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Top 50 Hong Kong Films of the Decade

Written by Kozo Tell a Friend

Originally published on Reprinted with permission.

We asked and you answered.'s readers voted to decide this list of the Top 50 Hong Kong Films of the Decade, and response was far better than expected. My original hope was that 100 readers would vote, but we ended up with over 150 responses!

Also, there's a Bonus #51 and 52 listed here, because one reader sent in a late vote that would have altered the last couple of slots. The two films that could have crashed the list are actually (in my opinion) two key films of the Aughts, so I wanted to include them anyway. Webmaster's prerogative.

Thanks again to everyone who voted! Let's get started:

52 (BONUS). LOVE UNDERCOVER (2002), directed by Joe Ma - approximately 30-37 points

Silly, commercial and super crowd pleasing, Love Undercover should be noted for a variety of reasons: it made Miriam Yeung a superstar, established Daniel Wu as a viable comic performer, and turned Hui Siu-Hung's catch phrase "Go! Go! Go!" into a part of everyday Hong Kong lingo. Regardless of what it truly accomplishes - which isn't much, mind you - there may not be a funnier, more genuinely enjoyable Hong Kong film on this list.

51 (BONUS). THE EYE (2002), directed by The Pang Brothers - approximately 29-38 points

In the wake of the Pang Brothers' prolific and maddeningly inconsistent output from the remainder of the decade, it's easy to drop 2002's The Eye from consideration, but it would be a shame to do so. The Eye is basically Hong Kong's Ring, a game-changing horror film that brilliantly folded suspense, emotion and common, everyday scares into its narrative. Also key is the casting of Angelica Lee, who's turned in better performances in horror-thriller genre films than any actress this decade.

50. TIME AND TIDE (2000), directed by Tsui Hark - 36 points

Tsui Hark returned to Hong Kong after years as Jean-Claude Van Damme's enabler with this exciting and sometimes bewildering action film, which blended over-the-top action with surprising existentialism and some unexpected and even lyrical moments. The special cast - Nic Tse, Taiwan rocker Wu Bai, musician Jun Kung, Taiwan actor Jack Kao, and Candy Lo in a delightful debut - adds to the fun. A highlight: the housing estate-set gun battle that blows away anything Tsui Hark has attempted since.

49. HOOKED ON YOU (2007), directed by Law Wing-Cheong - 36 points, 1 first place vote

In 2007, Hong Kong cinemas received three films commemorating the 10th anniversary of the Handover, but Hooked On You was easily the cream of the crop. Solid acting, surprising emotions, and a dose of local love made this not only the best Handover film, but one of the best of 2007 period. Runner-up for Best Picture at that year's LoveHKFilm Awards, Hooked on You sadly got no love from the big boys like the Hong Kong Film Awards. Bonus points: Hooked On You also stars Huang Bo.

48. JIANG HU - THE TRIAD ZONE (2000), directed by Dante Lam Chiu-Yin - 37 points

Dante Lam's 2000 triad comedy is an entertaining and very surprising work, going for satire rather than suspense in this gangland tale of a triad boss (a super Tony Leung Ka-Fai) facing his possible death. Says Grady Hendrix, "This is the ultimate triad movie, and you can't have an ultimate triad movie without Tony Leung Ka-Fai in a tacky jacket chewing the scenery. Smarter than it should be, it's not only a viking funeral for twenty years of low budget triad films, but it's one of the most romantic odes to married life ever put on film."

47. FLASH POINT (2007), directed by Wilson Yip - 37 points, 1 first place vote

If SPL was a punch in the face, then Flash Point is a kick to the nuts. Flash Point stars Donnie Yen, Donnie Yen, and some guys who aren't as great as Donnie Yen. Sure, Louis Koo and even Fan Bing-Bing appear in the film, but who cares? Flash Point is all Donnie, all the time. Just ask Collin Chou, who won the 2008 LoveHKFilm Team Player Award for his role as Donnie's punching bag. Donnie Yen isn't just awesome in Flash Point, he's SUPER AWESOME. Some guy directed this film, but he wasn't Donnie so it's probably not important.

46. CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER (2006), directed by Zhang Yimou - 39 points

Sometimes excess is good, and Curse of the Golden Flower is one of those times. Zhang Yimou's return to costume film opulence is a grand melodrama about a family rotting from within, and a mainland release that managed to earn megabucks while also tweaking the country ever so-slightly. The film has CGI armies, flying ninjas, incest, betrayal, Chow Yun-Fat with flowing hair, and some eye-popping Gong Li cleavage, but it's also a dramatically sound, gripping commercial film that's big, loud and very entertaining. For crass visuals, this is Zhang Yimou's masterpiece - that is, if you don't count the 2008 Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony.

45. PERHAPS LOVE (2005), directed by Peter Chan Ho-Sun - 41 points

Peter Chan's Perhaps Love is probably one of the saddest and also most beautiful Hong Kong films of the decade. Chan got an assist from Christopher Doyle for his visuals, and the set designs, costumes and acting are all top notch. The killer, however, is the emotions. Who hasn't thought of enacting a little romantic revenge before, and seeing the usually sympathetic Takeshi Kaneshiro as the perpetrator adds an extra twist to the knife. The sublime Zhou Xun won numerous acting awards for her role, but Jacky Cheung quite possibly steals the picture.

44. LOVE BATTLEFIELD (2004), directed by Soi Cheang - 44 points

A full-on miracle of a Hong Kong movie, Love Battlefield is thrilling, emotional, suspenseful and very, very good. The story of a couple (Niki Chow and Eason Chan) who break up one morning and proceed to find their love tested in unexpected and violent ways, Love Battlefield is way underrated as a Hong Kong movie even today. With Love Battlefield, director Soi Cheang showed mass audiences that he had more to offer than the horror tropes of the Horror Hotline movies, and he's not looked back since.

43. FUNERAL MARCH (2001), directed by Joe Ma - 44 points, 1 first place vote

Charlene Choi, meet the movies. The taller Twin got her first big break with Funeral March, and showed charm and surprising talent in the genre-typical role of a young girl suffering from a terminal illness. She's not the only story here, though, as this was director Joe Ma's first foray into real drama, and he managed to impress while avoiding the pitfalls of a done-to-death genre. Sadly, Ma's only other drama, Embrace Your Shadow, was roundly disappointing. At least we'll always have Funeral March.

42. ISABELLA (2006), directed by Pang Ho-Cheung - 46 points

It's the name of the dog, not the girl, and the film never bothers to explain it. Then again, not explaining his private jokes is par for Pang Ho-Cheung, who took his filmmaking game to a whole new level with the gorgeous, funny and beautifully cinematic Isabella. As good-looking as any Wong Kar-Wai film and a whole lot wittier, Isabella also earns points for its leading lady Isabella Leong, who once upon a time was Hong Kong Cinema's bright young hope. She's since appeared in Mummy 3 and a whole lot of tabloids.

41. YOU SHOOT I SHOOT (2001), directed by Pang Ho-Cheung - 47 points, 1 first place vote

Pang Ho-Cheung made his first splash with this hilarious black comedy that satirized hitmen, triads, the Hong Kong film industry, the financial crisis, and much more, while also introducing us to Jim Chim Sui-Man, who would go on to corner the Hong Kong market on egregious overacting. Most of all, You Shoot I Shoot showed us that Pang was a young filmmaker to be reckoned with, and in the years since he's more than lived up to that promise.

40. MY LEFT EYE SEES GHOSTS (2002), directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai - 48 points

The poster is wacky, and the movie sometimes wackier, but My Left Eye Sees Ghosts has surprise within its silly commercial exterior. Sammi Cheng delivers one of her most broad and best performances as an insufferable widow who gains Sixth Sense-like abilities, while Lau Ching-Wan offers perfect support as the childhood friend who returns to guide her. Formula dictates that Cheng's character undergo a significant change, but - in a smart Wai Ka-Fai-esque subversion - she really doesn't. Instead, it's the audience who learns to change their tune.

