Monday, January 28, 2013

My top ten 2012 Hong Kong movies list

My favorite 2012 Hong Kong movie 
that I viewed for the first time in 2012

For those wondering how come A Simple Life does not top my 2012 Hong Kong movies list: one reason is because officially, the Ann Hui On Wah drama is a 2011 film (as can be seen in its having qualified for the 2011 Golden Horse awards as well as having had its world premiere at the 2011 Venice Film Festival); and another being that I first viewed it back in December 2011 at a special screening at UA iSquare on the day of the Golden Horse Awards.

This is not to say that I didn't view that gem of a movie again during its commercial run in Hong Kong in 2012.  (And for the record, I was brought to tears many times again during my second viewing of the film!)  But I simply don't think I should include the film that topped my 2011 Hong Kong movies list in my equivalent 2012 list!

At the same time, here's also serving notice that I've included in this list a movie that's officially a 2012 work -- and screened at the 2012 Hong Kong International Film Festival -- but was only released into Hong Kong cinemas in January 2013.  So while I viewed 22 2012 Hong Kong movies last year, I had 23 movies to choose from when compiling the following list:-

Hong Kong's The Avenue of Stars may not have the status and prestige of The Hollywood Walk of Fame that it has been modeled after but a place on the film star-themed tourist trap still does count for something in the eyes of some people.  So I can imagine quite a few individuals -- Jackie Chan, say! -- feeling somewhat discomfited by the second statue erected in that Tsim Sha Tsui location after one of Bruce Lee being that of Mcdull rather than themselves.

Still, I'm pretty sure that more Hong Kongers like the animated piglet more than the veteran action star -- and see the former as being a much better representative of Hong Kong and Hong Kongers to boot.  And both Mcdull's likeability and his Hong Kong-ness are very much on display in Mcdull: The Pork of Music, the piglet's fifth cinematic foray.

Filled with lovely music and visually interesting illustrations, this film directed by Brian Tse (Mcdull's co-creator along with his colleague turned wife, illustrator Alice Mak) also has a characteristically sad but uplifting moral and story arc that takes Mcdull and his friends to Shenzhen and Macau but is deeply rooted in his home territory of Hong Kong. A drama at heart even while also having comic moments that will make the viewer laugh and musical ones that make this animated work a real audio as well as visual treat, it made my heart swell as well as put tears in my eyes -- not least with its touching end dedication.

Sad but true: these days, one can't take for granted any more that Hong Kong movies will be set in Hong Kong and have distinctively Hong Kong subjects.  So it's a bit ironic that a Hong Kong filmmaker who looked to China more and earlier than his peers came up with a very Hong Kong film in 2012 -- and one of the best too, to my mind.

Yim Ho's Floating City is a drama based on the true story of a man born out of a wedlock, whose father was a British sailor, and whose mother gave him away to a Tanka fisher family. Almost improbably, this man rose to become a corporate high flyer but, as the film shows, his road in life was one hardly easy and has enough dramatic elements to make for one emotionally involving movie.

Nowadays, Yim Ho is better known as a healthcare guru than filmmaker.  One can hope that working on Floating City made the director of such as Homecoming (1984) and Red Dust (1990) want to make some more movies as I get the feeling that he still has many interesting tales to (help) tell. 

I have a love-hate relationship with the films of Pang Ho Cheung.  Some of his movies I really adore -- including his debut work You Shoot, I Shoot and Men Suddenly in BlackBut others -- notably Love in a Puff, the first film that featured the protagonists of Love in the Buff -- have left me cold.  So it wasn't until after a friend told me she hadn't cared for Love in a Puff too but really liked Love in the Buff that I decided to go and check out the second Pang Ho Cheung comedy that starred Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung.  

Thankfully, I agree with my friend in reckoning that Love in the Buff is considerably more enjoyable than Love in a Puff -- not least because in the second film, plausible reasons were furnished as to why Shawn Yue and Miriam Yeung's characters could be attracted -- as opposed to there inevitably being attracted to each other just because they were played by the stars they were.

On another note: I also did like how this movie by a Hong Kong director that had two Hong Kong leads did not suffer much at all quality-wise from being largely set on the mainland (as opposed to Hong Kong).  One reason is because Pang Ho Cheung still managed to include a lot of Hong Kong references in the film.  But the mainland elements in this offering also worked really well -- with Xu Zheng and Huang Xiaoming's appearances in the film being as enjoyable as Hong Kong stars like Shawn Yue, Miriam Yeung, and also Ekin Cheng! 

A message for those who complained that there aren't enough guillotines in this movie: I think you didn't get that The Guillotines referred to the team of assassins whose weapon of choice of flying guillotines, as opposed to those deadly steel weapons!  Put another way: I believe that much of the criticism I've heard of this Andrew Lau directed, Peter Chan Ho Sun produced Qing dynasty period action-drama is as misguided/misdirected as that which complained that the Teddy Chan directed, Peter Chan Ho Sun produced Bodyguards and Assassins did not have enough action.

