Hong Kong Cinema: Top 5

Hong Kong cinema, I believe, is completely different to mainland Chinese cinema. There are a number of fairly obvious reasons why and probably the biggest is Hong Kong’s long colonial history under British rule. Hong Kong cinema had almost no government funding and filmmakers were therefore free to produce the products that they wanted, which were commercial in the main, as all funding had to be raised in the private sector.

For many years Hong Kong cinema proliferated, coming third in world output after Indian cinema and Hollywood. With Hong Kong’s return to China in the mid-90s, film production has continued to dominate and produce a distinctly different form of cinema. These films are made in Cantonese and Mandarin for East Asia audiences. Below are five films – in no particular order – that everyone should see as they typify the long and rich history of Hong Kong filmmaking.


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 1. ‘Enter the Dragon’ (1973); Action with lots of martial arts (English, Cantonese); Directed by Robert Clouse

This was Bruce Lee’s final film before he died at the age of 32. This film has often been described as the greatest martial arts film of all time and it’s also the first Hong Kong martial arts film to be produced by a major Hollywood studio – Warner Bros. Bruce Lee plays a Shaolin martial arts expert who is invited by the evil Mr Han (Shih Kien) to a martial arts competition on a remote Island. ‘Enter The Dragon’ involves plenty of action, treachery and revenge and with Lee at the fore – an incredibly charismatic actor – the action scenes are outstanding. You’ll need to be forgiving because some of the dialogue is weak and the dubbing is at times terrible, but ‘Enter The Dragon’ is well worth a watch.

Available: Netflix, Amazon to rent and DVD

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2. ‘Infernal Affairs’ (2002); Thriller (Cantonese with English subtitles); Directed by Andrew Lau, Alan Mak

Martin Scorsese loved this film so much that he had it translated and made into Oscar gold in the form of ‘The Departed’. The original though, is a taut thriller involving a new police officer who goes undercover in the triad, and a gangster who joins the police force as a mole reporting back to the triad boss. Although Scorsese’s effort is identical in story and content, it omits the incredible gun fight scenes that are carefully choreographed and particular to the Hong Kong original.

Available: Amazon Video, Netflix

Days-of-Being-Wild.
3. ‘Days of Being Wild’
(1990); Drama (Cantonese, English subtitles); Directed by Wong Kar-wei

This film features some of the most successful actors ever to grace Hong Kong cinema. Set in Hong Kong and the Philippines in 1960, Yuddy (Leslie Cheung) is a playboy, renowned for breaking hearts and avoiding any commitment. He finds out from the alcoholic ex-prostitute who raised him that she is not his mother and she refuses to tell him who is. This sets Yuddy on a search of discovery. A different kind of discovery to the one we’re imploring you to take, but a riveting one all the same.

Available: Amazon Video, Netflix

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4. ‘The Love Eterne’ (1963); Drama/Huangmei Opera/Musical (English subtitles in places); Directed by Li Han Hsiang

In this instance, the history and the power of the Shaw Brothers studio in Hong Kong cannot be underestimated. Produced by Run Run Shaw during the Golden Age of Hong Kong cinema, this film was a big deal on its release. Coming from a background of opera and theatre production, the three Shaw brothers dominated everything cinematic in Hong Kong for several decades. Probably not everyone’s cup of tea, but this is a little gem of a film even if you hate musicals (which I do vehemently).

Available: I’m not sure where – on US Netflix and a few download channels – fairly rare but worth seeking out.

Chungking

5. ‘Chungking Express’ (1994); Drama/Romance (Cantonese, Mandarin, English, Japanese with English subtitles); Directed by Wong Kar-wai

This film made Quentin Tarantino cry, simply because he was “happy to love a movie this much”. That aside, this is very much a film lover’s film. Arty, cerebral and highly stylised – the film incorporates two discrete love stories featuring Faye (Faye Wong) and two lovesick policemen that have been jilted. A great soundtrack and defining foreign language film of the 90s with a bunch of awards; ‘Chungking Express’ is slightly strange and totally captivating.

