This space every year isn't really about summing up Hong Kong cinema of the past 12 months as my list reflects the jumping back and forth between the eras that my viewing habits dictate. Still, to give you some sort of look in the rearview mirror, much can be applied to 2004 when talking about the output this year. Action fans finally got something to chew on as the hype surrounding Wilson Yip's SPL actually did seem to come deserved but while we had box office returns in spades for movies such as Election, 2 Young, Perhaps Love and Wait 'Til You're Older, everyone can agree that it's still a struggling Hong Kong movie industry. However, with mainstays and new talents in the form of Johnnie To, Derek Yee, Edmond Pang etc. logging acclaim and stars returning home, Hong Kong may be looking at its brightest year across the genres during 2006 (and the exchanging of talent between the Asian countries is continuing to pay off). The biggest worry really is the lack of respect towards the films, by the Hong Kong distributors themselves (Celestial and Fortune Star, I'm looking at you!) so as always, it's my greatest blessing and my greatest curse loving the work summarized in 10 spots below.
To read the entire review of a selected movie, click on the cover art
|1. Throw Down (Directed by: Johnnie To)|
|Much is business as usual when Johnnie To puts forth his quirks and highly stylized visuals but turning his head away from the crime genre instead transforms him into a director filled with uplifting spirits and welcome acknowledgements towards Akira Kurosawa. He will always divide the audiences into two but Throw Down shows why To can be relied upon like few others, when employing his real cinematic language.|
|2. The Kid (Directed by: Jacob Cheung)|
|A social-drama slam-dunk by Jacob Cheung, utilizing a low-key narrative, genuine Hong Kong atmosphere and a potentially sappy story brought to life by excellent performers. While the late Leslie Cheung impresses, it's actually a subplot involving Shaw Brother's legend Ti Lung and Carrie Ng that lingers for the longest time after the final credits have rolled. They were both awarded at the Hong Kong Film Awards for their work.|
|3. Farewell, China (Directed by: Clara Law)|
|Oh Clara Law punches right where it hurts with her mostly New York set drama about the hardships of immigrants, portrayed here by Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung Ka-Fai. This harrowing effect was something Law was criticized for and while I understand the concern, it's a definite merit for the stunning film Farewell, China is. You just have to be that kind of viewer I guess.|
|4. 2 Young (Directed by: Derek Yee)|
|It would not be a complete list without Derek Yee getting a spot or two and his successful youth-drama showed that you can get workable acting from pop stars. Case in point, Fiona Sit is an absolutely adorable presence and Jackie Chan's son Jaycee Fong bounces back with a natural performance after his disastrous debut in The Twins Effect II. The addition of veterans Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong also greatly elevates Yee's noble intentions that only goes into too much melodramatic overdrive towards the end.|
|5. Long Arm The Law (Directed by: Johnny Mak)|
Trendsetter in every sense of the word, Johnny Mak's gritty action film have John Woo's subsequent trademarks on it through its themes but very little in the stylish execution of violence which is something you saw in the movies of Ringo Lam and Kirk Wong subsequently instead. Mak was first in a sense but is not lazy in his direction, getting equal mileage out of atmosphere, visuals but also from his amateur cast.
|6. Beyond Our Ken (Directed by: Edmond Pang)|
|Leaving most quirks and goofy camera language at home while shooting this during a 2 week period, Edmond Pang gives us his finest and trickiest work in Beyond Our Ken. Dropping clues all over in his constantly evolving portrayal of the devious traits of men and women, the style may lean more towards arthouse in general but the choice doesn't diminish Pang's excellent work, that includes the confirming of Gillian Chung and Daniel Wu's acting abilities.|
|7. Fruit Punch (Directed by: Clara Law)|
|Not in any way as much of a punch to the gut like Farewell, China was, Clara Law instead concentrates on her pet themes in a very sweet and positive manner, getting excellent performances from Hacken Lee and out of all people, Leon Lai in the process.|
|8. Lan Yu (Directed by: Stanley Kwan)|
|This may mean a whole lot more to film scholars or Stanley Kwan himself but his Mainland set, subtle drama for me works as a great romance that happens to feature gay men. With Kwan's understated touches, sincerity and the brave performances at hand by Hu Jun (Infernal Affairs II) and Liu Ye (The Floating Landscape), Lan Yu is a work of freedom for Kwan and a work of art in many respects.|
|9. Hold You Tight (Directed by: Stanley Kwan)|
|But in terms of feature film directing, Hold You Tight was the film that Stanley Kwan felt his first moments of freedom as an openly gay director. Touching upon great humanism, longing, sex and urban loneliness, it's also a breakout act for otherwise Wong Jing protege Chingmy Yau, handling drama very well. Eric Tsang was awarded for his supporting performance.|
|10. The White Dragon (Directed by: Wilson Yip)|
The guilty pleasure of the year, Wilson Yip's period comedy/drama/martial arts remake of the 60s flick of the same name shouldn't work. It unexpectedly does even when being thoroughly silly and the Ma Yuk Sing choreographed action isn't bad, taking into account that we see very little of it in Hong Kong movies today. However the film celebrates its greatest triumphs as Yip isolates his two main characters, just like his other collaborations with Francis Ng (who is terrific here) and the film has a very affecting middle section that feels warranted. It's an art to balance the elements and while the film isn't art, I continue to have an unashamed love for it.
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