2001 - Top 10

It is almost always the case that the best movies of the year are not the most popular. Exception is made here for the #1 slot, which managed the rare combination of being both the best film of the year and the highest grossing at the Box Office. The rest met with varying success, some playing in no more than one theater for a few days before disappearing into the VCD racks, others making bids for international recognition at film festivals, but falling short of taking home any prizes. All of them are worth seeing, and represent some of the most creative work coming from Hong Kong this year.
Shaolin Soccer
2001 | Stephen Chiau

Shaolin Soccer

Stephen Chiau is a Shaolin monk who wants to popularize martial arts. Ng Man-Tat is a former soccer champ who took a bribe to throw a game twenty years ago and is trying to regain his honor by putting together and coaching a new soccer team. Their paths cross and a legend is born. The best comedy team of the nineties show they've still got it (as if there was any doubt) in one of the most popular films of 2001 and highest grossing Cantonese film of all time. Stephen Chiau and Ng Man-Tat bring their usual blend of touching characterizations, verbal humor, slapstick, absurdist violence, and mo lei tau to the screen and enrich it with exciting sfx. You will believe a monk can play soccer.
****

2001 | Tsui Hark



Great fantasy films are few and far between. And those that are great, are almost always deeply flawed. The original vision in such enchanting pictures such as THE DARK CRYSTAL and LEGEND continue to amaze, despite the fact that the movies themselves are rather weak. So too with LEGEND OF ZU, a film which manages to create a whole other world of immortals who never die, not completely, fighting battles that last for eternities. In the end, Tsui Hark succeeds all too well, as we lowly humans have trouble relating to the problems and concerns of the immortals onscreen. Action packed, but somber and subdued, this is pure fantasy, a creation of unfettered imagination, an awesome spectacle that floods your cortex with s-fx stimuli until you shut down your sense of wonder, and find, like the immortals, that the world is a desolate and unconsoling place.
****

2001 | Caroline Lai



A remarkable film about the grandfather of a runaway girl, enlisted by the girl's parents to help track her down. He falls in with the girl's friend, named P, who is a brash, stubborn, independent herself. Together they try to find the missing girl, and in the process, perhaps, find something missing from themselves. The performances in this film are shockingly good, especially old time kung-fu star Lo Lieh as grandfather. As a loner and ex-cop, grandfather is a fabulous character study, as are the missing girl's parents, who become hopelessly unconnected and listless. Director Caroline Lai takes her time with each scene, going for that art house aesthetic, but never to the point where it compromises the energy of her youthful, and not-so-youthful, stars. Other 'wild youth' films released this year like GANGS 2001, GIMME GIMME, or THE YOUNG ONES are not even in the same league. [DVD] [VCD]
****

2001 | Jacob Cheung



Anita Mui goes to Paris to get away from her philandering husband, and befriends a young Japanese girl who is in love with a married man. The two decide to extend their vacation and go to Morocco, and while there discover their problems are more connected than they at first believed. This film starts awfully slow, and the two protagonists communicate with each other using English (a second language to both), which makes things even slower. But the slow pace of the first half allows you time to get to know and care for these characters, which makes the second half of the film all the more compelling. A devestating film which creeps up on you slowly, and manages to avoid most, but not all, of the cliches inherent in the material. This film stayed with me longer than any other I've seen this year. [DVD] [VCD]
****

2001 | Ann Hui



Shu Qi sees dead people in this mystery/romance which also stars Eason Chan as a somewhat dopey, lovestruck guy intent on wooing her. Things get stranger and stranger for Eason as his romance blossoms, until he can no longer tell who is alive, and who is a ghost, and who is the girl he has been falling in love with. Sam Lee co-stars as his roommate. A really well crafted story which doesn't give away its secrets until the very end. [DVD] [VCD]
****

