Providing the next list is A. from the excellent blog One More Bullet, covering action movies from anywhere and everywhere, with his own unique take on the genre. My only complaint is he isn't around enough. Give us more updates please! A. is another great and long time friend of this very blog and I was keenly anticipating his list of Hong Kong favourites and I'm pleased to report he hasn't disappointed. Enjoy!
The list isn't in any order either other than chronological. It's also a bit biased to films I've seen theatrically as I feel I always get a better experience out of those.
1. Enter the Fat Dragon (1978)
For me, this is the best Bruceploitation film, as it feels like a genuine tribute rather than a blatant quick money scheme to take advantage of Bruce Lee's popularity. I can't excuse the urination jokes early in the film (you'd swear some of this stuff was written by Wong Jing) but I can't deny that Sammo was probably the best Bruce impersonator. I was lucky to see this theatrically with a large crowd, and those cheers heard that happen when Sammo thrashes the bad Bruce Lee imitator (a brucepolitation film within a bruceploitation film!) really stuck with me.
2. The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
What's the best film to introduce someone to 1970s martial arts films? For anyone wanting to get into kung fu films that go beyond the realms Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, (like all Westerners had to at one point), this is my choice and the film that did it for me. I rented it only in Peterborough Canada, where there was just a sticker on it stating "bad ass kung fu movie starring hong kong bad ass Gordon Liu". It lived up to said sticker. As it was a first step into new waters and a great film to boot, I can't help but have this in a list of favourites.
3. The Killer (1989)
I've gushed about Woo endlessly earlier on my own blog, but The Killer is the film that made me really want to dig into Hong Kong films. For me, it's the best action film ever made (Hong Kong or elsewhere) and probably the genre film where I find myself really caring about the characters as the film continues. I'll admit that there is a bit of an excessive amount of Sally Yeh's theme song in the film that I could live without, but I am nit picking a masterpiece here.
Oh, and it's better than Hard Boiled. Want to fight about it?
4. A Bullet in the Head (1990)
This is what happens when you give Woo full reigns to do his thing in his films. It's a really strong feature even in it's current cobbled state and I've included it as It's probably the best War film that Hong Kong has made (sorry Sammo, I know people who love Eastern Condors though!). It's a film that's flawed in it's current state with bits and pieces lost and missing over time, but I'm hoping more materials for this epic will be found. This is Woo's most personal film, his most devastating, and one of my favourites.
5. Story of Ricky (1991)
Whether you like it or not, no one will forget Story of Ricky. Popular enough to become viral clips, long before the term was ever used in major media. As a film, it's plagued with bad acting and unrealistic sets and effects, but it's one that always had me torn. It's creative and brimming with energy, but does that make it a quality film? I'm leaning towards the idea that it deserves attention as such a memorable piece of entertaining schlock that it doesn't matter. Ngai Choi Lam has made other bizarre films such as The Cat (1992), but nothing will reach the insanity that is Story of Ricky. Again, probably not for fans of Boat People, Rouge or Center Stage, but those films don't have someone punching through the prison wall towards freedom either.
6. Fong Sai Yuk (1993)
In the early 90s there was a good flood of martial arts pictures from Hong Kong thanks to the success of Once Upon a Time in China. I generally like my martial arts with a sense of humor and Fong Sai Yuk is nearly a perfect serving of Jet Li and humor that does not overstay it's welcome or is totally lost in translation. It may not be the best, but it's the one I find myself coming back too the most out of films from this era. It's probably Corey Yuen's best work as a director on his own too, which itself makes it essential Hong Kong viewing. Avoid the English dub which goes out of it's way to make references to Nintendo in a period film.
7. Drunken Master II (1994)
Jackie doesn't make me laugh as much as Stephen Chow, nor do his stunts blow me away as much as swiftly choreographed action scenes, but a film that knocked me to the floor on first viewing and every continuous watch is Drunken Master II. Jackie is far too old for the role he's playing, but it's hard to imagine anyone else fitting his shoes in this movie. For me, this is Jackie's peak when it came to over the top action and things began to slowly trickle down for him as the 1990s came to a close. But I'll never forget nearly jumping out of my seat after seeing Jackie move from one gorgeously choreographed scene to the next.
8. Chungking Express (1994)
I was late to get into Wong Kar Wai, but I was also lucky enough to see this, his best film, theatrically. It's not exactly a quotable film, but It's one of those movies that make you look at everything again a bit differently after first watching it. I occasionally glance at canned pineapple's expiration dates and always expect to hear Faye Wong when I hear the opening chords of Dream on the radio. I love all of Wong Kar Wai's 90s works, but this favourite is the one I return to the most.
9. Shaolin Soccer (2001)
Believe it or not Stephen Chow gets a lot of flack from some film geeks in my town who claiming him not to be funny or only for people who "think they like martial arts films". I've yet to really find any flack against Chow outside of CJ7 and that Dragonball film he produced, but Shaolin Soccer is one of the funniest films from the last decade. The parodies and physical humor are dead on rightfully blasted the film to a blockbuster status in Hong Kong. It's hard to forget to the individual soccer matches against the unique teams, not to mention the final battle against Team Evil. It's one of the top sports comedies, and might even the best football film ever made.
Also, it's better than Kung Fu Hustle. I'm still willing to fight.
10. Exiled (2006)
Maybe not the most popular action film to come out in the last decade, but certainly one of the best from any country. The story twists and turns in every direction and is really unlike any gangster film from Hong Kong. I want to be around in the film era where films like this aren't being compared to Melville anymore and are made in comparison to Johnnie To. Until I see a copy of The Mission in a way it's meant to be seen, this will be my most representative To film.
Honorable mentions to Comrades, A Chinese Ghost Story, Fallen Angels, Full Contact, God of Cookery, and An Autumn's Tale.