Saturday, September 1, 2012

Favourite Hong Kong Movies. YTSL, Webs Of Significance

Our next list is provided by YTSL, who lovingly writes the wonderful blog Webs of significance, an eclectic mix of photo essays on Hong Kong's lovely and often unappreciated countryside, musings on life in Hong Kong and of course my favourite subject, film, both Hong Kong and otherwise. If I could recommend one HKcentric blog above all others that you should be reading, it's this one. Superb writing combines with excellent taste to deliver a consistently entertaining and informative read, and if there is one blog that makes me miss the time I've spent in Hong Kong, it's YTSL's, I can almost smell the fragrant harbour while reading it.

Hong Kong Movies All Time Top Ten List

More than 10 years ago now, I wrote up a top ten Hong Kong movies list for the Hong Kong Cinema: View from the Brooklyn Bridge website for which I used to be a regular contributor.  That list is still up and available to be viewed at:

Since I wrote that list, I’ve viewed a few hundred more Hong Kong films (the earliest of which dates to 1941).  However, my choices for top ten Hong Kong movies actually haven’t changed all that much. More specifically, the following seven remain among my favorite Hong Kong movies of all time:-

Peking Opera Blues:

My absolute favorite movie (not just my favorite Hong Kong, Tsui Hark or Brigitte Lin Ching-Hsia movie), even when viewed with one of the worst sub-titling jobs I have ever seen.  It is primarily a drama for me, whose comedy and action moments only intensifies -- rather than dilutes -- its emotional strength and impact.  Brigitte Lin's performance encapsulates all that is wonderful about this incredible film, Sally Yeh's character provides it with added Every(wo)man feistiness and Cherie Chung makes sure it has plenty of charm.

Ashes of Time:

A wonderful film in so many ways and on so many levels.  It MUST be seen more than once to be appreciated as well as understood. While I realize that this star-studded epic will not be everyone's cup of tea, I would nevertheless urge you to do yourself a favor and give this Wong Kar Wai movie a shot.  Chances are that if you don't fall asleep within the first twenty minutes (like my parents did!), you won't regret doing so!! (And for the record: I adore both the original and redux versions even while loving the original soundtrack more than the later one.)

He's a Woman, She's a Man:

After I saw this Peter Chan Ho San-helmed movie for the first time, I immediately rewound the videotape and watched it again.  This romantic comedy is the only non-action film I know that gives me the kind of satisfyingly energizing "buzz" that a great Hong Kong action movie does.  Anita Yuen, Leslie Cheung and Carina Lau are superb. Supporting actors Jordan Chan and Eric Tsang also deserve mention. And the music in the film is truly lovely indeed.

Swordsman II:

This Film Workshop production is a historical fantasy drama of the highest, most exhilarating order.  The action scenes are amazing, the music is fantastic, the cinematography inspired.  Still, what truly makes this film so special for me are the enthralling stories and personae of each of the main characters, and the absolutely wonderful cast.  Fennie Yuen, Rosamund Kwan and Michelle Reis play their parts well, Jet Li is a terrific thorn among the roses but Brigitte Lin definitely steals the show as the memorably monikered Asia the Invincible.

Police Story III : Supercop:

I have seen this action-packed and stunt-filled movie over thirty times. I don't think I will ever cease to be amazed at what Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan are willing to do in the name of entertainment and for our viewing pleasure, and were capable all those years ago now of doing without the help of blue-screens and other hi-tech equipment. While each of them is incredible (to watch) on her and his own, they seem to have brought out the best in the other here.  The action sequence which begins with Maggie Cheung being thrown out of the helicopter(!) surely will never be replicated, let alone surpassed.

Red Dust:

If it's not already apparent, yes, I am a rather major fan of Brigitte Lin.  In this alternately warm and chilling (melo)dramatic effort directed by Yim Ho, that goddess of an actress commands and completely holds the viewer's attention playing what appears to be a mature version of many of the characters she essayed in the 1970s in Taiwan.  Some of her scenes with her then companion, Chin Han, are absolutely breathtaking but there is particular magic when she generously and sensitively shares the screen with Maggie Cheung.

Dragon Inn (1992):

This historical fantasy drama has Brigitte Lin as a noble swordswoman and Maggie Cheung as a saucy innkeeper.  In it, the two women fight over Tony Leung Kar Fai as much as the "good" people battle against an evil eunuch and his men in spectacular desert settings as well as an inn that alternates between feeling like a place of refuge and that from which one cannot escape. The action choreography by Ching Siu Tung (who has co-directing credits along with Raymond Lee) is often breathtakingly beautiful as well as exciting. To my mind, scenes like the one in which Brigitte Lin’s character swoops down and beheads a bunch of horsemen or those which had Maggie Cheung twirling about like a top represent “wire fu” at its best.

