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Chinese language cinema

Ranking every Hong Kong film released in 2017, from worst to best

Hong Kong cinema didn’t have its greatest year, with very few noteworthy releases. However, there are some pearls, most of which come from upcoming talent. Here are 45 of this year’s films in reverse order

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 1:03pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 1:31pm

There’s no other way to get around it: this has been a truly underwhelming year for Hong Kong cinema. Seeing a slight decline in both quantity and general quality, the locally produced Chinese-language films that end up receiving a commercial release in our cinemas in the past 12 months have mostly failed to make a mark in our collective consciousness.

But while a few industry veterans turned out mediocre efforts that proved very forgettable (we regret missing out on a few of those, which received so little publicity and did so poorly in the box office that they almost instantly vanished from cinemas after their first screenings), the silver lining of the year has to be the steady emergence of new filmmakers with refreshing perspectives and passion to spare.

Read also:

The 25 best films of 2017 released in Hong Kong, from Thor: Ragnarok to Blade Runner 2049

The 25 worst films of 2017 released in Hong Kong, from The Founding of an Army to The Emoji Movie

And while several of them are ranked high on our list, the top spot of this year’s list is, perhaps unsurprisingly, courtesy of one of the last true masters of Hong Kong cinema. Here is your (almost complete) list of every Hong Kong film released in 2017, ranked from worst to best.

45. Cherry Returns

Chris Chow’s remarkably underwhelming psycho-thriller stars Cherry Ngan Cheuk-ling as a kidnap victim reunited with her wealthy family after 12 years in captivity. Lazily plotted and abysmally directed, the film challenges plausibility from its opening moments, only to plummet further into relentlessly baffling nonsense. Read the full review

44. The White Girl

This co-directing effort by Christopher Doyle and Jenny Suen is a self-proclaimed love letter to Hong Kong and a middle finger to the art of sensible screenwriting. It strives to be an ode to the city’s essence at a time of political upheaval – only to play like a vanity project, bereft of good humour, a basic sensitivity to history, or any satirical edge in its political allegory. Read the full review

43. Husband Killers

A revolting male fantasy disguised as a women-empowering revenge thriller, this fourth feature by former playwright and theatre director Fire Lee Ka-wing ( Robbery ) is an exploitation film so misguidedly conceived, it’s bound to leave an awful taste in the mouth for most viewers. Its jokes based on gender politics couldn’t appear more tone-deaf if they tried. Read the full review

42. Members Only

The world of high finance makes an awkward crossover into the realm of soft-core sex romp with this curious dud from Lan Kwai Fong producer Ng Kin-hung. The directing debut of Mic-go Ngan intrigues initially with its eloquent evocation of that social milieu’s underbelly – before surrendering to moral clichés and ending on an embarrassing note of narrative incompetence. Read the full review

41. The Founding of an Army

This episodic war thriller by Andrew Lau Wai-keung is made to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of communist China’s armed forces. It’s just too bad the director forgoes the humanistic sensibility of most contemporary war films, instead shifting attention from the suffering of individual soldiers to the party’s commitment to the revolutionary course. Read the full review

40. The Adventurers

Titles of action adventure films don’t come more generic than that of The Adventurers – even if it proves an apt representation of Stephen Fung Tak-lun’s glossy yet unapologetically superficial caper. A poor sense of humour and a twist ending obvious from miles away only add to the disappointment of this lethargic spin on John Woo’s Once a Thief (1991). Read the full review

39. Lucky Fat Man

The film makes decent use of comedy actor Bob Lam Shing-bun’s peculiar charm. But while his character’s daydreams often amuse, viewers new to writer-producer Patrick Kong Pak-leung’s lamentable gender politics may be shocked to find women portrayed either as mentally unstable, schemers, gold-diggers or sex objects straight out of a porn film. Read the full review

38. Our Days in 6E

A very didactic reminder of the importance of social inclusion, this filmmaking debut by Checkley Sin Kwok-lam follows several problem students from a Band Three secondary school in a new town as they learn to overcome their respective family traumas. While Sin has the best intentions, his lack of acumen as a writer-director makes this quite an abysmal film to sit through. Read the full review

37. Meow

Benny Chan Muk-sing’s first non-action film in two decades is a wacky family comedy, imbued with a touch of lazily scripted sci-fi fantasy that suggests it’s pitched at pre-teens. The film pictures a world in which cats are aliens from outer space intent on invading Earth, but is let down by its overreliance on infantile jokes and the corny message that family love trumps all. Read the full review

