Wednesday, December 28, 2011

My alternative 100 "must see" Hong Kong movies list

The Hong Kong movie that is my favorite movie
in the whole wide world

Last week, after I posted the Hong Kong Film Archive's 100 "must-see" Hong Kong movies list, I was encouraged by a number of friends and readers to write up my own 100 "must see" Hong Kong movies list. Although I am no where claiming to have the kind of authority that the six experts behind the Hong Kong Film Archive's list, I figure it won't hurt -- and might get (more) discussion going about the movies that many of us love -- to do just that.

In compiling the list on this entry, I was helped by my having kept records through the years of the more than 1,000 Hong Kong movies I've now seen. For the record, the oldest Hong Kong movie I've viewed to date is 1941's Roar of the People. However, I've not yet checked out a single Hong Kong film made in the years 1942 to 1947 -- and for those who are wondering, Sorrows of the Forbidden City (i.e., the first film on my list which is ordered by year and then, if one year has more than one entry, sub-ordered alphabetically) is indeed the second oldest Hong Kong cinematic work that I've viewed thus far.

Something else I think worth pointing out is that just 28 out of the slightly more than 60 films on the Hong Kong Film Archive's list that I've viewed have made it to the list I've made. For the interest of this blog's readers, I've bolded those 28 titles that appear on both the Hong Kong Film Archive's and my lists.

With regards to the remaining 72 titles that appear on my list but not the Hong Kong Film Archive's: I think that they cover a wider range of genres than the Hong Kong Film Archive's 100 choices put together -- and include a larger number of Category III rated films! Also noticeable is that while those responsible for the other list appear to consider the 1950s to be the golden age of Hong Kong cinema, my favorite decade of Hong Kong cinema really was the 1990s (with the 1980s also pretty high up there in my estimation).

Perhaps the biggest difference is that whereas the Hong Kong Film Archive's list stopped in 1999, my list goes up to 2010 -- and no, it's actually not that 2011 has not seen any worthy films but because I am planning to come up with a 2011-specific list in the first month of 2012! In the meantime, please check out the list below and feel free to let me know what you think, how many of these films you've viewed and what your own list of 101 "must see" Hong Kong movies would look like! :b

Sorrows of the Forbidden City (1948)
Festival Moon (1953)
Our Sister Hedy (1957)
Let's Be Happy (1959)
The Wild, Wild Rose (1960)
Lady General Hua Mulan (1963)
Sister Long Legs (1966)
Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967)
The Arch (1970)
A Touch of Zen (1971)

The Big Boss (1971)
14 Amazons (1972)
The Valiant Ones (1975)
Mud Child (1976)
The Magic Blade (1976)
The Private Eyes (1976)
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
Heroes of the East (AKA Shaolin vs Ninja) (1979)
Raining in the Mountain (1979)
Dangerous Encounter: First Kind (1980)

Nomad (1982)
Eight Diagram Pole Fighter (1984)
Long Arm of the Law (1984)
Shanghai Blues (1984)
Mr Vampire (1985)
Police Story (1985)
A Better Tomorrow (1986)
Peking Opera Blues (1986)
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
City on Fire (1987)

Project A 2 (1987)
Royal Warriors (1987)
Chicken and Duck Talk (1988)
Her Vengeance (1988)
On the Run (1988)
Painted Faces (1988)
Pedicab Driver (1988)
School on Fire (1988)
Women's Prison (1988)
Bullet in the Head (1990)

Queen of Temple Street (1990)

Red Dust (1990)
Once Upon a Time in China I (1991)
To Be Number One (1991)
Dragon Inn (1992)
Girls without Tomorrow (1992)
Naked Killer (1992)
Police Story III: Supercop (1992)
Swordsman II (1992)
The Story of Ricky (1992)

C'est la Vie, Mon Cherie
Fong Sai Yuk (1993)
He Ain't Heavy, He's My Father (1993)
The Bride with White Hair (1993)
Ashes of Time (1994)
Chungking Express (1994)
Drunken Master II (1994)
He's a Woman, She's a Man (1994)
The Lovers (1994)
Wing Chun (1994)

