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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.

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

4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)


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.

While my crush on Zhang Ziyi fizzled years ago, my esteem for Ang Lee’s Academy Award-winning film has not. Now I’m well-aware that some people don’t like the movie for all kinds of reasons ranging from legitimate gripes like Chow Yun-Fat’s Mandarin being wobbly or even strangely racist ones like ”real Chinese people don’t like it, so it must suck” (I’ve heard this more than once). But I think that critical blowback is merely a product of people coming too late to the party and feeling like they were burned out by the hype machine. It happens with all kinds of great movies, so why would Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon be any exception?

Instead of trying to recapture and recapitulate my thoughts on this wonderful film, I’ll allow some guy named Sanjuro to do my work for me:

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is more than just a movie; it’s a phenomenon. Along with The Matrix, its title will forever be used as a comparative term for film blurbs around the world (”It’s a cross between.”). Based on the book by Wang Du-Lu, the film is an epic tale of two couples coming to grips with the realities of living in the martial world. Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are great, while Zhang Ziyi turns in a star-making performance. […] Beautiful and compelling to the very last, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is nothing less than a cinematic masterpiece.

3. Needing You… (2000)

Needing You

Sammi Cheng tires of your shtick

Okay, I’ll admit it — the last act conflict is completely ludicrous and the denouement lacks the more satisfyingly physical catharsis you’re hoping for, but somehow, someway, this movie works. People may love Johnnie To’s other films because they’re slick, stylish, and cerebral, but Needing You… is one of the few films of his that truly wears its heart on its sleeve. And I love it for that reason.

Before seeing this film, I didn’t really grasp the appeal of Sammi Cheng. Afterwards, however, I totally got it — boy did I ever! Coached on by an affable Andy Lau, Cheng’s seduction scene (pictured above) is just one of the many memorable moments that make this bubbly romantic comedy worthwhile. It’s no wonder, then, that the palpable onscreen chemistry between the film’s two good-looking co-stars would carry over to a number of future collaborations (okay, maybe not Yesterday Once More). Oh, and it’s also got the funniest A Moment of Romance parody ever — with the original film’s star and good sport, Andy Lau, no less. As they say, except no substitutes.

2. Shaolin Soccer (2001)

Shaolin Soccer

My interest in soccer begins and ends with this movie

This movie was reeeeeeeally close to being my top pick. But before I talk about how much I like Shaolin Soccer, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, when I started buying and watching movies, I had to order VHS tapes through mail order catalogs. At that point, my interests were filmmakers (John Woo, Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam) and actors (Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun-Fat). There were two kinds of films I never watched. The first kind were Category III films, a fact which probably set me apart from the majority of my fellow Hong Kong film geeks who were, meanwhile, wearing out their copies of Sex and Zen and Erotic Ghost Story 2 through multiple, presumably solo viewings. That revelation may not be too surprising, but the other “type” of film I avoided just might shock you — Stephen Chow mo lei tau comedies.

Blasphemy, you say! Well, before you revoke my LoveHKFilm critic license, let me explain. There are two very good reasons for this omission. First of all, his movies simply weren’t on my radar in the early going of my HK cinema obsession. The books I owned about HK films never talked about him — the focus was always on the filmmakers and actors I mentioned earlier. And two, when I did finally hear about Stephen Chow, I had the terrible misfortune of reading about him in a book called Asian Cult Cinema. In this book that filmmaker Oliver Stone mysteriously refers to as “The Bible” in the cover blurb, the author warned readers off of seeing Chow’s films and called the actor a number of names I won’t repeat here. I was new to HK cinema, and I didn’t realize at the time that a) the book was rife with factual errors  and b) that the author had, with some exceptions, exceedingly bad taste in movies. Because of my mistake, I almost missed out on the genius of Stephen Chow. And then something happened. That something was Shaolin Soccer.

I don’t remember how I first heard about it nor do I remember the circumstances in which I was able to view it. But what I do remember is being blown away by this movie when I laid eyes on it. On more than one occasion I’ve waxed poetic on this site about my first viewing of Once Upon a Time in China 2 on the big screen. Watching this movie on VCD on an old-fashioned computer screen was no less revelatory.

Within the first few minutes, I immediately thought to myself, This is Stephen Chow? He’s not a hack; he’s a genius! Now I know some folks lament the lack of Cantonese wordplay in comparison to Chow’s previous films, but I have to say that not one of those Chow classics (which I love, too) is as polished or as self-assured as Shaolin Soccer. Sure, it’s a simple, old-fashioned underdog story (I mean, the bad guys are called “The Evil Team;” you don’t get much simpler than that!), but simple isn’t bad — not in the least. With equal doses of kung fu, comedy, CGI wizardry, and just a touch of romance, Shaolin Soccer’s winning, can-do spirit is so infectious, I’ve been hard-pressed to find anyone (in person, anyway) who isn’t a fan. The finale is masterful thanks to the inclusion of a number of comical pop culture references, another great score by Raymond Wong, the funniest and perhaps most honorific Bruce Lee homage to date, and the drama, whimsy, and hilarious payoff of that last wonderful kick by superstar Stephen Chow. Really, how can anyone not love this movie? Siu lam gong fu ho yeah!

[Wanna step into the Delorean and relive the totally played out Miramax/Shaolin Soccer controversy? Click here for a blast from the past!]

Next time: I delay the #1 pick to give you those bad boys Ekin Cheng and Louis Koo wearing designer suits sans the requisite shirts, the man inexplicably known around here as DONNNNIIIEEE!, and Edison Freakin’ Chen. ‘Member him?

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

  1. Lord Garth, Formerly of Izar Says:

    I actually prefered shaolin Soccer to Kung Fu Hustle but then again I liked God of Cookery, King of Comedy and Tricky Master even better.

    Stephen Chow + Ng Man Tat = Brilliance

  2. mordred13 Says:

    I do also discovered Stephen Chow watching Shaolin Soccer, then watched Kung Hustle. But then I looked after his older movies, God of Cookery and King of Comedy were his masterpieces in my opinion. His performace is simply terrific in this two last films compared to Shaolin Soccer and Kung Fu Hustle. Maybe because they use too CGI, very funny the scenes indeed, while Good of Cookery and King of Comedy we see Stephen Chow giving his best acting performace. But of course Shaolin Soccer was a great movie of this decade.

    Needing you I liked very much. Thinking now I should have picked Needing you instead Love on a Diet on my top list.

  3. ed Says:

    I predict your #1 to be IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE…

  4. Sanjuro Says:

    ed was right.

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