36. Kung Fu Yoga

This martial arts action comedy with old-school characteristics tries to rekindle the exuberant spirit and high jinks of earlier Jackie Chan-Stanley Tong Kwai-lai collaborations such as Rumble in the Bronx, but falls short. Some set pieces show touches of the old flair, but Hong Kong audiences will find they have seen it all before, and seen it done better. Read the full review

35. 77 Heartbreaks

An obnoxious man-child (Pakho Chau Pak-ho) learns retrospectively about his ex-girlfriend’s (Charlene Choi Cheuk-yin) grievances in this romantic drama by the prolific duo of director Herman Yau Lai-to and screenwriter Erica Li Man. Despite its peculiar premise, the film has absolutely nothing interesting to say about contemporary mating mores. Read the full review

34. 20:16

The first thing to say about 20:16 is that it’s made solely to commemorate the 45th anniversary of a Hong Kong listed company, Yip’s Chemical Holdings. Funded and produced by founder Tony Ip Chi-shing, this technically sound yet narratively inert film about Ip’s lucrative career is barely able to mask its self-congratulatory nature. Read the full review

33. Dealer/Healer

The making of real-life gangster Chan Shun-chi and his well-known story of redemption is dramatised by director Lawrence Lau Kwok-cheong. Perhaps because of the roller-coaster nature of Chan’s life, this is by turns a violent action film, a buddy comedy, a cheesy romance and even a terminal disease drama – and never finds the right tone for this pompous mix. Read the full review

32. Wu Kong

Derek Kwok Tsz-kin’s second attempt at refashioning the Journey to the West for China’s blockbuster audience proves a minor misfire tripped up by its own ambition. Still, it’s interesting to interpret the possible political message behind Kwok’s story, essentially about an anarchic revolt against the faceless foot soldiers of a self-serving and authoritarian regime. Read the full review

31. The Sleep Curse

Anthony Wong Chau-sang gives director Herman Yau just the raving madman he needs by reviving the cult horror brand they owned with The Untold Story (1993) and Ebola Syndrome (1996). It’s a pity, however, that they threaten to put the sleep in The Sleep Curse, which only snaps back to life with an avalanche of decapitation, mutilation and cannibalism in its last reel. Read the full review

30. Ghost Net

A Hong Kong horror anthology characterised as much by its interesting premises as its dedicated cast of sexy young models, Ghost Net comprises three diverting – if also largely throwaway – slices of stylised terror with varying degrees of success. While it is a mixed bag, the film knows its audience and does just enough to entertain. Read the full review

29. Never Too Late

Writer-director-producer Patrick Kong cast Alex Fong Lik-sun in his most pathetic role yet, as an incredibly masochistic boyfriend. Cecilia So Lai-shan, meanwhile, is miscast in a bitchy part. And it’s regrettable to see Kong’s misogynistic streak continue, as the victory of Fong’s character over his ex is finally defined by his courage to slap her hard. Read the full review

28. The Brink

Much like co-producer Soi Cheang Pou-soi’s hysterical Dog Bite Dog (2006) and Shamo (2007), this feature debut by Jonathan Li Tsz-chun relies on absurd characterisation that appears to value an illusion of subversion more than believable characters, of which there are few. Ultimately, his waterlogged thriller is as technically impressive as it is narratively dubious. Read the full review

27. Always Be With You

Reuniting Herman Yau and Louis Koo Tin-lok with series producer Nam Yim and mainstay Helena Law Lan, Always Be With You marks the 20th anniversary of the low-budget horror-comedy franchise Troublesome Night with a reboot so mediocre, it feels right at home next to the many preceding chapters we didn’t mind watching again on TV reruns over the years. Read the full review

26. Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back

Four years after he struck gold at the Chinese box office with Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons , comedy icon Stephen Chow Sing-chi keeps his screenwriting and producing credits, but cedes the director’s seat to Tsui Hark for this mega-budget sequel, an effects-driven action fantasy that never quite recovers Chow’s comedic edge. Read the full review | Read our interview with director Tsui Hark

25. To Love or Not to Love

It’s useful to know that writer-director Crosby Yip Hei was just 23 years old when he made this film. A sweet and silly campus romantic comedy which morphs halfway into a grown-up relationship drama drowning in embarrassing gender clichés, this is still a better love story than anything Patrick Kong created early in his career, however. Read the full review

24. Mrs K

Revenge plots don’t get more contrived and illogical than they do in this stylish yet unashamedly superficial homage to the spaghetti western subgenre by the Malaysian art-house director Ho Yuhang. The slow-burning mystery thriller features an intense lead performance by Kara Wai Ying-hung in her last action role, largely delivering amid the choppily edited fight sequences. Read the full review

