Thursday, January 20, 2011

My top ten 2010 Hong Kong movies list

One of the posters for the film that gets
my vote of top Hong Kong film of 2010

In 2008, I viewed 37 Hong Kong movies released for the first time that year. The year before (2007 -- the year I moved to Hong Kong), I had watched 30 Hong Kong movies released that year. So it seemed at the end of 2008/beginning of 2009 that my contemporary Hong Kong movie viewing numbers were slated to keep on increasing -- only they didn't in 2009 (with my total number of 2009 Hong Kong movies that year being just 26).

But although I don't actually recall 2010 having been a bona fide banner year for Hong Kong cinema, I can report that, on a personal note, my local viewing numbers went up again -- to 32 contemporary Hong Kong movies viewed that year: more, actually, than the number of Hong Kong movies made in other years that I viewed for the first time in 2010 as well as the number of movies from any other territory in the world (including the USA, Mainland China or Japan).

So, equipped with ample movies to choose ten movies I enjoyed from, the following is a list of what got my votes for the top ten Hong Kong movies of 2010:-

1) The Stool Pigeon

Upon exiting my viewing of that which was the second Dante Lam crime drama I viewed on a big screen in 2010, I felt a thudding in my head. Although some might not consider it a good sign, I did -- because rather than being signs of a migraine or tension headache, what I took it to be was a physical manifestation that this film that reunited the two main stars (Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse), scriptwriter (Jack Ng) director of The Beast Stalker (my second favorite Hong Kong movie of 2008) actually had had quite the major impact on me.

Put another way: I found this work which centered on a physically unassuming police inspector whose job is to make use of low level criminals to bust higher level ones and one of his selected stool pigeons to be absolutely thrillingly intense and emotionally involving -- the latter not least because I found the main characters to be so satisfyingly complex and believable, however dramatic the situations they found themselves put in. Additionally, while its two main men were indeed superb, I'd like to give a shout out to Kwai Lun Mei for impressively investing a scene she was in with amazing fury borne out of a desperation that felt all too real.

2) La Comedie Humaine

Having already reviewed this Chan Hing Ka and Janet Chun movie on this blog, I don't see much reason to write much more about the film. Instead, here's taking the opportunity to recount that some years back, I had the privilege of meeting Chan Hing Ka and his frequent collaborator (including on this movie), producer Amy Chin. The official reason was to interview the director about a previous movie of theirs (La Lingerie). But the icing on the cake came after the interview ended and Chan Hing Ka and I hung out and talked movies for fun for a couple of hours, with Amy Chin joining in at some part during the conversation.

One thing that became very obvious over the course of the conversation (that took in the works of Tsui Hark and John Woo as well as their own) was how much they really are film buffs (and not "just" filmmakers). And there's a wonderful scene in La Comedie Humaine that served to confirm this to me -- one that is made particularly amazing by how in the Cantonese dialogue, references are made to a series of Hong Kong movies and in the English subtitles, references are made to a bunch of English language movies -- and both the original dialogue and that reported via the subtitles seemed able to flow so incredibly smoothly!

3) Gallants

As an observer of the Hong Kong cinema scene, it's been interesting to see the reception that this nostalgia-tinged Derek Kwok and Clement Cheung movie revolving around an unlikely group of old school kung fu exponents and youthful followers has gotten in various spheres. At the Hong Kong International Film Festival screening that I attended (and which was graced by a number of its stars and Derek Kwok), the film received the kind of rave reception that many a filmmaker and actor can but dream of. But although it appears to have become quite the film festival favorite overseas as well, it had but a modest commercial run in Hong Kong -- indicating that this is the kind of movie that appeals only to a certain (as opposed to truly wide) audience.

