My parents came from Hong Kong to Canada about 30 years ago. In their first few years, they searched for local places that sold Hong Kong films and TV shows to cling to a familiar comfort. Over the years they collected mostly comedies, police procedurals, and romance DVDs. I grew up watching these and it’s where I started my love for films. Over the years as I grew up, I watched less Hong Kong films as they weren’t as easily accessible and I started to watch more Hollywood movies. Recently as of last year and during quarantine, I have been revisiting some old films and exploring new films to get back into my love for Hong Kong Cinema. So many of the films helped me connect with my second home, fostered a special connection with my parents, and started my passion for film in the first place.
I’m still on a journey to watching and exploring Hong Kong Cinema, but I do have a few where I love with all my heart and could endlessly talk about. These five films have a distinct memory attached to them, whether they are good or not, they are must-sees in my opinion. So here are my Top Five Must-Sees in Hong Kong Cinema (in no particular order because they’re all my favourite children):
- In the Mood for Love (2000)
This is the film that started my exploration into Hong Kong’s New Wave cinema and the director Wong Kar Wai. If I can pick an unconventional romance that wrecks me entirely everytime I watch it, it would have to be In the Mood for Love. What can’t be said about this film? Its cinematography is gorgeous with a rich colour palette and hypnotic soundtrack. Through stolen glances, empty words, and constant secret yearning, it’s one of the most devastating love stories I’ve ever watched. It has two of my favourite actors ever, Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung who ooze talent and deliver stellar performances. The two develop a complicated relationship as they act out the affair of their partners and rehearse breaking up with their respective spouses. It’s simple and effective storytelling that will have you feeling bittersweet whenever the theme song creeps into each scene.
- All’s Well, Ends Well (1992)
Slapsticks comedies are usually not my favourite types of movies, but when it’s a Hong Kong film or Stephen Chow is somehow involved in it, sign me up. I could write a whole blog post about how much I love Stephen Chow’s films and talk about every single film of his, but I’ll just choose the one that started it all for me, All’s Well, Ends Well (1992). This film is what is called “mo lei tau” in Cantonese, which means nonsensical, good-natured humour. It’s so ridiculous in so many ways with the multiple wacky plotlines and weird family dynamics, which makes a lot of the jokes very dated. Still it’s considered a cult classic and a must watch every Lunar New Year. It’ll make you laugh until your stomach hurts with the parodies of familiar Hollywood films. It’s a film that I have probably watched too many times, but I never get tired of it.
- Infernal Affairs (2002)
Now I may be biased because of my love for Tony Leung (soon to be The Mandarin on Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings), but I loved this film. I get that everyone has probably seen The Departed, which was based on this film, but I’m here to vouch for Infernal Affairs being just as good. The stylistic Triad film with a talented cast of actors is witty, smart, and concise in storytelling. It’s a typical cat and mouse game, however, everyone’s intentions are not as simple as black and white. Who is really the bad guy? Who is really a double agent? Who will discover the mole first? After watching The Departed, it’s basically the same plot and elements of Infernal Affairs. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
- A Chinese Odyssey Part One & Two (1995)
I know, I’m being a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater here by including two films here, but they come together and are so good. It’s a fantasy, supernatural film loosely based on a 16th century novel, Journey to the West. The story is basically about the arrival of Buddhism in China and the journey of the Monkey King, played by Stephen Chow. Now with any Stephen Chow film, humour is a must, even in a fantasy film. The wackiness and hijinks can be sometimes too much, but the stunning scenery, costumes, talented group of actors and actresses, and loveable cheesy love story balances it all out. This two parter is worth the watch for laughter and heartwarming moments with a little bit of fantasy wrapped into it.
- The Big Boss (1971, AKA Fists of Fury)
No must-see list of mine can leave out someone who I admire very much; Bruce Lee. The insanely cool fight scenes in slow motion with Bruce Lee make it probably the most engrossing acrobatic film I have watched. Usually with martial arts films, I rarely focus on the plot because it’s really all about the action scenes, but I was thoroughly invested in the storytelling, which follows a young man who has sworn to an oath of non-violence. This film just cements how hardworking and talented Bruce Lee was and showcases the stylistic choreography of Hong Kong martial arts films.
Mr. Vampire (1985), The Killer (1989), Hard Boiled (1992), The Heroic Trio (1993), Chungking Express (1994),Out of the Dark (1995), Happy Together(1997), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), Kung Fu Hustle (2004)