39. PROTEGE (2007), directed by Derek Yee - 48 points

Protege may possess an obvious and even labored anti-drug message, but it's a powerful, compelling work with some very good performances. Director Derek Yee makes exposition into entertainment, with undercover cop Daniel Wu's initiation into the drug trade proving both educational and enthralling. Yee knows when to amp the violence too, which he does during the film's most famous moment, when cop Liu Kai-Chi pitches in a hand to help his fellow cops raid druglord Andy Lau's "kitchen". No pun intended.

38. JUST ONE LOOK (2002), directed by Riley Yip - 50 points, 1 first place vote

What's great about Just One Look? Director Riley Yip's dramedy is a sweet little Valentine to first loves, fathers, coming of age, and that most priceless of all things: cinema. It also has Gillian Chung, still young and innocent; Wong Yau-Nam, still full of promise; and Anthony Wong being Anthony Wong. Just One Look also gets bonus points for its location - charming, unmistakable Cheung Chau - plus its final cameo, which would only be spoiled by someone who hates movies. Or maybe a film critic.

37. LOVE ON A DIET (2001), directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai - 51 points

Johnnie To plus Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng in fat suits probably spelled the death of Hong Kong Cinema for some, but this super-popular comedy had local audiences wrapped around its plus-sized finger. Love on a Diet is many things: a wacky comedy, a pre-packaged star vehicle, a winsome little romance, and a clever genre deconstruction. Above all, this is an entertaining, funny blockbuster with more star power than any film requires. The award-winning Sammi Cheng theme song helps too.

36. CRAZY 'N THE CITY (2005), directed by James Yuen Sai-Sang - 53 points

2005's first Hong Kong film turned out to be very nearly its best thanks to James Yuen's Crazy 'N The City. A "cop soap opera", the film takes a routine premise and spins surprising gold, going for emotional highs and lows and sudden, gear-shifting changes from farce to life-and-death drama. Producer Derek Yee's touch is evident too, with the film's loving look at Wanchai proving accurate and affecting. Francis Ng steals scenes as the righteous village idiot, but it's Eason Chan who anchors the film with grouchy and lovable grace.

35. MY WIFE IS 18 (2002), directed by by James Yuen Sai-Sang - 58 points, 2 first place votes

My Wife is 18 ranked higher than Just One Look on this list? What the-? Incredulity aside, this high concept comedy has its legacy. It produced an inferior Korean remake, plus starred the Ekin Cheng-Charlene Choi pairing that would continue through the decade. Also, there's something about this movie - an odd, amusing, even irresistible vibe - that gives it strangely lasting appeal. Is it Charlene Choi's toothy smiles or her cheongsam-attired In the Mood for Love impression? Or Ekin Cheng's self-effacing turn as an arrested development dope? As reader Peach wrote in, "It's a guilty pleasure, I'm not proud." We're not proud, either. But here it is.

34. NEW POLICE STORY (2004), directed by Benny Chan - 61 points

What would a Top 50 Hong Kong film list be without Jackie Chan? Chan's best action vehicle of the decade is a return to his Police Story roots, but it also slyly passes the torch to an EEG-appointed group of youngsters, most especially Nicholas Tse, who shows terrific comic charm as Chan's sidekick. Tse would go on to show his own action chops in 2007's Invisible Target, also directed by New Police Story's Benny Chan. Daniel Wu won a Golden Horse Award for his turn as the villain, so people in Taiwan liked it too.

33. JULIET IN LOVE (2001), directed by Wilson Yip - 62 points, 2 first place votes

Reader Se-Jin Park wrote in to say, "I actually don't remember much about Juliet in Love except that it really touched my heart." Filling in the blanks, this uncompromising drama may represent the last truly personal work by Wilson Yip before his budgets ballooned and Donnie Yen became his best friend. A genre film about normal, downtrodden people, Juliet in Love is one of the best adult romances to appear out of Hong Kong this decade. Francis Ng and Sandra Ng star, which should be enough said.

