The 50 best Hong Kong films since the 1997 handover, part 1: from 50 to 26
Ahead of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty, SCMP’s film editor revisits some of the greatest movies the city’s cinema has produced in the past two decades
50. The Postmodern Life of My Aunt (2007)
Siqin Gaowa shines as a tough yet gullible woman in her 60s in Ann Hui On-wah’s tragicomic tale of mid-life crisis, which finds heart-warming humanity even in a Shanghai full of swindlers. Chow Yun-fat nearly steals the show as a despicable tease.
49. Colour of the Truth (2003)
When did the critically derided Wong Jing last direct an enjoyable film? A case could be made for this tightly scripted revenge thriller (co-directed by Marco Mak Chi-sin), which riffs on Infernal Affairs but stays respectable with its quality blend of action and drama.
48. Echoes of the Rainbow (2010)
An old-fashioned family melodrama set in a working-class neighbourhood in 1960s Hong Kong, Alex Law Kai-yui’s tastefully presented weepie digs into the writer-director’s own childhood to recall the tough old days through an affectionately nostalgic, thought oddly apolitical, lens.
47. Bodyguards and Assassins (2009)
A fictional assassination attempt on revolutionary leader Sun Yat-sen provides the excuse Teddy Chen Tak-sum needed to marry visceral violence with democratic ideals, the film culminating in nearly an hour of non-stop martial arts mayhem on the streets of turn-of-the-century Hong Kong.
46. The Way We Dance (2013)
Few street-dance films could serve up a cocktail as sweet, funny and engrossing as this low-budget crowd-pleaser by indie favourite Adam Wong Sau-ping, who avoids the clichés of inspirational youth dramas in a film that launched the careers of Cherry Ngan Cheuk-ling and Babyjohn Choi Hon-yick.
45. Crazy N’ The City (2005)
A humane comedy featuring a serial murderer on the loose, this unclassifiable little film by veteran screenwriter James Yuen Sai-sang displays genuine affection for Hong Kong’s older communities, while taking unexpected delight in Eason Chan Yik-shun’s slacker policeman character.
44. Hold You Tight (1998)
Having come out in his documentary Yang ± Yin: Gender in Chinese Cinema, art-house veteran Stanley Kwan Kam-pang turned out this poignant portrait of loneliness, whose intertwined stories of three Chinese men coming to terms with their desires take liberties with chronology, locality and sexuality.
43. Bullets Over Summer (1999)
Equal parts crime thriller, buddy cop comedy and scrappy urban romance, Wilson Yip Wai-shun’s schizophrenic farce sees Francis Ng Chun-yu and Louis Koo Tin-lok confront violent criminals in a surprisingly heartening Hong Kong neighbourhood story.
42. Soul Mate (2016)
Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung exceeds all expectations with his solo directing debut, a China-set, female-centric friendship drama. While it helps to have Peter Chan Ho-sun as a producer, exquisite turns by Zhou Dongyu and Ma Sichun lend an emotional delicacy to this sentimental gem.
41. Beast Stalker (2008)
After a decade of directing pop star vehicles, Dante Lam Chiu-yin took the first big step towards recognition as an action auteur with this slam-bang thriller, pitting Nicholas Tse Ting-fung against Nick Cheung Ka-fai in a cop-and-crime morality tale spliced with brutal twists of fate.
40. The Golden Era (2014)
One of the most esoteric works in Ann Hui’s career, this gorgeous yet enigmatic biopic of Chinese writer-activist Xiao Hong takes advantage of Tang Wei’s understated charisma to fashion a deeply poetic and intellectually satisfying account of the second half of its oblique subject’s short, tragic life.
39. Running on Karma (2003)
The genre offerings of Milkyway Image co-founders Johnnie To Kei-fung and Wai Ka-fai rarely get more high-concept than this deeply philosophical drama starring Andy Lau Tak-wah as a Buddhist monk turned bodybuilder, which takes the audience to unexpected places.
