I was reading an article on Twitch the other day, and I came across a terrible “review” by Onderhond of the Hong Kong film High Noon. Beginning his review by claiming that it’s refreshing to see a Hong Kong film that’s not littered with “martial arts hero’s [sic], gunslinger legends and sex-crazed boys,” he ends it the same way, as if the film’s only merit is that it doesn’t fit Onderhond’s distorted vision of Hong Kong cinema, i.e. a cinema filled with nothing but action stars and male sex fiends (I guess he didn’t see Crazy Love or Girls Unbutton – Loletta Lee is pretty sex-crazed in those films, and I’m pretty sure she’s not a boy). This is the kind of view that plagued the Hong Kong film industry through its most productive period in the 1980s, when those not in the know dismissed much of the output as commercial garbage without taking the time to look at the artistry behind the productions. David Bordwell describes the film industry in Hong Kong since the 1970s as “the world’s most energetic, imaginative popular cinema.” He further states the following:
Hong Kong films can be sentimental, joyous, rip-roaring, silly, bloody, and bizarre. Their audacity, their slickness, and their unabashed appeal to emotion have won them audiences throughout the world… These outrageous entertainments harbor remarkable inventiveness and careful craftsmanship. They are Hong Kong’s most important contribution to global culture. The best of them are not only crowd-pleasing but also richly and delightfully artful.
Furthermore, for Onderhond to say in the comments section on the Twitch page that he’s “been watching the wrong films” is to ignore the cultural importance of, especially, martial arts films. Artists like Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee did more to establish the Hong Kong identity at the end of colonialism than Onderhond will apparently ever know. Worldly and gifted, their adaptability and cross-cultural appeal were essential for Hong Kong as an exporter of culture and art.
What makes matters all the worse is that in his first review for Twitch, Onderhond declared himself an admirer of “Asian and obscure genre films.” I guess he didn’t vary his viewings to any great degree, or he might have discovered more than three film genres in the Hong Kong film industry. Being the nice guy that I am, I’m going to help him out. I’m going to provide a list of 10 Hong Kong films that feature no “martial arts hero’s [sic], gunslinger legends and sex-crazed boys,” or at least none of the three to any great degree. Let’s get started.
- Crazy N’ the City – Eason Chan is a veteran cop who hates his job. Joey Yung is a rookie cop who loves her job. It’s an excellent modern example of classic Hong Kong filmmaking, with widly emotional scenes and an overall cheerful demeanor despite some heavy content.
- Election – Released in the states as Triad Election, Johnnie To’s two-parter features ZERO guns. No gunslinging at all. Instead, viewers are treated to a slow, meditative examination of the shift in power within a powerful triad organization. There are no heroes or heroics, only backstabbings and mistrust. Extremely powerful films.
- July Rhapsody – An excellent portrayal of dissolving family life as both husband and wife wander away from their marriage. Excellent performances by Jackie Cheung, the late Anita Mui, and the wonderful Karena Lam.
- Re-Cycle – A brief return to form for the Pang Brothers, this visually dazzling horror film (which some mistakenly misinterpret as the Pang’s anti-abortion stance – just see the film and judge for yourself) features one of the best performances of the always great Lee Sinje.
- Sparrow – Read my review.
- Beyond Our Ken – Nobody does relationship movies like Pang Ho-Cheung. A remarkably inquisitive film with style to spare.
- Visible Secret – Ann Hui (who also directed July Rhapsody) proves her almost unmatched versatility with this tale of ghostly possession and revenge set against a blossoming relationship between an aimless youngster and a girl who can see ghosts.
- My Left Eye Sees Ghosts – A surprisingly warm comedy with a suitably wacky performance from star Sammi Cheng as the titular character. Ah, Johnnie To, is there anything you can’t do?
- In the Mood for Love – Just try and bunch this with your narrow-minded view of Hong Kong cinema.
- Mary from Beijing – Gotta throw out this obscure romantic drama from Sylvia Chang as a final curve ball. Gong Li does a great job outside of her typical art-film comfort zone as a Chinese woman lost in Hong Kong.
The list goes on and on and on. Too bad Twitch was apparently hurting for extra film reviewers.