1) Police Story (1985: Jackie Chan): One of the greatest action pictures I have ever seen. Its influence can be seen in many American action pictures from Tango and Cash (1989) to Bad Boys II (2003), but none can quite compare to the ruggedness and the actual danger the stuntmen faced in this film (several were injured quite bad). From the destruction of the shanty town by a runaway car, bad guys thrown off of buses onto the concrete to Jackie risking his life in several fight scenes I have never been as amazed with a film as this movie. This movie is one of the main films that got me into Hong Kong cinema.
2) Hard-Boiled (1992: John Woo): The other film that got me into Hong Kong cinema. While for me it is a toss-up between this and The Killer (which is probably a better made film) I end up choosing this one for its voracious appetite of gun battles as well as the fact that I have seen this many more times. While some of this movie can be read as an allegory of the handover of 1997 and the Chang Cheh influence is quite evident whose going to think about that during the final very long shoot-em-up action scene. Chow Yun-fat spitting out the toothpick is one of my favorite scenes.
3) Drunken Master (1978: Yuen Wo-ping): Most HK film fans and critics usually put the sequel ahead of this movie – I do not. While I like both this film has always had a special place in my martial arts viewing acumen as one the quintessential old-school martial arts films. After years of toiling in somewhat obscurity in HK cinema he had two hits in a row for Seasonal. After this film exploded in popularity, Jackie Chan’s career would never be the same. An irreverent take on Cantonese hero Wong Fei-hung it is a great mixture of comedy and excellent “form” action. Like The Big Boss (1971) and A Better Tomorrow it is a watershed moment in HK cinema.
4) The Killer (1989: John Woo): The literal translation of the Chinese title is “A Pair of Blood Spattering Heroes” which gives you an idea of what you are in for. This film would influence many Hollywood filmmakers with its Heroic Bloodshed tale of an assassin (Chow Yun-fat in another great performance) who accidently blinds an innocent woman, his cop doppelganger in Inspector Li Ying (Danny Lee) who is pursuing him and the assassin’s journey to make-up for the loss-of-sight. This mixture of Chang Cheh male code and Jean Pierre Melville brooding character influences is absolutely brilliant, unique and surprisingly was probably had more influence with American and European audiences than in HK.
5) Chungking Express (1994: Wong Kar-wai): Quickly shot while on break from Ashes of Time, this beautifully directed movie of loneliness and lamenting time because of the upcoming handover to China combines the aesthetics of Wong Kar-wai’s Eastern heart and Western influences such as Godard and Bresson. I find the movie utterly charming with Faye Wong as the most memorable character with her crush on cop 663 (Tony Leung) and her ineffable choices in dealing with his apartment. This movie may change your interest in expiration dates.
6) Infernal Affairs (2002: Andrew Lau Wai-keung, Alan Mak Siu-fai): This movie is mostly known for being the source of the Academy Award winning The Departed (2006; I prefer this over the two, though I do like The Departed) which is unjust considering how strong the performances are and how interesting the story is. It is one of my favorite triad/cop dramas to come out of HK. This movie would spawn two sequels and analogous to The Godfather the second is a great movie which some consider better then the first while the third was just not quite as good as the previous two.
7) Drunken Master 2 (1994: Liu Chia-liang, Jackie Chan): One of the few martial art (no wuxia) films to get positive critical reception. It is in Time Magazine's "All-Time 100 Best Films" list for example. While I am one of the few to like the first better then the second, this is still one of my favorite MA movies with his irreverent portrayal of Wong Fei-hung. The 10 minute plus fight with Ken Lo at the end is awesome in its pace, construction and technique. There is great comedy with the late Anita Mui as his step-mother (though I am not so sure of using Ti Lung as his dad).
8) Days of Being Wild (1990: Wong Kar-wai): Often considered in HK as Wong’s greatest film it is close to being my favorite as well. Leslie Cheung gives a fantastic performance (my second favorite with Farewell my Concubine as his greatest role) as York a rich womanizer who is searching for his real mother (both literally and figuratively). His “one minute” scene with Maggie Cheung has to be one of the all-time great pick-up lines. Christopher Doyle’s first film with Wong and the brilliant cinematography certainly shows. It is a movie not only about "Ah Fei" culture, but longing, loneliness and the memory of time.
9) A Better Tomorrow (1986: John Woo): The influence of this film cannot be denied. It would create an icon in Chow Yun-fat as Mark the quintessential heroic bloodshed hero, create a fashion trend in sunglasses and raincoats (in a very warm environment), and forever stereotype Woo with operatic gunplay. The Jean Pierre Melville and Chang Cheh influences are thick and I being a fan of both certainly helped me appreciate this film (I have seen it several times both before watching analogous Melville and Cheh films and after as well). Its themes of loyalty, brotherhood and stylized violence would not only change HK cinema and ultimately American action cinema it is one of my favorite films.
