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Sanjuro's Hong Kong Cinema Recommendations
Updated February 2005
For the benefit of readers who might be interested, I've compiled a list of some of my all-time favorite Hong Kong movies. Over the years-heck, even just over a couple days-my tastes will change. Acknowledging my shifting, ever-evolving interests, I've gone ahead and put together a selection of films that I've really enjoyed, and I hope others will like, too. True, there have been some oversights. But if your favorite Hong Kong film isn't here, maybe it'll make the grade next time (Unless of course you think Gen-Y Cops is the greatest Hong Kong movie ever made. Believe me, that movie will NEVER be on this list!). So whether you're a longtime fan or just a newcomer to Hong Kong cinema, I hope this list helps. And no, I do not look like the picture to the left.
The List:
Hard Boiled (1992)
Drunken Master II (1994)
In the Mood for Love (2000)
Shaolin Soccer (2001)
Once Upon a Time in China II (1991)
Running Out of Time (1999)
Fist of Fury (1972)
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
Cave of the Silken Web (1967)
Needing You (2000)
The Eye (2002)
Dirty Ho (1979)

Hard Boiled  
As John Woo's last and perhaps best Hong Kong movie, Hard Boiled is the kind of film where critical hyperbole like "it's a pulse-pounding, high-octane thrill ride" isn't far from the truth. Although his role as Mark in the A Better Tomorrow films may be more iconic, Chow Yun-Fat owns all as Tequila Yuen, a swaggering hardboiled cop who radiates so much charm and charisma that it's not hard to see why Chow was dubbed "the coolest actor on the planet" a few years back. But of course, with most John Woo films, the action is the main draw, and Hard Boiled doesn't disappoint. In the words of my esteemed colleague Kozo, this movie boasts the "MOST INSANE BLAZING TWO-GUN ACTION YOU'LL EVER SEE." And he's right on the money. In terms of balletic action, this is John Woo at his finest.
Further Recommendations:
A Better Tomorrow (1986)
A Better Tomorrow II (1987)
Bullet in the Head (1990)
City on Fire (1987)
Gen-X Cops (1999)
God of Gamblers (1989)
God of Gamblers' Return (1994)
Hong Kong 1941 (1984)
The Killer (1989)
Once a Thief (1991)
Tiger on Beat (1988)
Time and Tide (2000)

Drunken Master II (1994)  
Drunken Master II is perhaps Jackie Chan's finest film, if not the best kung fu movie ever put on celluloid. It has some of Jackie's best stunts, mixing original director Lau Kar-Leung's old school choreography with Jackie Chan's contemporary kung fu comedy shtick. A word of warning: don't analyze the plot too closely (Oh Andy Lau, where art thou?), and you'll be just fine. Just sit back and enjoy the fireworks. Chan's last stand against the amazing leg-fighter Ken Lo is probably one of the best ending battles in cinema history. Really.
Further Recommendations:
Armour of God II: Operation Condor (1991)
Dragon Lord (1982)
Dragons Forever (1988)
Drunken Master (1978)
Eastern Condors (1987)
Fearless Hyena (1979)
In the Line of Duty 4 (1989)
Police Story (1985)
Police Story 2 (1988)
Police Story 3: Supercop (1992)
Police Story 4: First Strike (1996)
Project A (1983)
Project A II (1987)
Royal Warriors (1986)
Rumble in the Bronx (1995)
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow (1978)
Twin Dragons (1992)
The Young Master (1980)

In the Mood for Love  
My favorite Wong Kar-Wai movie EVER and probably the best film the critically-acclaimed auteur will ever make, although one hopes he can again craft something as wonderful as In the Mood for Love, a beautiful film that improves with ever subsequent viewing. Credit must also go to William Cheung Suk-Ping, Christopher Doyle, Lee Ping-Ban for the film's look, as well as Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung for delivering career-defining performances that are sure to be remembered for a very long time. It doesn't get much better than this.
Further Recommendations:
2046 (2004)
As Tears Go By (1988)
Ashes of Time (1994)
Centre Stage (1992)
Chungking Express (1994)
Comrades, Almost A Love Story (1996)
Days of Being Wild (1990)
Fallen Angels (1995)
Lost and Found (1996)