Available: Netflix, Amazon DVD

So, if you thought the films of China and Hong Kong were one and the same, think again. Check out these films and then say a big thank you to Wan Tyszkiewicz for introducing you to the magic of Hong Kong cinema.

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Watch This Space: August 24 – 30

Welcome to your weekly go-to-guide – WatchThisSpace – where we give you recommendations of films to watch in the cinema, on the television and those brilliant films hiding at the back of your DVD collection.

IN THE CINEMA

With high ratings across the board (8.4 on IMDb, 89% on Rotten Tomatoes), ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is already proving to be an even bigger success than we anticipated. Fans of N.W.A and those simply intrigued by their story will love this musical biopic.

Conversely, ‘Hitman: Agent 47’ is really struggling over in the USA (29 on Metascore and a lowly 7% on Rotten Tomatoes). It’s no real surprise that another video game adaptation has crashed and burned, but before you chuck this on the scrap heap, have a read of our review.

ON TELEVISION

Monday 18:50 GMT: We know how hard Mondays can be, and we don’t want to add more pain to your day, but if you feel strong enough, we highly recommend ‘My Sister’s Keeper’ on Film4. This heartbreaking story of the love between two sisters will almost definitely have you in tears. We apologise in advance.

Tuesday 16:40 GMT: The kids go back to school next week, so give them one last treat; get together and watch ‘Coraline’ on Film4. A beautifully made and very entertaining family film, but one which has a dark side too, nightmares could ensue for adults and children alike.

Thursday 19:00 GMT: Great actors and one of the best soundtracks EVER make ‘500 Days Of Summer’ a must see on Film4, whether this be your maiden viewing, or your 500th. A story about love, not to be confused with a love story, you’ll see just how important this distinction is.

Saturday 16:05 GMT: The weekend is here! Go on a delightful adventure with ‘Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory’ on ITV. This 70s classic will thrill the whole family with its timeless tongue-in-cheek humour and fantastical story.

Sunday 17:30 GMT: Another 70s classic, albeit of a very different nature. See the Man of Steel’s big screen debut with ‘Superman’ on Channel 5. Henry Cavill will have to pull something pretty special out of the bag to top this next year.

DIG IT OUT

This is our favourite part of the WatchThisSpace section. We delve into our own DVD collection and pick out some amazing films, that may not instantly spring to mind when you’re stuck for inspiration to make your movie night a success. Maybe you’ve never seen a film that we pick – or even heard of them for that matter – but you’re gonna have to trust us on this one, and Dig It Out.

The Departed: We think that with just over a month until the release of ‘The Martian’, now is a good time to get excited for the latest offering from Matt Damon. Our favourite Damon project to date? Martin Scorsese’s twisted crime-thriller ‘The Departed’ of course. Hailed by many as one of the greats of modern cinema, we are inclined to agree. This film, which also stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jack Nicholson, will enthral and shock you right to the very last scene. They don’t come much more “must-see” than this.

Filth: With the release of the first ‘Victor Frankenstein’ trailer last week, it would be easy choice to plump for a ‘Harry Potter’ marathon. Instead, challenge yourself with the gritty, in your face, Brit-flick ‘Filth’. From the team behind the classic ‘Trainspotting’, see James McAvoy play the bad cop-really bad cop role in this utterly mad production.

Star Trek: Chris Pine celebrates his birthday on Wednesday, turning 34. Nothing on his CV gleams as brightly as the successful reboot of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise – soon to become a trilogy – of which the first installment is a fantastic example of sci-fi film making. Pine leads a cast which includes Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg and Zoe Saldana, into the final frontier for an epic battle which will live long in the memory, and may even prosper!

Boyz N The Hood: As mentioned before, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ is the headline act at the box-office right now. In that vein, we politely push you in the direction of this 90s cult classic. With similar themes of tough neighbourhoods and even tougher social oppression, ‘Boyz N The Hood’ is a gripping and action-packed film, addressing issues which, sadly, are just as poignant more than two decades on.

This week’s WatchThisSpace was compiled by Jakob Lewis Barnes