The 100 Greatest Hong Kong Films/5

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Time Out film editor Edmund Lee celebrates 100 years of Hong Kong cinema with a list of our city’s very best movies.

100 - 91 | 90 - 81 | 80 - 71 | 70 - 61 | 60 - 51 | 50 - 41 | 40 - 31 | 30 - 21 | 20 - 11 | Number 10 | Number 9 | Number 8 | Number 7 | Number 6 | Number 5 | Number 4 | Number 3 | Number 2 | Number 1 |

92 The Legendary la Rose Noire 92黑玫瑰對黑玫瑰 (1992)

Dir Jeff Lau (Tony Leung Ka-fai, Maggie Shiu, Wong Wan-sze, Fung Bo-bo)

“My girl is in trouble, I must save her. But better dress up first.”

A nostalgic comedy that inducted Lau into postmodern cinema hall of fame, this accidental classic parodies 1960s Jane Bond movies (Cantonese flicks with crime-busting heroines) with a pitch-perfect sense of style and wackiness. Leung’s deadpan impersonation of 60s actor Lui Kei is now the stuff of legend.

* Did you know…
… it was all just a beautiful accident that Jeff Lau would become a key figure in our postmodern culture? “I could never anticipate that it’d come to this point… I think the people nowadays aren’t very rational,” says the director while reflecting on how extensively his movies have been studied. “I don’t even know what the word [postmodern] means.”


Parents’ Hearts 父母心 (1955)

Dir Chun Kim (Ma Si-tsang, Wong Man-lei, Lam Kar-sing, Yuen Siu-fai)

“You think I’m really smiling? Could you help out even if I were looking all depressed?”

No one does a forced smile better than Ma in this family melodrama. As an underemployed performer struggling financially to care for his ailing wife and send his two children to school, the real-life Cantonese opera star turns in a heartbreaking performance which epitomises the hardship of his generation.


Dangerous Encounters – First Kind 第一類型危險 (1980)

Dir Tsui Hark (Lin Chen-chi, Lo Lieh, Che Bo-law, Albert Au)

“Next time I’m gonna set a bomb at your door.”

An early testament to Tsui’s readiness to disturb and provoke, the movie’s first cut was banned in HK for its bombing premise and anti-social sentiments. Re-edited with a new storyline about American arms smugglers, Dangerous Encounters remains a hysterical thriller soaked with teen violence and full-on social anarchy.


Festival Moon 中秋月 (1953)

Dir Zhu Shilin (Han Fei, Jiang Hua, Kung Chiu-hsia)

“It’s a festival for the rich and an obstacle for the poor.”

The twisted irony in social customs is devastatingly explored in Zhu’s powerful film, which sees a debt-ridden white-collar worker (Han) juggle between the need to send his boss gifts during Mid-autumn Festival – to avoid losing his job – and maintaining the basic dignity of his family.


Peking Opera Blues 刀馬旦 (1986)

Dir Tsui Hark (Brigitte Lin, Cherie Chung, Sally Yeh)

“Why do you yawn differently every time?”

Lin, Chung and Yeh make for a charismatic star trio in this gender-bending, genre-blending crowd-pleaser, an early milestone for Tsui’s Film Workshop. Frenetically paced throughout, the backstage comedy cum espionage thriller provides a hugely exhilarating spin on the political chaos of 1910s China.


Autumn Moon 秋月 (1992)

Dir Clara Law (Masatoshi Nagase, Li Pui-wai)

“Open the heart… Happy!”

A teenage schoolgirl (Li) living with her senile grandmother finds a kindred spirit in a Japanese tourist (Nagase) wandering in a state of existential confusion. Law’s meditative tale of migration and urban ennui is engaging despite its meandering proceedings. It’s also surprisingly articulate in spite of the protagonists’ broken English.


The Prodigal Son 敗家仔 (1981)

Dir Sammo Hung (Yuen Biao, Sammo Hung, Lam Ching-ying, Frankie Chan)

“Are you Leung Chang the Street Brawler?”

An invincible fighter (Yuen) in Foshan discovers that his father has paid off all his opponents to save him – the only descendent of the wealthy Leung’s family – in this engrossing Wing Chun comedy by Hung, who directed, choreographed and impressed as the leading man’s eccentric master.


Ashes of Time 東邪西毒 (1994)

Dir Wong Kar-wai (Leslie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung Ka-fai, Tony Leung Chiu-wai)

“When you can’t have someone, the only thing you can do is not to forget.”

A Jin Yong adaptation, Wong Kar-wai-style. Structured with the concept of cyclical repetition from the Chinese almanac, the auteur’s impressionistic riff on the classic wuxia novel The Eagle-Shooting Hero is a desert-bound swordplay drama whose only concern seems to be its characters’ sentimental longings.

* Did you know…
Ashes, populated by Wong’s typically heartbroken characters, is merely a re-imagining of the original? “To separate ourselves from the previous adaptations, we put the original novel aside and went ahead to invent our own vision,” says Wong. “It’s more than a standard martial arts film; it is Shakespeare meets Sergio Leone in Chinese language.”


The Mission 鎗火 (1999)

Dir Johnnie To (Anthony Wong Chau-sang, Francis Ng, Jackie Lui, Roy Cheung, Lam Suet)

“If we wanted to stand here all day, we might as well become hookers.”

Firing guns in messianic poses becomes an art form in the extraordinary shopping mall shoot-out in The Mission, which follows five hitmen as they form a camaraderie of bodyguards for a triad kingpin. A minimalist thriller with style and attitude to spare, it also features the subtlest plot turn in the Hong Kong action genre.


God of Gamblers 賭神 (1989)

Dir Wong Jing (Chow Yun-fat, Andy Lau, Joey Wang)

“Can someone get me this brand of chocolate?”

The high-grossing action comedy that inspired countless sequels, prequels, spin-offs and rip-offs, Wong’s definitive gambling movie is anchored by a sparkling Chow Yun-fat – all slicked-back hair, tuxedo and cocky smirks. His master gambler Ko Chun has left an indelible mark on our collective consciousness.

* Did you know…
… the gambling movie tradition in Hong Kong originated with God of Gamblers? “Chinese people are addicted to gambling,” says Wong. “Where there are Chinese people, there’s gambling, so a gambling movie had to work. I came up with the idea in my twenties and I have never given up on it. It’s my trademark.”

See also:
- Our exclusive interview with Chow Yun-fat
- Their top five personal favourites
- The perfect Hong Kong film
- Top 5 ‘not-quite Hong Kong’ films

100 - 91 | 90 - 81 | 80 - 71 | 70 - 61 | 60 - 51 | 50 - 41 | 40 - 31 | 30 - 21 | 20 - 11 | Number 10 | Number 9 | Number 8 | Number 7 | Number 6 | Number 5 | Number 4 | Number 3 | Number 2 | Number 1 |

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