Top 10 and Comments from YTSL

The 2004 Hong Kong movie year began optimistically for me with “Fantasia” and ended on an even higher note with “Kung Fu Hustle”.  In between checking out that which ended up being my 2nd favorite film from the HKSAR and top pick of that territory’s 2004 releases, I also managed to find and viewed a fair number of other Hong Kong cinematic offerings which did entertain, impress and/or provide considerable food for thought (For the record, I’ve watched a total of 39 2004 Hong Kong movies to date; and among those works which I found worthwhile enough -- and would rate on the scale as a 7 or higher -- yet ended up not making it on to this Top Ten list are: “Love Battlefield”, “Breaking News”, “A-1”, “Love on the Rocks” and “McDull: Prince de la Bun”).

One thus might expect that I would be filled with optimism when considering what the future holds for Hong Kong cinema.  Sadly, however, this really is not the case.  One reason for this is the considerable amount of “doom and gloom” that appears to have emanated out of -- plus has surrounded for a time now -- the Hong Kong movie industry.  For another, 2004 really did see fewer Hong Kong movies released in theatres than in 2003, and 2005 is expected to see still fewer Hong Kong films being produced than in this past year (According to one industry insider’s estimate at year’s end, fewer than 50 films may get local theatrical releases in 2005).
Furthermore, the record-breaking box office success of “Kung Fu Hustle” aside, Hong Kongers appear to increasingly prefer to be forsaking cinemas -- the very venues where feature films are made to be seen -- in favor of watching movies on inexpensive home video (and we’re talking cheap VCDs rather than better quality DVDs here), if at all.  Then, at the same time that local audiences look to be deserting Hong Kong cinemas as well as films like never before, the government of the HKSAR continues to provide the film industry -- a cultural along with commercial enterprise which has put Hong Kong on the map and lodged the territory, its people, society and culture in the imaginations of so many all over the world -- with far less support than it appears to have needed for years now.
To add even more salt to the wounds: It was with no amount of shock that this fangirl discovered that only three out of her Top Ten picks were among the top ten biggest box office hits in Hong Kong in 2004 even while quite a lot more of my favorite Hong Kong movies from the same year appeared to also be those of the Hong Kong Film Critics Society.  Alternatively put: This discovery got me worrying that not only will Hong Kong produce few(er) films in 2005 but, also, not too many works which will appeal to the no longer young adult and -- perhaps coincidentally -- unable as well as unwilling to exist on a movie diet of insubstantial popcorn offerings alone...likes of me!
Consequently, it may seem like I’m clutching at straws yet it’s also true enough that I do derive some hope -- for some maturity, etc. -- as well as actual pleasure in the 2004 movie year also having marked returns to Hong Kong cinema -- after many years, decades even, of absence -- for such as the following: Jenny Hu (with “Yesterday Once More”); Michael Hui (starting with a cameo in “Fantasia” that was followed by a full-blown starring role in “Three of a Kind”); Charlie Yeung (in “New Police Story”); Wu Chien Lien (in “Jiang Hu”), George Lam (in “Six Strong Guys”); and -- by way of “Kung Fu Hustle” -- Yuen Wah as well as Yuen Qiu, Leung Siu Lung and Chiu Chi Ling.
Similarly, while “Magic Kitchen” cannot compare with “Lost and Found” and/or “The Sleepless Town”, it still was nice to see Lee Chi Ngai at the helm of a film again.  So here’s hoping that the likes of him will be given chances in 2005 to shine again along with the consistently quality-producing likes of Derek Yee, Johnnie To, Fruit Chan and Wong Kar Wai (all of whom I was very pleased to see come out with yet more films in 2004) as well as his younger and promising colleagues.  And, most of all, that fans of Hong Kong cinema at home and abroad will appreciate and support those Hong Kong movies whose makers know how to touch our hearts without insulting our intelligence.

Now, on to...