A Chinese Odyssey Part 2: Cinderella (1995)
Fist of Legend (1995)
The Blade (1995)
The Chinese Feast (1995)
Comrades, Almost a Love Story (1996)
Forbidden City Cop (1996)
Hu-Du-Men (1996)
Lost and Found (1996)
Young and Dangerous 3 (1996)
Happy Together (1997)

Full Alert (1997)
Made in Hong Kong (1997)
Too Many Ways to Be Number One (1997)
A Hero Never Dies (1998)
Hold You Tight (1998)
The Mission (1999)
The Mistress (1999)
Tempting Heart (1999)
Where a Good Man Goes (1999)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)

Needing You... (2000)
From the Queen to the Chief Executive (2001)
My Life as McDull (2001)
Infernal Affairs (2002)
July Rhapsody (2002)
Just One Look (2002)
Running on Karma (2003)
Dumplings: Three... Extremes (2004)
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Crazy 'n the City (2005)

Election (2005)
Exiled (2006)
Hooked On You (2007)
Lust, Caution (2007)
Beast Stalker (2008)
The Way We Are (2008)
Ip Man (2008)
Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)
KJ (2009)
The Stool Pigeon (2010)


mister bijou said...

Thanks for the list. I guess I have seen about twenty of them, and all those are from the 1980s onwards. Some were worthwhile, others not.

Not on your list but on mine would also be: Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood For Love". How can you not have included that masterpiece?

Elsewhere, a couple of other films I really liked: from early 2000s(?) a film by Derek Yee about a woman who becomes a Kowloon minibus driver (can't remember the film's name); and from the early 1980s, Yim Ho's beautiful film "Homecoming".

Anyway, thanks again for your interesting list!

A hero never dies said...


Interesting list, I'll come back to you with more thoughts but my initial reaction is no Election 2 and to echo mister bijou, no Lost in Time?

Really glad you did the list, I'm sure it will be a valuable tool for people new to Hong Kong cinema.

baroness radon said...

I count 26 from the list. I have to go back to my own diary (which includes a lot of Chinese and Taiwanese films as well, so a little sorting is in order.) But thanks...

I certainly agree with Mr. B. about In the Mood for Love.

Anonymous said...

Great list, have to agree with others on "In the Mood for Love" .. what about "Echoes of the Rainbow"? Sophia

YTSL said...

Hi mister bijou --

Re "In the Mood for the Love": It's not among my top three favorite Wong Kar Wai movies -- but it is my fourth. Still, yes, it's true enough that there are at least 100 Hong Kong movies that I love more than it.

"Lost in Time" -- the Derek Yee film -- was actually one of the films that just missed out being included on the list.

As for "Homecoming": I think I went into a screening of it with overly high expectations and it didn't connect me with me as much as I wish would have been the case. I actually think the female friendship turned problematic trope produced better films such as "Passion" (which also didn't make my list but probably would be among my top 200!) while an urban Hong Kong-rural mainland connection movie that I like more is "Eight Taels of Gold" (which *just* missed out on making my top 100).

Hi "A hero never dies" --

Re "Election 2": I don't think it is anywhere as good as the first "Election". Actually, if there were a 21st century sequel film that I would consider more strongly for my top 100, it'd be "Infernal Affairs 2".

And yes, do feel free to return with more thoughts and comments! :b

Hi baroness radon and Sophia --

Wow, more love for "In the Mood for Love"... I have to admit that I'm quite surprised. And wonder if it was your first Wong Kar Wai film?

Also, Sophia, "Echoes of the Rainbow" is way over-rated to my mind. The first two thirds of the film are good but the last third or so just seems like such major mis-steps to me. Call me hard hearted but I have to admit that that scene involving the tape recording made my Aarif Lee/Rahman's character had me rolling my eyes rather than teary! ;(

sbk said...

