Friday, 7 April 2017

Favourite Hong Kong Films

The Big Boss is probably no one's favourite Hong Kong film but it was the first Hong Kong film I saw and was my passport into a strange new world of Asian Cinema, of flying fists, righteous revenge and dubbing that left characters mouths flapping like stranded fish. It's primitive, even by later Bruce Lee vehicles, and the plot of the film holds Lee back from fighting for over an hour, making it all the more sweeter when the Little Dragon uncoils into a weapon of mass destruction...



If The Big Boss was a personal first, then so too was Hardboiled, John Woo's 1991 film, my first introduction to the so-called "Heroic Bloodshed" genre. Woo may have made better films but in many ways Hardboiled is the director's slickest, most streamlined film and not surprisingly Hardboiled was instrumental in introducing the West to Hong Kong's revolutionary gun operas, the dazzling choreography, death before dishonor, and ammo clips that never run dry...



Stylish, intelligent and complex enough to demand multiple viewings, Mad Detective, Johnny To and Wai Ka-Fai's 2007 film, the newest arrival on my list has in it's short life become an instant classic. For the few reading this who haven’t yet seen the film, it's best to go in knowing as little as possible - The Sixth Sense and Fight Club toyed with a similar plot device but Mad Detective avoids the join-the-dots approach to story-telling and makes its audience do its own detective work but once you surrender yourself to the film's hallucinatory weirdness you'll begin to wonder why all films aren't made like this...



A Hong Kong film about two gay men living in Argentina is notable for that alone, but Happy Together, Wong Kar-Wai's 1996 film, a mockingly-titled meditation on the impossibility of relationships is one of the great masterpieces of World Cinema. Impossibly stylish, and shot with an arsenal of different film stocks and lighting and improv-style cutting the film drew comparisons with Jean-Luc Godard's most vital work, but Happy Together is more like a piece of free jazz - joyous, spontaneous, inventive, hypnotic, and mesmerizing...



Legendary for popularizing Martial Arts films in America (only previously seen in a few isolated Chinatown districts), Five Fingers of Death is likely to topple under the weight of history, but Chang-Hwa Jeong's film still remains a touchstone of the genre. Aside from the thrill of the action set-pieces, the story is dramatically satisfying, the performances, at least in the Mandarin version have depth and weight, and in contrast to the exquisite Shaw Brothers sets and photography the violence is surprisingly grisly. Seminal stuff...



Dangerous Encounter - 1st Kind is a hand grenade of a film, set in a decidedly grimy and unglamorous Hong Kong rife with overcrowding, vicious triad gangsters and teenagers who get their kicks from urban guerrilla warfare and torturing small animals. I first saw the film in 2011 and was so utterly astonished I wrote "So volatile a mix, the celluloid itself seems in danger of catching fire as it runs through the projector gate". If this very unique film has a spiritual heir it might well be Takashi Miike's unhinged City of Lost Souls and his Dead or Alive films, and appropriately enough Tsui Hark's great outlaw film includes illicit snatches of Goblin's Dawn of the Dead score and Jean-Michel Jarre's Oxygène (?)



John Woo's 1990 film Bullet In the Head doesn't have the tight framework of The Killer or Hardboiled, it's story of three lifelong friends trying to make their fortune is altogether more expansive moving out of the turbulent streets of Hong Kong and into the maelstrom of the Vietnam War. The film is nothing less than an epic, and Woo shows tremendous style and maturity in his approach to the material. Unlike the balletic action of his gangster films, the violence in Bullet In the Head is ugly and harrowing, so much so the British Censor was once reluctant to give the film a certificate. A John Woo film to savor, if only because Bullet In the Head is one of his last great films before a regrettable move to Hollywood and the string of mediocre American films that followed...



Quite possibly the sexiest PG-rated film you are ever likely to see, In the Mood For Love, Wong Kar-Wai's millennium follow-up to Happy Together is a far more delicate affair, with career best performances from Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. No surprise that it's ended up in many people's lists, the film is a cinematic tour de force of direction, editing, costumes, music (Yumeji's Theme once heard is never forgotten), Christopher Doyle's extraordinarily sensual photography and that wonderful strange and dreamlike ending among the ruins of Angkor Wat...



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