32. JULY RHAPSODY (2001), directed by Ann Hui - 63 points, 1 first place vote

Ann Hui is one of Hong Kong's best local filmmakers, and her 2001 one-two punch of Visible Secret and July Rhapsody showed that in spades. This look at a man reaching middle age is uncommonly strong, with an opaque, involving and accomplished story by Ivy Ho that's realized to low-key perfection by Hui. The acting is beyond reproach - Jacky Cheung and the late Anita Mui give their characters' marriage years of lived-in frustration, and then-newcomer Karena Lam rightly deserved each and every one of her awards. Ten years on, July Rhapsody only looks better and better.

31. SPARROW (2008), directed by Johnnie To - 64 points

On craft alone, Sparrow could make any Top 50 list. This stylish, cinematic, and undeniably seductive caper comedy is Johnnie To's love letter to cinema, Hong Kong and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and it features Milkyway regular Simon Yam at his most dapper and gentlemanly. The romantic car ride between Yam and Kelly Lin lovingly recalls Cary Grant and Grace Kelly, and Xavier Jamaux and Fred Avril's score is the perfect, playful accompaniment. Best moment: the single take crane shot early on following Yam and his pickpocket crew lifting the locals.

30. FULLTIME KILLER (2001), directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai - 66 points, 1 first place vote

Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai went for international audiences with Fulltime Killer, hiring Japanese actor Takashi Sorimachi to play cool-as-ice hitman O and loading the film with stylish action sequences. But Fulltime Killer's best trick is its postmodern themes; O's flamboyant hitman rival Tok (Andy Lau) emulates popular action movies on his jobs because he "likes their style". Also, the screenplay neatly lifts from John Ford's The Man Who Shot Libery Valance to sublime and even haunting effect. The swipes are cool; if anything, Fulltime Killer is all about the movies.

29. THE BEAST STALKER (2008), directed by Dante Lam Chiu-Yin - 67 points, 1 first place vote

It's Nick Cheung versus Nic Tse in Dante Lam's The Beast Stalker, and while Nic (the cop) is the nominal victor, the true winner is Nick Cheung, who took his relentless bad guy role and turned it into six acting awards and counting. A gritty crime thriller with a pronounced human edge, Beast Stalker is a great Hong Kong movie - exciting, emotional, and willing to get beneath the skins of its none-too-perfect protagonists. For the action-inclined, the slow-motion car crash sequence is worth multiple looks.

28. AFTER THIS, OUR EXILE (2006), directed by Patrick Tam Ka-Ming - 67 points, 2 first place votes

Aaron Kwok won his second consecutive Golden Horse Award for his performance After This, Our Exile, and while his first win was somewhat questionable, this one feels rightly deserved. This dark, harrowing and precise drama deserved its accolades too - and it received plenty. Best Picture at the Golden Horse and Hong Kong Film Awards, After This, Our Exile served as the perfect welcome back for director Patrick Tam, who hadn't made a feature in 18 years. Hopefully it won't be 18 years before his next one.

27. CHINESE ODYSSEY 2002 (2002), directed by Jeff Lau - 75 points, 1 first place vote

No Hong Kong film list would be complete without a nonsense comedy, and Chinese Odyssey 2002 could be one of the best ever. Jeff Lau's Lunar New Year film is unusually upscale; besides hiring way-above-average stars Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Faye Wong, Chang Chen and Vicki Zhao, the film is produced by Jet Tone Films, which is run by a guy named Wong Kar-Wai. The film has its silly points, but also some twists that prove surprisingly affecting. Having Tony Leung Chiu-Wai portray those emotions onscreen - well, it's no wonder this movie made so many Top 10 lists. Recipient of a Best Picture award from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society. It beat Infernal Affairs.

26. MY NAME IS FAME (2006), directed by Lawrence Lau - 77 points, 1 first place vote

Anyone who really loves Hong Kong movies should love My Name is Fame, not only for its incessant references to the HK film industry but for its leading man, the always-appreciated but usually-not-rewarded Lau Ching-Wan. Lau broke his streak of Hong Kong Film Award losses, finally taking home a Best Actor award with his engaging star turn as aging actor Poon Ka-Fai. That, and the film's positive spirit and glowing portrait of Hong Kong Cinema make it a gem. The cameos by Hong Kong actors and directors, from Ekin Cheng and Ann Hui to Tony Leung Ka-Fai and Gordon Chan, help too.

