Saturday, September 29, 2012

Favourite Hong Kong Movies. Michael, Hong Kong Rewind

The next list comes from Michael, who having terminated his two previous blogs Hong Kong Rewind and Eyes Wide Screen, is due to re-launch Hong Kong Rewind upon the world. A superbly skilled writer, Michael has been published in various forms of media, including several magazines and websites including Screem, Sex Gore Mutants and Manga Max to name but three. Most notable to me, and my introduction to his writing style was his work in the Eastern Heroes magazines published in the mid 90's. In the dark days before the internet (and during it's infancy) it was difficult to find writing and information on Hong Kong cinema, so Eastern Heroes was a beacon for me at the time, and something I would read and re-read cover to cover. During the course of that run, Michael's name stuck in my mind through the quality of his reviews. When I eventually stumbled across Hong Kong Rewind, shortly after starting this blog and saw the name behind it, I tentatively left a comment on his review of The Longest Nite and from there a friendship was forged. Michael has been a great support to me since and I'd like to think that I have to him in someway, shape or form and hope you will join me in wishing him well for the re-launch of HKR. On to the list!

Dead End (Chang Cheh, 1969)

Many know Chang Cheh for his sixties Wuxia epics or the (oft-camp) “Blood & Thunder” martial arts massacres of the seventies, but Dead End offers in an insight into what his career might have been had he taken a different path. Essentially just a melodramatic, sometimes turgid, romance between a boy from the wrong side of the tracks (Ti Lung) and an innocent young thing from a wealthy family (Li Ching) Chang’s film is an explosion of light and colour enlivened by the pop sensibilities of the late sixties. Of course, untamed passions of young love aside, things eventually take a dark turn for the worst once Ti’s raging hormones explode in a murderous rage. Beautiful yet sometimes troubling, this is the antithesis of the Shaw’s glittery bubblegum-teen productions of the era and an oft roughshod emotional ride to boot. A bonafide hidden gem of its age and one of Chang’s finest.

The Big Boss (Lo Wei, 1971)

Bruce Lee’s breakout Hong Kong box-office hit under the umbrella of a Golden Harvest still in its infancy is the jewel in Lee’s Southeast Asian legacy. As a brawler looking to find inner-serenity as a factory hand in Thailand, Lee shines in his first major leading role outside of America (maybe even going so far as to eclipse the veteran domestic performers that surround him). What sets The Big Boss apart from Lee’s successive features is its earthy grounding in traditional Chinese values of family and community. It’s also drenched in blood and gore as well as packed to bursting point with Lee’s signature choreography, but it remains its golden heart that endears it beyond simple low-budget kung fu programme filler.

Eastern Condors (Sammo Hung, 1987)

With the global impact of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Cimino’s The Deer Hunter, it seemed only the Italians had the gall to cash-in on the Vietnam War film phenomenon. But Sammo Hung took the formula and refashioned it into one of the most jaw-dropping exercises in action cinema seen anywhere in world cinema. Assembling a gung-ho team of misfits and mercenaries, Lam Ching Ying takes his mini-militia back behind enemy lines to decommission an abandoned military base. Once Hung and his remaining crew down tools and square off against their Cambodian opponents (led by Yuen Wah), Eastern Condors proves that you don’t need heavy artillery to put on an explosive show. Arguably one of the greatest spectacles in the annals of global action cinema and electrifying entertainment into the bargain. 

My Heart is That Eternal Rose (Patrick Tam, 1988)

In the wake of the box office success of John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow (1986) everyone who was anyone was pumping out triad-actioners, but it took New Wave artisan Patrick Tam to take the genre in a bold, divisive arthouse direction. Tam’s variant on the genre is high-art, sweeping romantic melodrama shot through the sweaty neon-lens of Australian auteur Christopher Doyle. And the violence, when it perforates the narrative, erupts with a raw, gritty style far removed from the operatics of the remainder of the genre. Equal parts brilliant, brutal and beautiful this one eclipses all other triad-dramas for me and remains an unchallenged personal favourite. Kenny Bee may never have been better than he is herein, unless you factor in the below title…

A Fishy Story (Anthony Chan, 1989)