Hi ytsl,

Thanks for the list-quick work. I think I've seen between 72-80 movies on your list but like the baroness radon I need to check on a few.

I agree with you that "In the Mood for Love" isn't in my top WKW favorites.

I hope to have time this weekend to check on movies I'm not sure if I've seen and maybe mention a few not on your list.

I do agree with "A hero never dies" that your list is a "valuable tool for people new to Hong Kong cinema" and also those who have been fans for years.

ewaffle said...

Count another vote for "In the Mood for Love" which is in my top five movies made anywhere by anyone although a significant part of my love for it is Maggie Cheung and her 32 or 33 different cheongsam.

Not to make any invidious comparisons between your list and that of the Gang of Six at the HKFA but their missing "Eight Diagram Pole Fighter", "Peking Opera Blues", "Pedicab Driver", "Chungking Express", "Exiled" (a masterpiece on the level of "The Mission") etc. etc. makes it suspect.

Which only means that each of us have different criteria and different reasons for loving or not loving a movie.

YTSL said...

Hi sbk --

72-80 films? Wow, that's pretty good! And good too that we appear to have similar feelings re "In the Mood for Love" (and other Wong Kar Wai movies). Also, thanks for thinking the list was worth my making and your reading -- appreciate the vote from you. :)

Hi ewaffle --

Wow re your "In the Mood for Love". Re your other comments: FWIW, I prefer "Exiled" to "The Mission" (even though I do obviously hold "The Mission" in high esteem too).

Also, as an addendum: I love most of the movies on my 100 "must see" list. There are a handful I wouldn't necessarily say that I love though -- but I included them because they made such a huge impact on me -- emotionally, in terms of opening my eyes to the huge range of possibilities with regards to cinema, etc.

alejna said...

This is great, YTSL! I'm so glad you did this. This will be a great reference for me to use, as I think you have such excellent taste! I love reading the discussion going on in the comments, too.

Kathie Smith said...

Wow. Fantastic! I've got some work to do.

baroness radon said...

Chungking Express was my first Wong Kar Wai film. But I think it was Tony Leung CW that captivated me more than the director.

YTSL said...

Hi Alejna --

Hope you'll get some time to watch at least some of your movies before too long. And yes, I'm enjoying the comments thread discussion too -- and really am wishing/hoping for more! :)

Hi Kathie --

A caveat: this list covers a range of films. I have a feeling a few of them might not be to your taste but it's true enough that I also am hoping that you'll "discover" some gems you had hitherto not really noticed before. :)

Hi baroness radon --

Little Tony Leung Chiu Wai definitely does have his fans... and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk too -- so yeah, I can see why "In the Mood for Love" has as many fans as it does though, honestly, hadn't realized there really was so much love for that film, especially relative to other Wong Kar Wai films and other Hong Kong films in general! ;b

Stefan S said...


Fantastic! There are many I've yet to see, time to err.. put aside time to raid some DVDs :D

YTSL said...

Hi Stefan --

Wow, am surprised that are many films on my list that you haven't seen! Hope you have fun checking out some of the listed films you've yet to view -- though be warned that not all of them are available (yet) on DVD! :b

eliza bennet said...

The oldest films in your list will have to remain unwatched by me since I don't think they are available on DVD no?

Since this is a personal list I can understand the omission of In The Mood For Love, but I think pretty much every lover of cinema (as an art form that is) agrees that it is a masterpiece. Even if they don't like it. Of course it is a well known fact that one doesn't have to like every classic there is. Personally I alway prefer Chungking Express to In The Mood for Love but I do accept that ITMFL is the superior film.

And I'm especially happy that my questioning whether A Touch of Zen can be considered Hong Kong cinema or not influenced your decision to include it (I still consider it more of a Taiwanese film) rather than Come Drink With Me since anyone deciding on what to watch from your list will be watching a MUCH better film this way :)

YTSL said...