25. LUST, CAUTION (2007), directed by Ang Lee - 80 points, 3 first place votes

Ang Lee's Lust, Caution should have won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, right? We'll never know, because the film never qualified for a single submitting country thanks to its confluence of investors and producers, who came from China, Taiwan, the US and finally Hong Kong. The film could have won - it's simply that good and that accomplished, with disciplined direction from Ang Lee and flawless performances from Tang Wei and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, who actually managed to surpass his own impossibly high acting standard. The Oscars need a do over.

24. MY LIFE AS MCDULL (2001), directed by Toe Yuen - 89 points, 2 first place votes

It's marketed for kids, but it's really adults who get the magical, lyrical and even depressing world of McDull. Hong Kong's signature animated pig, the dimwitted McDull uses fantasy and some self-delusion to rise above his humble Tai Kok Tsui trappings, hoping for a life that's worthwhile and accomplished. But hey, he has a loving mom in Mrs. Mak, and perhaps in his attempts at a better life, he's actually found one. The sequels, McDull, Prince de la Bun and McDull Kung Fu Ding Ding Dong are also quite exceptional.

23. FEARLESS (2006), directed by Ronny Yu - 100 points, 1 first place vote

With Fearless, Jet Li accomplished what should have been impossible: he surpassed Jackie Chan. Li essentially extended his career by an extra 10 years with his performance as Huo Yuan-Jia, convincing audiences of his worth as a dramatic actor while still maintaining his cachet as an action star. Li took home a Best Actor award from the Hong Kong Film Critics Society for Fearless, and built upon the cred earned here with an even more acclaimed turn in The Warlords. Oh, Fearless is a pretty good movie too.

22. MEN SUDDENLY IN BLACK (2003), directed by Pang Ho-Cheung - 107 points, 2 first place votes

You Shoot I Shoot brought Pang Ho-Cheung notice, but Men Suddenly in Black brought him box office success. Based on Chor Yuen's 1969 film Wise Wives and Foolish Husbands, Men Suddenly in Black is smart, self-aware Hong Kong silliness, parodying film, media, and a whole lot more to tell its acerbic Battle of the Sexes tale, where four men conspire to cheat on their wives in the most elaborate way possible. A highlight: Tony Leung Ka-Fai's blisteringly funny cameo as a "fallen" comrade of the wannabe adulterers.

21. ELECTION 2 (2006), directed by Johnnie To - 138 points, 3 first place votes

Pitch-black and pitch-perfect, Johnnie To's sequel to his award-winning Election is considered by some to be even better than its predecessor. Picking up not too long after the original, the film explores an all-new triad election involving a power-mad incumbent (Simon Yam), a business-minded golden boy (Louis Koo) and, in the film's masterstroke, China. Dark and meaty in more ways than one, Election 2 represents Johnnie To at possibly the height of his filmmaking powers.

20. 2046 (2004), directed by Wong Kar-Wai - 143 points, 5 first place votes

Wong Kar-Wai may have recycled for 2046, but when you recycle the best, you get something that's still pretty damn good. His 2046 is a fever dream of images and emotions, melding Wong's most enduring ideas and obsessions with some sci-fi elements that feel fresh and also just a little off. Is this a sequel to In the Mood for Love? An alternate timeline spin-off? Or just further proof that Wong Kar-Wai really likes to refer to his own work? Who knows? At least he made the movie and we get to watch it.

19. IP MAN (2008), directed by Wilson Yip - 144 points, 2 first place votes

He's Ip Man, and don't you forget it. This biopic of Bruce Lee's Wing Chun master may play fast and loose with the facts, but its Fist of Legend-style action sequences get the point - and the power - across. Sammo Hung's action scenes are fast, strong and possessing of an emotional context that makes them both thrilling and essential. Donnie Yen goes subtle and subdued for his role as Ip Man, turning in a performance that blows away anything he'd done previously. Beware: Ip Man 2 is coming.

