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97-07, a decade of films; the HKCinemagic pick
Ten takes on 10 years of film in the HKSAR by Gina Marchetti 1/1 - Page 1
Info
Author(s) : Annabelle Coquant
Arnaud Lanuque
Bastian Meiresonne
Cyril Barbier
David Vivier
Sovith AUN
Van-Thuan LY
Gina Marchetti
Mike Fury
Lee Alon
David-Olivier Vidouze
Denis Gueylard
Thomas Podvin
Anne Saïdi
Date : 10/6/2007
Type(s) : Report
Review
 
 Intext Links  
People :
Evans Chan Yiu Sing
Fruit Chan Gor
Leslie Cheung Kwok Wing
Samson Chiu Leung Chun
Felix Chong Man Keung
Stephen Chow Sing Chi
Ann Hui On Wah
Stanley Kwan Kam Pang
Aaron Kwok Fu Sing
Andrew Lau Wai Keung
Andy Lau Tak Wah
Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Tony Leung Ka Fai
Alan Mak Siu Fai
Anita Mui Yim Fong
Patrick Tam Kar Ming
Johnnie To Kei Fung
Wong Kar Wai
Simon Yam Tat Wah
Yau Ching
Movies :
After This, Our Exile
The Election
Golden Chicken
Golden Chicken 2
Happy Together
Hold You Tight
In The Mood For Love
Infernal Affairs
Lan Yu
Let's Love Hong Kong
Made In Hong Kong
Ordinary Heroes
Rouge
Seven Swords
Shaolin Soccer
 
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Page 2 : Top 10 HK films, post handover by Mile Murphy
 
 Notes  
Gina Marchetti teaches at the Comparative Literature department at the Hong Kong University and she is also the author of “Andrew Lau and Alan Mak’s Infernal Affairs-- The Trilogy” (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2007). Info on Marchetti’s book available HERE.


I resist making lists of films, since so many films are worthy of our consideration. However, the tenth anniversary of the HKSAR marks a time (1997-2007) of tremendous change, and it seems appropriate to list some of the films that have contributed to the cinema culture of Hong Kong during this period. Some of the films on my list have made money at the box-office and have garnered awards, while others remain more obscure and have been overlooked by critics, festival programmers, and the public. However, all the films on this list tell part of the story of the last ten year of Hong Kong cinema. Although only the tip of the iceberg of a decade of tremendous change and significant cinematic output, they indicate some key themes, trends, and concerns of the emerging film culture of the HKSAR.

I set down a few rules for myself as I put this list together. First, I wanted to cover every year. Second, I did not want to select more than one film by any given director. Third, I wanted to cover a range of genres, movements, and trends. Although the Asian economic crisis, SARS, video piracy, regional competition, and an aggressive Hollywood presence in Hong Kong have put the industry in decline with fewer movies produced and fewer screens showing domestic productions, this list pays tribute to the range and vitality of Hong Kong cinema over the last decade. It includes directors associated with the Hong Kong New Wave (Ann Hui, Patrick Tam), the Second Wave (Wong Kar-wai, Stanley Kwan), the “indies” (Fruit Chan), transnational cinema (Evans Chan) as well as emerging queer auteurs (Yau Ching) and successful commercial filmmakers such as Johnnie To and Stephen Chow.

Both Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui passed away during this period, and it seems fitting to start the list with a film starring them both that should be off the list because it was made in the 1980s. ROUGE(1987) was made twenty years ago, ten years before the Handover, and its evocation of a passion for this place can be taken as an appropriate tribute to these two stars' lasting contribution to Hong Kong screen culture. They are sorely missed.

top 5 gina marchetti

1/ MADE IN HONG KONG (1997)

After working in the commercial industry, Fruit Chan went independent with this bleak look at youth, crime, and poverty in Hong Kong 's public housing sector. It captured a sense of loss associated with the Handover, launched Chan's career as an independent filmmaker, and put Hong Kong indies on the international map with and a raw urban style often associated with the Sixth Generation filmmakers from across the border.