With regards to the three new additions: a couple of the works I hadn’t viewed prior to writing that list while the third is a movie that I’ve grown to love all the more with each passing year and viewing. (And yes, I do realize that – as with the rest of my choices for this list – they reflect my particular Hong Kong movie tastes and preferences, including for such as works in which female characters prominently figure.)

The Way We Are:

This small budget "slice of life" offering revolving around three Tin Shui Wai residents from different generations is a drama that never gets overly dramatic -- and is all the better for this being so -- as well as contains some wonderfully amusing moments. As director Ann Hui proceeds to methodically paint richly detailed portraits of the kind of individuals -- a middle-aged grocery store worker, her quiet teenage son and a lonely grandmother -- who don't often get spotlighted, in real as well as reel life, what results is a beautiful film infused with a sense of great humanity as well as humility; one that may sound boring but actually is never mundane and, in fact, turns out to be very enthralling and immensely watchable.

Lady General Hua Mulan:

After Celestial Pictures bought the Shaw Brothers collection and made those movies available to a whole new generation, I discovered a taste for not only martial arts films directed by Lau Kar Leung and Chor Yuen but, also, many a huangmei diao movie. With music that is far sweeter sounding to my ear than its Cantonese opera equivalent, I found myself enjoying many a “yellow plum opera” film – and none more so than the 1964 rendering of the legend of the woman warrior who went to war so that her aged father would not have to that stars Ivy Ling Po, and which I consider far more charming, clever and superior in so many ways than the Disney cartoon about the same character.

Needing You…:

I can imagine Johnnie To being aghast if I ever told him to his face that my favorite Milkyway Image film is actually a breezy romantic comedy rather than dark crime drama. But it really is the case that this fun movie that stars Sammi Cheng as an entertainingly quirky “O(ffice) L(ady)” called Kinki and Andy Lau as her boss who slowly but surely develops affections for her is one that I’ve come to love more and more each successive time that I’ve re-viewed it (I’d say approaching about 10 times now). And while Sammi and Andy are undoubtedly the film’s stars, I’ve truly grown to appreciate how good the supporting cast for this office comedy is, along with how well many elements of contemporary Hong Kong society and culture have been captured in this work.   



YTSL said...

Hi "A Hero Never Dies" --

Thanks for the kind words re my blog and the wonderful choice of images to illustrate my top ten favorite Hong Kong movies. :)

It's been very interesting thus far to read other people's top ten lists. Have to say that I did figure that quite a few of my favorite movies wouldn't be mentioned by others -- but had assumed that "Peking Opera Blues" and "Swordsman II" would get greater representation!

Kingwho? said...

Love that THE WAY WE ARE made someone's list. That film is a minor masterpiece. Such a quiet and beautiful film. Ann Hui continues to make some of the best films in HK. And that they are not action oriented in a cinema that is largely action packed, speaks volumes to her talent. Her last 3-4 films have been just wonderful.

Great list YTSL. I would have thought that PEKING OPERA BLUES would have made more lists as well.

A hero never dies said...


I'm in agreement on Peking Opera Blues, I expected to see it a little more. Although maybe it would have done better on a best of rather than a favourites list, maybe not but as far as I'm concerned it's a film I appreciate and would go as far as to say love but don't actually watch that often. Just a thought. It's sometimes tricky to separate the two, I know it was for me!

A hero never dies said...

Kingwho? I'm in complete agreement re. The Way We Are, easily one of the best HK movies of the past five or so years, I would have loved to include it on my list but I haven't seen it enough for it to fit the criteria I chose to select my list. Doesn't take away from the film itself though!

YTSL said...

Hi Kingwho? --

Glad you like my list... but I'd call "The Way We Are" an understated masterpiece but not a minor one. Honestly, I think it's Ann Hui's best -- and considering that Ann Hui is one of Hong Kong cinema's doyens...

In any case, am glad you and A Hero Never Dies have shown some love for the film. It seems to be have been overshadowed somewhat by "A Simple Life" -- another sublime film from Ann Hui who really does appear to be in her directorial prime -- but have happily rewatched "The Way We Are" (thrice) at least one more time now than I have "A Simple Life" (twice). :)

A hero never dies said...


A Simple Life hasn't overshadowed The Way We Are in my eyes, both are fantastic films, but I think The Way We Are is certainly more re-watchable. It just doesn't have the star power of the other film.

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