be married to other people. But then again, their respective spouses are having affairs — with each other, no less – so the line between what’s right and what’s wrong gets more than a little hazy as the story unfolds. The two wounded lovers (played by Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung) end up forming a peculiar sort of friendship, borne out of a mutual pain and a fervent desire to both understand and hopefully come to grips with their spouses’ cruel betrayal. The results of their experiment are nothing less than movie magic. In the Mood for Love is a rare movie romance where entire pages of dialogue can be conveyed in a single look and the “real action” may just reside somewhere between the lines (or edits, as it were).

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The Best of the Rest, The Best of the Worst

Compiling a top ten list of the decade’s best movies is tough work. There are a ton of great Hong Kong films out there, and some just couldn’t make the cut on so short a list. To compensate for any perceived oversights, I’ve decided to list choices #11-#25. I’m certain that some of my picks might be a little unorthodox or downright surprising, but I’m just going to have to follow my gut here, folks — critical or reader consensus against me be damned.

BEST OF THE REST

Timeandtide

11. Time and Tide (2000) — I unabashedly love this movie, and it came very close to making the top ten. Whatever hesitancy I had in embracing Nicholas Tse as a leading man disappeared completely thanks to this movie, as his little brother/big brother chemistry with rugged rock n’ roller Wu Bai (who provides a killer soundtrack) is just part of what makes this movie so good. The other part is the action — in particular, that breathless, suspense-filled sequence that makes up a good chunk of the film’s second half. I’m hard pressed to forget that pulse-pounding tenement assault or the decidedly unconventional baby delivery sequence that caps the film. Time and Tide is an action fan’s dream, and, the last great Tsui Hark movie (so far) – and yeah, I saw Seven Swords.

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Calvin’s Top 10 Hong Kong Films of the Last Decade (4-2)

4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

CTHD

Zhang Ziyi steals many a man’s heart in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

I saw this movie twice in theaters. The first time was in Stillwater, Oklahoma, home of my alma mater, Oklahoma State University. The second time was about a month later in a six-movie cineplex in Duncan, Oklahoma. Chew on that for a little while. Sure, Stillwater is a college town (with no arthouse theatre, mind you), but Duncan is just your average American town with an Asian population of 0.04% (and no telling how many residents of Chinese descent). So, showing a movie in Mandarin with English subtitles is, y’know, kind of a big deal. That’s how big of a game-changer Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was.

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Calvin’s Top 10 Hong Kong Films of the Last Decade (7-5)

With the results of the LoveHKFilm.com reader’s poll slowly trickling out, I give you a few more of my personal top ten. Will they in any way reflect the choices of the readers? I have no idea. Let me know what you think!

7. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)

Kung Fu Hustle

Stephen Chow is all out of bubblegum in Kung Fu Hustle

How great is this movie? Well, let me put it to you this way: Kung Fu Hustle is so great that comic genius-turned-filmmaker extraordinaire Stephen Chow can disappear for long stretches of the narrative, and I didn’t even miss him. Think about that for a second. The star of the film (and likely the singular reason why people bought tickets for the movie in the first place!) occasionally gives up screen time to lesser known actors in an A-budget picture. Sure,  familiar faces like Yuen Wah and Shaolin Soccer alums Chan Kwok-Kwan and Lam Chi-Hung round out the supporting cast, but a lot of the story hinges on the performances of a bunch of relative unknowns — the residents of Pigsty Alley. During my first viewing, I found myself asking, “Who are these guys?” And better still, “Why am I so riveted to what’s happening to them?”

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Calvin’s Top 10 Hong Kong Films of the Last Decade (10-8)

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…

Happy Holidays!

10. Infernal Affairs (2002)

IA

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 Affairs has something that those two films simply don’t possess – across-the-board star wattage.

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More Trouble in Little China

 BTILC 1

 ***The following is a piece I wrote to introduce Big Trouble in Little China at a screening at UC Santa Cruz. I’ve slightly re-edited it for LoveHKFilm.com Hope you enjoy it. ***

The film I’d like to talk about today is the very epitome of a cult classic. John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China may have flamed out at the box office in 1986, but it eventually rose like a phoenix from the ashes on home video, cable, and DVD, garnering a fervent cult following. Twenty-three years later, there are a number of theories as to why it didn’t click with audiences at the time. Maybe it was bad publicity, maybe no publicity, or, as I would like to think, maybe it was simply a few light years ahead of everything else out there.

Even so, I think, in some respects, the movie could be considered a bit old-fashioned – and not just because it boasts the kind of rapid-fire line delivery you’d see in such Howard Hawks films as Bringing up Baby and His Girl Friday. No, it’s the genre. Big Trouble’s resemblance to a Western is neither accidental nor merely symptomatic of Carpenter’s own filmmaking tastes. Before Buckeroo Banzai director W.D. Richter was brought in for rewrites, the original screenplay by Gary Goldman and David Weinstein set the events of the film in the Old West. The original plot centered on a cowboy who drifts into San Francisco’s Chinatown, gets his beloved horse stolen, and finds himself fighting for his life in a mystical Chinatown underworld.

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