Sunday, January 13, 2019

My top ten 2018 Hong Kong movies list

Poster for my favorite Hong Kong movie of 2018

A grand total of 53 new Hong Kong movies were released in local cinemas in 2018; the same as in 2017.  Quantity wise, then, things look as disappointing for last year as they did the previous year to those who remember a time not so long ago when more than 300 films a year were made in Hong Kong and didn't realize that the Hong Kong film industry was punching way above its weight relative to such as the size of its local population and physical territory.  

And while there may be people who think otherwise, I actually think that 2018 saw a general improvement of the local cinematic output.  Consequently, not only did I view more contemporary Hong Kong movies in 2018 than 2017 but I also feel able -- for the first time in three years -- to get back to compiling a top ten Hong Kong movies list for the year.  So, without further ado... 

I count myself very lucky to have caught a screening of this heart-warming social drama that revolves around a Filipina domestic worker and the Hong Kong man paralyzed from the waist down who she goes to work for at the 2018 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival for many reasons.  For one, there was a post-screening Q&A which was attended by its director (Oliver Chan Siu Kuen), lead actor (Anthony Wong Chau Sang), lead actress (Cristel Consunji) and a third cast member (Wong Ting Him).  For another, the film still hasn't gone on general release in Hong Kong (and may not do so until April 2019!).  

Then there's the fact of this movie being one of those works that really just is a superb watch.  Deeply moving, yet imbued with a generous sense of humor, it is pretty close to miraculous how good Still Human is when you consider that its director (who also scripted and edited the work) and female lead are feature film debutantes!  Along with a bonafide super star actor in Anthony Wong Chau Sang, these folks -- and, actually, pretty much everyone involved in the production -- never seemed to put a single foot wrong as they went about producing this big-hearted work that had me laughing out loud, weeping a lot and also smiling pretty broadly over the course of my viewing it.

There are films so sad that my heart threatens to break when viewing them.  Ying Liang's A Family Tour is one of those films.  And the degree of upset I feel increases upon realizing that this very personal drama centering on an exiled filmmaker is a semi-autobiographical work.  Intelligent and thought-provoking, its story of a now Hong Kong-based filmmaker who goes with her husband and young son to Taiwan to temporarily unite with her Sichuanese mother -- ostensibly there for a group tour -- also tugs at the heart by showing how much love people forced to live apart, and in stressful conditions, continue to have for each other.  

In a perfect world, the family of Ying Liang could and would live happily together in a place of their choice.  As shown in this film, even if its members can't do so though, they will never stop loving one another even while also continuing to adhere to those principles that more honorable governments than Communist China's would respect and reward rather than resent and seek to reverse.

I viewed a number of old film favorites (a few of them starring my favorite actress of all time) in 2018.  And there also were a couple of 2018 releases that I viewed more than once at the cinema.  The first of these was Crazy Rich Asians; the second was Jevons Au's Distinction.  And for the record: yes, I did get much out of the repeat viewings and actually did enjoy my second viewings of both of those movies more than the initial ones!

With the Hollywood movie: I was able to catch and appreciate the background details more the second time around.  With the Hong Kong film: I found myself admiring all the more how great the director was at getting super naturalistic performances from the cast members, regardless of their age, acting experience and actual mental conditions; and feeling my appreciation of how heartfelt and informed is its account of the challenges and pressures faced by too many local students and teachers.            

In retrospect, I think my inkling that 2018 was going to be a satisfying Hong Kong film year for me came when I found myself really enjoying watching one of the two Chinese New Year movies I chose to check out this past year.  Super star-studded and offering up plenty of laughs, A Beautiful Moment benefited enormously not only from headliners Carina Lau and Simon Yam's star power but also their great onscreen chemistry -- and some times (particular during the Chinese New Year movie viewing period), that really is all a Hong Kong movie fan girl needs! ;b

I didn't write a top ten 2017 Hong Kong movies list but if I had done so, Vampire Cleanup Department would have been at the top of it.  And in 2018, its director (and co-scriptwriter), Yan Pak Wing, came up with another quirky supernatural winner as far as I was concerned in Hotel Soul Good.  The kind of film that's quite a bit better than its (English language) title and premise makes it sound, it's also the kind of genre-transcending movie that Hong Kong cinema used to be famous for and -- so long as people like Yan Pak Wing are given a chance to do so -- still produces against the odds.

Those readers who are familiar with my Hong Kong movie tastes will know I prefer local Hong Kong movies to Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese productions.  They also will know that I'm hardly a big fan of Aaron Kwok -- and that even while I like Chow Yun Fat, I don't adore him like many Hong Kong movie fanboys (and girls) do.  Considering all this, it's pretty miraculous that Project Gutenberg was able to entertain me as much as I do.  The thing though is that, in this case, the co-production arrangements allowed for an ample enough budget to make this globe-trotting effort look super slick and sophisticated, and director-scriptwriter Felix Chong was wise enough to provide Chow Yun Fat with the best role he's had in years as well as strong enough to get Aaron Kwok to rein in his ego and over-acting in a surprising restrained second fiddle role!   

When you see the name Yuen Wo Ping attached to a movie, you know that it's going to contain some genuinely exciting fight scenes.  Happily, Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy doesn't disappoint in that regards.  And even better is that this spin off from the Ip Man movies starring Donnie Yen also has powerful dramatic moments, interesting characters, and capable actors and actresses who can pull off dramatic roles as well as action ones.  Also gratifying is how there are formidable females as well as males in the movie -- but you could say that should be expected in a film whose helmer's directing -- not just action directing -- credits does include Wing Chun! ;b    

This dramatic offering screened at the 2018 Hong Kong Asian Film Festival is a bit of an oddity in that it's actually a video recording of a theatrical production: specifically, the 2017 revival of Pants Theatre Production's dramatic documentary theater retelling of the riots that broke out in Hong Kong in May 1967.  Created from interviews, news clips and other found documents, the theatrical work premiered to great acclaim in 2014.  Recorded on film, I found the performance that I got to see creative and also informative; the latter not least because the 1967 Hong Kong riots is a subject not often covered in films and, for that matter, in or by other media.