23. Cook Up a Storm

The culinary strengths of East and West go head-to-head in Raymond Yip Wai-man’s cheerfully frivolous comedy. The movie proves almost reassuringly formulaic, whipping up a tried-and-tested recipe that, while unlikely to attract viewers beyond the local crowd, is nonetheless a nourishing and satisfying diversion. Read the full review

22. Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight

Disappointment inevitably beckons for zombie horror fans wishing this to be Hong Kong’s answer to the South Korean thriller Train to Busan . Instead, Zombiology: Enjoy Yourself Tonight could equally well be considered a dud or an uncompromisingly tempestuous portrait of teenage angst; it really depends on your appetite for surreal head-scratchers. Read the full review

21. The Yuppie Fantasia 3

Entertainment veteran Lawrence Cheng played his most celebrated role in the popular 1989 relationship comedy The Yuppie Fantasia and its sequel, Brief Encounter in Shinjuku (1990), as an emotionally capricious man who felt emasculated by his bossy wife. This sequel is no masterpiece, but at least it doesn’t bring disgrace to the brand. Read the full review

20. Our Seventeen

A group of troubled high-school students look to rise above their broken family backgrounds and pursue their music dreams in the second narrative film by Macau writer-director Emily Chan Nga-lei. This coming-of-age drama marks the first feature role of Hong Kong model Angela Yuen Lai-lam, whose uncannily natural performance shows she could be a star in the making. Read the full review

19. This Is Not What I Expected

A quirky yet predictable film made special by its reverence for inspired cooking, the directorial debut of editor Derek Hui Wang-yu – produced by frequent collaborator Peter Chan Ho-sun – is more food porn than romantic comedy. That’s quite a feat given that it stars perennial heartthrob Takeshi Kaneshiro and Golden Horse best actress Zhou Dongyu. Read the full review

18. Legend of the Naga Pearls

At once thoroughly diverting, perfectly generic and instantly forgettable, this fantasy adventure film produced by Gordon Chan Ka-seung blends frenetic action, eye-popping visuals and often inappropriate humour with crowd-pleasing precision. Not even a gravely misused Simon Yam Tat-wah – in horrible make-up – as the villain could spoil the cheesy fun. Read the full review

17. Sisterhood

The past is a foreign country in Macau director Tracy Choi Ian-sin’s female-oriented melodrama. Written by long-time Johnnie To screenwriter Au Kin-yee, the film juxtaposes the regrets over a lesbian romance that never was with the alienation a Macau native feels over the city’s development into a glamorous gambling capital since its 1999 handover. Read the full review

16. With Prisoners

A bleak and eerily oppressive story which sees She Remembers, He Forgets actor Neo Yau Hawk-sau portray a gang leader sentenced to a detention centre, the prison film offers a nightmarish account of institutional depravity, one said to be based on real events. Ironically, it is when its dystopian dread gives way to a cautionary tale in the final reel that its spell is broken. Read the full review

15. God of War

A minor return to form for both genre and filmmaker, Gordon Chan Ka-seung’s period action drama takes a page from Ming dynasty history to tell a story involving loyalty, military strategies and an awkward dash of female empowerment. With its sprawling narrative and uneven pacing, Chan’s film plays like an extended highlight reel sampled from a season of prime-time TV. Read the full review

14. Love Contractually

Hong Kong pop star Sammi Cheng Sau-man and Taiwanese heartthrob Joseph Chang Hsiao-chuan lend their spontaneous charisma to this corny yet amiable romantic comedy. While it’s a tonally uneven and sometimes implausibly scripted popcorn movie, the film would have been far less gratifying if not for its pair of very pleasant leads. Read the full review

13. Chasing the Dragon

The true-life drug lord Crippled Ho and corrupt police sergeant Lee Rock were brought vividly to life on the big screen in the early 1990s. In this sanitised account co-directed by Wong Jing and Jason Kwan Chi-yiu, Donnie Yen Ji-dan makes the film his own with his larger-than-life reimagination of Ho as an improbably moralistic man. Read the full review | Read our interview with Donnie Yen and director Wong Jing

12. Manhunt

It’s nice to see action auteur John Woo Yu-sen return to contemporary thrillers after a pair of mega-budget period epics (Red Cliff and The Crossing). Tightly paced and at times overly melodramatic, Woo’s film is a ridiculous but very enjoyable action thriller – one that, perhaps inadvertently, takes Zhang Hanyu and Masaharu Fukuyama way out of their comfort zones. Read the full review | Read our interview with director John Woo

