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Chinese language cinema

Ranking every major Hong Kong film (and a few not-so-notable ones) released in 2016, from worst to best

Rubbish scripts and effects are a common theme running through many of this year’s bad Hong Kong movies, whereas the best ones were tightly written, emotionally satisfying, technically brilliant - and occasionally all three at once

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 December, 2016, 3:31pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 December, 2016, 12:20pm

Hong Kong cinema has become an oxymoron. That much is clear from the beautiful irony that the highest-grossing Hong Kong titles at the domestic box office in recent times have all been Hong Kong-China co-productions, which mostly rely on their box office revenues in China. But money doesn’t always buy quality – as our year-end ranking of 2016’s output eloquently demonstrates: a mega-budget co-production is our worst film of the year, and our favourite film didn’t even get a release in China.

With the exception of a few smaller productions that we regrettably failed to catch in cinemas, you’ll find below (almost) every Hong Kong film released in 2016, ranked from worst to best.

52. Heartfall Arises

Headlined by Hong Kong stars Nicholas Tse and Lau Ching-wan and featuring more special-effects sequences than its joke of a story can handle, this psychological thriller is so abysmally written it plays like an extended parody of the very genre clichés it parades. Read the full review

51. A Chinese Odyssey Part Three

Playing like the work of a fan fiction writer who doesn’t get the original, this boring film haphazardly recycles whole chunks of dialogue, songs and plot lines from the original 1995 films, before concluding with a dreary CGI fantasy battle. Read full Chinese Odyssey review

50. The Gigolo 2

By failing to offer any kind of social commentary or deliver anything remotely sexy or comical, this film limps onto screens flaccid, embarrassed and painfully ill versed in the ways of the world in which it so desperately wants to excel. Read our review of The Gigolo 2

49. Kidnap Ding Ding Don

Kidnap Ding Ding Don is a travesty which numbs the brain with its inane jokes and shameful sexual dynamics. Read full review of the film

48. iGirl

First-time Hong Kong director Kam Ka-wai boldly sets feminism back 40-odd years with this ( full review here ), a Wong Jing-co-produced film so retrograde in gender mores it would make “The Stepford Wives” seem like a utopian dream.

47. Fooling Around Jiang Hu

A gangster parody so utterly uninspired that it would make you long for the good old days of generic triad flicks, this effort has – among its many sins – wasted a rare star turn by 1980s Canto-pop icon Alan Tam. Read SCMP.com review of Fooling Around Jiang Hu

46. Bounty Hunters

This amateurishly conceived action adventure has little going for it other than rising star Korean heartthrob Lee Min-ho. Read full review of Bounty Hunters

45. Mission Milano

Led by two superstars (Andy Lau and Huang Xiaoming) and partly shot in the scenic Italian city of its title, this big-budget action comedy is nonetheless so sloppily written and utterly derivative that it may struggle to register in your mind even before end credits roll. Read full review of Mission Milano

44. League of Gods

When you must stage a pompous mess of a computer-generated spectacle, it often helps to give your paper-thin characters some familiar names from folklore. Read full review of League of Gods

43. Sky on Fire

Ringo Lam needs to find a script doctor more than any elixir. On a few occasions, this film simply makes no sense. See our full review of Sky on Fire

42. Special Female Force

Too bad this action thriller – very loosely based on The Inspectors Wear Skirts – is so lazily scripted that you never believe for a second that this is anything more than luxurious play-acting, albeit with hot young women invariably clad in bra tops, wet T-shirts and low-cut dresses. Read full review of Special Female Force

41. Girl of the Big House

This film, with its home-invasion premise, sounds like Home Alone but offers none of its thrills. This candy-coloured production remains a flight of fancy that will probably be a snooze for adults. Read full review of Girl of the Big House

40. PG Love

By intercutting between three stories about promotion girls – the “PG” in the title – obliged to work in skimpy outfits, the film paints an unflattering portrait of these attractive women as victims of their own insensitive, immoral, and borderline idiotic nature. Read full review of PG Love

39. My Wife Is a Superstar

Annie Liu and Pakho Chau give their romantic comedy partnership another run in an intermittently diverting, yet unfortunately toothless showbiz satire that settles for a most shallow view of Hong Kong’s movie business. Read full review of My Wife Is a Superstar

38. Love in Late Autumn

This film offers a mildly pensive experience in its road-movie central section, though the exceedingly corny marriage drama book-ending it will test the patience of most. Read SCMP.com’s review of Love in Late Autumn

37. The Secret

A story of love lost and found inspired by Sixth Sense that also shares an incidental parallel to Andrew Haigh’s 45 Years, The Secret hinges on plot revelations so incredibly obvious that you’re more likely to notice instead the actors’ quiet struggles in their poorly written parts.

