WSJ: Hong Kong’s 5 Most Essential Films of 2014

WSJ: Hong Kong’s 5 Most Essential Films of 2014

By Dean Napolitano

Comedy, drama and kung fu. In its golden era of the 1970s and ’80s,  Hong Kong’s movie industry dominated Asia’s cultural landscape. But while the Chinese city’s film industry isn’t flourishing the way it was a generation ago, there still is a lot of kick in the old boy.

This year saw the return of Chow Yun-fat in his first pure Cantonese-language role in nearly 20 years, while Donnie Yen kicked with some class-acts from old Hong Kong martial-arts movies. And documentarian Ruby Yang, whose short 2007 Academy Award-winning documentary “The Blood of Yingzhou District” chronicled the impact of AIDS on a Chinese village, turned her camera toward Hong Kong.

Here are our picks for Hong Kong’s five most-notable films of 2014:

“Aberdeen”

Pang Ho-cheung is known for his wild comedies, but the funnyman director showed his serious side with this story about the complicated relationships of a multi-generational family: an elderly father and his two grown children, each grappling with their own problems involving marriage and parenthood. Intent on making a pure home-grown drama, Mr. Pang cast only Hong Kong actors, including Louis Koo, Gigi Leung and Eric Tsang.

“From Vegas to Macau”

Chow Yun-fat proves why he is one of the world’s great movie stars in this action-comedy from director Wong Jing about a high-stakes gambler helping police bring down the ruthless master of an international money-laundering organization. This was Mr. Chow’s first Cantonese-language movie in nearly two decades and a throwback to some of his big hits of the 1980s and early ’90s. And there’s more to come: A sequel is planned in February for the Lunar New Year.

“Kung Fu Jungle”

Donnie Yen teams up with director Teddy Chen for this action-drama about a martial-arts expert serving time in prison after he accidentally kills an opponent. In exchange for his freedom, he helps the police track down a serial killer knocking off kung-fu masters in gruesome fashion. This homage to Hong Kong action movies is filled with veteran kung-fu actors in cameo roles, a stark reminder of the noticeable lack of young martial-arts stars in today’s movies.

“The Midnight After”

Director Fruit Chan’s film about 16 people aboard a minibus who realize they are the only people left in Hong Kong looks like a standard low-budget sci-fi thriller, with the group of survivors meeting grisly deaths from a mysterious force. But the film — a prescient story that was released months before the city’s Umbrella Movement — serves as a metaphor for what’s really going on: Hong Kong’s loss of identity in the face of social challenges, including concern over the economy, soaring property prices and influence from mainland China.

“My Voice, My Life”

Oscar-winning filmmaker Ruby Yang’s documentary about a summer musical-theater program for high-school students from working-class families and students from a school for the blind is a poignant, uplifting look at underprivileged youth trying to better themselves and their dedicated teachers. But the film, a meditation on the role teenagers play in society, took on added significance amid this year’s student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

 

Wall Street Journal Dec. 31, 2014