Hi "eliza bennet" --

The first two oldest films on my list are -- as far as I know -- indeed unavailable on DVD. But the third one on the list ("Our Sister Hedy") is available on DVD as part of the Cathay/Panorama series along with the likes of "The Wild, Wild Rose" and "Sister Long Legs". So the DVDs situation may not be as bad as you might think!

Re "In the Mood for Love": sorry, I actually don't agree with you that "pretty much every lover of cinema (as an art form that is) agrees that it is a masterpiece". Rather, I've tended to suspect that many fans of it -- especially in the West -- love it so much because it: was the first Wong Kar Wai film they ever viewed or the first one they saw on a big screen -- and also because it was the most "linear"/conventional of Wong Kar Wai's films after "As Tears Go By".

On a personal viewing note: I actually felt bored at certain moments the first time I viewed it -- something which had hitherto not happened when I viewed a Wong Kar Wai film. But it's also true enough that I've grown to appreciate the film more over the years with repeat viewings -- and I do really like its soundtrack (and have an OST CD of it). :)

Daniel Thomas said...

Hey there, that's a really good list; I reckon I've seen 47, but I have 5-10 of the list on a pile waiting to be watched.

I have a few personal additions, which would accompany a lot of your suggestions. I shan't say which films I'd definitely remove from your list if it were mine, though.

Mambo Girl (1957) - which makes a wonderful double-bill with 'The Wild, Wild Rose' (1960), showcasing Grace Chang's talent in two very different roles.

I'd have to throw in one of either 'Odd Couple' or 'Knockabout' (both 1979) as wonderful examples of that era of kung-fu comedies. Both have a fun narrative, some great comedy and terrific physical performances from Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao and Lau Kar-Wing, amongst others.

In the 1980s, I'd have to include one of 'We’re Going to Eat You' (1980) or 'Zu: The Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983)' from Tsui Hark. Ching Sui-Tung's directorial debut 'Duel to the Death' (1983) would be there for sure and I'd have to think very hard about omitting any of the following; 'Aces Go Places' (1982), 'Wheels on Meals' (1984), 'Final Victory' (1987) and'The Killer' (1989).

In the 1990s, I'd throw in; 'Armour of God II - Operation Condor' (1991), 'Hard Boiled' (1992), 'Task Force' (1997), 'Beast Cops' (1998) and 'Portland Street Blues' (1998).

And, from 2000 onwards, I would have to include; 'Jiang Hu: The Triad Zone' (2000), 'Juliet in Love' (2000), 'Golden Chicken' (2002), 'PTU' (2003), 'One Nite in Mongkok' (2004), 'My Name Is Fame' (2006), 'Exodus' (2007) and 'Invisible Target' (2007).

Oh, and hello to 'eliza bennet' who I haven't seen online since the days of (dandan here). Diverting slightly to Turkish cinema, I really loved 'Kosmos'...

Daniel Thomas said...

I guess I should also add that I have compiled those additions off the topo of my head and would really need to spend a few days thinking about a definitive list, as I'm already thinking of other amazing films which I would want to include...

YTSL said...

Hi Daniel --

Thanks for your comments. They're thought-provoking and I really do hope they'll help encourage others to keep this thread this going... :)

Re "Mambo Girl", "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled": I have to admit that I'm not as much a fan of them as many people appear to be. And if I were to have another Cathay/MP&GI film on my list, it'd actually be "Spring Song" (which has Grace Chang in it but also Jeannette Lin Cui for good measure -- and I'd think would be a good double bill with both "The Wild, Wild Rose" and "Our Sister Hedy"). As for John Woo movies, I'd actually be more inclined to add "Red Cliff 2" to the list before those "heroic bloodshed" works.

Re some of the other films you mentioned: "Aces Go Place", "Zu: Warriors of the Magic Mountain", "Beast Cops", "Portland Street Blues", "Golden Chicken" and "My Name is Fame" were definitely in the running to make the list. But... well... so many good films and only 100 allowed on the list!

And yes, I'd encourage you to come up with your own list of 100 "must see" Hong Kong films -- and do please let me know if you write it up as I'd like to have a look at it. :)