July Rhapsody (2001)
Lost in Time (2003)
A Moment of Romance (1990)
Running on Karma (2003)
Sausalito (2000)

Shaolin Soccer (2001)  
Some folks think the first part drags, but those young grasshoppers just lack patience. Believe the hype! Shaolin Soccer is the ultimate Hong Kong flick super sampler. It's got a good old fashioned underdog story with a lot of kung fu, comedy, CGI wizardry, and just a little bit of romance. Add to the mix the funniest, and most honorific Bruce Lee homage to date, and you have the formula for a fantastic picture. The presence of the lovely Zhao Wei helps, too.
Further Recommendations:
All for the Winner (1990)
Fight Back to School (1991)

Flirting Scholar (1993)
From Beijing with Love (1994)
God of Cookery (1996)
God of Gamblers 2 (1990)
King of Beggars (1992)
King of Comedy (1999)
Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
Look Out, Officer! (1990)
Love on Delivery (1994)
Royal Tramp (1992)

Once Upon a Time in China II (1992)  
Admit it, you think the first film is pretty boring. The truth is that Once Upon a Time in China II is Jet Li's and Tsui Hark's real epic masterpiece, actually surpassing the original as the best of the series. Sure, I had reservations about putting yet another sequel on the list, but OUATIC 2 is a great flick and also the first Hong Kong film I ever saw that didn't star Bruce Lee (or his clones). Part of what makes this movie a standout is the addition of the very funny Max Mok to the cast (replacing Yuen Biao) and the fact that Jet Li battles two great villains at the end - the evil gwailo-hater Kung and a corrupt official played by Donnie Yen. While the original film experimented with a lot of themes and genres, Once Upon a Time in China II successfully melds spectacular martial arts, chivalric romance, and social commentary into one great picture.
Further Recommendations:
Fong Sai-Yuk (1993)
Fong Sai-Yuk 2 (1993)
Iron Monkey (1993)
Kung Fu Cult Master (1993)
Last Hero in China (1993)
My Father is a Hero (1995)
Once Upon a Time in China (1991)
Once Upon a Time in China III (1993)
Once Upon a Time in China IV (1993)
Once Upon a Time in China V (1994)
Once Upon a Time in China and America (1997)
Tai-Chi Master (1993)
Wing Chun (1994)

Running Out of Time (1999)  
While not as sleek as Infernal Affairs, this Johnnie To-directed heist flick most definitely delivers the goods. The plot hooks the viewer immediately: a cancer-stricken thief (Andy Lau) engages a dedicated police negotiator (Lau Ching-Wan) into an intriguing game of cat and mouse. Though there are probably gaping plot holes and huge leaps in logic, who really cares? Ultimately, this Milky Way production serves as a fantastic showcase for two of Hong Kong's best and brightest actors, one of whom (Andy Lau) took home the Best Actor prize at the 19th Annual Hong Kong Film Awards. And even better, the film boasts an awfully catchy theme song!
Further Recommendations:
Breaking News (2004)
Bullets of Love (2001)
Century of the Dragon (1999)

The Colour of the Truth (2003)
Fulltime Killer (2001)
Infernal Affairs (2002)
Infernal Affairs II (2003)
Infernal Affairs III (2003)
Lee Rock (1991)
Lee Rock 2 (1991)
The Longest Nite (1998)
The Mission (1999)
One Nite in Mongkok (2004)
Throwdown (2004)

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon  
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is more than just a movie; it's a phenomenon. Along with The Matrix, its title will forever be used as a comparative term for film blurbs around the world ("It's a cross between."). Based on the book by Wang Du-Lu, CTHD is the epic tale of two couples coming to grips with the realities of living in the martial world. Chow Yun-Fat and Michelle Yeoh are great, while Zhang Ziyi turns in a star-making performance. With all the hype surrounding the film, it's no wonder that there has been a bit of a backlash since its original theatrical release. Some say that it's too slow, or that there's too much flying, etc. But for me, those complaints don't even register at all. Beautiful and compelling to the very last, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is nothing less than a cinematic masterpiece.
Further Recommendations:

The Bride with White Hair (1993)
Dragon Inn (1992)
The Duel (2000)
Duel to the Death (1983)
Hero (2002)
House of Flying Daggers (2004)

A Man Called Hero (1999)
Moon Warriors (1992)
The Storm Riders (1998)
Swordsman (1990)
Swordsman II (1991)
A Touch of Zen (1971)

Cave of the Silken Web (1967)  
My childhood hero comes to life in the third (and best) installment of the Shaw Brothers' adaptation of Journey to the West. Here, the Monkey King and his merry men do battle with a coven of sexy spider vixens. Hilarity ensues. Cave of the Silken Web is wacky fun from start to finish, boasting all the ingredients for a sidesplitting, adventure-filled romp that the whole family can enjoy. In other words, I liked it.
Further Recommendations:
A Chinese Odyssey Part 1 (1995)
A Chinese Odyssey Part 2 (1995)
Executioners (1994)
The Heroic Trio (1993)
The Land of Many Perfumes (1968)
Monkey Goes West (1966)
Princess Iron Fan (1966)
Super-Infra Man (1975)

Fist of Fury (1972)  
Who's the master? No, it's not Sho-Nuff, it's Bruce Lee, fool! And while this Lo Wei-directed flick may seem like just another "You killed my master!" revenge yarn, Bruce Lee's charismatic performance puts Fist of Fury at the top of the heap. Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and even Stephen Chow have tried to fill the shoes of the master in their own various remake and sequel attempts, but even after all these years, Fist of Fury reigns supreme.
Further Recommendations:
The Big Boss (1971)
Enter the Dragon (USA 1973)
Fist of Fury 1991 (1991)
Fist of Fury 1991 II (1992)
Fist of Legend (1994)
Game of Death (1972/1979)
Legend of the Dragon (1991)
Way of the Dragon (1972)

Needing You (2000)  
With its formulaic plotline and totally unrealistic finale, Needing You is a movie that I should hate with a passion. Well, I don't. Before I saw this film, I failed to grasp the appeal of Sammi Cheng. But I get it now—boy do I ever! The onscreen chemistry between the film's co-stars, the Moment of Romance parodies, and Cheng's "seduction" scene (see picture) coached by an affable Andy Lau are just some of the memorable moments that make this bubbly romantic comedy worthwhile.
Further Recommendations:
The Chinese Feast (1995)
Chinese Odyssey 2002 (2002)
Dry Wood Fierce Fire (2002)
Fat Choi Spirit (2002)
Just One Look (2002)
Love on a Diet (2001)
My Wife is 18 (2002)
Peking Opera Blues (1986)
Rave Fever (1999)
Tokyo Raiders (2000)

The Eye  
It scared me.                                                             


Further Recommendations:
A Chinese Ghost Story (1987)
A Chinese Ghost Story 2 (1990)
A Chinese Ghost Story 3 (1991)
Haunted Cop Shop (1987)
Inner Senses (2002)
Rouge (1988)
Mr. Vampire (1985)
Mr. Vampire II (1986)
My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002)
Visible Secret 2 (2002)
Nightmares in Precinct 7 (2001)

Dirty Ho (1979)  
While it does claim the single greatest title in cinema history, Dirty Ho has a lot more going for it than mere novelty status. Directed by Lau Kar-Leung, the film features Wong Yue as the title character, an impetuous young punk who meets up with a slumming, prince-in-disguise played by the Shaolin Master Killer himself, Gordon Liu Chia-Hui. After a series of humorous, well-choreographed fight sequences, the two (in true buddy movie fashion) form an unlikely friendship as they try to overcome a royal assassination plot. Though the fighting is perhaps not as speedy as most would expect from a Hong Kong flick, the action set pieces in Dirty Ho are so intricately choreographed—and oftentimes shot in a single take—that you can't help but be impressed. And if the title alone isn't enough to convince you, Dirty Ho even boasts one of the funniest taglines in recent memory: "You haven't lived until you've fought Dirty Ho…and then you're dead!"
Further Recommendations:
The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978)
Clan of the White Lotus (1980)
Heroes of the East (1978)
Legendary Weapons of China (1982)
The Master of the Flying Guillotine (1975)
My Young Auntie (1981)
Return to the 36th Chamber (1980)
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