However, if you are a member of its target audience, it would seem that Gallants truly does hit the spot. A well made movie that allows stars of yore to shine as they haven't (been able to) for many a decade, it is full of goodwill and charismatic actors who know how to individually make their mark but also know full well how to work as a team. Let's just hope that after their star turns, Teddy Robin Kwan, Leung Siu Lung, Chen Kuan Tai and Susan Shaw Yin Yin get plenty of roles in other movies -- because, if nothing else, this film showed that they still have so much to offer to Hong Kong cinema (and cinema goers).

4) Once a Gangster

Although some people might think otherwise, Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan never truly came across dangerous, even when young, to me. Instead, I always liked them best in comedies (including, in the case of Ekin, as an overaged virgin in Boys Are Easy and in the case of Jordan, as Wing's best friend in He's a Woman, She's a Man). So it probably was inevitable that I would thoroughly enjoy watching them in a triad movie satire that assumes you know about their Young and Dangerous background/back story and proceeds to take advantage of that in a creative as well as light-hearted way.

Throw in references to quite a few other famous Hong Kong crime dramas, an appearance by hunky Alex Fong Chung Sun (as opposed to the blushingly boyish Alex Fong Lik Sun) and over-the-top scene-chewing courtesy of Candice Yu On On and what you have is a fun treat of a movie that doesn't take itself seriously for movie goers that are capable of enjoying such kinds of works. In some ways, this movie -- including in its easy mixing of comedy and violence (including a scene inside a vehicle that turned out to involve lots of ketchup rather than blood!) -- is a throwback to the kind of Hong Kong movie where anything (or any genre) goes. And for my money, it'd be great if there's more -- not less -- of such in the (near) future!

5) Bruce Lee, My Brother

What with 2010 being the 70th anniversary of Bruce Lee's birth, it was almost inevitable that there would be a Hong Kong International Film Festival programme commemorating the man who may well still be Hong Kong cinema's internationally most recognizably personality even after all these years. Less predictable -- at least to me -- was that there also would be a biopic made of the individual known to Cantonese-speakers as Lee Siu Lung (Little Dragon Lee), that the biopic would actually have far more drama than action, and that it would turn out to be a watchable movie even for someone who's not been that big a Bruce Lee fan for decades. (Confession: as a child, I was a big fan -- and remember having been in utter disbelief as well as devastated at the news of his death.)

Where I think the genius of this movie came is the filmmakers' turning to Bruce Lee's siblings' version of the Bruce Lee story. The result was a work that felt refreshing as well as was valuable in terms of filling and fleshing out some sections of the legendary individual's tale that previously hadn't been that well known -- at least outside of certain circles. And even while some bits do appear to need to be taken with some dashes of salt, others are not only revelatory but do help one to understand and appreciate that he didn't just spring out from nowhere but, instead, possessed an acting lineage that didn't only include older works such as The Kid (1950) and The Orphan (1960) but also Hong Kong acting aristocracy in the form of his Cantonese opera star and sometime film actor father.

6) Dream Home

A tycoon's daughter playing a woman so desperate to get her dream home down to an affordable price that she will kill to make it happen. Only in Hong Kong and only Josie "daughter of Stanley" Ho? The fact that she not only plays the role with such gusto but also pulls it off -- and is the Pang Ho Cheung-helmed film's producer -- is a real credit to her. And it is a real credit to the cinematic work that its horror credentials didn't take all that much away from the seriousness and validity of much of its commentary about Hong Kong real estate prices, related housing issues and average people's salaries in the territory.

7) Fire of Conscience

The first Dante Lam film I viewed in 2010 provided me with a real roller-coaster ride of a movie experience. Filled with highs and lows, it opened with a scene that left me slack-jawed in amazement -- it was that astoundingly innovative and good. Unfortunately (and this is a good part why it is only at number seven on my list), it ended with a whimper as far as I (and quite a few other people I know) are concerned. If only the last quarter or so of the film had lived up to what had preceded it... including some visuals that had excellent special effects and others that made use of the kind of stunt work and dedication to physical acting duty that contributed quite a bit to what made many of us fans of Hong Kong cinema.