My Top Ten Of 2004

My picks (as of early March, 2005, and without having viewed yet such as Mak Yan-Yan’s “Butterfly” and Yon Fan’s “Colour Blossoms”):-


The top grossing film of all time -- not just the famously fallow year that’s been 2004 -- at the HKSAR box office.  And what a masterfully crafted movie this genre-transcending work happens to be.  Featuring memorable performances by the likes of Yuen Qui, Yuen Wah and Leung Siu Leung along with director and co-scriptwriter cum lead actor Stephen Chow, great action choreography and direction (largely by Yuen Woo Ping but maybe also benefiting from Sammo Hung’s early involvement), inspired referencing of past Hong Kong movies (including “The House of 72 Tenants” along with kung fu works like “Buddha’s Palm”), a truly wonderful marrying of a diverse range of special effects with live human action, etc., etc.  Admittedly, I actually didn’t find it as funny as “Shaolin Soccer”.  However, this should in no way be taken to mean that I think that this extremely entertaining 2004 offering is the lesser film.


This Milkyway Image production -- which pays tribute to distinctively Hong Kong personalities like the Hui brothers (Michael, Sam and Ricky) and Lam Ah Chun (AKA Plain Jane) as well as indiscriminately spoofs the foreign likes of Harry Potter and “Jurassic Park” plus makes good use of the Canadian-Vietnamese-Chinese Christy Chung’s multi-lingual abilities! -- is an ultra zany guffaw fest with a sense of reckless comedic abandon, and feeling of imagination run wild.  In keeping with the tradition of Chinese New Year comedies, it’s certifiably silly.  At the same time, however, I also see it being so in a way that manages to joyously show that abundant creativity still exists, and looks to be positively encouraged, (with)in the cinema of Hong Kong.


Okay.  I should have known to trust that this substantive as well as stylish work -- the extended stand-alone version of one of a trio of Pan-Asian short films that was released together as the feature length “Three...Extremes” -- could have been nothing but a quality offering.  After all, it was directed by Fruit Chan, produced by Peter Chan, scripted by Lillian Lee, and shot by Christopher Doyle and Cheng Siu Keung (various Milkyway Image movies).  But never in my wildest dreams could I have expected that a movie which prominently features the consumption of fetuses could actually make for such engrossing as well as thought-provoking viewing!  And feature a thoroughly spellbinding performance by the infamous Bai Ling plus a very respectable one by Miriam Yeung (along with yet another capable one by the butt-bearing once more(!) Tony Leung Kar Fai).


Jackie Chan’s darkest and most intense film since “Crime Story” (1993) also looks to be his best by far since “Drunken Master II” (1994).  This is due in no small part to the now over 50-year-old action star showing that he really remains capable of performing gasp-inducing stunts and eye-catching martial moves.  At the same time though, his Young Turk co-stars (notably Nicholas Tse and Daniel Wu -- and 2004 HKFA Best Newcomer Awardee Andy On in one particular fight scene) capably play their part as well in a familiar faces-filled effort which has been described as a portrayal of how the glorious older generation fears the wilder younger generation but continues to nurse hopes that some of these new kids around the block will gratefully appreciate the efforts of -- and be able to assist, cooperate with, and even inspire -- their elders.

5) 2046

Five years in the making (and maybe still being re-edited for a Director’s Cut DVD!), this Wong Kar Wai work was my -- and, I’m sure, many others’ too -- most looked-forward-to movie of 2004.  Consequently, the fact that it didn’t disappoint is already very much to its credit!  As an unexpected plus, this assumed-to-be sequel to “In The Mood For Love” also turned out in certain significant ways to be the auteur’s long-envisioned follow-up to “Days Of Being Wild”.  So...indulgent it may be but there’s also no getting away from the feeling that this is one very personal, hypnotic and atmospheric offering that’s laden with meaning, connections, associations and emotion.  So much so that I’ll forgive much of Carina Lau and Chang Chen’s efforts having ended up on the cutting floor along with the over-rated Zhang Ziyi having had more screen time than the afore-mentioned thespians as well as the beguiling Faye Wong and the classy Gong Li.