Put yet another way: I found The Guillotines to be a complex and emotionally affecting work that successfully wove together elements of brotherhood and betrayal a la Peter Chan's The Warlords (another movie inspired by -- rather than directly adapted from -- a Shaw Brothers classic)  -- elements that also prominently feature in Andrew Lau's Young and Dangerous movies. And while it sometimes could be difficult viewing (not least because it contains some really violent scenes), I also genuinely did sense that passion was involved in the film's creation and also found its intensity to be both powerful and admirable.

Prior to my viewing Angie Chen's latest documentary, all I knew about Hualing Nieh Engle was that she was an elderly female writer whose works have largely been in Chinese. And based on this, I imagined that the film would be one of those that would be on the respectable but dry side, with little appeal to those not of a literary bent -- especially those who are not familiar with the writer's works.

I should have known better -- since Angie Chen is, after all, the helmer of the interesting (as well as idiosyncratic) This Darling Life as well as made her directorial debut back in 1985 with the Shaw Brothers prostitute drama My Name Ain't Suzie

The classmate of one of Hualing Nieh Engle's daughters and consequently a family friend who has known the subject of this documentary for some four decades, Chen has presented a lovely introduction as well as tribute to a charismatic woman who has led a seriously interesting life, the love of her life (the late Paul Engels) and the Iowa Writer's Workshop they co-founded (and whose participants have included Orhan Pamuk, Mo Yan, Susan Sontage and so many more). (And should anyone wonder, the film's title comes from Nieh Engle describing herself as "a tree with roots in China, a trunk in Taiwan and the leaves in Iowa" because she was born in China, lived for a time in Taiwan, and has made her home in Iowa City since 1964.)

In recent years, the one time of the year that one can be assured that there will be Hong Kong movies in cinemas is Chinese New Year -- thanks especially to Raymond Wong Pak Min and his All's Well, Ends Well series of movies, and Eric Tsang and his I Love Hong Kong works. Both in 2010 and 2011, I preferred the entries from Eric Tsang's stable over Raymond Wong's.  

But in 2012, it was Raymond Wong's production that I enjoyed more -- with Sandra Ng once again turning in a performance that's a testament to her being a great (as well as enthusiastic) comic actress and Donnie Yen once more proving to be endearingly game in a comic role that one previously would not have thought that the star of Ip Man would be able to pull off. As an added bonus: English translations were provided for the lyrics of the wonderful Sam Hui songs that feature in this movie.  Now if only they had released an original soundtrack CD for this movie (complete with liner notes featuring those English translations)...!

Chapman To and Fiona Sit appeared together in more than one comedy in 2012. And while Pang Ho Cheung's Vulgaria undoubtedly has more fans, I have to honestly say that I preferred Wong Jing's Mrs and Mrs Gambler in which To and Sit played a couple of gambling addicts who are married to each other.  

Despite To appearing older than his 40 years and Sit frequently appearing younger (more childish?) than her 31 years, they actually make a surprisingly believable screen couple and also are pretty good at playing off each other. Something else that I appreciated in this work was how they both can be funny when speaking English as well as Cantonese -- something that, come to think of it, should be expected of an Island School graduate (Sit) and a DBS (Diocesan Boys' School) alumnus (like To is). :)

The top grossing local movie of 2012 (and the only Hong Kong movie among the top ten performers at the Hong Kong box office last year), this crime drama-actioner that starts off revolving around two senior policemen in the running for the top post definitely came across as ambitious as well as super star-studded. And the first hour or so of the film ranks among the most gripping cinema I experienced in 2012.

So it's a pity that it wasn't able to sustain that level of quality and intensity -- due in no small part to the entry of Aarif Rahman into the picture. For the fact of the matter is that the movie's first time helmers may have acquitted themselves pretty well on the whole -- but, if nothing else, this work shows not only that the likes of Tony Leung Kar Fai appear to be getting better with age but, also, that the younger generation of Hong Kong actors have a very long way to go before they can achieve the gravitas and heft of their elders.

Over the years, I've seen a number of films whose makers' ambitions prove to be higher than their abilities.  (And yes, one could say this was the case with Cold War...) In some instances, you want to applaud them for at least having tried to come up with something special or just plain different.  In others, you want to curse them for creating a mess that could have been avoided if they had just been modest in their goals and stuck to what they (knew they) were capable of achieving.