At the tail-end of the eighties, the impact of earlier New Wave movement could still be felt, and the closing year of the decade produced a bumper crop of some of Hong Kong’s finest. Anthony Chan’s understated, noirish romance remains one of the underground gems of eighties Hong Kong cinema yet it references the best of the decade as well as foreshadows what was to come in the later works of Wong Kar Wai et al. Against the factual backdrop of the 1967 riots (which furnishes the viewer an important history lesson) there really is nothing quite like A Fishy Story when it comes to evoking a people and period at a precise moment in time. As such it demands the attention of any serious student of Hong Kong cinema, or realistically any filmgoer with the slightest interest in the broader world and its varied cultural identities.

The Killer (John Woo, 1989)

For those of us of a certain age who grew up with Hong Kong cinema as big-screen entertainment, the eighties closed with a cinematic bombshell that marked a turning point in the international recognition of the region’s filmmaking output. It’s nearly impossible to articulate to modern audiences, who only know Woo’s magnum opus from video or DVD, the impact it had on audiences who came to it as cinema audiences over twenty years ago, but behind Tony Ching and Lau Chi Ho’s groundbreaking action choreography (that stretched the climax of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch out to feature-length) was a explosive tale of love, honour, revenge and chivalry that was elevated to near mythical proportions via its execution. For all the flubs and exaggerated melodrama, Woo’s love triangle-cum-juggernaut morality tale is one two hour block of Hong Kong cinema I never tire of. It’s hard not to walk away from this one without having either been moved to the core, or having fallen in love with the charisma of its leading triumvirate (Chow Yun Fat, Danny Lee & Sally Yeh). A classic, pure and simple, no questions asked.

A Chinese Ghost Story III (Tony Ching, 1991)

Everyone has their favourite entry in the trilogy, with most citing the first film as the classic of its genre, but in reverse-engineering Pu Songling’s “Nie Xiao Qian” (1740) and making Leslie Cheung’s tax-collector Tony Leung’s novice monk Ching and Tsui Hark gained their finest hour. It also presented an additional element of sexual politics that pushed the comedy of the tale into much more amusing territory, as Leung wrestled between his Buddhist teachings and his earthly desires. Coming from a time where Chinese actors sailed about over our heads on wires almost as gracefully, and naturally, as birds in the Summer sky Ching’s third act is magical romantic fantasy at its finest. When people say “They don’t make films like that anymore” this is kind of cinema they’re referring to.

Sex & Zen (Michael Mak, 1991)

If you came to the Hong Kong movies in the late-eighties/early-nineties, it’s just not cricket to draw up a list of favourites without at least one entry from the region’s higher-concept, more modestly budgeted Category III films. Though Li Yu’s “Carnal Prayer Mat” (1657) had been adapted for the big screen a number of times prior, it was Michael Mak’s 1991 glossy big-budget version that proved the most popular in enthralling, delighting and (occasionally) offending international audiences. Sex and Zen is everything that fans of nineties Chinese adult cinema loved, all wrapped up in one colourful sexually-charged bundle. The penis transplant sequence is the stuff of cinematic legend. And as a trivia point, though scholars and writers have always pointed to the film as the sole outing where Amy Yip “bared all”, Mak dispelled those stories in later years by admitted that body doubles had been extensively employed throughout the production (going so far as to commission Japanese voice-artists on the soundtrack when the main Chinese actresses moans and groans of pleasure didn’t prove “erotic” enough).

The Bride with White Hair (Ronny Yu, 1993)

First adapted as a feature film in 1959, Liang Yusheng’s “Story of the White-haired Demoness” (1957), made for a thrilling inclusion amidst the early nineties New Wave Martials Arts/Wuxia set, going on to secure its director, Ronny Yu, international acclaim and employment. However, the film wasn’t simply just a high-wire kung fu fest akin to many of its peers; it was an artistic and cultural phenomenon whose impact is still felt to this day. The pairing of entertainment icon Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung didn’t harm its box-office potential either. Comparative with some of the more sprawling, painterly epics of Japanese Chanbara cinema, Bride is a film of extraordinary beauty and rich emotions. Seeing something of this calibre on the big screen, in widescreen Panavision and Dolby stereo (one of the earlier HK films to adopt the format), was pretty much a life-changing experience. Yu came close to nearing this one’s almost improbable heights with ‘95’s The Phantom Lover, but has seldom achieved anything as ornately unique as Bride since. One of the few films, from pretty much anywhere, I’d praise as a “masterpiece”.