 

2/ HOLD YOU TIGHT (1998)

Although overshadowed as a gay “love story” by Wong Kar-wai's HAPPY TOGETHER (1997) and later by Kwan's own LAN YU (2001), this film by Stanley Kwan speaks to the moment with references to changes in Hong Kong immediately after the Handover (e.g., the closing of Kai Tak airport, etc.). Although rooted in a story involving longing and loss, the “queer eye for the straight guy” relationship between Eric Tsang as a gay real estate agent and Sunny Chan as a recently widowed computer nerd moves this film dealing with queer issues in the Chinese-speaking world well beyond the tragic homosexual romance.

 

3/ ORDINARY HEROES (1999)/ THE LIFE AND TIMES OF WU ZHONGXIAN (2003)

As debates involving interpretations of the Basic Law that defines the HKSAR as an entity during the fifty years agreed upon as a transitional period by Britain and China become more heated after 1997, Ann Hui (ORDINARY HEROES) and Evans Chan (LIFE AND TIMES) return to the social movements of the 1970s and 1980s to look at the roots of Hong Kong political activism. These two films deal with many of the same figures, and, moving between fiction and fact, both paint a portrait of the intricate connections of culture, arts, politics, and social justice during a particularly turbulent period in Hong Kong (and world) history.

 

4/ IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000)

Invoking an earlier era, Wong Kar-wai's film conjures up the 1960s and the world of displacement and diaspora experienced by many Chinese passing through Hong Kong, living between Shanghai and the overseas worlds of Japan and Southeast Asia, and experiencing the tragedies and potential liberation of the consequent disintegration of the traditional family. Again, this tale of desire and loss, confusion and unrequited love, fits the times, and the film's mise-en-scene speaks volumes visually as it moves between the cramped rooms of the exiled Shanghai business communities to the women who emerge elegantly dressed in elaborate cheong sam to carry home buckets of precooked noodles while listening to Nat King Cole tunes. Wong goes to the roots of Hong Kong 's cultural hybridity, conjures up nostalgia for the past, and keeps it in check with veiled allusions to the present situation.

 

5/ SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001)

If any film speaks to down-and-out working class viewers suffering through the depths of the Asian economic crisis, this Stephen Chow vehicle does. As a group of down-on-their-luck folks get together to combine Shaolin kung fu with European soccer competition, the madcap comedy offers a message of hope for the unemployed, under-employed, and marginalized in Hong Kong . Known for his “mo-lei-tau”/”nonsense” verbal humor, Chow also displays a knack for physical comedy and a keen appreciation of the history of Chinese martial arts on and off-screen in this film.

 

6/ HO YUK: LET'S LOVE HONG KONG (2002)

Yau Ching's film asks Hong Kong 's lesbian community to get on the move, shake things up, and demand love publicly in Hong Kong . The film's three principal protagonists cross cyberspace, cityscapes, and class divides to express their lesbian desires, stake a claim in the Hong Kong streets and on the screen, and search for love amongst themselves, their families, and their communities. With this film, Yau Ching takes Hong Kong queer cinema to another level by putting it in conversation with the lesbian community, digital technologies, and new concepts of urban space.

 

7/ GOLDEN CHICKEN I and II (2002-3)

Samson Chiu looks at recent Hong Kong history through the story of a prostitute played by Sandra Ng. Funny and topical, the two installments cover everything from SARS and Hong Kong/PRC relations to Andy Lau's campaigns for consumer justice sponsored by the Hong Kong government. Of course, the eponymous prostitute sees herself as delivering top notch customer service. Although satiric in tone, the film is quite gentle in its treatment of the issues and tender toward Hong Kong 's marginalized workers, Mainland immigrants, and struggling women.

