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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.

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.

12. July Rhapsody (2001) – I’m not really sure what to say about this heartbreaking Ann Hui film other than that I found it considerably moving. July Rhapsody seems like a straightforward tale of a high school literature teacher (Jacky Cheung) on the verge of a mid-life crisis. After all, one of his students (a fetching Karena Lam) has an obvious crush on him, and it probably doesn’t help the situation that he seems to have some unspoken problem with his wife (the great Anita Mui). But July Rhapsody might not be quite the movie you were expecting, as there are quite a few secrets to be uncovered as the film unfolds. Cheung, Mui, and Lam deliver pitch-perfect performances in this subtle, emotionally gripping tale.

13. Chinese Odyssey 2002 (2002, duh) — Without a doubt, this is one of the best comedies of the “aughts.” This hilarious little film feels an awful lot like Jeff Lau’s take on what a Wong Kar-Wai-directed mo lei tau comedy would look, feel, and sound like. There are a lot of laughs to be had in Chinese Odyssey 2002 thanks to winning performances from Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Faye Wong (especially during that goofy Kingdom and the Beauty song parody). The fact that this movie is actually able to reroute the comedy into dramatic territory late in the film is an achievement in itself.  Oh, and Zhao Wei is also pretty damn adorable here, too.

14. Infernal Affairs 2 (2003) — A lot of people seem to think this prequel is superior to the original. And on certain days, I share their opinion — just not today. What I found most interesting about this film was neither the backstory between Sam (Eric Tsang) and SP Wong (Anthony Wong) nor the origin of Yan (Shawn Yu) and Ming (Edison Chen), but Francis Ng’s characteristically magnetic performance as a brand new character — Yan’s older brother, Hau.

Invisible Target

15. Invisible Target (2007) — What’s this movie doing here, you say? You were expecting maybe SPL? Well, I’m unashamed to admit that watching Invisible Target was (at that moment) probably the most consistently fun experience I’ve had with a Hong Kong movie in years. Seriously. Benny Chan has made an occasional misstep or two, but this is a prime example of what he does best — fun, energetic action with amusing characters. Invisible Target also made me not only reconsider my opinion of Jaycee Chan, but actually like him, which is a feat I thought was a virtual impossibility after the travesty that was his performance in Twins Effect II (see below).

16. One Nite in Mongkok (2004) – Daniel Wu and Cecillia Cheung are great in this amazing crime thriller from director Derek Yee. It starts out like a simple “on the run” story and spirals into something far richer and involving. Thanks to One Nite in Mongkok, I’ve made a concerted effort to catch every film Yee has made since.

17. Lost in Time (2003) — Hey, it’s another Derek Yee film! Lost in Time proves that Wong Kar-Wai doesn’t have a strangehold on stories of lost love and hidden pain. Lau Ching-Wan contributes another great acting turn in this heartfelt, emotionally honest film, but the real marvel is Cecilia Cheung. Her HKFA award-winning performance here is one of her very best.

God, I wish she’d never met Edison Chen.

18. SPL (2005) — Okay, Donnie fans, I’ll give you one. Donnie Yen squaring off with Sammo Hung may mark the climax, but it’s Donnie’s short fight with Wu Jing that everybody loves. And you know what? Me, too.

election 2

19 & 20. Election 1 & 2 (2005/2006) – Sorry, Johnnie To acolytes. I know Needing You probably wasn’t the film you would have picked from the famous director’s filmography to crack the top ten, but as they say, “them’s the breaks, kid.” Election is perhaps best known for its crazy downer of an ending, which forever robbed the term “Gone Fishin’” of its pastoral innocence. Despite how I’ve ordered them for convenience (I actually sort of see them as one film), I think I prefer Election 2 as it is a more successfully gripping, dark-hearted take on classic Greek tragedy, albeit one modified for contemporary Hong Kong/China relations. The Man with the Tan is at his best here.

21. My Mother is a Belly Dancer (2006) – This tale of personal liberation through belly-dancing for a group of middle-aged housewives is fun, affecting, and a nice change of pace from youth-skewed romantic comedies or the more male-centered genre pictures coming out of Hong Kong. It’s not perfect — there’s a somewhat unnecessary Andy Lau cameo (his Focus Films backed this project) and My Mother is a Belly Dancer doesn’t quite stick the landing — but I couldn’t help but be charmed by its engaging portrait of a rarely-catered-to demographic.