Chungking Express (Wong Kar Wai, 1994)

Produced during the downtime on Ashes of Time’s extended shoot, and originally constructed as a three-act anthology (the third story outgrowing its original narrative and becoming the “Killer” portion of Wong’s successive Fallen Angels), Chungking Express is as close to perfect Hong Kong cinema as any viewer is likely to get. Although the repetitive use of The Mama & The Papa’s “California Dreaming” can give rise to irritation, and Takeshi Kaneshiro’s opening story is nowhere near the naturalistic delight of Tony Leung’s successive episode, the fact that such a simple message ends up looking and sounding so extraordinary is testament to Wong Kar Wai’s brilliance as a filmmaker. Wong’s central message – that dispensing with regimented routines and fear of the unknown opens up one’s life experience to countless possibilities – transcends all cultural and language barriers. Fine filmmaking often makes us think, but exemplary filmmaking has the potential to enrich our lives as well as change the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Chungking Express is almost a letter perfect representation of that latter ideal and one of the few films I’d attribute as harbouring such an impact that it changed my own global outlook irreversibly. 

Content © 2012 M.C. Thomason

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Favourite Hong Kong Movies. Andrew, The HK Neo

I only recently discovered Andrew's The HK Neo website and blog, I'm not sure why I hadn't stumbled across it before really but I'm glad that as a result of this series, I found it. A classy review site covering the latest Hong Kong releases, alongside Hollywood and other world cinema, with a dash of film festival coverage and more. Andrew also has a facebook group for his website located here. Visit both and have a look around!

My Top List, in no particular order.

Picking a top ten list is never easy, but rather than picking the best films out there, I decided to pick those that remain personal and important to me, in one way or another.


We all know this film is by no means a perfect one, nor is it Wong Kar Wai’s best effort, but somehow, it always touch in personally this way or another. With a glass of red, this has become my most re-watchable film ever since its release in 2004.

Fist of Legend.

The OUATIC series made Jet Li a star, but this is the film that made me a fan. The fight scenes are pitch perfect and with Li in top form, the final fight scene with Billy Chow remains one of action cinema moments of the century.

Running Out of Time.

Before, this film, Andy Lau was just an actor riding on his singing fame, but after this film, he became an actor in his own right. There may be plot holes and far from Johnnie To’s best film, but to me this film is insanely fun and remains my favourite Andy Lau’s performance to date.

Bullet in the Head.

In terms of remembering cinematic moments, few can rival the scene when Jacky Cheung gun pointing scene with Tony Leung. If there was ever a moment where Tony Leung was surpassed by a fellow actor, this is the scene that Jacky Cheung is unlike to forget. His intense eyes are almost to the point of bursting in flame. It is that powerful.

Project A.

Jackie Chan made a lot of great movies in the 80s, but Project A stands firmly within my memory blank, because it remains my favourite Chan’s adventure film. I admit, I have soft spots for pirates and this one is loads of fun.

Private Eyes.

Michael Hui is a comic genius and there is question about that. His films are interchangeable, but Private Eyes bring the three Hui Brothers together and the results are stunning. One of those timeless films that stands through time.

All About Ah Long.

How can we exclude a Chow Yun Fat starring feature, while he made his name in John Woo movies, it is the melodrama that truly defines him as an actor. In this film, he is pitched perfect as the loving yet flawed father and the relationship with his son is amazing to watch. The film also is a tear jerker near the end.

Comrades, Almost a Love Story.

In creating “Comrades”, director Peter Chan has not only produced a great local romantic drama, but a timeless romantic masterpiece for generations ahead. It is in this film, that Maggie Cheung finally showed her true colours of a maturing actress. There are countless moments in “Comrades” that would go on to become iconic cinematic scenes that defines Hong Kong cinema.