Read full review of The Secret

36. House of Wolves

There are a few good jokes, plenty of cheap laughs, and not quite enough common sense in this film directed by Vincent Kok. See the full review of House of Wolves

35. The Bodyguard

Martial arts fans anticipating Sammo Hung’s first directorial effort in close to 20 years will be left sorely disappointed by this slow-paced drama about a haunted former secret service officer struggling with dementia. Read The Bodyguard review in full

34. Nessun Dorma

Not as clever as it thinks itself to be, this pedestrian piece of pulp entertainment only makes All of a Sudden, Herman Yau’s dark, exploitative and entertaining thriller from 1996, look like a genuine classic.

Read full review of Nessun Dorma

33. McDull – Rise of the Rice Cooker

There was a time when to dismiss McDull as just another cutesy cartoon would have been seen as ignorant. Not any more. For full review of the latest McDull film, click here

32. From Vegas to Macau III

Playing like a fever dream of a Hong Kong showbiz enthusiast, this caper lives and dies by its zaniness. A musical sequence, featuring Andy Lau and a dozen of his replica robots dancing to his own song, is so absurd that it’s almost amusing. Read the full review of From Vegas to Macau III

31. S Storm

At a time when fears of political interference in the ICAC’s role as a guardian of rule of law in Hong Kong are growing, this film is not even good propaganda. See our full review of S Storm

30. L for Love, L for Lies Too

Without Alex Fong, this relationship drama directed by Patrick Kong and starring Stephy Tang feels more than a little adrift. Read full review of Patrick Kong’s latest

29. One Night Only

An uneven blend of romance, family melodrama and action thriller, this film rarely bores the audience over its 100-minute duration – although it’s also peppered with enough artificial plot turns and revelations to keep you from truly feeling for the protagonists. For a full review of One Night Only, click here

28. Line Walker

TVB’s 2014 hit drama series of the same name gets an expensive spin-off, adding A-list stars and exotic South American locations. Beyond the cosmetic additions, however, the big-screen treatment only magnifies the problems in this cliched and ludicrous crime thriller. Our Line Walker review in full

27. Kill Time

Adapted from Cai Jun’s eponymous mystery novel, Fruit Chan’s China-set film is a frustratingly fragmented effort that doesn’t always convince with its sprawling, decades-spanning saga of illegitimate desire and unconsummated love. Read full review of Kill Time

26. Robbery

A social allegory of sorts, this gratuitously gory hostage drama could have packed a stronger punch if it didn’t indulge in plot turns so incredible that they could only fit into a supernatural fantasy. Read full review of Robbery

25. The Moment

The heart of Wong Kwok-fai is in the right place. It’s a shame that the first-time feature director doesn’t have a screenplay compelling enough to transcend his film’s very corny ambition. Read full review of The Moment

24. Heaven in the Dark

The subtle differences between stage and film acting are amplified to often enthralling and sometimes painfully contrived effects in this part-adaptation, part-reimagination of French Kiss, playwright Candace Chong’s hit 2005 play. Read full review of Heaven in the Dark

23. Good Take!

Even if the majority of these shorts feel underdeveloped – and consequently less memorable than they could have been – it’s a testament to the talent involved that many of the genre-based stories display intriguing potential to be developed into full-length features. Read full review of Good Take!

22. Good Take Too

While Good Take! has a darker tone, this second compilation offers milder dramas tenuously connected by such themes as dreams, regrets and missed opportunities. Read full review of Good Take Too

21. The Posterist

The artist behind many of Hong Kong’s best-known hand-painted film posters is revealed in a serviceable profile that, at just 71 minutes, feels far too brief for those eager to learn more about local cinema’s golden age. Read full review of The Posterist

20. Show Me Your Love

As the estranged mother and son at heart of the film patch up their differences for a poignant closure, the film retains its composure with believable performances by its leads. Nina Paw, in particular, is exceptional. Read full review of Show Me Your Love

19. Les Aventures d’ Anthony

Nothing hurts more than being friend-zoned. Or, at least, that’s the conclusion likely to be drawn by the young adults in this alternately heart-warming and disheartening tale about learning to let go. Read full review of Les Aventures d’ Anthony