18. MAD DETECTIVE (2007), directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai - 157 points, 2 first place votes

Milkyway Image founders Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai reunited for Mad Detective, a mindbending and enthralling crime thriller that brought Lau Ching-Wan back to the Milkyway fold. As a detective who sees a person's "inner personality", Lau Ching-Wan is great and grizzled, and the complex, haunting screenplay from Wai Ka-Fai and Au Kin-Yee deserves its own special mention. Johnnie To may be the revered master, but Mad Detective shows that it's the sum of the parts that makes Milkyway Image click.

17. LOST IN TIME (2003), directed by Derek Yee - 162 points, 1 first place vote

Everyone knew Cecilia Cheung could act, but this well? Derek Yee's remarkable Lost in Time depicts the age-old tale of a widow coping with the loss of her husband (Louis Koo), but it's how Yee tells his story that earns the film acres of deserved acclaim. Involving details on local Hong Kong life, developed characters, and admirable restraint all make this the standout local drama of the Aughts. Cecilia Cheung won a Best Actress Hong Kong Film Award, but Lau Ching-Wan's layered performance as Cheung's could-be new suitor shouldn't be overlooked.

16. NEEDING YOU... (2000), directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai - 172 points, 3 first place votes

With its focus on workplace romance, Needing You... could be counted as among one of Hong Kong's most representative films of the decade, as there's something in this daffy, delicious romantic comedy that really represents what life in the former British colony is like. For everyone else, it's simply the chemistry between Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng, plus Cheng's star-making performance, that make Needing You... the enduring winner that it is. Never has cleaning a toilet been more funny or endearing.

15. THROWDOWN (2004), directed by Johnnie To - 174 points, 3 first place votes

Grady Hendrix says, "If I had to pick one Johnnie To film to watch forever, this would be it. He's made better movies, he's made more successful movies but he's rarely made a more philosophically dense and moral movie." Lots of people apparently agreed, with Throwdown ranking far above many of To's other works - not bad for a film that's about, of all things, judo. It's the human factor that sticks though, Johnnie To expertly and stylishly revealing his characters and their situations to astonishing emotional effect. Whether they know judo or not, everyone can take something from Throwdown.

14. PTU (2003), directed by Johnnie To - 201 points, 2 first place votes

It's Johnnie To. Again. The on-again, off-again shooting schedule of PTU raised some concern, but the result was one of To's most enduring works - a nighttime crime thriller that's equal parts mystery and suspense, inspiration and irony. To selected his blue-collar actors - Simon Yam, Lam Suet, Maggie Siu - to journey into the Hong Kong night, but the real stars may be Hong Kong's urban spaces and the pools of light silently dotting the darkness. Remember to bring a flashlight - and for god's sake, don't drop your gun.

13. RED CLIFF (2008) and RED CLIFF II (2009), directed by John Woo

Chris Wolter says, "How can this not be on a top ten list?" Well, it's not in the Top 10, but Red Cliff scored high with enough readers that it ended up at #13. Give it a few more years and Red Cliff may rise even higher, with the weight of time only adding to its legacy. John Woo's return to Chinese cinema is a massive, possibly indulgent, but undeniably entertaining epic, with a star-studded cast that manages to take iconic characters and make them their own. The battle sequences are already the stuff of legend. Chow Yun-Fat was once supposed to star in this thing, but who really cares now? Probably only Chow Yun-Fat.

12. CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000), directed by Ang Lee - 211 points, 8 first place votes

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon ranked number 10 on the Hong Kong Film Awards' list of 100 Greatest Chinese Films, making it the only film from the Aughts to make it into their Top 10. It's very easy to understand why. This stunning martial arts epic took a beloved genre and thrust it into a new century, giving it a grandeur, emotion and artistry never before seen, while also appealing to all audiences - something that Wong Kar-Wai's super-arty Ashes of Time could not do. Crouching Tiger's influence on both art and commerce in Chinese film cannot be denied, and neither can Ang Lee's incredible talent as a filmmaker. The only question is: how did this movie end up at only #12?

