“Eating too much will cause hemorrhoids, don’t you know? Name one person with hemorrhoids who doesn’t eat.”
As their popularity snowballed from the early days of television broadcast, the iconic Hui Brothers team left behind a trail of vernacular comedy movies that struck a resounding chord with working class audiences. Easily one of the best from writer-director Michael, The Private Eyes immediately impresses with its wordless opening credit sequence showing only the characters’ feet – in which a private detective tails his subject in a pair of miserably broken shoes, only to have one of his soles accidentally ripped off before stepping on a beggar’s bowl and a cigarette stub with his exposed foot. A cheeky, stingy boss who’s all too ready to exploit his employees, Michael’s small-time private eye is nonetheless faithfully aided by an honest, kung fu-fighting apprentice (Sam) and a stupid, stammering assistant (Ricky) who will literally test a bomb for him. Together with the funky soundtrack by Sam and his band, The Lotus, the movie also tapped into our collective consciousness with a range of riotousgags, from aerobics for chicken to a Sammo Hung-choreographed, Bruce Lee-inspired fight scene with flour and sausages.
“I’m not showing them I’m the best. I just want to tell them I can take back what I’ve lost.”
To understand how this particular John Woo-Chow Yun-fat collaboration – instead of their more stylistically accomplished The Killer or Hard Boiled – captured the imaginations of a generation is perhaps to chart the history of cinephilia in Hong Kong. With a Chinese title that translates as ‘the true nature of heroes’, Wu’s seminal heroic bloodshed movie has indeed combined the best of several (movie) worlds: as a relatively faithful remake of Patrick Lung Kong’s The Story of a Discharged Prisoner (1967), it is further spiced up by the principle of brotherhood and the honorable code of yi stemming from martial arts epics of yesteryears – especially those by his mentor Chang Cheh, for whom Woo had previously served as assistant director. While deliciously pitting Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung’s brother characters against each other as mortal enemies on opposite sides of the law, the action classic is also exponentially enhanced by Chow’s charismatic portrayal of Mark, who could forget the sight ofhim lighting a cigarette with a burning banknote? His cockiness is exceeded only by his loyalty and heroism; in our approving minds, Mark is us.
“Sometimes, humans are more frightening than ghosts.”
“Dawn, please don’t come…” As Sally Yeh pleads soulfully to James Wong’s iconic tune on the soundtrack, the forbidden love between Cheung’s scholarly tax collector and Wang’s glamorous ghost meets its heartbreaking demise. Based on a Pu Songling short story that has also been adapted into Li Han-hsiang’s The Enchanting Shadow (1960) and Wilson Yip’s eponymous 2011 film, this Tsui Hark-produced supernatural action fantasy spawned two hit sequels and remains a vital showcase of our cinema’s madcap inventiveness. It’s like a sensual Evil Dead romance!
“When you can’t have someone, the only thing you can do is not to forget.”
A Jin Yong adaptation, Wong Kar-wai-style. Structured with the concept of cyclical repetition from the Chinese almanac, the auteur’s impressionistic riff on the classic wuxia novel The Eagle-Shooting Hero is a desert-bound swordplay drama whose only concern seems to be its characters’ sentimental longings.
“If I had to set an expiry date to my love, let it be 10,000 years.”
From the genius casting of the irreverent Chow as the Monkey King to the masterstroke of letting Buddhist monk Tang Xuanzang burst into The Platters' Only You, Lau's wildly imaginative Journey to the West adaptation is deservedly recognized for its sublime wackiness. Yet beneath all the time-travelling and supernatural slapstick of this postmodern two-parter is a traditional love story so cheesy it's actually romantic. Also featuring the now-customary Wong Kar-wai spoofs.
“My aunt said, people will think you’re a Mainlander if they know you’re a fan of Teresa Teng.”
Destiny is calling Lai’s new immigrant from northern China, who forms a ‘friendship’ – with benefits – with Cheung’s Guangzhou comrade out of loneliness and a shared passion for the Mandarin pop legend Teresa Teng. The catch? He has a fiancée back home and she has her materialistic ambitions to fulfil. Definitely a love story and certainly one of our cinema’s very best, Chan’s nine-times Hong Kong Film Awards winner charts the decade-spanning near-romance with acute cultural awareness and a sublime touch of emotional delicacy.
“He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is blurred and indistinct.”
The quotation from writer Liu Yi-Chang’s stream-of-consciousness novella, Intersection, loosely inspired Wong Kar-wai into capturing the tentative affair between two would-be lovers who cross paths briefly before parting forever.
The year is 1962, and as next-door neighbors living in a crowded apartment complex, Mr Chow (Tony Leung) and Mrs Chan (Maggie Cheung in a cheongsam showcase) gradually discover their spouses are having a clandestine affair. Alternately finding solace by spending time with each other, and masochistically toying with the other’s emotions by rehearsing imaginary breakups, the two soon consummate their mutual longing by role-playing as their cheating partners.
“The jianghu underworld is filled with crouching tigers and hidden dragons, but so are human feelings.”
After spinning our heads for decades with its delirious showdowns and romanized notion of chivalry, the wuxia genre finally conquered the world with – of all stories – a poignant romance about two pairs of would-be lovers perpetually repressing their feelings. Looking to his sword and settle down with his longtime muse (Michelle Yeoh), a mighty swordsman (Chow Yun-fat) is sucked into another one-last-job scenario as an aristocrat's daughter (Zhang Ziyi) recklessly juggles the thrills of the martial arts world, her secret affection for a bandit (Chang Chen), and the wish of her family to set her up for an arranged marriage. Described pertinently by Ang Lee as 'Sense and Sensibility with martial arts', this visually stunning, gravity-defying masterpiece won four Oscars (including best foreign language film) and ushered in a new era of traditional Chinese movies made with a global audience in mind.
“It's three years after three years, three years after three years. It's been almost 10 years, boss.”
If you really think about it, they should have put a spoiler warning on the promo posters of this exemplary undercover cop thriller: after all, what's the point of a suspense noir when even your elderly neighbor – and her maid – knew that Tony Leung is going to put a gun to Andy Lau's head at the movie's climax?
“We don’t need to do everything in one night.”
From the hazy ambiance of its KTV lounge parties to its uncannily realistic portrayal of Cantonese banter’s amusing ways, Pang’s bittersweet romcom about two chain-smoking would-be lovers looks reality square in the eye: while urban romances may be capricious, our city’s indoor smoking ban is permanent.