The year that I moved to Hong Kong, I watched 30 Hong Kong movies released that year. The previous year, I had watched 27 Hong Kong movies released in 2006; last year (2008), I watched 37 of that year's Hong Kong releases! So the 26 local releases I watched last year in the year that they were released really is the fewest I've viewed in four years.
It thus seems to me that it might seem a bit rich to make a top ten list that would consequently include a little less than 20% of the eligible movies (and more than one month after 2009 ended). Still, I figure I might as well continue a "best of" list-making tradition that I began close to a decade ago now on Brian's Hong Kong Cinema: View from the Brooklyn Bridge and also has served as a Hong Kong cinema companion to the overall top ten movie lists for each year that I've assembled for the Mobius Home Video Forum's annual poll.
So here -- better late than never -- are the 2009 Hong Kong movies that get my top ten vote (albeit with succinct comments this time around for numbers 6 to 10 on the list):-
In a city where it's considered a success for a local film to last two weeks in cinemas and any film to have a theatrical run of three weeks or more, this Chueng King-wai documentary about a music prodigy named Wong Ka-Jeng has been screening for several months. Granted that it has largely been shown in just one cinema (the Broadway Cinematheque) throughout. Nonetheless, the length of the triple Golden Horse awards-winner's theatrical run gives but a hint of how special is this absorbing work whose subject and main personality is shown to be an interestingly precocious human being as well as a talented musician whose personal and professional future promises much and good.
2) Bodyguards and Assassins
The sneak trailer for this Teddy Chen directed (and Peter Chan Ho Sun produced) film that is equal parts period drama and kick-ass actioner got me all pumped up to see it; its regular length trailer even more so. A rare much hyped, big budget (by Asian standards!), star-studded movie that doesn't disappoint, this film about an honorable Chinese man and the motley crew he assembled to protect an important political figure (Sun Yat Sen, the man who history has come to know as the father of modern China) when he visited Hong Kong against imperial Qing Dynasty assassins benefits greatly from having an excellent cast, quality production values and that quintessential Hong Kong cinema willingness to kill characters played by big name stars early in -- as well as late into -- a movie! ;b
3) Red Cliff 2
Is John Woo a has been? Not in my opinion after having viewed this historical epic that was preceded by a lesser first part in 2008 but one that I do feel is necessary to view to help one better appreciate this cinematic rendering of certain historical events that have been written about the Chinese literary masterpiece that is The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. And although top-billed Tony Leung Chiu Wai is on the disappointing side, Zhang Fengyi is extremely watchable as the arch-villain, Takeshi Kaneshiro is winningly charismatic in a non-action role and Vicki Zhao Wei's warrior princess is by far the best as well as most spunky female character in a John Woo movie that I've seen to date!
4) Night and Fog
Ann Hui's second film about the "City of Sadness" that is Tin Shui Wai bears an unfortunate title -- one that also belongs to Alain Resnais' 1955 documentary about the Holocaust. Knowing how knowledgable is its director, however, one can't think but the title is meant to be a reference to the horror and inhumanity that humans are capable of. As dark and depressing as the previous year's The Way We Are is full of humanity, kindness and goodness, this drama that puts the spotlight on domestic abuse (specifically a case involving an older Hong Kong man and the younger Mainland Chinese female whose mother thinks that wife-beating is a common and normal practice) is sad and chilling... yet rings all too true -- thanks in no small part to the very convincing performances of Simon Yam (who serves a reminder of how scary he can be as a menacing male) and Zhang Jingchu (adding to her reputation as one of the top Mainland Chinese actresses of her generation) as the movie's main couple.
5) Poker King
Those who hated La Lingerie and my decision to put it in my top ten 2008 Hong Kong movies list had better look away now because Poker King is yet another movie co-helmed by Chan Hing-Kar and Janet Chun that I happen to have enjoyed watching. The kind of unpretentious Hong Kong film that I have long liked (only it's set in Macau), this gambling movie re-unites Lau Ching Wan and Louis Koo as a lead pair and throws in au courant local entertainment flavors like Stephy Tang along with a lot more actresses than one usually sees populating a single Hong Kong movie these days is full of silliness but also comedy and "heart". And although his is a small, arguably throwaway part, I'd wager that few people will be able to watch Lam Suet's appearance in this work and not laugh! lb
And rounding up the top ten are:-
6) Rebellion - old style crime drama with a welcome mix of new and old faces - Herman Yau, director
7) Claustrophobia - art house drama that contains more to admire than outright like - Ivy Ho, director
8) All's Well Ends Well 2009 - Chinese New Year comedy with guffaw-inducing sight gags - Vincent Kok, director
9) Permanent Residence - gay romantic drama cum loose auto-biography that is involving when not too indulgent - Scud, director
10) Overheard - thriller-crime/cop drama that shows the bad that can happen when fundamentally decent men bow to temptation - Alan Mak and Felix Chong, co-directors
(And for those who are wondering: if it counted, Ashes of Time Redux would definitely top this list but not only did the original film come up in 1994 but the Redux version actually was first released -- albeit in Cannes, rather than Hong Kong -- back in 2008... :S)
Addendum: The Mobius "Best of 2009..." poll results are out. Interested others can go there to the relevant page via the embedded link to check out my overall Top Ten Films of 2009 list over there (and should feel free to comment on it over here!).