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.