 

8/ INFERNAL AFFAIRS—The Trilogy (2003-4)

Martin Scorsese remade INFERNAL AFFAIRS as THE DEPARTED (2006), which recently swept the Academy Awards by picking up four Oscars including “best picture” and “best director.” However, the transnational success of the story upon which both films are based goes far beyond Hollywood accolades. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak helped to bring Hong Kong cinema out of its doldrums by putting two of the industry's biggest stars on screen together—Andy Lau and Tony Leung Chiu Wai. Alan Mak (working with Felix Chong) crafted a screenplay dealing with moles in the ranks of both cops and crooks that captured the imagination of the stars and went on to make Hong Kong cinema once again a bankable commodity in the region. Dealing with contemporary urban crises of corruption, ambition, competition, betrayal and compromise, INFERNAL AFFAIRS speaks to global audiences facing their own identity crises and their own struggles to survive in today's world.

I have written a book on the trilogy that you may want to consult for more information: Gina Marchetti, Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's INFERNAL AFFAIRS—The Trilogy ( Hong Kong : Hong Kong University Press, 2007).

 

9/ ELECTION (2005)

When all of Hong Kong has participatory democracy and the election of the Chief Executive on its mind (see Tammy Cheung's documentary JULY, 2003), Johnnie To is preoccupied with a very different sort of “election.” Evoking the history and rituals of Hong Kong triad societies in meticulous detail, To captures the agony and corruption behind all jockeying for power and position. The gangster context simply magnifies a more general social malaise at the heart of all social and economic hierarchies; in this case, Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka-fai play politics to get to the top with a massive body count left in their wake.

 

10/ AFTER THIS OUR EXILE (2006)

This is the only film on my list that is not set in Hong Kong. Originally, I was going to make “set in or dealing with Hong Kong ” one of my list rules, but this film made me abandon that idea. Inspired by teaching film production in Southeast Asia, Patrick Tam, one of the pioneers of Hong Kong 's New Wave cinema, decided to set his story about the disintegration of a family within the Cantonese-speaking community of Malaysia. Aaron Kwok plays an abusive husband and father addicted to gambling. When his wife leaves the family to start fresh, she leaves her son behind. Man and boy end up on the streets in a film that goes back to Hong Kong New Wave cinema's roots in Italian Neo-realism. The use of location filming, vernacular speech, available lighting, an episodic narrative, careful framing, long takes and long shots of an environment in decay place it within an aesthetic tradition that remains viable within Hong Kong's film culture, and it is a tribute to the lasting impact of the New Wave today.

As I compiled this list of ten films, several things struck me about my choices. Given my interest in Hong Kong martial arts cinema, I surprised myself by only including SHAOLIN SOCCER as an example of this genre. Although many Hong Kong-inspired martial arts films have made significant waves during this period (from Ang Lee's CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON to Zhang Yimou's HERO), the Hong Kong produced martial arts films did not quite make the grade in any given year. Several Jackie Chan vehicles were close, but not quite there. Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Sammo Hung, Jacky Wu (Wu Jing) also had some very good action scenes during the decade, but, ultimately, the films did not stand out. (Liu Chia-liang's performance in Tsui Hark's SEVEN SWORDS (2005) is also worth mentioning.)

However, my other major surprise was more hopeful. As I compiled an initial list of films, I had no trouble at all thinking of a range of outstanding productions over the last decade. (I had fifty on my initial list—averaging ten films that were outstanding in my mind each year.) Given the decline in the industry, I was delighted to see that Hong Kong still boasts a range of films that merit attention. If the commercial sector is in decline, Hong Kong independent, alternative, and experimental filmmakers appear to be making up the difference. Also, with films like IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE and INFERNAL AFFAIRS, Hong Kong continues to be taken seriously by both European art cinema taste-makers (e.g., at Cannes) and Hollywood (e.g., THE DEPARTED). Although renegotiating its position in relation to the PRC has resulted in more co-productions and a greater awareness of the importance of the mainland market, the HKSAR has not narrowed its ambitions, and Hong Kong continues to provide a range of works that have traveled well within the region and around the world.

 
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