11. SPL (2005), directed by Wilson Yip - 218 points, 6 first place votes

SPL brought Hong Kong-style action back in a big way, mixing some truly awesome fight sequences into a dark gangland tale about cops crossing the line in order to take down the bad guys. But really, the rest of the film could be ignored simply to highlight that one big scene: the alleyway duel between Donnie Yen and Wu Jing where the two go at it so fast and so convincingly that one wonders if they didn't really try to hurt one another. SPL arguably created more new fans of Hong Kong Cinema than any film on this list - except possibly the #12 and the #1 film - and for that it gets extra props.

10. RUNNING ON KARMA (2003), directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai

As if Andy Lau in a fat suit wasn't enough, in 2003 Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai gave us Andy Lau in a muscle suit. However, Running on Karma couldn’t be more different than Love on a Diet. Johnnie To and Wai Ka-Fai take their Buddhist obsessions to a surprising extreme, challenging the safe notions of commercial cinema while simultaneously shocking, delighting and confounding their audience. Grady Hendrix says that Running on Karma is "everything that is good and kind and accomplished and ridiculous and stupid and grotesque and head-scratching and over-the-top and insane and amazing and surreal and powerful about Hong Kong movies rolled up into one." Well said.

9. INFERNAL AFFAIRS II (2003), directed by Andrew Lau Wai-Keung and Alan Mak Siu-Fai - 229 points, 4 first place votes

Some people say its better than the first one, and it’s genuinely hard to disagree. Whereas Infernal Affairs was thrilling and overtly commercial, Infernal Affairs II is measured, intelligent and subtly rewarding, taking the first film's iconic characters and developing them in surprising and spectacular ways. Francis Ng adds to his lengthy list of award-caliber performances, and Shawn Yue shows that he's got more going on than media-appointed status as a hot young thing. There are some debits that are understood for a quickie sequel, but Infernal Affairs II is as quality as Hong Kong commercial cinema gets. If only Infernal Affairs III was half as good.

8. ONE NITE IN MONGKOK (2004), directed by Derek Yee - 232 points, 1 first place vote

Derek Yee's One Nite in Mongkok is the decade's classiest crime thriller, going for smart dialogue, solid dramatic performances, and much less style and "aren’t we clever" irony than a decade of Johnnie To has conditioned us to. This is film storytelling at its finest, with strong, clear themes and a cinematic atmosphere that portrays the choked streets of Mongkok with claustrophobic accuracy. The eclectic and very deep cast delivers, with Daniel Wu and Cecilia Cheung providing the star power, but it's Alex Fong Chung-Sun as the pursuing cop who gives the film its hard, compromised soul.

7. HERO (2002), directed by Zhang Yimou - 251 points, 3 first place votes

Iffy politics aside, Hero is a masterpiece - and shouldn't it be? It's got China’s best director, Hong Kong's best actor and actress, arguably Asia's top martial arts star, China's hottest ingenue, plus DONNNNNIEEEE. More important, Hero has color, which is brilliantly used to shade each perspective of the film’s perfect Rashomon-like structure. Hero is a gorgeous swordplay film about the true nature of heroism, and a stunning, artful advancement in the big budget wuxia sweepstakes that began with Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Given Zhang Yimou's subsequent and lesser House of Flying Daggers, Hero may also be the pinnacle of this genre.

6. ELECTION (2005), directed by Johnnie To - 267 points, 2 first place votes

Looking to join the triad? If so, then Election is required viewing. Johnnie To's deadpan brilliant crime thriller consistently enthralls while also playing like a real-world primer on triad politics, with the "dos" and "don'ts" highlighted for those aspiring to one day lead their own gang. DO: suck up to the "uncles". DON'T: behave like a rabid pit-bull and kick your brothers down Lion Rock in wooden crates. DO: threaten your rivals calmly, while also extending one hand in forgiveness. DON'T: start fights that you can’t win, like you versus everyone. DO: invite your former rival to go fishing while packing a shovel. DON'T: accept an invitation to go fishing with your former rival EVER. Hell, these tips work pretty well in the workplace too. Thanks for the life lessons, Johnnie!

