The stars of my favorite Hong Kong movie of 2015
Last year, I viewed 33 Hong Kong feature length films and one short film anthology; 25 of which were released for the first time in Hong Kong in 2015. In addition, since I returned from the Netherlands earlier this month, I've checked out three more 2015 Hong Kong movies -- two of which were released in cinemas when I was out of town.
I'll be honest: without those three extra films in the mix, I'm not sure that there would have been 10 Hong Kong films from last year that I would feel able to laud and recommend. Put another way: I can state in no uncertain terms that 2015 has been one of the worst years for Hong Kong cinema in living memory; with certain movies and filmmakers -- including some big name veterans -- having made me question whether I still am a Hong Kong film fan.
At the same time though, there's no question that I often feel more emotionally impacted by Hong Kong movies than the representatives of other national cinemas. And I truly believe that my favorite Hong Kong film of 2015 is one of those that embodies some of the best elements of Hong Kong cinema, and can -- and will -- stand the test of time like many other wonderful movies that have come out from this part of this world:-
My favorite 2015 Hong Kong movie by a country mile-- and that of a number of other Hong Kongers, as can be seen by it having been the only local film to have made the 2015 Hong Kong box office top ten -- has a title that makes it sound like it's a martial arts actioner. But director-scriptwriter Adrian Kwan's Little Big Master actually is a warm drama about a big-hearted educator who eschewed prestige and fame in favor of becoming the sole full-time staff member of a village school with just five young students.
The real-life daughter of a teacher, Cantopop megastar Miriam Yeung capably portrays the film's inspirational main character, who happens to be based on a real life individual. Louis Koo has official second billing but is outshown not just by Yeung but the five little poppets who perfectly play the school's quintet of pupils and will get you crying plenty of tears, of sadness but also joy.
After trying her hand at playing a prostitute with a heart of gold in the first Golden Chicken, Golden Chicken 2 and Golden Chickensss, Sandra Ng decided to play a gigolo in my favorite Chinese New Year film of 2015. For those who are not yet clear about this: the actress didn't play a cross-dressing prostitute in the movie; rather, she actually played a male sex worker -- and managed to pull of this role with quite a bit of panache as well good humor!
Among the other amazing things about this Matt Chow-helmed and -scripted movie is that despite its production having gone down to the wire to make its festive season release date, it actually manages to tell a pretty coherent story about a man who really knows what women wants, and thus is able to give a good amount of them plenty of pleasure and happiness. Then there is the matter of a large number and variety of stars -- among them Lisa Lu, Nicholas Tse and Vicki Zhao Wei -- being utterly willing to appear in what effectively is a gigolo comedy as well as festive offering! :O
3) Ip Man 3
The third Ip Man movie starring Donnie Yen and directed by Wilson Yip may well be the final film of the hit franchise. If so, its makers have said goodbye with a big bang at the box office, and by adding to the legend of the wing chun master by painting a three-dimensional portrait of Ip Man as a loving husband and father, and a pillar of the community willing to do what he can to protect his family, friends and neighbors as well as the reputation of his martial art.
4) Ten Years
I'm not usually a fan of short film anthologies or omnibuses, finding their sections to vary in quality. As it stands, there's one offering among Ten Years' quintet of short films by first-time and other fairly inexperienced directors that didn't do much at all for me. But the strength of the political work's four other efforts more than make up for it; with the final two segments -- Chow Kwun Kwai's haunting Self-Immolator and Ng Ka Leung's moving Local Egg -- possessing imagery and ideas that will stay long in my memory.
More than any other filmmaker, Tsui Hark it was who made me a born again Hong Kong movie fan back in the late 1990s, when I belatedly "discovered" cinematic masterpieces he had directed and/or produced such as Peking Opera Blues, Swordsman II, Once Upon a Time in China (particularly I but also II), Shanghai Blues, Dragon Inn, etc. For much of the 21st century, however, I got to thinking that maybe he had lost his magic.
But with this incredibly zany treatment of an apparently true story of a World War II-era PLA troop whose exploits had been previously commorated in such as a "classic" Commuinst Chinese opera, he's shown that he still is capable of great imagination and producing super fun films (like this Mainland China-Hong Kong co-production which was released in Mainland China in 2014 but only made it out to Hong Kong in early 2015, and is just too good to not include in this list because of a technicality)!
Before anything else: yes, I'm a fan of Miriam Yeung (ever since I met her in 2007 and she turned in a lovely performance in Hooked On You that year). In all honesty though, it's the young stars of this bittersweet drama from Adam Wong and Saville Chan (whose previous efforts include 2013's The Way We Dance) who shine the most, with Ng Siu Hin (who also appears in Ten Years' Self-Immolator) making a particularly strong impression as one of a trio of local secondary students living in pre-Handover Hong Kong who dare(d) to dream. With scenes set in the present day as well as in the past, this work gets its viewers nostalgically looking back but also still hoping for a better tomorrow.
7) Zhongkui: Snow Girl and the Dark Crystal
With special effects used in 77 percent of its scenes, this fantasy film from cinematographer-director Peter Pau could easily be accused of style over substance. Although I usually do care quite a bit about a movie's story, I have to admit to caring less about such as plot and character development in this offering about a hot-headed demon slayer, the beautifully icy demon he falls for and the receptacle for captured souls that he steals from the depths of hell, and more about being blown away by the film's super impressive and creative visuals! One of the rare 3-D films (in the world, never mind the Chinese-speaking world) that I actually enjoyed viewing, I guess I liked that its look helped me feel like I had been transported to another realm, even if only for a couple of hours!
This generally goofy movie from first-time director Lau Ho Leung can feel like a welcome blast from the past. For one thing, it is one of those "everything goes" films that could be said to transcend genre rather than just be multi-genre -- or just plain doesn't know what genre it should stick to! For another, like last year's Gangster Pay Day, it stars able veteran actors -- in this case, Francis Ng, Simon Yam and Mark Cheng as well as Leo Koo and Patrick Tam Yiu Ming -- and makes excellent use of their great chemistry. Sometimes hard to follow (because of over-hyper jumping about between different times and countries), in the end it doesn't matter (that much). Just go with the flow, and enjoy the ride while it lasts!
9) To the Fore
Before anything else: I agree with everyone who thinks it ludicruous that this Dante Lam sports movie was picked as Hong Kong's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee; this especially as it came out the same year as Little Big Master, a film that could possibly have appealed to the kind of folks who voted Japan's heartwarming Departures an Oscar winner -- and also because Hong Kong is seen far less in this largely Mandarin-language film than Taiwan! Casting all this aside though, what we've got here is an action movie with a twist; one in which the battles take place on the road among competitive cyclists rather than are waged by martial artists -- but delivers up quite a bit of adrenalized thrills nonetheless!
Before Ip Man 3 came along at the tail end of 2015, this Soi Cheang-helmed actioner probably would have been the favorite film of the year of those fans of Hong Kong cinema whose favorite genre by far is martial arts action. Max Zhang can be seen in explosive action in this sequel-in-name-only to the 2005 SPL directed by the Ip Man series' Wilson Yip as well as Ip Man 3. But it's Thai action superstar Tony Jaa and Hong Kong movie veteran Wu Jing who are this crime actioner's most showy performers, while the ever reliable Simon Yam is the film's dramatic anchor.