Top 10 and Comments from Steve Barr

Overall 2005 wasn't a great year for HK cinema, but there were signs of hope throughout.  I've not had the opportunity to view a few of the best-regarded films of the year, so this list would probably be different if I had.

10. 2 Young

The perils of young love.  She was a rich latchkey kid. He was a boy from the projects.  Together, they struggle to make their way in a hard world...  Doesn't it sound like a TV special?  It could be one.  Fortunately there are some moving situations in the film and strong performances by the two leads, especially Fiona Sit Hoi-Kei.

9. Dragon Squad

Stars Sammo Hung, Vanness Wu, Shawn Yue, Eva Huang, Maggie Q, Simon Yam, and seemingly dozens of others.  Mixed team of cops take on paramilitary force trying to exact revenge on a gang leader in Hong Kong.  Hyperstylized cinematography; you may get motion sickness watching this film. This film suffers in comparison to Sha Po Lang; had Dragon Squad been released last year it would be better regarded.  For example, in one seemingly endless fight the proverbial "10,000 bullets" are fired before anyone is hurt.

8. Election

One of HK's triads is electing their new leader -- what could possibly go wrong?  Stylish, but not as overtly stylish as Jiang Hu.  Full of male HK stars -- even David Chiang from old Shaw Brothers films shows up.

7. The Promise

Often visually spectacular, the best way to approach this film is as though it is a violent kid's movie, or a dream. Supposedly set in the far future, the film revolves around the various male leads' love or desire for Cecilia Cheung's character.  I think the visuals alone make it worth watching, preferably on a big screen.

6. Initial D

As far as I can tell, an excellent realization of the Japanese comic book.  The driving is all the more remarkable when the "making of" shows them doing power slides on mountain roads with A GIGANTIC CAMERA RIG ON ONE CORNER OF THE CAR!  The only problem with the movie is that the driving starts to get repetitive (they only race on one (admittedly hair-raising) mountain road, and victory is always achieved by passing on the inside).  Watched 2 Fast 2 Furious after this.  Initial D's comic book characters worked better for me than the hokey homeboys.  There were disclaimers wrapped around Initial D saying it was based on the comic book, not the anime.  I've not seen either, but it definitely felt like the other Japanese manga I have seen.

5. It Had To Be You

Jack (Ekin Cheng) comes to work at the same restaurant as Jill (Karena Lam).  They both also have relationship problems; Jack is the 2nd boyfriend of his girlfriend, Jill is the 2nd girlfriend of her boyfriend.  So the ending is obvious, how it gets there is a little more original.  The movie starts with a strong (and funny) comedic bent, which gives way to mild melodrama about 2/3rds of the way through -- in this it felt similar to a South Korean romantic comedy.  The melodrama section was filled with a few too many reverses of fortune, resulting in a weak ending.

4. House of Fury

Kids (Stephen Fung and Gillian Chung) are growing away from their single father (Anthony Wong), a traditional healer who tells incoherent stories about secret agent stuff and generally is embarrassingly uncool. But then he disappears and the truth starts to emerge. Not sure why this film is getting barely passing marks from reviewers -- it's not perfect, but I found the action, the drama, and the occasional funny or melodramatic moments all very enjoyable. I didn't expect actors and pop-stars to top Jet Li's martial performances, but it was still fun to watch Anthony Wong, Gillian Chung, and Josie Ho do their best. The DVD also has a "play all the action sequences" menu option, which I felt compelled to use after watching the film. This is Stephen Fung's second film as director, and like the first it focuses on families.

3. Crazy N' The City

Ostensibly a comedy/drama about a rookie cop (Joey Yung) and a seasoned cop (Eason Chan) and a crazy man (Francis Ng) in the Wan Chai district of HK, the film is really a love letter to HK.  The movie features lots of familiar faces, including a supporting role performed by Kara Hui Ying Hung.  It's really well done; my only complaint is it sometimes leaves Wan Chai and goes to the Melodrama district.

2. Divergence

 Very stylish neo-noir about a cop (Aaron Kwok) still distraught about his girlfriend who disappeared a decade ago, a hitman (Daniel Wu), and a lawyer (Ekin Cheng) who defends big-time criminals. Movie does a great job of playing within the noir conventions until some false notes creep in.  Unlike in Love Battlefield, it's not enough to ruin the viewing experience.  Just try to block out the whole Aaron-in-a-car sequence.  Pretend it never happened.  Recommended if you like noir-style films.

1. Sha Po Lang

A return to the glory days of HK action cinema.  Simon Yam leads a team of maverick cops trying to take down crimelord Sammo Hung.  Donnie Yen is set to take over for the retiring Yam.  It all goes really, really wrong.  Unlike Tom Yum Goong, SPL has a real plot and characters as well as real action.  The action was choreographed by Donnie Yen, and he seems to have reached another level with this film. He has a knife fight in an alley which got so intense, I forgot to breathe!  Highly recommended.

To check on what films Steve saw this year, check out the ratings page.