July Rhapsody.

Ann Hui made a lot of great movies, but it is Karena Lam’s natural and scene stealing performance as the restless young student that stole my heart forever. The film also stars the underrated performances from Jacky Cheung and Anita Mui.

All for the Winner.

No Hong Kong movie list will be completed without a Stephen Chow movie and this is most probably the hardest choice to make. However, All for the Winner remains special to me in many ways, it made Stephen Chow the biggest star in Hong Kong and created a wave after wave of gambling movies that we almost can never get sick of.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Favourite Hong Kong Movies. Josh, Varied Celluloid

Next list comes from Josh, of Varied Celluloid fame, a cool website tackling films from just about any genre. Wait though, not only does Josh run that website, he also co-hosts the VCinema show podcast. If that wasn't enough he also replaced Kingwho? as co-host on Podcast On Fire's This Week In Sleaze. As if to top it all off, Josh is also a facebook regular too. Honestly the amount of work some dudes manage to get through makes me feel ashamed of my time management skills!

When first approached by Hero with the opportunity to contribute to this project, I knew that it was something that I certainly wanted to do. However, I also knew that if I were to be honest, my list would probably turn out to be the most boring contribution among the entire set. I don't consider myself to be a novice when it comes to Hong Kong cinema, but I would hardly describe myself as an expert. Perhaps "intermediate" would best describe me. I have seen most of the classics, as well as many of the second and third-tier classics that are floating around. Yet, when I think of the films that made me love Hong Kong cinema, they are not the second or third tier movies. While those films are all great, the classics (from both the modern and past eras) are what initially sold me on this region and the rich film history. I could list favorites that I have discovered very recently, like Hong Kong Godfather, or maybe dig into some not-so-obvious titles that I have an affinity for (Peace Hotel, Time and Tide, etc.), but the truth is a list like this calls for me to name drop the movies that inspired me to take my own personal journey into the Hong Kong film library. Don't get me wrong, these are also movies that I still watch regularly and they aren't simply on the list as a way to pay homage. These are movies that stand up on their own and they are titles that I consider to be absolute classics. So, with that said, my list is going to look fairly generic. Hopefully it doesn't suck as hard as a Entertainment Weekly-style view of Hong Kong cinema, but... no promises. Another note, I have also included no definitive order. Why? Because I'm a big fat sissy. A sissy who is unable to assign any one film over the other because of his indecisiveness.

The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

This was the film that made me look at seventies-era martial arts cinema in a very different way. Originally, like many young Americans who were bumping the Wu Tang Clan in their car and keeping it "thug" during the nineties, I viewed these films as works of camp. I believed in all the cliches. Every person in ancient China knew Kung Fu? Pshh. People were fighting each other with exotic animal styles? Pshh. And how about that goofy dubbing? Pshh. There was a time where I assumed the entire genre was entirely about silly fun. I didn't realize that there were films within this genre that could grab you by the collar and genuinely make you feel something. 36th Chamber of Shaolin is one such film. It takes the revenge device that was so prevalent in films of this sort, and it somehow crafts something entirely unique while completely re-inventing the genre. There's a reason why it is a "must see" film over thirty years later.

Chungking Express.

Not everyone can agree, but Chungking Express truly opened my eyes to a very different side of Hong Kong cinema. Wong Kar-wai's opus is pure poetry in motion and it shows a unique blend of visual style along with musical accompaniment. Sure, there is a very repetitive use of one particular pop song that floats around during the movie, but after feeling the emotional impact that this movie carried, I decided years ago that I could live with a few dozen spins of California Dreaming'. Detailing a mix of sadness and classical romance, Chungking Express is a powerful movie that has the ability to reach numerous groups within any audience. If someone were new to Hong Kong cinema, I would wholeheartedly recommend the movie to them without a moment's hesitation. Subtitles or not, if Chungking Express grabs you, you will change your opinion of foreign/Hong Kong cinema.

Crippled Avengers.