8) 72 Tenants of Prosperity

The title and some of the story of this 2010 Chinese New Year comedy set in a Mongkok neighborhood harks back to The House of 72 Tenants, the 1973 Shaw Brothers production credited with playing a major part in reviving Cantonese language cinema. But due to such as it being graced by a lot of faces who are most associated with that era (notably Anita Yuen), this work directed as well as starring Eric Tsang also got me thinking of Hong Kong cinema's most recent golden age -- that of the period between the years 1985 to 1994. To be sure, the nostalgia factor played a part in my enjoyment of this movie that essentially revolves around two rival families headed by men in love with the same woman but the film also possesses plenty of sight gags and in jokes that hit the spot (i.e., my funny bone). Additionally, I can definitely imagine that people who watch plenty of contemporary TVB shows as well as decades of Hong Kong movies would have a lot of extra fun spotting the multitude of stars that appear in this work!

9) Ip Man 2

There's no two ways about it: It was impossible to go into a screening of this 2010 sequel to Ip Man with low expectations. Nonetheless, the fight scenes atop a rickety table in this period martial arts movie which saw the legendary Ip Man pit his wing chun style and skills against more than one skeptical Hong Kong kung fu sifu managed to impress and even astound. No doubt about it: Sammo Hung's choreography is top notch and the veteran still has it in him to come across as a thoroughly credible opponent for Donnie Yen's Ip Man. And I am glad that such good use was made of his talents in this Wilson Yip movie. Alternatively, Fan Siu Wong is sadly wasted in this work. And I have to be honest and state that I wish that Ip Man had been provided with an alternative opponent in his climactic fight -- one that was exciting to be sure but also had certain undertones that were disturbing when viewed in a wider cultural political context.

10) Little Big Soldier

Some years back, Jackie Chan talked about how he made certain movies for the US market and others for the Asian market. While he continues to appear in movies for American audiences, I'm not so sure that he's actually got that much of an Asian audience anymore -- and, in fact, would go so far as to state that the Hong Kong native does not appear to have that many fans left in Hong Kong. At the same time, Jackie Chan appears to have some standing still in Mainland China -- where this Mandarin language period dramedy actioner was shot and is set. And judging from this work which has him playing a farmer coopted into becoming a soldier who yearns to return home to sow crops once more, he may well have some life and good films left in him after all. And -- even better news -- show signs of an overdue coming to terms not only with his no longer being young and needing to grow up but, also, that he is best at playing an underdog in a way that mixes comedy and pathos, and idealism and pragmatism.


baroness radon said...

I love all 3 Ip Man movies; and I really want to see Bruce Lee My Brother; I hope my Chinatown vendor can get it for me.

Did you see that Jackie Chan was at the White House yesterday at the Hu Jintao dinner?

Samson said...

To be perfectly honest, YTSL, I've been checking back every 1-2 days since the beginning of the year to see if you have put together your top 10 movie list. And this awesome read is absolutely worth waiting for. I will suggest to my editor to put a link on our site to Webs of Significance. But you have to promise to write more movie reviews. Look how many comments you've been getting on those!

Anonymous said...

Nice list.

I was really disappointed by Ip Man 2. I found the acting by the western actors to be pretty awful and the choreography doesn't hold up to the first installment (maybe because Sammo Hung was taken ill half way through filming?).

Also I think you are right about old JC. He seems to be the least popular actor in HK these days, but he seems to have brought it all on himself so I have little sympathy.

eliza bennet said...

The only film I have seen on the list is Stool Pigeon and I liked it very much despite the bad performance from Nick Cheung. Nic Tse on the other hand is a superbly talented actor. I wish he was in more films.

Thanks to you that now I have a good reference point to check others.

I kind of entered into a voluntary HK film break after watching "Murderer".

YTSL said...

