Sweet Dreams Are Made Of This: Top 10 Hong Kong Movies of the Decade

January 1, 2010 at 9:53 pm 11 comments

The Hong Kong Spice Boys, Exiled, 2007

This week I’ve been letting my geek flags fly, as I’ve been closely following the countdown of lovehkfilm.com’s Top 50 Hong Kong films of the decade. Webmaster Kozo, Hong Kong film aficionado extraordinaire, has been revealing ten films a day on his blog, Damn You, Kozo, with much commentary from the fanperson peanut gallery. Although Hong Kong films are not the ne plus ultra of film fandom that they were, say, fifteen years ago, more than 150 dedicated otaku responded to lovehkfilm’s poll, which was a completely unscientific open vote of anyone who wanted to send a ranked list of their favorite HK flicks of the past ten years. Being a dutiful HK cinema fangirl I compiled a draft of my top ten and, not surprisingly, the majority of the films on the list starred my personal favorite Francis Ng. Herein follows my list, with reviews of each film. Please note that the list is not a reflection on whether the films are cinematically or historically significant, but based purely on the amount of pleasure that I got while watching them. Which is really how it should be sometimes.

In reverse order:

10. Beauty and the Breast, dir.  Raymond Yip, 2003

Wacky comedy starring Francis Ng as an office lothario who bets he can seduce bespectacled smart-girl Michelle Reis. Luckily her dad is an herbalist and kung-fu master who sees through the ruse, setting up Francis and his accomplice, the hapless Daniel Wu, with an appropriate punishment.  Unlike most Hollywood actors, Francis Ng sees no need to safeguard his masculine image, which leads to an excellent use of prosthetic mammaries. Favorite scene: A conflicted Francis Ng manifests Good Francis (dressed in white with angel wings) and Bad Francis (in red with a tail and horns), who advise him on his quest to bed Michelle Reis.

9. A Gambler’s Story, dir. Marco Mak, 2000

A weird and loopy, stylized look at a down-on-his-luck gambler, played by Francis Ng, who tries to escape his miserable lot in life. Director Marco Mak mixes slapstick, violence, and pathos as only a Hong Kong director can do in this quirky and bizarre movie. Favorite scene: Francis and Suki Kwan win, then compulsively gamble away a fortune in a Macao casino.

Cecilia Cheung and Lau Ching-Wan show how it's done, Lost In Time, 2003

8. Lost In Time, dir. Derek Yee, 2003

A tearjerker par excellence, by Derek Yee, who also directed the 1993 classic Hong Kong weepy C’est La Vie, Mon Cherie. Lau Ching-Wan and Cecilia Cheung put on an acting clinic as ordinary people coming to grips with personal tragedy. Really one of the best melodramas ever made. Favorite scene: Orphanage scene!

7. PTU: Into The Perilous Night, dir. Johnnie To, 2006

Johnnie To’s dreamlike, surreal travel through nocturnal Hong Kong, with Simon Yam, Lam Suet, and Maggie Siu in search of a lost gun.  Possibly the closest To has come to directing an art film, with its poetic use of empty space and expressionistic framing. Favorite scene: Triad musical chairs in a late-night hot pot restaurant.

6. Shaolin Soccer, dir. Stephen Chow, 2001

Though not as brilliant as Stephen Chow’s 1990s mo le tau comedies, Shaolin Soccer still captures Sing Jai’s absurd and wacky persona, with the added bonus of crazy CGI that perfectly meshes with Chow’s insane worldview. Plus it’s a totally fun sports movie. One of the most pleasurable films on the planet, imho. Favorite scene: Stephen Chow demonstrates his kung fu parking skills.

Gigi Leung & Francis Ng a deux, A War Named Desire, 2000

5. A War Named Desire, dir. Alan Mak, 2000

An early film by Alan Mak, one half of the Infernal Affairs team, this intense thriller follows the fate of a pair of estranged brothers who find themselves on the run from triads in Thailand. Francis plays the older brother, a no-nonsense gangster who must choose between duty and honor. Gigi Leung is outstanding as a gun moll whose sharpshooting matches Francis’ shot-for-shot. Favorite scene: Gigi Leung methodically stalks her prey during a chaotic, cacophonous Thai New Year celebration.

Cecilia Cheung and Francis Ng mix it up, The White Dragon, 2003

4. The White Dragon, dir. Wilson Yip, 2003

Fun, frolic, and wuxia, with Francis Ng playing a blind swordsman who falls for bratty and spoiled, vain rich girl Cecilia Cheung. Although the action and comedy scenes are energetic and clever, the best part of the movie lies in the center section of the film, where erstwhile adversaries Francis and Cecilia court and spark. Favorite scene: Cecilia informs the blind, unaware Francis that girls would fall for him since he’s handsome and has straight teeth and a “tall” nose.

Stare-off of the century, Francis Ng and Anthony Wong, Infernal Affairs 2, 2003

3.  Infernal Affairs 2, dir. Andrew Lau & Alan Mak, 2003

The prequel to Infernal Affairs, which Martin Scorsese remade as The Departed, Infernal Affairs 2 is a magnificent gangster opus that operatically follows the fate of its many characters. Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Carina Lau, and Eric Tsang are among the stellar cast. Francis in particular is outstanding as the soft-spoken yet ruthless Triad boss bent on avenging his father’s murder. Favorite scene:  Francis mournfully toasts his late father at an outdoor noodle stand, with a cadre of equally somber triads echoing his gesture.