22. Love on a Diet (2001)This funny follow-up to Needing You from director Johnnie To works largely due to the presence of Andy Lau rather than his lovely co-star, Sammi Cheng. While Andy Lau preserves his overweight character’s dignity by playing him as a real person, Sammi Cheng’s take on obesity verges on gross parody, as she seems to think that putting on weight lowers a person’s IQ and stunts your social skills exponentially. Bad acting, Sammi! Bad! Still, Andy gives it his all, and somewhere between his chemistry with Sammi and To’s directing skills, an engaging romantic comedy emerges.

23. The Eye (2002) – It’s the scariest Hong Kong film of the decade – well, an intentionally scary one, anyway. Angelica Lee is great, and the directing duo of the Pang brothers ain’t bad either.

24. Connected (2008) – Okay, I know I’m gonna take some flack for listing this so high, but what can I say? – Benny Chan got me again. I mean, how can you not get involved in the thrill-a-minute adventures of a sweaty, constantly apoplectic Louis Koo? The crackerjack, if inane plot makes this a fun, fun ride. I also love how the producers thought that billing it as a Chinese remake of a so-so American film was actually an important selling point.

25. CJ7 (2008) –  I actually liked it. And why not? I know people were expecting Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle-type filmic trancendence, but isn’t that setting the bar a little too high — even for Stephen Chow?  At its core, CJ7 is a an amusing children’s movie that works quite well, containing some fun parodic moments regarding Chow’s recent filmic output to amuse the older crowd. And it sure beats the hell out of The Magic Gourd.

*  *  *

Okay, that’s it for now in regard to the “top picks.” When I list my #1 choice, I’ll do a complete tally of 1-25, PLUS choices #26-50. But before I sign off, here’s a very different kind of list…

BEST OF THE WORST

Y’know, it’s no fun crapping on bad movies that never even had a chance. So, in compiling this list, I tried to stay away from easy targets — movies with low budgets and/or no name actors or directors. It’d be like shooting fish in a barrel. Movies with big budgets and big stars that turned out to be big disasters? Those are fair game. But to clarify, this is not a list of the “bottom ten” — while some of these movies I hate with a passion, there are a few I simply hate to love (or like, as it were).

1. Gen-Y Cops (2000)

GenY

Upon watching this sequel to Gen-X Cops, I wondered, “Where’s Nicholas Tse?” It’s a question that I’m guessing Sam Lee and Stephen Fung were asking themselves, too, especially if they were privy to any of the dailies while filming this horrible, horrible film. In Tse’s place, we have an annoying poseur named Edison Chen whose idiotically phony ”gangsta” slang is actually topped in sheer atrociousness by co-star Richard Sun’s. That cute Grace Yip from the original is replaced by Christy Chung and Maggie Q. Based on the latter two’s good looks, you might be inclined think it’s not big loss. But then when you saw them act, you would think someting quite different, I imagine.

Simply put, Gen-Y Cops is the absolute nadir of Hong Kong action filmmaking. It was only after Benny Chan made Invisible Target seven years later that I finally found it in my heart to forgive him for this cringe-inducing mess. Despite being relegated to minor supporting roles, Sam Lee and Stephen Fung look like they’re having a blast, and Paul Rudd makes an odd appearance, but on the whole, this is a terrible film. It also might be a sign of the apocalypse as it was Edison Chen’s cinematic debut.

2. For Bad Boys Only (2000)

How cool are titular bad boys King Chan (Ekin Cheng) and Jack (Louis Koo)? They’re so damn cool they wear designer suits without shirts underneath to highlight their tanned, trimmed, but not really toned bodies. And hey, you know those samurai duels where two fighters lunge at each other, but are both left standing with their backs to one another until one falls and the other is left standing? Well, that happens in For Bad Boys Only — except the geniuses behind this film take it to THE EXTREME. Louis Koo is driving a car and the bad guy is riding a motorcycle, and they have guns! Badass, right?

In any event, LoveHKFilm.com mascot Ekin Cheng is uncharacteristically annoying for the first ten minutes of the film, until his lecherous character hits the motherload when he encounters the exotic Shu Qi. She plays — wait for it –  a clone of a former Olympic Track Star (Shu Qi in a dual, actually triple role). Since the clone is kinda dumb and eager to learn about human relations, Ekin’s character is all-too pleased to be her teacher. Yeah, it’s gonna go there. Is this every lonely heterosexual man’s fantasy or an example of gross misogyny? I think it’s both.

