Blockbusters bury low-budget gems

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 December, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 December, 2009, 12:00am

Bloated pan-Chinese blockbusters and quirky low-budget features dominated a cinematically middling year. Co-productions or not, more mainland movies were released in Hong Kong cinemas this year than usual. The best were low-budget gems that had little box office impact due to a lack of publicity and the fact that they were often available on DVD before they premiered here.

But eccentric thrillers such as The Equation of Love & Death, with Zhou Xun's bravura turn as an idiosyncratic Chongqing cabbie, and the black comedic intricacies of Crazy Racer, were well worth the effort it took to find them. They proved far superior to the epic 'political correctness' of The Founding of a Republic (where most of the 'fun' came from trying to identify the cameos by 170 so-called stars) or the pseudo-sophistication of the vacuous Sino-Japanese war intrigue in The Message. The overall impression was of a mainland cinematic scene far more vivid than that in Hong Kong, the once glittering Hollywood of the East. So lively, in fact, that even a pretentious dud such as Tian Zhuangzhuang's The Warrior and the Wolf failed to dim 2009's lustre.

But Hong Kong remained the nation's only locale where movies could be created minus the PRC's shifting censorship regulations and bureaucratic red tape - provided one had the funds and the will to sacrifice any chance of entering the lucrative mainland market. Auteurs Yonfan and Scud were two such directors, and their respective efforts, Prince of Tears and Permanent Resident, were memorable as personal works seemingly impervious to criticism.

There were a number of well-made local features wrapped around fascinating concepts that fell short of their potential, from the infernal affairs of Overheard to Written By's literal life-and-death muddle. For a dose of 'pure' local flavour of the guilty pleasure variety, two productions stood out as pale reminders of the glories that once were: All's Well Ends Well 2009, a funnier-than-expected descendant of that vanishing and hallowed Cantonese tradition, the Lunar New Year comedy; and Wong Jing's uniquely titled I Corrupt All Cops, an early 90s-style low-brow smorgasbord struggling in the 21st century's altered celluloid climate.