38. Vulgaria (2012)
The decline of the Hong Kong film business, the intricacies of Cantonese profanity and some extremely kinky sex all contribute to the hilarity of Pang Ho-cheung’s irreverent showbiz satire, which wraps Chapman To Man-chat’s downtrodden producer character in utterly vicious humour.
37. Protégé (2007)
Before he changed tack to make China-friendly films in the past few years, writer-director Derek Yee Tung-sing was on the verge of achieving greatness with a series of relentlessly bleak and intense crime sagas. This ultra-violent drug-trade thriller, boasting a surprisingly starry cast, is the best of the lot.
36. Red Cliff II (2009)
John Woo Yu-sen makes his spectacular return to form after a Hollywood detour by taking on one of China’s most fabled historical events. The no-nonsense second half of a five-hour war epic, this is sheer bombastic delight for both Three Kingdoms history nerds and fantasy action fans.
35. The Midnight After (2014)
A post-apocalyptic mystery that proved a prescient allegory for the anxiety that fuelled the Occupy protests just a few months later, Fruit Chan Gor’s socially conscious adaptation of a hit online novel is also one of the best sci-fi-horror comedies that the city has produced.
34. Lost in Time (2003)
Cecilia Cheung Pak-chi gives the performance of a lifetime as a grief-stricken woman looking to rebuild her life in this tear-jerking drama by Derek Yee, who again makes an unlikely romantic hero out of Lau Ching-wan after their collaboration in 1993’s C’est La Vie, Mon Chéri.
33. Overheard (2009)
Alan Mak Siu-fai and Felix Chong Man-keung – two-thirds of the creative trio behind the Infernal Affairs trilogy – corner the crime thriller market with a surveillance-themed trilogy of their own. Financial crimes have seldom looked more thrilling than in this meticulously plotted first film.
32. From the Queen to the Chief Executive (2001)
The prolific Herman Yau Lai-to lends a voice to the deprived in this protest drama, based on the real-life cases of juvenile criminals sentenced to indefinite imprisonment due to a legal loophole from the colonial era. An eloquent and powerful tirade against social injustice.
31. Full Alert (1997)
Lau Ching-wan and Francis Ng play cop and robber in action auteur Ringo Lam Ling-tung’s deceptively frenetic riff on Michael Mann’s Heat, even finding time to muse on the act of killing amid a cat-and-mouse game coloured by a heavy dash of pre-handover paranoia.
30. Gallants (2010)
An underdog story both on and off screen, this energetic comedy by up-and-comers Derek Kwok Tsz-kin and Clement Cheng Sze-kit, while paying hilarious homage to the old martial arts genre, heralded a new generation of filmmakers with its best picture win at the Hong Kong Film Awards.
29. Dearest (2014)
A real-life child abduction case sets the stage for Peter Chan’s intelligent and emotionally trenchant melodrama. Zhao Wei’s entrance as a suspected kidnapper midway through this morally ambiguous tale highlights both her compelling screen presence and the complexity of China’s social problems.
28. KJ (2009)
While Hong Kong cinema isn’t known for its documentary portraits, director Cheung King-wai’s intimate account of the early life of music prodigy Wong Ka-jeng – touching on everything from the boy’s ego to the culture of the city’s elite schools – ranks as one of the most distinguished exceptions.
27. Durian Durian (2000)
A quietly poignant story about underprivileged Chinese migrants in Hong Kong, the first film in Fruit Chan’s “prostitute trilogy” considers the plight of a Chinese opera singer forced to sell her body, as well as a little girl with an expired visa, to reveal the intricacies of Hong Kong-China relations.
26. Unbeatable (2013)
The surprise blockbuster that cemented Nick Cheung’s leading-man status and made male fitness all the rage in Hong Kong, director Dante Lam’s uplifting mixed martial arts drama sees its troubled heroes rise above personal trauma in alternately thrilling, playful and affecting ways.
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