11. Love Off the Cuff

The longer writer-director Pang Ho-cheung waited to make his follow-up to Love in a Puff (2010) and Love in the Buff (2012), the more complicated it had become for him to find a reason to revisit the story of the Hong Kong couple Cherie and Jimmy. In this rambling comedy, Cherie’s very realistic struggle to find security in the man-child Jimmy often feels like an afterthought. Read the full review | Read our interview with director Pang Ho-cheung

10. Shock Wave

In 2013’s Firestorm, Andy Lau Tak-wah plays a super cop who takes on a ridiculously heavy-armed criminal syndicate, while the business district in Central goes up in smoke. All five fans of that bloated spectacle can breathe a sigh of relief now that Lau is back to tackle a similarly ludicrous crisis in Shock Wave, which sees the busy Cross-Harbour Tunnel under bomb threat. Read the full review

9. Vampire Cleanup Department

We finally have an adequate homage to the comedic tradition immortalised by Mr Vampire (1985) and its sequels. Co-directed with verve and humour by young debutants Yan Pak-wing and Chiu Sin-hang, the film may have a predictable story – save the girl and defeat her vampire boss – but it’s peppered with so many witty little jokes that it’s hard to complain. Read the full review

8. A Nail Clipper Romance

It’s sometimes hard to tell if you’re trusting your partner unconditionally or simply losing your sanity over love. Adapted from a short story from co-producer Pang Ho-cheung, this Hawaii-shot directorial debut by veteran cinematographer Jason Kwan – a five-time Hong Kong Film Awards nominee – explores that fine line to often intoxicating effect. Read the full review

7. Colour of the Game

A surprisingly mellow look at the tragic ends of several veteran members of the criminal underworld, emerging director Kam Ka-wai’s contribution to Wong Jing’s Colour trilogy takes a tonal shift from its predecessors – both riffs on Infernal Affairs – and veers towards the violent fatalism that colours much of Johnnie To’s work. A flawed but no doubt confidently crafted effort. Read the full review

6. The Empty Hands

With the concision of a short-story adaptation and a languid ambience more often associated with arty independent films, this pet project of Chapman To Man-chat – who produced, directed and co-wrote it – plays like a showcase for singer-actress Stephy Tang Lai-yan, who has never commanded the screen to quite the extent she does in this karate-themed character drama. Read the full review | Read our interview with actress Stephy Tang

5. The Sinking City: Capsule Odyssey

The increasingly absurd societal values of post-handover Hong Kong receive rollicking parody treatment in this furiously funny comedy-thriller by two new writer-directors, Stephen Ng Hon-Pong and Nero Ng Siu-lun. Unmistakably told from the perspective of the city’s disgruntled youth, the story is bound to amuse all but the most politically correct audiences. Read the full review

4. Paradox

Wilson Yip Wai-shun makes his own return to the SPL franchise with this punishingly violent third instalment, which sees Louis Koo Tin-lok take a page from the Liam Neeson school of one-man rescue missions as an anguished father. While there are far too many coincidences in the story, few genre fans should feel short-changed by Yip’s brutal action showcase. Read the full review | Read our interview with director Wilson Yip

3. 29+1

Twelve years after she unveiled her one-woman play 29+1, actress-playwright Kearen Pang Sau-wai makes her film directing debut with this faithful adaptation, musing on love, life and memories. While Chrissie Chau Sau-na has given one of her most delicate performances to date, Joyce Cheng Yan-yee steals the show with a heart-melting display of joy and compassion. Read the full review

2. Mad World

This depressing tale of a young man (Shawn Yue Man-lok) recovering from bipolar disorder offers a panorama of family conflicts, social ills and even God’s silence. The feature debut by director Wong Chun and screenwriter Florence Chan Chor-hang, the film paints a sombre picture of how ordinary people find unpredictable ways to hurt each other as a result of their own ignorance. Read the full review | Read our interview with Eric Tsang, Shawn Yue, director Wong Chun and screenwriter Florence Chan

1. Our Time Will Come

With this fact-based drama, Ann Hui On-wah adds her signature humanistic sensibility to an espionage thriller set in occupied Hong Kong during the second world war. In the sometimes thrilling, often relaxed snapshot of the city during wartime, the best intrigue – and offbeat humour – frequently stems from the chasm between the fatal reality of war and the characters’ resolutely ordinary way of life. Our Time Will Come is an unapologetically human drama – as well as an understated masterpiece. Read the full review | Read our interview with director Ann Hui

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