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2018 in review

Ranking every Hong Kong film released in 2018, from worst to best

  • From the lows of sensationalism to a twisty crime drama and a transgender melodrama, our judgment on the films launched this year
  • See if you agree with our film editor’s selection
PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 8:45am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 December, 2018, 4:08pm

If 2017 was a bad year for Hong Kong film, this year’s output was even more underwhelming – a reminder of how spoiled we were by the golden age of Hong Kong cinema.

The 25 best films of 2018, from Avengers: Infinity War to Widows

This is our (almost complete) list of Hong Kong films released in 2018, ranked from worst to best.

40. Staycation

There are poorly made family comedies, and then there is Staycation, a mind-numbingly abysmal movie. A decade after he revealed his filmmaking flair with Citizen King, Johnson Lee Sze-chit has all but thrown his directing career away with this travesty of a film. Read the full review

39. Iceman: The Time Traveler

Iceman: The Time Traveler is a film so lacking in coherence, common sense and the most basic character arcs throughout its 87-minute runtime as to be an insult to the paying public. Even hard-core fans of Donnie Yen Ji-dan should think twice before seeing it. Read the full review

38. Thirty Years of Adonis

The line between soft-core porn and pompous art-house cinema grows ever finer in this film. Intended as a philosophical statement about the meaninglessness of life, Thirty Years of Adonis instead comes across as a badly misjudged piece of sensationalist filmmaking. Read the full review

37. Rhapsody of Kidnapping

An amazing case of Stockholm syndrome sits conveniently at the heart of this utterly unconvincing captive drama. While largely inoffensive and even sporadically amusing, the film is so thoroughly detached from reality that it’s likely to satisfy only the most undemanding viewers. Read the full review

36. Girls vs Gangsters

Barbara Wong Chun-chun’s sequel to Girls (2014) is a female version of The Hangover, in which toilet gags and a projectile vomit scene vie for attention alongside frenetic chases on cars and boats. Hangover alumnus Mike Tyson does have a fun supporting role, however. Read the full review

35. Lucid Dreams

The free-flowing nature of dream narratives has inspired some of the greatest filmmakers over the decades. Teddy Robin Kwan, however, is not one of them, as he shows with this lucky dip of genre fragments, delivered by a mix of veteran and up-and-coming actors. Read the full review

34. Wine War

The violent history of a family of Chinese wine chateau owners in France is chaotically revived in Wine War, a very peculiar mix of mystery, action and comedy by director, co-writer and star Leon Lai Ming. The film’s muddled storytelling is, ironically, both its strength and weakness. Read the full review

33. Agent Mr Chan

Far more effective as a satire on seductive internet idols and their desperate fans than as an espionage spoof, this star vehicle for Dayo Wong Tze-wah does ultimately surprise with its climax, which seeks, unconvincingly, to project the good nature of porn-obsessed nerds. Read the full review

32. Europe Raiders

A sequel-in-spirit to 2000’s Tokyo Raiders and 2005’s Seoul Raiders, engineered to satisfy the tastes of audiences in China, Jingle Ma Chor-sing’s film struggles to engage because of its weak script, even if its action is decently choreographed, and its silly gags mildly diverting. Read the full review

31. The Trough

While the near-monochrome visuals, kitschy character design and some very glaring plot holes vie for attention in Nick Cheung Ka-fai’s highly stylised third feature, one cannot help but appreciate the thought that he has put into creating the unique look of this nasty pulp fantasy. Read the full review

30. Hotel Soul Good

A potentially heart-warming film derailed by mediocre storytelling and miserly production design, director Anthony Yan Pak-wing’s follow-up to Vampire Cleanup Department is nevertheless a passable diversion for audiences looking for an unusual story. Read the full review

29. A Beautiful Moment

Writer-director-producer Patrick Kong Pak-leung’s A Beautiful Moment is a chaotically structured and exasperatingly talky comedy which nevertheless manages to entertain – mildly – while it lasts. It does embrace the spirit of Hong Kong’s Lunar New Year film tradition. Read the full review