At times, this hard-hittingly tragic film which won its helmer the Hong Kong Film Critics Society’s Best Director of 2004 prize feels like “Comrades, Almost A Love Story” (Peter Chan’s expertly-told tale of two Mainlanders who go to Hong Kong to find work but, then, also find love there) meets Johnnie To in dark crime drama mode (e.g.,  PTU, another movie which took place over a specified time period and in a specific portion of the Kowloon Peninsula).  At the same time, it’s neither a pale copy nor soul-less clone and also most definitely bears the hallmarks of a film by Derek Yee: an auteur with the admirable ability to meld together darkness and light along with two different genres to create his own substantive, thought-provoking and undoubtedly high quality movie.

7) 20:30:40

The amazing Sylvia Chang does it again: i.e., prove that she truly is the Renaissance woman of (East) Asian -- heck, maybe even world -- cinema.  After all, not only does the multi-faceted talent direct and co-script this insightful dramedy which revolves around a trio of interesting women from three different age-groups but she also co-stars in it along with two talented actress-singers (in the consistently capable Rene Liu and Angelica Lee Sinje) who she happens to be the agent for (plus, if truth be told, steal the show away from them and everyone else)!  As well, it seems to be so typical of director Sylvia Chang’s inclusive efforts that for all of this effort’s tending to be conveniently categorized as a women’s film, it actually is one in which more than one male (including those played by Anthony Wong, Tony Leung Kar Fai and Richie Jen) does get a chance too to show his humanity and appealing sides.


This potent horror cum suspense-thriller saw the inspired bringing together of two award-winning performers to work under the aegis of an up-and-coming auteur celebrated for infusing human sensitivity into any genre he tackles.  Angelica Lee and Karena Lam once again reveal their dramatic prowess with their mesmerizing portrayals of two very different women who are brought together by twists of fate over the course of a police investigation.  Incidentally, more than any other movie I viewed in 2004, this heart-pounding film was one whose conclusion caused me to stay stock still in my theatre seat and needing to pause plus catch my breath before I could go out to face the not particularly benign world again!  And yes, I’ll also admit that my being one of those high-strung individuals who was moved to gasp aloud or scream when viewing certain parts of the Lo Chi Leung helmed work!!


Whether we like it or not, Mainland Chinese-Hong Kong co-productions increasingly appear to be the order of the day.  In any event, Ann Hui was making movies on the Chinese Mainland decades ago.  And while this latest such work of the female doyen of Hong Kong cinema has not been as heralded as, say, 1997’s “Eighteen Springs”, my personal opinion is that this heady as well as artistic action-drama with a tough and independent, yet emotional and sensitive, moll for a protagonist actually is qualitatively better plus more populist in nature.  All in all, then, I find it a crying shame that that which could boast of having a charismatic leading man in Nicholas Tse and a charming main female in Vicki Zhao Wei was neither all that commercially nor critically well received.  At the same time, I do take some solace from the fact that such as the local choice of opening film for the 2004 HKIFF are continuing to be made.


Prolific director-producer Johnnie To dedicated the most stylish of his trio of 2004 movies to Akira Kurosawa.  Still, there’s no mistaking this quirky judo-themed film for anything other than a Milkyway Image production.  Also, with three leads -- in the “pretty boy”-ish Louis Koo, fading Sky King Aaron Kwok and the not yet really established Cherrie Ying -- who can be said to be on the light-weight side, this effort can appear to lack some substance.  However, like its main characters, the action-packed work turns out to very satisfactorily possess hidden depth as well as be evocative in a way that not many movies can be.  As such, this offering only provides further proof, if needed after “Running on Karma”, that Johnnie To is a bonafide auteur as well as a film-maker who, when he wants to, can make genre works which can thoroughly clean up at the Hong Kong box office.