But wait, there’s more…

Can I tell you a secret? I kinda enjoyed this movie. Maybe it was Kristy Yeung. Maybe it was Shu Qi. I really don’t know. Never mind the idiotic cloning plot or strung together action sequences. Guess that makes me a bad boy…with occasionally bad taste.

3. Twins Effect II (2004)

After seeing this movie, I wanted Jaycee Chan banned from acting for life. Mumble-mouthed, lifeless, and possessing all the charisma of a pet rock, the guy was practically comatose as an actor. Luckily, he did some penance with a few dramatic roles, eventually hooking up with Benny Chan,  himself still needing to apologize for Gen-Y Cops since none of the six films he made after that piece of crap could totally wipe it from our collective memory. The two of them won me over by making – you guessed it – Invisible Target, which is essentially Gen-Z Cops, but much, much better than either of the previous two films.

4. Flash Point (2007)

This movie makes Dragon Tiger Gate look like the Citizen Kane of martial arts movies by comparison. Not even the always likeable Louis Koo can save this movie. The premise of this film is basically Donnie Yen preening and swaggering around for the majority of Flash Point’s running time and then proceeding to kick Colin Chou’s ass for the entirety of the finale. Clearly, Donnie Yen and Wilson Yip should have watched ANY Indiana Jones or Rocky movie (even Rocky V, for crying out loud!) and tried to learn a thing or two about the inherent joy of watching an underdog hero prevail over a more skilled opponent. Hell, even Bruce Lee’s adversaries put up more of a fight than Colin Chou!

5. Lust, Caution (2007)

Okay, so it’s not a terrible movie. I included it here because it’s such a prominent film, and it failed to make my top 50 (which I’ll reveal with my #1 choice tomorrow). With that in mind, I felt I had to include it here as a way to explain its omission. Lust, Caution is well-made, boasts great production values, and contains two daring performances — but I’m hard-pressed to see how it adds up to a cohesive whole. I think it’s Ang Lee’s worst movie since Ride with the Devil, although admittedly, I seem to be in the minority. One moment in the film that I cannot deny the power of is the one where Tang Wei sings a Zhou Xuan song to a visibly moved Tony Leung. It moved me, too. And for that reason alone, I might give this film another chance one day in the future.

Other notable dishonorable mentions: #6) Love Undercover 2 (aka: Miriam Cashes a Paycheck), #7) Shopaholics (a thoroughly annoying film with the stars of Lost in Time), #8) Legend of Zu (WTF happened in this movie?), #9) Ming Ming (the annoying ADD editing made me I want to find the director and shake her. Hard), #10) Jiang Hu (this movie had “epic” written all over it — Jacky Cheung and Andy Lau gangstering it up! — and then it turned out to be a complete and utter turkey).

Any list of bad Hong Kong movies for the decade should probably include stuff like Where is Mama’s Boy? (Two words. William. Hung. One more: Ugh), but since I had the good sense to avoid it, I did not list it here. There are certainly worse movies than the ones I listed above, but since I’m under no obligation to watch EVERY Hong Kong film ever made, I’ve remained blissfully ignorant of the worst that Hong Kong has to offer.

Well, I guess that’s it for today. Although…I kinda I feel like I forgot to list a really important movie. What could it be? Oh well, never mind. Check back soon for my number one film of the decade. Here’s a clue:

My Wife is 18

“I know Calvin’s #1 choice!”

4 Responses to “The Best of the Rest, The Best of the Worst”

  1. Rick Boyer Says:

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work :)

  2. mordred13 Says:

    Kung Fu Chef is unworthy of mentioning. It was one of the worst movies I watched from this decade.

  3. Samson Says:

    Thank you for such a fantastic article! Can’t wait to find out what’s no. 1 on your list. Just want to make 2 comments:
    1. If you like Derek Yee’s movies, have you checked out his earlier works, especially C’est la vie, Mon Cheri? That is in my opinion his best work so far.
    2. Thanks for including Benny Chan’s Connected. Yes, this film is a little silly, but gee it is so entertaining. It reminds me of the great commercial films Hong Kong used to make in the 80s.

  4. Sanjuro Says:

    @Rick — Thanks!

    @mordred13 — I don’t recall mentioning Kung Fu Chef!

    @Samson — glad you liked the inclusion of Connected. And I will definitely look into C’est la vie, Mon Cheri. It’s an oversight I should remedy sooner or later.

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