Francis Ng & Sandra Ng try to figure it out, Juliet In Love, 2000

2. Juliet In Love, dir. Wilson Yip, 2000

One of the saddest and most heartfelt genre films ever to reach the screen, with Francis Ng and Sandra Ng as star-crossed lovers who find unexpected solace with each other. Francis plays a low-level triad caught up in a net of fateful events. Sandra is a lonely restaurant hostess who befriends him. Favorite scene: Simon Yam as a mobster boss who indifferently slurps down hot pot while Francis stoically bleeds from a head wound in the corner of the restaurant.

Nick Cheung Ka-Fei shows 'em what for, Exiled, 2007

1. Exiled, dir. Johnnie To, 2007

The ultimate fanperson heroic bloodshed film of the decade, featuring an ensemble cast of hard-guy triad film stars. Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Lam Suet, Roy Cheung, and Nick Cheung shoot ‘em up on the eve of the 1998 return of Macao to China’s rule. An allegory for the ennui and anomie of Hong Kong and Macao residents during that time, with beautiful cinematography, a haunting soundtrack, and brilliant, tough-as-nails characterizations by the veteran cast, plus five, count ‘em, five amazing shootouts. Favorite scene: the prelude to the awesome opening shootout, in which Anthony Wong and Francis Ng remove ammo from their automatic pistols in order to have the same amount of bullets as Nick Cheung’s six-shooter.

Honorable mentions: Mad Detective; After This Our Exile; Election 1; The Warlords; Sparrow; Turning Point: Laughing Gor; Fantasia; Initial D; Wo Hu; On The Edge

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11 Comments Add your own

  • 1. quadshock  |  January 2, 2010 at 1:50 am

    wow you have a lot of Francis Ng… I like!

    Reply
    • 2. valeriesoe  |  January 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm

      thanks, quad—francis rules, of course!

      Reply
  • 3. Mickey  |  January 2, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    Arrived here via lovehkfilm.com–great list of films. I’ll have to watch Juliet in Love at the soonest opportunity. I liked seeing White Dragon make a Top Ten list.

    Reply
    • 4. valeriesoe  |  January 2, 2010 at 6:14 pm

      Hey M,
      I was surprised that The White Dragon didn’t make Kozo’s list, but maybe it’s a bit too old for people to remember. I loved it and wish there were more wuxia rom-coms like it!
      v.

      Reply
  • 5. Wongsaurus  |  January 2, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    I am very pleased to see that A Gambler’s Story, White Dragon, and Beauty and the Breast all made your list. It has been my experience that many folks don’t see the merits of these three movies as they really showcase thet unique Cantonese and Hong Kong style of drama, humor and irony. Every one also featured our man Francis and although the movies were not A-List by most standards, they were very good as so-called B-List stuff in actually surpassing many movies with bigger stars and bigger budgets in terms of entertainment value.

    Reply
    • 6. valeriesoe  |  January 4, 2010 at 8:11 am

      Hey W,

      I totally agree—those three movies seem to be way too strange and disjointed for Western audiences, since they shift between humor, action, drama, and violence pretty quickly. Although I don’t mind some more popular recent HK movies becoming slicker and more professionally made, I sometimes miss the crazy slapdash way things were done back in the day!

      v.

      Reply
  • 7. Ben  |  January 3, 2010 at 5:49 am

    Good stuff. I think Francis is an excellent actor. A War Named Desire, Juliet in Love, and Lost in Time are excellent movies, but they weren’t in my Top 10. It’s good to see the diversity amongst all the unique movie viewers.

    Reply
    • 8. valeriesoe  |  January 4, 2010 at 8:12 am

      Thanks, Ben! I had a good time putting the list together, as well as reading the various other lists that have come out following Kozo’s countdown. It kept me interested the whole week!

      Reply
  • 9. Ed Waffle  |  January 7, 2010 at 6:51 am

    “Exiled” is getting a lot of love–Cal at “Heroes of the East” gave it a rave last month and it deserves every bit of it.

    “Exiled” works very well on many levels–it is as close to perfect as a modern Hong Kong gangster movie can be and the smaller roles are as well cast and written as the larger ones. Josie Ho, for example, is the perfect Triad wife, respectful of the immediate control that the the two sets of gunmen not only hold over her family but also of the men the gunmen work for and the entire illegal mega-structure behind them. But while she dutifully thanks them for not killing her family (yet) we can see that she isn’t really resigned to her fate.

    The cinematography is amazing. From the opening shots of the whitewashed, sun-drenched buildings of the last European outposts in Asia you know you are in for a treat. Two cinematographers are credited and it looks as if both of them has been touched by Vermeer in their use color and light.

    Great choice for best of the decade.

    Reply
    • 10. valeriesoe  |  January 13, 2010 at 12:51 am

      Hi E,

      I love Exiled and it was absolutely stunning when I first saw it in a theater a few years ago. But it’s also great on DVD and it’s even great on a laptop via youtube, so it definitely is my number one.

      I recently watched “The Way We Are,” and I was really impressed, too. Not sure if it would’ve bumped any of my top ten but it’s really a good flick. I’m watching a bunch more Ann Hui movies soon!

      v.

      Reply
  • [...] 4. A Gambler’s Story: A loopy black comedy about a down & out, hapless gambler, played with mournful determination by Francis. In no way resembles God of Gamblers or any other escapist HK poker movie. [...]

    Reply

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