2001 | Mabel Cheung



Hey, Beijing really does rock in this movie about a wimpy Hong Kong pop musician (Daniel Wu) whose rich folks send him to Beijing for inspiration. He gets in trouble, instead, and ends up going on the road with some Beijing rockers he meets in a club. The front man, Road (Geng Ye) is insane like all lead singers, and of course his girlfriend (Shu Qi) is damn fine. The other principle character is Black Whirlwind, Road's dog. Road really loves that little puppy. Toward the end, the plot takes a turn for the typical and goes down the tortured, self-destructive artist path, and this overly dramatic turn takes away from the movie's strength, which is its exploration of the indie rock scene in Beijing, An inside look at the youth culture in a communist society. The last moments of the film drag a bit too long, as if they were uncertain how to end the story. And in a way, I didn't want it to end. For once, here's a Hong Kong movie that shelves the insipid Cantopop crap and rocks out. Solid performances throughout, and Mabel Cheung's directing has moments of real inspiration. [DVD] [VCD]
***

2001 | Edmond Pang



Eric Kot is a hitman out of work due to the recession, who ends up reinvigorating his business by adding a cameraman (Cheung Tat-Ming) to film his hits. A very funny satire which takes aim at the movie industry in general with each new victim they gun down. Eric Kot is at his best here as a hitman who idolizes how cool Alain Delon is while despairing of all the little obligations that fill up his incredibly un-cool life. Cheung Tat-Ming brings alot of energy to the role of a young director who dreams of being Scorcese rather than assisting on porn films, and dreams too of being with the beautiful Japanese porn star (played by Higuchi Asuka) he often shoots. Destined for cult status. [VCD]
***

2001 | Clarence Fok



A group of illegal immigrants try to make the journey from China to England and go through sheer hell to do it. I can only imagine it isn't always this hard to smuggle people into the west, otherwise there'd be precious few around to tell the tale. The ending is based on a true story. Like this year's FROM THE QUEEN TO THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE, STOWAWAY is a revisioning of the Hong Kong true crime movie, with less exploitation and more thoughtful inquiry. Director Clarence Fok admittedly overuses various stop and blur effects, but does solid location work in London, Vietnam, and Russia. What isn't so solid is some of the British voice acting, which cripples what should have been the most dramatic scene of the film. Despite its flaws, this is a powerful drama which never lets up. [DVD] [VCD]
***

2001 | Raymond Leung



I feel like I know all the plot elements by heart, now, they are so familiar in Hong Kong cinema: the story of a hitman (Nick Cheung), a loner, who had a terrible childhood. He never sees the man who hires him to kill, he only kills people "who deserve killing," and before he does the killing he always visits the same prostitute. But then the script takes each of these conventions and turns them on their ear. He finds out he is going blind, and soon finds himself re-evaluating his life. He falls in with a quirky and charming girl (Yo Yo) he meets at a quicky mart, and their relationship slowly evolves. As he loses his vision, he begins seeing his life more clearly than he had ever before. I have never seen a film with so many genuinely surprising moments, all of which just flow naturally out of the story and never seem forced. It could have easily been played as a black comedy, since so much of the hitman's life turns out to be utterly different than what he thought he knew, but it's played straight -- a risky choice, which somehow works. Add absolutely inspired direction throughout by Raymond Leung, great cinematography, Spanish guitar on the soundtrack, and you end up with as unique and compelling a work as Wong Kar Wai's more famous FALLEN ANGELS. Just as good if not better, DAY OFF will however languish in obscurity, having no big name director, nor big name actors, nor any foreign distributors even looking its way. [DVD] [VCD]
***

2001 | Leung Tak Sam




A movie in the tradition of Jonathan Demme's AFTER HOURS and Sabu's POSTMAN BLUES, though much lighter in spirit. A Japanese man (Taguchi Hiromasa) in Hong Kong on the eve of the handover hires a prostitute at incredible cost because she looks like his childhood sweetheart, in celebration of his 30th birthday. She's only available until midnight. He gets there plenty early, only trouble is, she won't let him do anything without a condom. And so he leaves the hotel in search of a condom, and begins a night where anything bad that could go wrong, does go wrong. As things start spinning wildly out of control, the chief of police (Chin Kar Lok) is called on by the governor to ensure everything is resolved quickly, no matter the cost. On his adventures, the Japanese man meets all stripes of Hong Kongies, friends, foes, and the just plain weird. More of a tribute to Hong Kong and its people, this film showcases a love for the city like none other. [DVD] [VCD]
***

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 01, 2002.


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