Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My top ten 2009 Hong Kong movies list

The subject and star of my favorite Hong Kong movie of 2009

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):-

1) KJ
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!).


Glenn, kenixfan said...

Interesting choices -- some of those are in my "to be watched" pile at home at the moment.

I was disappointed with Bodyguards only because it didn't to know what it was: historical epic or action film.

And the blink-and-you'll-miss-it much-hyped Michelle Reis cameo was a letdown.

And the moment of ridiculous Donnie Yen action involving a horse near the film's conclusion that had the theater laughing perhaps unintentionally.

But I can see the good points of the film too; it's certainly not bad in the many ways that Storm Warriors is bad.

I am still reflecting that both you and Brian chose Bakery Amour on your Best of 2001 lists.

Suddenly, 2001 seems a long time ago.

Brian said...

I am so sadly out of the loop that I have not seen any of those! But honestly it doesn't sound like a hugely impressive group of films to me. Are there some biggie ones reputation or hype wise that didn't make your film or that you didn't see? It really sounds like 2009 was a bit of a washout.

Glenn - hey are you knocking Bakery Amour!!

Anonymous said...

I didn't do so well with this list.

I regret now that I didn't see KJ when I visited Hong Kong last August (I think it was still playing then).

Red Cliff 2 is still sitting unwatched at home in a stack of DVDs. I did like the first part more than I expected, but somehow have not been compelled to watch part two.

Claustrophobia played at the SFIFF last year and I thought about seeing it but never did in the end.

Meant to see Overheard when I was in HK, but didn't have time.

The three HK films from 2009 that I did see, two of which I quite liked, are not on your list: Kung Fu Cyborg, On His Majesty's Secret Service, and Vengeance. All in theaters when I was in HK; I don't seem to buy new movies on DVD anymore.

Gosh, now I feel a little sad, not so much because I didn't see anything on your list, but because it's rea;lly a top-5 list feeling obligated to be a top-10 list. Like Glenn, I'm suddenly feeling nostalgic for the past...

Anonymous said...

Glenn - hey are you knocking Bakery Amour!!

Nope, he's just weeping in his bread over the fact that Michelle Reis is no longer a big star! ;p

Gweipo said...

KJ is still showing on and off. It was one of the more interesting movies I saw last year

YTSL said...

Hi Glenn --

"I was disappointed with Bodyguards only because it didn't to know what it was: historical epic or action film."

Er... I think *you* din't know what it was going to be but it -- or, rather its filmmakers -- did.

Over on Mobius' Asian Cinema discussion board, Dennis Lee quoted this from the New York Times:-
"While the new version [of the 1973 The Bodyguard directed by (producer) Peter Chan's father] ] is still a fast-paced action movie, Mr. Chan believes it is closer to a disaster film in its structure. It’s reminiscent of “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Towering Inferno” or “Titanic,” he said, in that “the first half of the film is spent presenting the various characters who are going to be summoned to the task, while the second half is about the disaster” or the attempted assassination of Sun Yat-sen and how the characters deal with it."

But yes, I do take your point that 2001 seems a long time ago... :S

Hi Brian --

"Are there some biggie ones reputation or hype wise that didn't make your film [list] or that you didn't see?"

Re the former: well, there are Johnnie To's "Vengeance" and other Milkyway Image movies like "Written By" and "Accident", Derek Yee's "Shinjuku Incident", Wong Jing's "To Live and Die in Mongkok", and the animated "Mcdull Kung Fu Ding Dong".

Re the latter: How about the Pang Brothers' "The Storm Warriors" and Yonfan's "Prince of Tears"?

Hi duriandave --

Gweipo's right -- "KJ"'s still playing!

And yeah, I miss Michelle Reis too... ;S

Hi gweipo --

If you get a chance to see the same director's "All's Right with the World", you'd think well of it too. I saw it a couple of years ago and around this time of year (Chinese New Year), get to thinking of parts of that documentary work.

Glenn, kenixfan said...

I love Bakery Amour; I was just wondering why it took me so long to finally see it after reading the reviews from you and Brian first -- I *think* I finally watched it in 2004.

Did Bodyguards remind you of The Dirty Dozen or Ocean's Eleven in any way? Kind of one of those "assembling the team/gang" kind of films? I like those kinds of films and I did appreciate that vibe from Bodyguards.

Dave, I too regret not seeing Overheard considering it was playing about 1000 feet from my hotel in E. TST last August as I thoroughly enjoyed it on DVD.

My other big regret is making a special trip to the big theater in the Elements mall last December just to see Storm Warriors on a big screen in a nice theater only to just hate the film.

I will say that the sound and projection in that theater are both fantastic! But I digress, LOL!

YTSL said...

Hi again Glenn --

"Did Bodyguards remind you of The Dirty Dozen or Ocean's Eleven in any way?"

Not really... to be honest, I don't really tend to compare Hong Kong movies I watch with Hollywood movies in that way. And if I were to go with your line of thinking, I guess I'd think more "The Mission" and, also, "Peking Opera Blues" (in that it seems that, like with the latter film, different members of what became a team were doing the job for different reasons).

And wow, you like The Grand Cinema at Elements? Have to say that it's not one of my favorite cinemas because I find its' seats' motions to be too gimmicky and/or distracting. (Once, when watching a film that had an earthquake scene there for a review, my seat shook so much that the notebook I had placed on one of the arms of the seat fell off! :D )

lady macleod said...

So - the Hong Kong Oscars? Very interesting list. I shall have to check some of them out and let my step-daughter see this - she is the 'serious' film person in the family.

YTSL said...

Hi Lady Macleod --

No, no... the Hong Kong Oscars would be the Hong Kong Film Awards! But by all means do let your step-daughter see my list and some of the movies on them as well. :)

Willow said...

I have my unwached Overheard in a drawer. I need to find a way to watch it but like most movie evenings, I tend to spend that time with the spouse beside me. He doesn't appreciate Daniel Wu the way regular folk do. haha. Would like to take a look-see at Bodyguards. So curious about the horse Glenn's talkin' about! LOL.

YTSL said...

Hi Willow --

FWIW, the actor I find the hunkiest in "Overheard" is actually Alex Fong. And Daniel Wu just has not impressed in a while, I'm afraid. (This fresh from having watched him and others in "Hot Summer Days" last night.)

Re that Donnie Yen horse scene: actually, my reaction was woah, followed by an incredulous and gleeful laugh. Will be interested to see how you react to it when you see it... ;b