9) Tracey           

This drama from debutant director Jun Li has attracted much attention and publicity for being Hong Kong's first film centering on a transgender individual.  Where Tracey derives its greater power and resonance as far as I'm concerned though is by it actually having a wider focus than may be realized.  Put another way, it's an affecting story not only about one person but also that individual's loved ones, including family members and good friends -- all of whom are portrayed by capable thespians, among whom Kara Hui Ying Hung (aka Kara Wai) and Ben Yuen in particular provide standout performances.   

The second film produced by Donnie Yen on this list, Big Brother also sees the action superstar in front of the camera playing a crack soldier turned dedicated educator.  Almost as improbable as his character is how this movie actually is a serious social drama in parts as well as an entertaining comedy and exciting actioner!  Much less of a vanity project and more of a labor of love, this earnest little movie has its heart in the right place -- and so does the main man behind it. :)


Samson said...


Great list as always. Just wondering about Agent Mr. Chan and No. 1 Chung Ying Street - have they just missed out on being in your top ten?

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

I figured if anyone would want to read this list, it'd be you... ;b

Yep, "Agent Mr Chan" (which had my favorite comedy scene of 2018 -- specifically the one involving Sammi Cheng and the roast pigs!) and "No 1 Chung Ying Street" (whose 1960s section I found powerful but future section not as effective) just missed out on being in the top ten. Ditto "Men on the Dragon", which I do have a soft spot for as it led the way this past year in showing how a very local film (still) -- which wasn't a Chinese New Year comedy -- can get many Hong Kongers into cinemas.

Samson said...

Hi again YTSL,

Yes, you're absolutely right about me waiting to read your annual top 10 HK film list! You know I've been reading your list every year ever since I was a little kid... OK, yes, with the exceptions of 2017 (when you were too busy taking Ponyo out for drinks all the time), and 2016 (for which you only wrote a top 9 list because you neglected Happiness and Mad World, which made me not happy and in fact quite mad)!

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

You've been reading my list every year since you were a little kid??? You're making me feel old! And teehee some more re your comments re what happened (or, rather, didn't) in 2017 and 2016! :D

Samson said...


On a far more serious note, what do you think of the future of Hong Kong films? I have noticed the emergence of a number of new, young and talented HK filmmakers in recent years. Do you think this is, or will lead to, another new wave for HK cinema?

YTSL said...

Hi once more Samson --

It was indeed heartening to see a number of new and talented Hong Kong filmmakers make their mark in 2018. But I also think there's life in a number of the veteran filmmakers yet. A case in point: Ann Hui didn't direct a film this past year but I've generally liked her 21st century output more than her 20th century films; so I hope she's got a few more films in her yet.

In addition, I think it's too early still to talk about a new wave of Hong Kong cinema. Among other things, we have to see if the likes of Oliver Chan Siu Kuen and Jun Lik can come up with a sophomore effort as good as, if not better than, their first directorial efforts. At the same time, one younger/newer filmmaker who already looks like the real deal is Jevons Au. I just hope that he and his ilk can continue to get the funding and support for their films that they deserve.

Samson said...


Good points.

Ann Hui and a few of the veteran Hong Kong filmmakers are definitely still going strong.

I have seen Jevons Au's Ten Years, Trivisa, Distinction and short film Christmas Present. I think he's a very gifted story teller and agree he may be the real deal. In a way, I think his inclusion in the black list somewhere may be a blessing in disguise for Hong Kong cinema.

I also think Mad World's Wong Chun and Weeds on Fire's Chan Chi Fat show a lot of potentials.

By the way, is this an exclusive discussion thread just for the two of us? ; )

YTSL said...

Hi once again Samson --

You may be right re Jevons Au. And I hope that the likes of Chan Chi Fat (sorry, haven't seen anything by Wong Chun, including "Mad World") do live up to their potential. BTW, another newish/younger director who I have hopes for is Adam Wong (whose "The Way We Dance" and "She Remembers, He Forgets" I have a lot of time for).

Thanks again for your willingness to comment/discuss on this blog post. Others are of course feel to join in doing so but I'm happy enough if they read and like the post! ;b

Samson said...


There are another two young filmmakers who currently have films in post-production that I have pretty high expectations for. They are Rigor Mortis' Juno Mak and Port of Call's Philip Yung.

I think that if all of these young and gifted directors can be given the opportunities to tell stories that they are passionate about, Hong Kong cinema may get to reach another new peak, though likely a smaller one compared to the one that took place as a result of the 80s' new wave.

I am also happy to see many veteran actors and actresses (like Eric Tsang, Elaine Jin, Anthony Wong, Aaron Kwok, etc) being so willing to work with talented but relatively unknown directors, and as a result be rewarded with more acting awards.

YTSL said...

Hi Samson --

I think that Hong Kong cinema (and Hong Kong itself) is in a different place from previously. In the 1980s and 1990s, it was a place with the overseas Chinese looked to -- and where many went to seek their fortune and fame. These days, its saving grace appears to be local talent and stories. So, even if there's a new wave, it will be a smaller wave than previously.

This being said, if Hong Kong cinema can win back the local audience (and it seems to have done so with films like "Men on the Dragon"), that is already an achievement and something that many observers would not have expected. Ditto different generations of Hong Kong film folks uniting to try to create something good.