28. Monster Hunt 2

An even more kid-friendly offering than its predecessor, Raman Hui Shing-ngai’s follow-up to his CGI/live-action debut is a visually vibrant fantasy comedy that may disappoint viewers invested in the more thematically adventurous original. Read the full review

27. Shed Skin Papa

An effects-heavy adaptation of playwright Norihiko Tsukuda’s popular Japanese play, this high-concept comedy drama feels like a misguided attempt to translate the profound musings of the fantastical story for the big screen. Read the full review

26. Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings

Tsui Hark’s supernatural whodunit series rolls on with this diverting yet ultimately disappointing third instalment. It strives to bridge the events in the first two films – only to unwittingly abandon its seventh-century mystery for some pointless CGI mayhem halfway through. Read the full review

25. The Monkey King 3

While the film has intriguing elements, the profound love that Soi Cheang Pou-soi sets out to depict remains tantalisingly out of reach right up to the film’s philosophical conclusion. The film stands or falls on its musings about love in all its forms – and they’re largely unsatisfying. Read the full review

24. L Storm

This third instalment of David Lam Tak-luk’s action series again revolves around the dynamics between the Hong Kong Police Force and the city’s Independent Commission Against Corruption. A sometimes exciting, often ludicrous and ultimately very forgettable sequel. Read the full review

23. Buyer Beware

A property agent helps his shady employer rip off unsuspecting clients by selling them haunted flats in this largely effective horror, a slow-burner which builds its unsettling vibe with admirable flair – before succumbing to an onslaught of over-the-top genre clichés in the last reel. Read the full review

22. Keep Calm and Be a Superstar

Hong Kong Canto-pop star Eason Chan Yik-shun and Chinese singer-songwriter Li Ronghao play unlikely filmmaking partners in the latest film by Vincent Kok Tak-chiu. The weakest link here is Li, whose wooden performance reminds one of Jay Chou at his least expressive. Read the full review

21. Adieu

The spectre of death hovers over the three interwoven stories in Adieu, an unabashedly sentimental, and apparently well-meaning, Hong Kong drama about coping with a terminal cancer patient in the family. Understated acting stops the film being mawkish. Read the full review

20. When Sun Meets Moon

Benny Lau Wai-hang is clearly vying with Wong Kar-wai for the title of Hong Kong cinema’s most hopeless romantic. While his film may come across as nauseatingly twee to some viewers, others may well find something to savour in its refreshingly sweet and tender tone. Read the full review

19. Concerto of the Bully

Far less effective as a kidnap drama than it is an escapist fantasy about the power of music and dreams, the third directing effort by regular Stephen Chow screenwriter Fung Chih-chiang tells an utterly unrealistic story, but does have its moments as a music-themed comedy. Read the full review

18. In Your Dreams

In Your Dreams is more about sentiment than dramatic conflict and its consequences. An exercise in stylistic flair and nuanced acting, this directorial debut of emerging screenwriter Tam Wai-ching hides its inconsequential narrative behind the facade of an artful mood piece. Read the full review

17. House of the Rising Sons

It could easily have been a self-congratulatory vanity project, yet this colourful origin tale of the hugely popular 1970s Hong Kong band The Wynners is a surprisingly amusing – and at times admirably introspective – music drama that might just win over a few neutrals. Read the full review

16. I’ve Got the Blues

Hong Kong abstract painter Yank Wong Yan-kwai receives the intimate portrait he probably does not need from long-time friend Angie Chen On-kei. This is an engaging watch – if you can overlook its self-indulgence. Read the full review

15. Tomorrow Is Another Day

A middle-aged woman is driven to extremes by the burden of caring for her mentally challenged son and the humiliation of her husband’s extramarital affair in this promising first directing effort by Chan Tai-lee. It’s a solid if flawed debut. Read the full review

