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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 #1 Hong Kong Film of the Decade

1. In the Mood for Love (2000)


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).

Although there’s no need to elaborate, I saw In the Mood for Love – like many of Wong Kar-Wai’s other films — at a particular crossroads in my own life. What I can say is that my undergraduate university advertised a free screening, and when I saw the name Wong Kar-Wai, I immediately recognized him from that wonderful film of his, Chungking Express. If the wording of that sentence sounds a little strange coming from a Hong Kong film enthusiast, let me remind you: like my unfamiliarity with both Category-III skin flicks and Stephen Chow comedies, I was also practically Wong Kar-Wai illiterate at that time. I think some of those same books that I read about Hong Kong cinema suggested his films were pretentious, and taking them at their word, I pretty much avoided his work — that is, until Chungking Express showed up on the shelf of the foreign film section of my local Hastings (it’s a video/books/music store).

In any event, I went to the theatre by myself, not knowing a single thing about the plot or what to expect. Nowadays, with the advent of internet, it has become very easy to spoil a movie — either we have movies spoiled for us or we actively seek out spoilers due to unbridled enthusiasm and curiosity for a certain filmmaker’s work. Well, going in completely ignorant of what In the Mood for Love would entail turned out to be a pretty good move.

When I walked out of the small theatre after the lights came up, I have to admit that I didn’t know what to think. The film held my attention throughout, as the characters, the music, the rhythm, and the idiosyncratic editing style just washed over me.  I couldn’t really articulate anything. All I really knew was that I liked it. I eventually bought the Criterion Collection DVD (on sale for $20! Score!) as soon as I saw it in stores, and through multiple viewings I came to understand why it had affected me so. Heck, I even liked the deleted scenes!

If you couldn’t already tell, this is quite possibly my favorite Wong Kar-Wai movie EVER and probably the best film the critically-acclaimed auteur will ever make, although 2046 came close. I still hold out hope that he can again craft something as wonderful as In the Mood for Love, a beautiful film that improves with every subsequent viewing. Credit must also go to William Cheung Suk-Ping, Christopher Doyle, Lee Ping-Ban for the film’s look, as well as Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung for delivering career-defining performances that are sure to be remembered for a very long time. I mean, after all, Tony Leung has become so associated with Wong Kar-Wai, that My Blueberry Nights suffered considerably in his absence.  Without “Little Tony,” the film was WKW-lite. Like Kurosawa without Mifune, it just ain’t the same. On a similar note, it’s a damn shame Maggie Cheung retired from acting. She’s a rare talent among actresses in Hong Kong cinema and is sorely missed.

As I hope my comments show, I firmly believe that In the Mood for Love is a shining example of the very best that Hong Kong cinema has to offer. Without reservation, I’d recommend it to anyone as the top Hong Kong film of the decade. Really, it doesn’t get any better than this.

*     *     *

Here’s a recap of the top 25, but now expanded to a full fifty top picks:

1. In the Mood for Love (2000)
2. Shaolin Soccer (2001)
3. Needing You… (2000)
4. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
5. Red Cliff (2008/2009)
6. 2046 (2004)
7. Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
8. The Heavenly Kings (2007)
9. Hero (2002)
10. Infernal Affairs (2002)
11. Time and Tide (2000)
12. July Rhapsody (2001)
13. Chinese Odyssey 2002 (2002)
14. Infernal Affairs II (2003)
15. Invisible Target (2007)
16. One Nite in Mongkok (2004)
17. Lost in Time (2003)
18. SPL (2005)
19. Election (2005)
20. Election 2 (2006)
21. My Mother is a Belly Dancer (2006)
22. Love on a Diet (2001)
23. The Eye (2002)
24. Connected (2008)
25. CJ7 (2008)
26. Fearless (2006)
27. Just One Look (2002)
28. Colour of the Truth (2003)
29. House of Flying Daggers (2004)
30. Running on Karma (2003)
31. Dumplings…Three Extremes (2004)
32. My Name is Fame (2006)
33. My Wife is 18 (2002)
34. Fulltime Killer (2001)
35. Visible Secret 2 (2002)
36. Exiled (2006)
37. The Beast Stalker (2008)
38. The Protege (2007)
39. Throwdown (2004)
40. Run Papa Run (2008)
41. Curse of the Golden Flower (2006)
42. Infernal Affairs III (2004)
43. Breaking News (2004)
44. My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002)
45. Warlords (2007)
46. Sausalito (2000)
47. Initial D (2005)
48. Shinjuku Incident (2008)
49. Secret (2007)
50. The Duel (2000)

While I’m at it, I thought I’d throw out some additional “Honorable Mentions” (listed below in alphabetical order). I’m not ashamed to say I dug all these films, but for one reason or another, I just couldn’t bring myself to put ‘em in the top fifty. For some titles, the reasons behind that hesitation might be obvious; for others, not so much. For instance, I didn’t know what to do with Three — “Going Home” and Eros — “The Hand” since they’re both short films, and even though I liked it better than some of the films in the top 25, Ashes of Time Redux is not really a new movie, but more of a tune-up of a 90s model picture, complete with a new paint job.