18. The Kid from the Big Apple

A little girl born and raised in New York bonds with her conservative grandfather in his Kuala Lumpur home in this family drama, whose unapologetically maudlin story may yet resonate with audiences in the right frame of mind. Read full review of The Kid from the Big Apple

17. Buddy Cops

Completed in 2012 but uncharacteristically shelved until this year, the TVB-presented Hong Kong-China co-production is so outlandishly ill-mannered it’s mildly fascinating. Read full review of Buddy Cops

16. Snuggle

The intricate and often conflicted emotions involved in caring for one’s ageing parents are explored with tenderness and grace in this film, which takes a multifaceted look at the experience of dealing with old age and death in the lives of three Hong Kong families over two years. SCMP.com’s review of Snuggle in full

15. Mermaid

Mermaid is a solid dramedy with heart and, more importantly, a message. With real documentary footage of water pollution, dying sea life and the destruction of natural resources spliced into the film’s opening montage, it’s clear what Stephen Chow is trying to say. Read full review of Mermaid

14. The Mobfathers

This gangland fantasy’s colourful characters, uninhibited display of violence, and cheeky adaptation of political statements taken from the city’s increasingly farcical reality are enough to make it an eloquent footnote in Hong Kong pop culture. Read full review of The Mobfathers

13. Book of Love

Even if serendipity plays an unmistakable part in this story of two hopeless romantics, the one thing it doesn’t resemble, ironically, is a romantic comedy. The result is at once melancholic and strangely lyrical. Click here for full review of Book of Love

12. The Menu

The fast-evolving ecosystem of Hong Kong’s cutthroat media industry receives an alternately idealistic and unflattering portrait in this movie spin-off from HKTV’s 2015 series of the same name. For a full review of The Menu click here

11. Three

A minor work by a master craftsman, Johnnie To’s film tells a haphazardly scripted and weirdly paced story with intermittent flashes of technical brilliance. Our review of Three in full

10. Operation Mekong

Hong Kong director Dante Lam Chiu-yin’s bid to join the world’s best action-film makers continues in earnest with this frenetic anti-drug thriller, loosely based on a real law-enforcement operation in the Golden Triangle region covering Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Read full review of Dante Lam’s film

9. Cold War 2

Although the movie fails to provide closure – yet again – it is at least far more competently plotted and tautly edited than Sunny Luk and Longman Leung’s previous films, and is superbly acted across the board. This is a political thriller that deserves the billing. See the full review of Cold War 2

8. The Monkey King 2

Less a cash grab than a startling overhaul of 2014 film The Monkey King, Soi Cheang’s second contribution to the franchise is a vastly improved production that marks the finest attempt yet at adapting Journey to the West for an effects-driven blockbuster.

Read full Monkey King 2 review

7. Weeds on Fire

This big-hearted sports drama excels as both an authentic coming-of-age story and an unlikely note of encouragement for the post-democracy set. Read review of Weeds on Fire in full

6. Sword Master

At once an homage to the martial arts film tradition of bygone years and a pointer to the state-of-the-art technology in today’s cinema, this is easily one of the best Chinese-language remakes in recent times. See our full review of Sword Master

5. The Taste of Youth

The Taste of Youth is a moving and enlightening look at the often materially fulfilled, yet also absurdly disheartening, formative years of young people in Hong Kong today.

The Taste of Youth: full review

4. Happiness

Kara Wai has a fighting chance to add to her two best-actress wins at the Hong Kong Film Awards with this exquisite dramedy, infused with heart and humour. Read full review of Happiness

3. Call of Heroes

Benny Chan’s best film in years, Call of Heroes is a Chinese wuxia epic with obvious echoes of classic spaghetti western films and Akira Kurosawa’s samurai dramas such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Read full review of Benny Chan’s film

2. Soul Mate

Derek Tsang’s film proves to be a minor masterpiece, transcending its potentially cloying premise to tell a story of friendship and love that’s at once melancholy and very emotional. Read full review of Soul Mate

1. Trivisa

Produced by Milkyway Image veterans Johnnie To and Yau Nai-hoi, this exceptional crime drama by three young local directors – Frank Hui, Jevons Au and Vicky Wong – demonstrates its bold vision by vividly sketching Hong Kong’s drop in standing under Chinese rule. They couldn’t have made a stronger start to their fledgling careers. Read full review of Trivisa

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