5. EXILED (2006), directed by Johnnie To - 276 points, 6 first place votes

A gangland actioner supreme, Exiled is the film that everyone wanted Johnnie To to make. He'd already reached the top of his game with the Election movies, so why not call up some old friends, light up a couple of cigars and reminisce about the good 'ol days a.k.a. The Mission? That's pretty much what Exiled is - The Mission with richer production values, newer Milkyway Image players, super-pronounced bromance, and a self-referential streak that borders on parody. There's some stuff in Exiled that's arguably necessary, but when it's sandwiched between thirty-seven layers of coolness, who the hell cares? Exiled is one for the fans. Aren't we lucky bastards.

4. KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004), directed by Stephen Chow - 281 points, 1 first place vote

The Buddha's Palm owns all, and so does Kung Fu Hustle. An exciting, hilarious and stunning Hong Kong film, Kung Fu Hustle was groundbreaking and revolutionary back in 2004, and yet Hong Kong Cinema still hasn't figured out what made the film so damn good. Maybe that's because it takes a mad genius like Stephen Chow to even attempt a combination of kung-fu, Looney Tunes, the Shaw Brothers, Stanley Kubrick, and state-of-the-art CGI. Chow did that and more, creating a make-or-break box office behemoth that would enchant and entertain audiences worldwide. After Kung Fu Hustle, there was talk of a Kung Fu Hustle 2. We're still waiting. If necessary, we'll wait forever.

3. SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001), directed by Stephen Chow - 500 points, 10 first place votes

Winner of multiple statues including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor and probably Best Craft Services at the 21st Hong Kong Film Awards, Shaolin Soccer is a landmark Hong Kong film, becoming the territory's top-grossing local movie during its theatrical run (only Titanic had grossed more at the time). Besides being award-winning and money-making, the film is very, very good, perfectly mixing Stephen Chow's sardonic comic style with a thrilling sports story, state-of-the-art CGI, and some startlingly effective emotional moments. With Shaolin Soccer, Stephen Chow ceased being Hong Kong Cinema's best-kept secret and launched on a career that would inspire raving from film geeks worldwide. The unfortunate coda: he made only two more films over the next nine years.

2. IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE (2000), directed by Wong Kar-Wai - 512 points, 25 first place votes

Wong Kar-Wai arguably reached his peak with his 2000 masterpiece In the Mood for Love, a romantic drama that took all things Wong Kar-Wai - rampant voiceover, non-linear narratives, situations infused with suffocating longing - and actually used them less, concentrating on only two characters instead of his usual large popstar cast. The result is a far more affecting and accessible work that captures its restrained characters and their why-can't-they situation beautifully. In the Mood for Love is funny, sad, heartbreaking, maddening and sublime, and it's as much due to the actors as their celebrated director. With this film, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Maggie Cheung made a case for themselves as the greatest screen couple in Hong Kong Cinema history. It's possible to deny them that title. But it's not easy.

1. INFERNAL AFFAIRS (2002), directed by Andrew Lau Wai-Keung and Alan Mak Siu-Fai - 879 points, 35 first place votes

All other films had best get out of the way, because Infernal Affairs just owned them. Andrew Lau and Alan Mak's crime thriller received 879 points, a full 367 more than its closest competitor. That is an obscene margin of victory, turning this "Best of the Decade" vote into a full-on blowout. Whereas Shaolin Soccer and In the Mood for Love duked it out until the very last day for second place, Infernal Affairs took charge on day one and never looked back. As for the movie itself, it grossed $55 million at the Hong Kong box office (at the time, trailing only Shaolin Soccer and Titanic), won multiple Best Picture awards, spawned two popular if not acclaimed sequels, and got remade by Martin Scorsese as an Oscar-winning film called The Departed. When giving it a first-place vote, LoveHKFilm reader Lord Garth said "Yes, it is that good." Obviously, many people agreed.

And that's it! I hope you've enjoyed this Top 50 Hong Kong Films of the Decade vote despite the shameless destruction wrought upon all other films by Infernal Affairs. Johnnie To was the big winner with 12 films (13 if you count the To-produced Hooked on You) making the Top 50, though even Mr. To could not crack the Top 3. I'm sure he doesn't mind.

Happy New Decade!

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Published January 5, 2010

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  • Region & Language: Hong Kong United States - English
  • *Reference Currency: No Reference Currency
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