From the classic Wu Xia movies to the martial arts brilliance of Bruce Lee to the action extravaganzas of John Woo to the extraordinary aesthetics of Wong Kar-Wai, Hong Kong has produced some of the best and most exciting movies of the last 50 years. Hong Kong movies can be typified by their energy and bombast, because whether it’s a musical or action movie, the pictures are impossibly lively. Despite being a small country with a tiny population, Hong Kong always seems to leave an impact on cinema and has produced great directors such as Wong Kar-Wai, John Woo, Peter Chan, Stanley Kwan, Johnnie To and Tsui Hark. It’s testament to the strength of Hong Kong cinema that films from To, Kwan and Hark don’t feature on this list. And whilst this list is very Wong Kar-Wai heavy, that says more about the great auteur rather than Hong Kong cinema – he just is that good.
Indeed, Hong Kong has produced some of the best and most well known actors in all of the world. Bruce Lee is recognisable to any film fan, Tony Leung is amongst the greatest living actors, Jet Li is an internationally renowned name, Jackie Chan is a cinematic icon, Donnie Yen is the modern face of martial arts cinema, Chow Yun-Fat is synonymous with action cinema and Andy Lau is as popular as an actor anywhere. If you want to watch an action picture, you go to Hong Kong. If you want to watch a martial arts picture, you go to Hong Kong. If you want to watch loneliness examined in the most beautiful way imaginable, you go to Hong Kong. With the likes of Wong, Woo and To still making films, Hong Kong cinema will continue to thrive and evolve, just like it has done so impressively over the last 50 years.
10. Chungking Express
The first but not the last Wong Kar-Wai movie on this list, Chungking Express was shot quickly and cheaply whilst Ashes of Time was languishing in post-production hell. It’s a frenzied little piece that captures the spirit of Wong and the essence that has made with one of the greatest living directors. Another of Wong’s films to feature loneliness as a key theme, this is the auteur at his most European as despite it being a fundamentally Eastern picture, Jean-Luc Godard and John Cassevetes can clearly be seen in the DNA of the piece.
It’s also Wong at his most offbeat as the quirky characters, most notably Faye Wong’s fast-food waitress who secretly ‘improves’ the home of her crush, Tony Leung’s unnamed policeman, whilst he’s going through a bad breakup. It’s Wong at his most hip and cool, and his love for Godard has never been more apparent than it is here as the film is gloriously youthful. Chungking Express sums up why Hong Kong cinema is so great, it can take any story and inject it full of energy and excitement.
This article was first posted on July 25, 2013