It’s hard to deny the fact that the once-thriving Hong Kong cinema has increasingly lost its lustre, particularly if to compare with the golden era of the 80s and 90s. But that doesn’t mean the Hong Kong cinema is hopelessly out of touch. Although most of today’s Hong Kong movies have to adhere to China’s strict censorship board, there are still a number of them that worth mentioning here. After spending the last two months rewatching the Hong Kong movies released from 2010 to 2019, here are ScreenHK’s Top 10 Hong Kong Movies of the 2010s.
10) Vulgaria <低俗喜劇> (2012)
This pitch-black satire sees writer-director Pang Ho-Cheung goes wild with his signature brand of irreverent humour from poking fun at the Category III Hong Kong movie genre to low-budget filmmaking and even Hong Kong education system. The movie also features some of the funniest performances from Chapman To, who plays the sleazy producer To Wai-Cheung as well as Ronald Cheng’s gangster role of Brother Tyrannosaurus. The latter particularly steals the show, notably during the hilarious dinner scene where he first met Chapman To’s To Wai-Cheung and Simon Lui’s Lui Wing-Shing to discuss over the funding of a movie.
9) Wong Ka Yan <王家欣> (2015)
Benny Lau (Wai-Hang)’s feature-length debut is a nostalgic love letter to the pre-Internet era during the 90s, complete with a high-concept storyline about a young lad’s (Wong Yau-Nam’s Chan Chun-Yin) impossible mission to locate the elusive title character (Janelle Sing). Co-written by Benny Lau himself alongside his wife Petrina Wong Pui-Yin, Wong Ka Yan <王家欣> is both a well-acted romantic comedy-drama and blessed with Teddy Ng Hong-Wah’s gorgeous cinematography that captured the idyllic beauty and rustic charm of Hong Kong’s Peng Chau island.
8) A Simple Life <桃姐> (2011)
This multiple award-winning drama about the familial bond between movie producer Roger Leung (Andy Lau) and his elderly maid Ah Tao (Deanie Ip) could have fallen victim into a typical TVB-style tearjerker. But veteran director Ann Hui unfolds her movie in a deliberate manner that feels more low-key and naturalistic. The unhurried pace may have been a turn-off for those with short attention spans but it’s hard to argue that A Simple Life <桃姐> is beautifully acted altogether. It’s nice to see Andy Lau in an understated performance for a change while Deanie Ip, who won the much-deserved Best Actress at the 31st Hong Kong Film Awards, showcases her finest acting performance to date as Ah Tao. It was her genuinely heartfelt turn that helps glued the movie altogether.
7) Dream Home <維多利亞壹號> (2010)
Here’s another entry from Pang Ho-Cheung that made it into ScreenHK’s Top 10 list. Dream Home <維多利亞壹號> marks the director’s first foray into the slasher-movie territory but don’t expect this to be a straightforward genre film. As in the case of most Pang Ho-Cheung’s movies, he incorporates a thought-provoking mix of pitch-black comedy and timely issues about the exorbitant price of Hong Kong property — all wrapped up in a gleefully nihilistic way possible. A movie clearly not for everyone, Pang Ho-Cheung’s bold direction of pushing its notorious Category III rating to the limit is something most genre fans would love to watch. He shows no restraint when comes to depicting graphic sex, violence and profanities while kudos also go to Josie Ho’s committed performance as Cheng Lai-Sheung, a desperate individual looking to own an expensive unit at the luxury high-rise condo of Victoria Bay No. 1.
6) Ip Man 3 <葉問3> (2015)
The third Ip Man <葉問> movie sees returning director Wilson Yip and screenwriters Edmond Wong and Chan Tai-Li with additional inputs by Jill Leung (2013’s Rigor Mortis <殭屍> and 2015’s SPL 2: A Time Of Consequences <殺破狼II>) steers clear from the first two’s nationalistic themes and opt for something more personal. No doubt Ip Man 3 <葉問3> does suffer from its episodic screenplay but the sequel manages to overcome most of the flaws with better-than-expected acting performances, particularly Donnie Yen’s titular role and Max Zhang’s scene-stealing antagonist turn as Ip Man’s rival, Cheung Tin-Chi. The sequel also features an emotionally heartfelt subplot involving Donnie Yen’s Ip Man and Lynn Xiong’s Cheung Wing-Sing, with the latter provides solid support as Ip Man’s wife. Of course, no Ip Man <葉問> movie would be complete without its signature action setpieces and this third movie doesn’t disappoint. Yuen Wo-Ping’s martial-arts choreography wisely eschewed Sammo Hung’s sometimes over-the-top approach seen in Ip Man 2 <葉問2>, with three memorable fight scenes against Sarut Khanwilai, Mike Tyson and Max Zhang in separate ocassions.
5) Life Without Principle <奪命金> (2011)
Johnnie To’s wickedly fascinating look at money, greed and human nature in the world of the financial crisis mark the acclaimed Hong Kong auteur’s most densely-plotted movie to date since Election <黑社會> (2005) and Election 2 <黑社會以和為貴> (2006). Despite the suggestive English title, there’s nary a sight of the usual gun violence or bloodshed typically associated with Johnnie To’s movies under the Milkyway banner. Told in a non-linear narrative style, it requires the audiences’ utmost patience to fully appreciate the movie, with Johnnie To’s efficient direction from his ironic sense of humour to the otherwise grim subject matter of financial crisis presented in a quirky manner. Life Without Principle <奪命金> also features two of the stars’ among best performances to date, beginning with Lau Ching-Wan’s twitchy-eyed triad role of Panther and Denise Ho’s tour de force portrayal as Teresa Chan, an emotionally-frustrated bank officer on the verge of losing her job due to poor sales record.