I am a huge mark for the Venom Mob. I will certainly agree that Chang Cheh crafted numerous classier films before joining up with the Venoms, but I am a true sucker for the gimmicks. Crippled Avengers probably isn't their greatest collaboration in terms of narrative greatness, but what the movie lacks in cinematic technique it more than makes up for with its action. The original Five Deadly Venoms was one of the first two Shaw Brother movies that I had ever seen (along with the previously mentioned 36th Chamber), but it was Crippled Avengers that made me a fan for life. The movie sticks out as a cinematic oddity, combining pure silliness in terms of its story with exhilarating martial arts action, it stands out as one of my favorite kung fu films of all time.

Fist of Legend.

I still remember the summer when I first rented Fist of Legend. I was between the ages of 14-16 years old, and I had become a true cinematic junkie. Every day I was renting a classic film on VHS (the older films were around $1 per night, which was how I persuaded my family to give me the money), and I eventually turned to the few martial arts films that were available to me. Amongst these was the Gordon Chan/Jet Li classic Fist of Legend. Featuring choreography and techniques that I had never seen in any film before, Fist of Legend was enough to put hair on a young man's chest. I rented the VHS, copied it, wore out the tape, bought my own copy, then wore out THAT VHS from playing it over and over again. It was certainly a defining film from my teenage years, and it forever made an impression on me. No matter what, I can still throw the movie on at any point and waste away my entire afternoon. Insane choreography and one of the most progressive looks at the Chinese/Japanese dynamic, it is a film that should be owned by all kung fu film fans.

Hard Boiled.

Another defining film for me. While The Killer and A Better Tomorrow were likely my introductions to the work of John Woo, it was Hard Boiled that became the movie that I would use to try and impress my friends. I am, as can be seen by my love for gimmicks in kung fu movies, a lover of all things that drip of excess. Hard Boiled has a strong narrative behind all of its outlandishness, but the action is of such a ridiculously high pitch that it stands out as one of the most over-the-top spectacles that any filmmaker has ever produced within the action genre. Sure, it might not be an exceptionally smart film and the melodrama is about as subtle as a jackhammer, but this is a movie that gets the job done. Hard Boiled delivers, and I still watch it at least two or three times per year.

Once Upon a Time in China.

I owe a great deal to the Once Upon a Time in China series. I discovered it around the time that I stumbled upon Fist of Legend, and it was responsible for introducing me to a very different side of both Hong Kong cinema and the rich culture of China in general. Despite being a period piece, the movie was incredibly unique in the way it handled its genre tropes. The movie mixed action, drama, and comedy into a very different sort of concoction than I was used to. Seeing the Chinese patriotism on display in the movie also gave the younger version of myself a brand new look at the world around me. Recently, I have went back to visit the film yet again and I have surprisingly found a movie that I enjoy even more than I did when originally watching it. A beautifully choreographed piece of work that is impeccable in its quality, the movie still holds up.

Police Story III.

How does one choose a Jackie Chan movie for a list such as this one? With so many of his films making a profound impact on me, it comes down to which one have I most thoroughly enjoyed? Well, Rumble in the Bronx was a definite contender for me. After all, it was my first Jackie Chan movie, and after seeing it in the theater as a kid, I wanted to fight off my own swarm of infinite bad guys. However, when I look back on the Jackie Chan title that received the most play in my VCR, I have to choose Supercop aka: Police Story III. Before I knew that Police Story had its own trilogy, my friends and I would rent (perhaps you're seeing a running theme at this point) the Miramax VHS tape and sit in awe of Jackie Chan's brass balls. Not only did Jackie prove to be completely out of his mind within this movie, we were also introduced to a very tough woman by the name of Michelle Yeoh. Many evenings within my late teenage years were spent staring at poor Michelle Yeoh fall off of a moving car. Sigh, now I just want to watch Police Story III again!

She Shoots Straight.

From all of the movies on this list, this is probably the one that is newest to me. While I would love to put a Moon Lee/Yukari Oshima joint in this position, when it comes to female-led action cinema - She Shoots Straight is about the most highly-charged example that I can think of. Featuring outrageous stunts, fine storytelling, and a lightning fast pace, the movie defines everything that I love about Hong Kong action cinema. It is quick, it is violent, and it is fun!  If this movie were to define any part of my life, it would probably point to the previous three years which have seen me going through this girls-with-guns genre. Yet, when I think of my alltime favorite, I will usually go back to She Shoots Straight.