10) The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978: Liu Chia-liang): The archetypal Shaolin and training movie. Awesome in its depiction of how a pushover can became a master through arduous training and a determined heart. This film would stereotype Lau Kar-fei as San Te and for years he would have to keep his head shaved (if hair was necessary he would wear a wig) to be ready for the next Shaolin monk role. Originally released in the United States as Master Killer (not really a good title for a monk though) it would be one of the most popular Shaw Brothers films released in the US and in Europe. This is a great movie to show to someone new to martial art cinema.
11) The Prodigal Son (1981: Sammo Hung): Sammo Hung is arguably one of the most important figures in all of Hong Kong martial arts. He is not only important as an actor, martial arts choreographer, but a director as well. This is his ode to an important figure in Wing Chun -- Leung Jan (along with Warriors Two). It is a superb example not only the display of Wing Chun but also has some excellent scenes dealing with Peking Opera, has excellent cinematography and has a good blend of martial arts and comedy. This movie has one of Lam Ching-ying’s best performances as Leung Yee-tai the male performing as a female in the opera troupe.
12) Come Drink With Me (1966: King Hu): King Hu did not direct many films, but he always held with high esteem and such critics as David Bordwell and Stephen Teo consider him amongst the finest of Hong Kong’s directors (even though a good chunk of his small oeuvre is from Taiwan). This Peking Opera influenced movie is a sight to behold with sagacious choreography (Sammo Hung and Han Ying-chieh) and cinematography (Ho Lan-shan). This movie features one of the most famous of martial art heroines in Chang Pei Pei’s Golden Swallow.
13) The Mission (1999: Johnnie To): Trying to pick a favorite Johnnie To film is a futile exercise. I like so much of his output. But The Mission is one of those great low-key crime films that it must have come as a big shock in HK. It’s showing of Triad-life malaise is like a warped version of a Michelangelo Antonioni film. Great cast with Anthony Wong, Francis Ng, Simon Yam, Roy Cheung and To regular Lam Suet. Fits perfect in To’s “team spirit” theme. This is a great film to watch if the only Triad films you are familiar with are from John Woo.
14) Once Upon a Time in China (1991: Tsui Hark): Another Wong Fei-hung film on my list but this time helmed by intermittently brilliant Tsui Hark and starring one of the most well known of China’s martial artists a wushu trained (this is Northern style compared to the Hung Gar style the real Wong Fei-hung was known for) excellent athlete named Jet Li. The dazzling fight with the ladders is one of the best ever committed to celluloid. This movie has an interesting plot dealing with the turmoil of early 20th Century China, great direction and the movie’s sets and choreography look quite good. Followed by countless sequels, this is still my favorite of the bunch.
15) Encounter of the Spooky Kind (1980: Sammo Hung): I feel that this is the greatest comedic, martial arts Hong Kong with horror film there is. Sammo Hung who stars and directs this is in his prime. He is in the best shape of his life as well as in his creative peak. The dueling Taoist finale is the best scene in the film. Fans of exploding chickens and hopping vampires (kyonsi) will definitely appreciate this. Be warned, the filmmakers were as nice to chickens in this as Sam Peckinpah was in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973). This is definitely recommended to those who are interested in seeing many different aspects of Chinese supernatural concepts.
16) Throw Down (2004: Johnnie To): Oh this is such a fun film. Made as a homage to Akira Kurosawa's Sanshiro Sugata (1943) and Kurosawa in general, it still feels like a To film. It is quirky and quite eccentric but for fans of Johnnie To's more personal films like PTU and The Mission they will find this one of his better movies. One of Louis Koo Tin-Lok (Election, Rob-B-Hood) best performances as as Szeto To who is an enigmatic ex-Judo expert who mysteriously quite competition to drink, gamble and stumble his way through life. There are excellent secondary characters (angry mumbling video game playing triad member) and quirky situations that seem to inhabit Johnnie To’s universe.
17) Project A (1983: Jackie Chan): When you combine the talents of Seven Little Fortunes Sammo Hung, Jackie Chan and Yuen Biao you know something special is going to happen. Add in the dangerous disregard for stuntmen’s life as well as the famous clock stunt that Jackie did as homage to Harold Lloyd, the bicycle chase scene reminiscent of Buster Keaton, the Cantonese comedy, the painful fight scenes, pirates and you have another great Jackie film from the 1980s. This film helped push martial art films out of the Qing era. While some prefer the sequel to this, after watching both several times this is by far my favorite of the two. This is a great looking and fantastic action film.