4) Still Human <淪落人> (2019)
An indie drama like Still Human <淪落人>, which tells a story about a paralysed middle-aged man (Anthony Wong’s Leung Cheong-Wing) and his newly-hired Filipino maid (Crisel Consunji’s Evelyn Santos) could have easily succumbed into a typical Hong Kong melodramatic route. That’s the usual case if it falls into the hands of a lesser director but not for Oliver Chan Siu-Kuen, whose feature-length directorial debut proves she can tell a genuinely heartfelt yet inspiring story without going overboard. The movie benefits from Anthony Wong’s refreshingly understated performance as the stubborn and cranky middle-aged man while relative newcomer Crisel Consunji delivers strong support as the Filipino maid struggling to cope with her personal issues while making a living in Hong Kong. Their chemistry is among the major reasons that made Still Human <淪落人> such a remarkable experience.
3) Cold War <寒戰> (2012) & Cold War 2 <寒戰II> (2016)
Then-newcomers Sunny Luk and Longman Leung proved themselves far from being the first-time rookie directors in Cold War <寒戰>. It’s hard to imagine this is actually their joint directorial debuts, as they helmed the movie mostly like seasoned pros. Sure, Cold War <寒戰> might suffer from its convoluted storytelling that the compact 102-minute makes everything look overstuffed. But it’s difficult to deny the way they offer a fresh perspective of the usual cop genre by focusing on the internal conflicts between the higher-ranking police officers in the Hong Kong Police Force. It also helps the movie is backed by solid acting ensembles all around, with Aaron Kwok’s perfectly restrained performance as Deputy Commissioner of Police from the Management Division, Sean Lau while Tony Leung Ka-Fai stands out the most playing the no-nonsense Deputy Commissioner of Police from the Operation Division, M.B. Lee.
Whereas the first Cold War <寒戰> was undoubtedly solid, though sometimes wobbly game-changer to the usual Hong Kong cop genre, Sunny Luk and Longman Leung’s long-awaited 2014 sequel sees the promising directing duo have greatly improved by leaps and bounds. The sequel boasts a better grip in terms of storytelling, as the movie’s recurring themes of top-level corruption and exploitation as well as the power struggle are deftly handled this time around. They are also wise enough to leave ample space for their otherwise labyrinthine storyline to unfold everything in a more cohesive manner. Like the first movie, Cold War 2 <寒戰II> gets an extra boost from an all-star cast, notably returning stars Aaron Kwok and Tony Leung Ka-Fai as well as franchise newcomer Chow Yun-Fat as the independent legislator Oswald Kan.
2) The Stool Pigeon <綫人> (2010)
It’s easy to see forget that Dante Lam used to be the go-to director for making gritty Hong Kong crime thrillers seen in Beast Stalker <証人> (2008), Fire Of Conscience <火龍> (2010) and That Demon Within <魔警> (2014) before he shifted his directing career mainly for the China market. His 2010 crime thriller in The Stool Pigeon <綫人> is easily among his best movie to date and a prime example of how a solid Hong Kong crime thriller should be. Although the movie may look like a thematic rehash of Beast Stalker <証人> with Lam alongside Jack Ng and Ho Man-Lung’s screenplay covers most of the familiar conflicted moral underpinning, The Stool Pigeon <綫人> remains an excellent piece of work. The story is particularly well-told as the movie delves deeper into Nick Cheung’s Inspector Don Lee and Nicholas Tse’s Ghost Jr.’s respective inner conflicts beyond its usual crime-thriller template. Both Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse each deliver top-notch performances, with the former impresses the most with his guilt-ridden portrayal as a cop who tries to seek redemption between his professional and personal life.
1) Trivisa <樹大招風> (2016)
This is it. After a few rounds of revisiting some of the best Hong Kong movies released over the last 10 years, the Johnnie To-produced Trivisa <樹大招風> emerged as ScreenHK’s preferred choice for the top spot in the list.
Despite the movie’s premise taking place in early 1997, Trivisa <樹大招風> is as thematically relevant as ever. This is particularly evident during one of the story segments directed by Jevons Au involving Richie Jen’s portrayal of Yip Kwok-Foon, a Mainland robber forced to turn over a new leaf by selling smuggled electrical merchandises. But he has a tough time struggling to overcome his own short-tempered ego from dealing with top corrupted Chinese officials to being humiliated by one of the Hong Kong uniformed police officers. The Yip Kwok-Foon segment is undoubtedly tense and well-told, complete with a brief but thrilling standoff in the true Johnnie To fashion.
The other segment, which centres on Lam Ka-Tung’s cold-blooded robber role of Kwai Ching-Hung boasts the veteran actor’s finest performance in his career — a role that won him the coveted Best Actor at the 36th Hong Kong Film Awards. Director Frank Hui does an overall great job here, blending top-notch acting showcase (the other one is Philip Keung’s strong supporting turn as Kwai’s old buddy Fai) and airtight narrative.
The third segment directed by Vicky Wong may have been less successful, with Jordan Chan’s flamboyant portrayal of the notorious kidnapper Cheuk Tze-Keung tends to go cartoonishly over-the-top. It does take some time to get used to his character but at least Vicky Wong’s direction manages to compensate his uneven approach with the tried-and-true Milkyway-style black comedy involving Cheuk willing to pay a huge sum of money for whoever provides information about the two “king of thieves” (Lam Ka-Tung’s Kwai Ching-Hung and Richie Jen’s Yip Kwok-Foon) whereabouts.