If your favorite movie isn’t listed here or anywhere else on my list, chances are that a) the movie completely slipped my mind or b)  I simply haven’t had the opportunity to see it yet. My sincerest apologies. This whole process reminds me a lot of an epigram that concludes one of the film’s on this list:

He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.

Honorable Mentions:

Ashes of Time Redux (2008), Bullets of Love (2000), The Detective (2007), Divergence (2005), Dragon Tiger Gate (2006), Dry Wood, Fierce Fire (2002), Eros — “The Hand” (2004), The Eye 2 (2004), Eye in the Sky  (2007), Fat Choi Spirit (2002), Fighting for Love (2001), The Floating Landscape (2003), Good Times, Bed Times (2003), Hooked on You (2007), I’ll Call You (2006), Ip Man (2008), Leave Me Alone (2004), The Mad Detective (2007), New Police Story (2004), Perhaps Love (2005), Re-Cycle (2005), Rule #1 (2008), Running Out of Time 2 (2001), So Close (2002), Sound of Colors (2003), Summer Holiday (2000), Three — “Going Home” (2002), Tokyo Raiders (2000), Turn Left, Turn Right (2003), Turning Point (2009), Wo Hu (2006)


Well, that’s it. I hope you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane. Let me know what you think! It’s been a fun decade. Let’s all hope for a wonderful new year of Hong Kong cinema and a helluva decade to come! HK filmmakers, don’t let us down!

My Wife is 18

Prediction: Wong Kar-Wai will direct one of these two in the next decade. Or not. 

6 Responses to “Calvin’s #1 Hong Kong Film of the Decade”

  1. Wongsaurus Says:

    Every viewer subconsciously carries around a list of favorites in their head that is unique. Some movie goers seem to get upset because their favorites aren’t on a reviewer’s Top 50 list or else they are happy because most of their favorites are confirmed because the titles are also on the reviewer’s list. I’ll take your Top 50 as recommendations to discover some films that I haven’t seen yet or to revisit some that I have. In the latter case it’s either to give them a second chance or just to enjoy a satisfying move again. My favorites have a way of changing over time based on the memories of the viewing experience. It would be difficult for me to come up with a neatly ordered ranking though.

  2. r Says:

    Thanks for this series Calvin. It’s great how you talked about some of the context in which you experienced these films. I think so much of what determines our favourites always comes back to this sort of context

  3. Tristan Says:

    I think you should watch ‘Lust, Caution’ again. Especially considering that 5 of your top 10 star “little” Tony.

  4. Populasian Says:

    Thanks for your top 50 list Calvin. I am sad that the books you owned about HK films kept you away from Stephen Chow and Wong Kar-Wai for so long. Especially since Chow was such a prolific guy during the 90s. And Chungking Express gave me the ability to argue HK cinema as an artform for most of the 90s to anyone that would listen.

    I also have In The Mood for Love for my #1 for the Aughts. I’ve seen 43 of your top 50. So I need to catch the others and most of your Honorable mentions.

    I wouldn’t qualify Secret as an HK film even if Anthony Wong was part of it.

    Thanks again and great write ups.

  5. Marie Says:

    I really enjoyed your recounting how you came to see ITMFL and its impact on you. That was also the first Hong Kong movie I saw, and it wasn’t so long ago. I was home alone for the weekend and put the first disk of the Criterion Edition into the DVD player on Friday night. Let us just say that by Sunday morning, I was a WKW fan for life. I lived in a fevered dream for 36 hours and have never been the same again. It has only been 2 1/2 years since that fateful weekend, but I have seen hundreds of HK films since then and anticipate seeing hundreds (thousands?) more in the months and years to come. I never expected to discover such wonderful films, of all types, that I knew nothing about at my age (49 at the time). I was also very lucky to see so many very good films at the beginning of my sojourn into HK cinema: being a fan of Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Leslie Cheung in those early days led me to some of Hong Kong’s best films. I read a few books that turned me onto Stephen Chow (thank you David Bordwell) and many other directors and actors that are among Hong Kong’s finest.

    It has been instructive to see the lists compiled by contributors to LoveHKFilm. I recognize many of the films and have seen at least half of them. Now I have some useful info on other excellent films to watch in the months ahead. Great stuff!

  6. Sanjuro Says:

    Thanks for reading, everyone. I appreciate your thoughts and input!

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