Shaolin Mantis.

This is another title that I do not have an exceptionally long history with, but after first watching it the movie jumped up my list of all-time favorites. Director Lau Kar Leung made a laundry-list of classic films, but Shaolin Mantis was one that came into my possession without the slightest hint of hype behind it. When I first discovered the movie I didn't even know a plot synopsis, but after watching the movie... I was blown away. From a filmmaker who made so many great films, Shaolin Mantis stood out to me as one of his most impressive efforts. With top-notch action and a very engaging plot that is far more tangled than one might expect, Shaolin Mantis is a must watch for any fan of classic martial arts cinema.

Shaolin Soccer.

I look at Shaolin Soccer as my introduction to contemporary Hong Kong cinema. While I had, up until the point of its release, watched many films from Hong Kong's glory days, I didn't view many movies from the current marketplace (“current” being the late nineties and early 2000s). Shaolin Soccer turned out to be a drastic wake-up call for me. It finally introduced me to Hong Kong comedy in a way that I could fully appreciate. This was something that was far wittier than the cross-eyed/hairy mole schtick that I had seen in the past. This was a slick and polished piece of comedy that was vastly different from anything I had seen before, and I laughed my ass off every time I watched the movie.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Favourite Hong Kong Movies. Paul, Chanbara Spurt

Paul a.k.a Charlie Parker is a legend, simple as that, why? For a start there's his great blog Chanbara Spurt, tag lined Asian gangsters, Swordplay and Italian exploitation cinema. This alone does not qualify him for the status of legend though, what does are two incidents. The first being the time he was scheduled to guest on Podcast without honor and humanity and somehow contrived to watch the wrong movie, priceless! The second being his truly legendary crooning of the entire Django theme tune on the GGTMC. That my friends, makes Charlie Parker a true legend.

10. Flaming Brothers.

Over saturated melodramatic gun fest with Alan Tang and Chow Yun Fat. More Alan's movie this is a flawed but bloody film that ends in my favorite shoot out in the movies.

9. Run And Kill.

Cat III sleaze as an action movie. Kent Cheng, Simon Yam and a barbecued little girl. Do not get drunk and talk to mobsters Kent.

8. No Way Back.

Meld of undercover cop and John Woo brotherhood across the lines of law and order. Max Mok is the cop and Law Wai is the gangster. Lam Wai's assault on the police station towards the end is one of Hong Kong's best unseen action scenes. also has a pulsing score that rocks my pants daddio!

7. Killer Constable.

Big swords, period dirty Harry coppers along with big fights and big buckets of blood. If any movie teaches you to trust no one it is this one.

6. Duel To The Death.

Hyper stylised, hyper sword gore from the early 80s. New wave swordplay as it's most fun and visceral. The ending predicts later gun movies whilst nodding to swordplay films of the past.

5. The Longest Nite.

Handover headache noir as crooked cops and crooked gangsters try to outwit each other. One of Tony Leung's classic performances. This film is worth ten boring Infernal Affairs ie man on phone outwits another man on a phone who thinks he's another man but he's actually someone else. Cue people on a rooftop.

4. The Rape After.

Melvin fucking Wong. Demon Rape. Zombies. Fulci's The Beyond goes to Hong Kong. 'nuff said homies.

3. Hero Of Tomorrow.

Max Mok is the biggest name in a low key heroic bloodshed film that works in away others such as Dragon Family do not. The characters are built upon and the story flows. You may be able to predict the plot beats but it has heart where most movies of its ilk do not. The gun play is smaller scale but every bullet counts.

2. The Boxer's Omen.

Twisted Eastern  myth, magic and culture collide in a smörgåsbord of horror, revenge and what the fuck visuals. Has a reputation as being demented but I'm pretty sure The Exorcist is as demented to someone from wherever The Boxer's Omen faiths make sense. That may not be true but its so much fun!