18) The Private Eyes (1976: Michael Hui): A top HK list should not be complete without a film by Michael Hui. This is a director and actor I really need to see more of though and have been waiting forever for HKFlix to get a box set of his work in to purchase. I found this to be an absolutely hilarious mixture of sight gags (one of the better shoplifting gags I've seen), nonsense humor, martial arts reference (Sammo Hung was the action director so the Bruce Lee humor references worked quite well), midgets, giants, and pretty much everything thrown in. Fans of comedies like Airplane, the Pink Panther series and The Naked Gun series should check this out. Hong Kong aficionados should make this a top priority if they have not already seen this.
19) Infernal Affairs II (2003: Andrew Lau Wai-keung, Alan Mak Siu-fai): Very rarely do sequels even come close to measuring up the original (and the third in this series does not measure up to the first two), but this prequel is well-acted, well paced and by some fans is considered better than the original. While I am not sure of that, I am sure that this is a worthy film in many respects. Francis Ng’s performance (who has had experience with the triads in the past) parallels a Michael Corleone in a cool intensity in his triad leader Ngai Wing Hau. I think it is one of the best performances I have seen in fact. The duo of Eric Tsang and Anthony Wong also work well against each other. This is a great film to show people who think HK movies are too excessive in acting styles.
20) Kung Fu Hustle (2004: Stephen Chow): Stephen Chow is a world unto himself. His hybrid humor of Cantonese language puns, slapstick situations, Warner Bros. cartoon influence, sometimes off-putting violence and then mixed with a fanatical devotion to Bruce Lee and add a plethora of other elements you get Stephen Chow. This is a brilliant mixture of comedy, special effects and martial arts. Chow is in very familiar territory as the underdog and slacker Sing who eventually has to get over his inadequacies and face the number 1 assassin (of course in Chow’s world this is a very middle-aged looking man who is very, very deadly in his prowess of martial arts). Chow is the chosen-one indeed.
21) The One-Armed Swordsman (1967: Chang Cheh): While not my favorite one-armed martial artist film, that would be Master of the Flying Guillotine, it is certainly an exciting, bloody (and another watershed movie on this list) from Chang Cheh. This movie stars Jimmy Wang Yu, a swimming champion and future Taiwanese gangster (who would figure prominently in the lives of several big HK stars) whose martial art skills were never the best nor was he the greatest actor. However, whenever he had just one arm his films were usually better (not sure why). This is a violent, revenge epic full of missing limbs that is one of Cheh’s better movies.
22) Exiled (2006: Johnnie To): A great heroic bloodshed tragedy with a mix of film noir and western elements. Johnnie To shows over and over unique ways to show triad/cop films with his own style of “team spirit.” Francis Ng when motivated, like Anthony Wong in this, is full of panache and is one of the better HK actors. Exiled is a different take then The Mission with many of the same themes, but probably an easier film to get into then The Mission for fans of action cinema. Superb choreography, another good soundtrack in a To film this time from Guy Zerafa and well this movie is just plain worth watching.
23) Knockabout (1979: Sammo Hung): Sammo Hung always had a knack for finding and using talent. This movie features a few underrated HK actors and martial artists. Most notably Leung Kar-yan (known affectionately as beardy to many fans), Lau Kar-wing (always under his much more famous brother’s shadow unfortunately) and Yuen Biao who never really rose in popularity as much as his opera brothers Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan though his athletic talent is better and he has a charm that is not always talked about. This would be Yuen’s first starring role and is an excellent example of old-school kung fu film full of sifus (kung fu masters), excellent martial arts, comedy and even a professional wrestling move that inspired The Rock.
24) Happy Together (1997: Wong Kar-wai): This is probably the most difficult to watch of Wong’s films because of the amount of bickering, anger, depression and longing felt at the end of the relationship between Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung). The pain can be felt as these two who are destined not to be together, stay together much longer than they should. This film is a cathartic experience with two excellent performances as the leads. If you are sad and depressed individual than this is the film for you to watch so you can state at least I’m not stuck in a foreign country with no money and a withheld passport. Unless, of course, you are stuck in a foreign country with no money and no passport then watch the next movie instead.
25) Shaolin Soccer (2001: Stephen Chow): Stephen Chow is one of the most unique filmmakers in Hong Kong where he works at a snails pace compared to the ludicrous speed of most other directors. His works is silly, but well made silly comedy. Here is takes a concept of soccer throws in his normal mixture of down-and-out character, redemption, Bruce Lee references, mo lei tau (nonsense humor) and outputs a hilarious film about a Shaolin Temple graduate who is trying to spread his doctrine, gets a Shaolin soccer team together and dharmic football is the result, but not with some much needed training and obligatory setbacks before that can happen. Now what’s with Vicky Zhao’s makeup?
Edited by masterofoneinchpunch, 27 May 2019 - 03:50 PM.
Added review link for The Mission.