During Hong Kong cinema’s 1980s-90s heyday, filmmakers in the city set new standards for action films. Building on the legacy established by Bruce Lee , the likes of Jackie Chan , Sammo Hung and Chow Yun-fat raised the genre to new heights with hits like Police Story , Project A and A Better Tomorrow , to name but a few. But while Hong Kong cinema’s global fame was founded on action hits like these – the kind that would take John Woo and Yuen Woo-ping to Hollywood and have such an impact on films like The Matrix – what’s less well-known are the number of excellent romance films and romcoms produced in Hong Kong. In fact, these films used to be a local speciality and were often more popular than the kung fu and “bullet ballet” films that wowed audiences overseas. Take two Chow Yun-fat’s films from 1989 as examples. Chow’s dramatic romance flick All About Ah-Long pulled in nearly US$4 million at the Hong Kong box office, while his now revered action classic The Killer grossed a more modest US$2.3 million. 4 of Asia’s richest power couples – from K-pop to Bollywood For the longest time it was the Maggie Cheung-Leon Lai romance Comrades, Almost a Love Story that held the record for most Hong Kong Film Awards – winning nine – until it was eventually outdone by Wong Kar-wai’s artsy kung fu meditation The Grandmaster , winning 12 in 2014. Speaking of Wong, it was his early films of yearning and unrequited love – the likes of Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love – that first brought him critical attention and international applause. All of which prompts the question, what happened to Hong Kong’s strong tradition of excellent romance films? Arguably Hong Kong’s last great romcoms came from director Edmond Pang Ho-cheung with his Love in a Puff trilogy, which featured Miriam Yeung and Shawn Yu as a couple who bonded over sneaky cigarettes following Hong Kong’s newly implemented ban on smoking indoors. However, Love on the Cuff concluded the series back in 2017, and there’s been precious little of that calibre since. Even during the seven year gap between the first and third films, little else of note came along either. So what is to blame? 5 reasons we all knew Angelababy and Huang Xiaoming’s divorce was coming A lack of star power is likely one reason. In the same way that the local Canto-pop industry has failed to reinvent itself in recent years – save for one hit group we all might know by now – still relying on big names from the past to sell records and concert tickets, so too has Hong Kong cinema, often relying on established stars who made their names back in the 80s or 90s. Such film stars do have an existing fan base and provide a guarantee of a reasonable bottom line. The drawback, though, is that there is now little appetite for such stars overseas. This contrasts with the heyday of Jackie Chan and Chow Yun-fat, who were stars both at home and across the world. The general decline of the Hong Kong film industry has no doubt played a part, too. As the industry collapsed in the 1990s due to factors like piracy and many of the best filmmakers and stars moving to Hollywood, Hong Kong has doubled down on its expertise at making action films. With the local market shrinking, why not go global? And the thinking went, if global audiences familiar with Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and John Woo films want action, so be it. Inside Hong Kong star Rosina Lam’s crazy rich life of luxury That’s why back in 2000, Hong Kong could select a film like In the Mood for Love as its Oscar entry for the Academy Award for best international feature film, while in more recent years it has chosen adrenaline-pumping fare like Operation: Red Sea (2018) and The White Storm 2: Drug Lords (2019). Whatever their merits, Hong Kong’s old romance films made little impact abroad, so it makes sense that in tougher times the industry would gravitate more towards the sorts of action films that appeal most to foreign distributors. A final reason for Hong Kong’s lack of contemporary romance films might be the overwhelming dominance of exactly that sort of South Korean movie or drama. The Hallyu Wave has been riding high for a number of years now. It’s produced countless hits like My Love From the Star and My Sassy Girl , and not just grizzly phenomena like Squid Game and Train to Busan. With established icons like Lee Min-ho and Jun Ji-hyun as well as countless other young Korean stars, it’s no wonder that Hong Kong has found it difficult to compete in recent years. Despite all this, let’s be clear: Hong Kong filmmakers have not lost the ability to make good films altogether. In fact, there’s been a quiet, small scale renaissance in the local film industry in recent years. Ten Years was released in 2015 and inspired local versions around the region in Japan, Taiwan and Thailand. Films such as Beyond the Dream and Mad World have taken a brave look at mental health issues, while Still Human examined other often unexplored facets of life in Hong Kong such as disability and the lives of domestic helpers. Who needs a billionaire husband? Inside Isabella Leong’s crazy rich life Although currently banned in Hong Kong and China, Revolution of Our Times has won documentary awards in both East Asia and Europe. For budding directors, the government’s First Feature Film Initiative has provided invaluable support and has produced a number of worthy films about various topics over the years. A number of these films feature touching relationships of one sort or another, but not one is a typical classic Hong Kong romance. The last few years may have been dour ones in this city, but Hong Kong filmmakers remain a talented group. If anyone can find romance among a backdrop of political upheaval and Covid-19 lockdowns, it’s them. Want more stories like this? Follow STYLE on Facebook , Instagram , YouTube and Twitter .