Hi baroness radon --

The Ip Man movie that "Bruce Lee My Brother" most resembles is the Herman Yau helmed one -- and I think that it compares favorably.

And yeah, I read about Jackie Chan being at the White House. I'd thought there'd be better choices for that honor -- but, like I wrote in my post, seems like he still has many fans in the US and Mainland China (unlike in Hong Kong).

Hi Samson --

Your comments made my day! Glad you like this post but can't promise to write more movie reviews -- have to feel inspired to do so. OTOH, do note that I *do* tend to post reviews of movies I see at the Hong Kong International Film Festival and it feels like the 2011 edition is just around the corner1 ;b

Hi Phil (AKA orientalsweetlips!) --

Know what you mean about "Ip Man 2". Incidentally, just returned from watching the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre's "The Empress of China" which has *much* more measured portrayal of Westerners in it, and is all the better as a production for being so. Recommended!

Re Jackie Chan: And to think he used to be the face of Hong Kong (and Hong Kong Tourism spokesperson) not so long ago...

Hi "eliza bennet" --

Nic Tse's been in quite his share of films -- apart from "Stool Pigeon", also saw him in "Hot Summer Days" in 2010 and "Bodyguards and Assassins" at the tail end of 2009. *And* he's in "Shaolin" -- which officially opens on January 27th here.

And re "Murderer": PLEASE don't stop watching Hong Kong movies because of it. OTOH, I myself am really intending to steer clear of any movie with Christine To as its scripwriter.

sarah bailey knight said...

hi ytsl,

I look forward to reading your top 10 Hong Kong movie list each year. I always get ideas for more movies to watch. Thank you.

YTSL said...

Hi sbk --

Thank you. Actually, was wondering -- how many of the films on my list have you already seen (and hopefully like)? ;b

sarah bailey knight said...


Gallants which we saw in Montreal and liked a lot.

This past year I've neglected Hong Kong moves as I've been watching Korean Dramas and Korean movies. I think I've had my fill of K-dramas for now and am going to watch several of your top ten.

YTSL said...

Hi sbk --

Hope you get back to Hong Kong movie watching soon and will enjoy those that I've recommended. :)

Stefan S said...

Hi YTSL, awesome list, I liked what you liked too!!

A pity that Dream Home will never see the light of day in Singapore on the big screen as it's banned. Sigh :(

YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

Glad you like my list -- and what you saw on it. So... have you seen all of the films I listed -- including the banned-in-Singapore "Dream Home"? If so, good on you! :b

Stefan S said...

i am trying to see how I can watch Dream Home :P

YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

How about you come over to Hong Kong again, get a legit DVD copy (complete with original *Cantonese* soundtrack) and smuggle it into Singapore? :D

Brian said...

Thanks for the list. I know someday I will start catching up on HK films from the past 2 years and this is a good starting point. I get the sense from the comments that I am not the only one who has drifted away from HK films for other interests.

Why was Dream Home banned in Singapore?

YTSL said...

Hi Brian --

Thanks for adding your comments to the thread even if it's somewhat sad to learn that even you have drifted away from Hong Kong films in recent years. :S

As for why "Dream Home" was banned in Singapore: If Stefan doesn't answer your question, I'm going to guess that it's because it's way too gory for the Singaporean censors' tastes! ;b

Stefan S said...

Gong Hei Fatt Choy YTSL!!!

I hope to be able to make it to HKIFF, but schedules don't look good :(

In any case, here are the reasons why Dream Home is banned in SG:

click on "Classification Information"

YTSL said...

Hi once more Stefan --

Hmmm... wait until the 2011 HKIFF programme is announced... and then maybe you might have to rearrange your schedule to come over! ;b

And thanks for the link explaining why "Dream Home" got banned in Singapore. And yes, I have to agree that it is very gory indeed!

Andy.T in London said...

thanks for the great blog/site

YTSL said...

Hi Andy T. --

Thanks for appreciating -- and leaving positive comments. :)