14. Golden Job

Fans of 1990s triad film series Young and Dangerous will feel a massive surge of nostalgia seeing Golden Job, which reunites its lead actors. The film channels its predecessors’ theme of blood brotherhood through a most contrived story that nevertheless entertains. Read the full review

13. Project Gutenberg

Only the second film that Felix Chong Man-keung has directed, this twisty crime drama offers a fascinating look at the operations of a US dollar counterfeiting syndicate. Its lead actors, Aaron Kwok Fu-shing and Chow Yun-fat, are given ample room to impress. Read the full review

12. The Thousand Faces of Dunjia

The boundless imagination of writer-producer Tsui Hark is both a blessing and a curse given all the tricks that today’s CGI technologies allow. This new take on Yuen Woo-ping’s The Miracle Fighters (1982) as a fantasy cartoon only works when there’s a human actor on screen. Read the full review

11. Operation Red Sea

Dante Lam Chiu-yin opts for a nihilistic view of war in this mega-budget production. For all its unabashed jingoism (including a South China Sea warning towards the end), the hellish displays of combat it includes hardly make for an advertisement to enlist. Read the full review

10. Big Brother

It’s not every day that a movie star leverages his box office prestige on a commercially risky project just because it’s good for society – but that is the case with this inspirational campus drama conceived and co-produced by Donnie Yen. Read the full review

9. No. 1 Chung Ying Street

A film conceived and shot in the wake of the idealistic, if arguably futile “umbrella movement” protests in Hong Kong in 2014, No. 1 Chung Ying Street is an artfully made, black-and-white character drama that paints an intriguing picture of life amid social chaos. Read the full review

8. The Leakers

Herman Yau Lai-to’s ensemble thriller is nothing if not ambitious: a highly contagious disease is intentionally released into the wilds of Malaysia, thereby bringing together all sorts of characters. Its twisty and relentlessly frenetic narrative rarely fails to entertain. Read the full review

7. Keyboard Warriors

A goofy tale of vigilante crime-fighting which mixes Hong Kong news headlines with an amusing look at the virtuous if eccentric behaviour of users of the popular internet portal Hong Kong Golden Forum, Keyboard Warriors comes across as a refreshingly mature comedy-drama that balances satire with melodrama. Read the full review

6. Master Z: The Ip Man Legacy

From Max Zhang Jin’s sparring match with Naason and his hugely satisfying fight with Michelle Yeoh, to his various encounters with Tony Jaa and climactic showdown with Dave Bautista, Master Z is undoubtedly a feast for lovers of martial-arts movies. Read the full review

5. Distinction

With this understated human drama set around a “Band Three” secondary school for the least academically able students, Ten Years and Trivisa director Jevons Au Man-kit proves himself to be a socially conscious filmmaker deserving of acclaim. Read the full review

4. Napping Kid

With a capable ensemble cast and thoughtful use of locations in Hong Kong’s fast-evolving Central business district, this meticulously plotted detective mystery is one of the most sophisticated attempts yet to address the city’s social malaise and intergenerational tensions. Read the full review

3. Tracey

A transgender melodrama that is lifted by deeply poignant performances across the board, Tracey is a triumphant debut for Philip Keung Ho-man as lead actor, and a very promising start to the career of director and co-writer Jun Li. Read the full review

2. Men on the Dragon

Mid-life crises are the real focus of this underdog sports comedy-drama by Sunny Chan Wing-sun, who impresses with his nuanced storytelling. It is a life-affirming gem that, while never hesitating to milk its protagonists’ misfortunes for laughs, stays sympathetic till the end. Read the full review

1. Somewhere Beyond the Mist

Nine years after he cemented his stature as one of Hong Kong’s best documentary filmmakers with KJ, Cheung King-wai finally makes his full-length feature debut. This haunting murder drama is a slow-burning masterpiece that makes you wonder why he did not try this earlier. Read the full review

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