At those times when you find yourself upset with those filmmakers who didn't know their limitations, you find yourself appreciating movies like Motorway -- whose makers appear modest in their ambitions but also were able to deliver what they set out to do: in this case, a professional looking and feeling crime drama-actioner featuring good dramatic acting and car chase scenes that got the adrenaline pumping. And this all the more so upon realizing that its director, Soi Cheang, may well have matured as well as learnt some valuable lessons after having previously helmed cinematic disasters such as Shamo!

10) CZ12

There have been many a time when I've been lured to watch a movie by a great looking trailer, only to be disappointed by the movie itself.  I had the opposite experience with Jackie Chan's 2012 offering which I only decided to see after my curiosity was piqued by news that it had done incredibly well in Malaysia and Singapore, not just Mainland China, and getting reports from two trusted film friends that it actually was a pretty decent effort.

CZ12 may not be completely like the Jackie Chan movies of old -- not least because its star is several years older now, and the film's dominant language is Mandarin and it features more English dialogue than Cantonese. But Jackie Chan seems less tired and more willing to have fun in this film than he has of late, and the result is an entertaining transnational action-comedy romp that I was able to enjoy for the most part, even given that I had the unfortunate experience of being only a few seats away from a super annoying brat of a child at the screening I was at! ;(


Samson said...

Interesting list, YTSL! Some surprises too. : D

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

You've got me curious now: which are the surprises? Movies on the list or omissions from the list? :b

Mel said...

YTSL, thanks for this great list. I have only seen about half of the films on the list. Like you, I like The Guillotines (despite the many negative reviews I have read). Hope you will write more about films on your blog!

Horsoon said...

It's the complete review EXACTLY what I needed :)

Now I know what I've missed and time to search the iTune store for them. Thanks!

Samson said...

Hi again YTSL --

The main surprise on the list for me is Mr and Mrs Gambler... I found the film pretty funny too, but for some reason, I just didn't imagine it would make it into your list of top 10 films.

Also wondering what you thought of The Bullet Vanishes? I enjoyed that film quite a bit too.

A hero never dies said...

Hi YTSL, Nice to see your list, unfortunately I've only seen two of these movies, so I can only comment on those, the two I've seen being All's Well and Motorway.

I couldn't agree more on All's Well, from the last few years I've always preferred Tsang's offering, but despite the inspired (and surprising) spoof of The Mission I found I Love Hong Kong 2012 a little flat. All's Well on the other hand, had a rocky start with me, but the longer it went on the more fun I had until by the end I'd really enjoyed it.

I'm pretty sure I enjoyed Motorway more than you did, but I certainly appreciate your sentiments on it, it's key attributes being it's simplicity and mood as well as Anthony Wong of course!

Looking forward to the chance to see the others on your list asap.

YTSL said...

Hi Mel --

Thanks for reading and appreciating my list -- and I'm glad to learn of another fan of "The Guillotines".

Re writing more about films on my blog: the funny thing is that I started this blog to write about other than films (as I've written about films elsewhere). Of course, I can't seem to resist blogging about films every once in a while though... ;)

Hi Horsoon --

If you haven't seen "A Simple Life" yet, suggest you start off with that... ;b

Hi again Samson --

I love comedies that successfully deliver laughs -- and "Mr and Mrs Gambler" did just that. Also, have to say that I like Chapman To a lot as an actor... ;b

Hi A Hero Never Dies --

Glad you enjoyed both "All's Well, Ends Well 2012" and "Motorway" too -- and hope you'll get a chance to see the other movies on my list. Also, more than BTW, "Hotel Deluxe" (which I recently viewed) is a Raymond Wong produced lunar new year comedy -- and yes, it's recommended too. :)

alejna said...

I enjoyed reading your reviews, even though I haven't seen a single movie on the list. I'm pretty sure I didn't even see as many as 10 movies made in 2012.

I'm going to have to see if I can track down a Mcdull movie. I'm curious! Do they ever release them with English soundtracks? (My kids probably can't handle reading subtitles yet, though Phoebe's getting close.)

YTSL said...

Hi Alejna --

This is weird... I think I was over on your blog leaving a comment when you were commenting on mine! :O

Re Mcdull movies: no English soundtracks -- but some of the songs are English language ones as well as ones without words -- there's lots of Western classical music, and also singing of songs like "All Things Bright and Beautiful" in the first movie: "My Life as Mcdull".

It'd be interesting to see what Phoebe and Theo make of the films -- the voices of the kid characters are really cute but have to tell you that I think these movies really are more made for adults than children. (And yes, I'm not the only adult I know who's been moved to tears by the films...)

YTSL said...

Hi once again Samson --

Oops, forgot to answer your "The Bullet Vanishes" query. I liked the bulk of the film a lot but the last few minutes involving Nicholas Tse's character just ruined things for me, I'm afraid.

In general, I am more tolerant of movies that start slowly/badly but finish well to movies that start well but then finish badly! :S