1. The Mission.

Capturing the stillness of Kitano's Yakuza pictures with effortless Melville cool and .45 power of prime Woo, The Mission distills the essence of Johnnie To and his production in a lean, tight film. Don't
believe the hype, The Mission blows away Exiled. Plus the rickety synth soundtrack has to be heard to be believed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Favourite Hong Kong Movies. Jake, Podcast Without Honor And Humanity

Jake's Podcast Without Honor and Humanity is absolutely essential listening for fans of Hong Kong and Asian cinema. It must be really difficult to do a solo podcast, but Jake manages to do it so easily, you'd be forgiven for thinking otherwise, with his laid back style perfectly suiting the diverse range of subjects he covers. It isn't all solo though, with regular guest spots helping to keep the show fresh. Jake's up to episode 75 at the time of writing, if you haven't tried it yet, download one now and show him your support, he deserves it!

I’ve always had an on-again, off-again relationship with Hong Kong film and when I return I wonder why I ever left in the first place. Quite frankly, there’s nothing like and there never will be.  In roughly sequential order:

Duel To The Death.

Screw the meme-ridden ninja nonsense, this movie’s crazier than a box full of cats and I love every second of it.

The Blade.

There’s not much to say about this movie that hasn’t already been said.  It represents everything I love about Tsui Hark.


This was my first true-blue introduction to Hong Kong black magic films.  I came across this film when I knew its sequel, Boxer’s Omen, only by reputation.  It melted my brain, brought me closer to my girlfriend who shared in the experience, and sent me on a path of maggot-filled enlightenment.

Infernal Affairs II.

If I were to be uncharitable to Infernal Affairs, I would say this is Infernal Affairs without the gimmick.  It has a soul, a simmering rage, and Francis Ng mean-mugging the hell out of everyone.

In the Mood For Love.

I’m usually not one to be taken in by brazenly arthouse fare, but between the set design, costume design, music, mood, direction, and Maggie Cheung…well, it just makes me weak at the knees.  It’s romantic in the truest sense of the word. Hypnotic, intoxicating, affecting, and obnoxiously annoying to anyone else not affected by it.

Rumble in the Bronx.

This is a purely sentimental pick since if I could objectively attempt to rank Jackie’s films, I doubt this movie would be in the top 10.  Regardless, long after watching Bruce Lee on tv as a young’un, Jackie reintroduced me to the world of martial arts.  This came out in theaters in my ripe, adolescent-fueled junior high school years.  I’ll always unconditionally love this movie whether it be the awful fashion, the cheesy dub, the slip-on sneakers, or that phantom Game Gear cartridge.

Fist of Legend.

Yuen Woo Ping, Jet Li, Billy Chow, Chin Siu Ho, and Yasuaki Kurata keeping it the realest.  I saw this movie shortly after The Matrix had arrived on dvd.  I then returned to the Matrix’s fight scenes and it was as if I discovered that this delicious bowl of chocolate pudding was actually chocolate-covered sand.  In my eyes, this is the pinnacle of martial arts choreography in cinema.


I love this movie with every fiber of my being. It has a relentless pace coupled with a cast and crew that represent the antithesis of lazy filmmaking. This is the movie that introduced me to Moon Lee and Yukari Oshima who have enchanted me ever since. It belongs to just a handful of movies that made me feel just like I felt when I watched Commando or Hard Boiled for the first time. To me, this is the spirit of Hong Kong filmmaking.

Hard Boiled.

This movie came at a seminal moment in my teenage years when I devoured horror, kung-fu, and action films at an unfathomable clip. This is one of those films that towered above them all.  John Woo, Chow Yun-Fat, and Tony Leung have all reached greater heights individually although this mixture of bravado violence and kinetic energy encompasses my favorite memories with them. You can have your A Better Tomorrow and your Bullet in the Head, I’ll be over here downing tequila slammers and making paper cranes.


I love Throwdown. I love Johnnie To. I love Louis Koo. I love Aaron Kwok’s leather jacket. I love Tony Leung Ka-Fai’s monolithic presence. I love Eddie Cheung’s exacto knife. I love judo. I love that red balloon. I love the three table musical chairs scene. I love the ending. I love that I went to TIFF and got to hear Johnnie To say this was his favorite film. I love Throwdown.

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