2002 - Top 10

Last year, comedian Stephen Chiau's movie SHAOLIN SOCCER took the number one spot, LEGEND OF ZU number two. Both movies were bought up by Miramax, dubbed, re-scored, and cut, and may at any moment be dumped on unsuspecting American audiences who will no doubt find them half as good as they originally were. This year, perhaps thankfully, the number two film of this year, INFERNAL AFFAIRS, has had remake rights purchased instead. The number one film this year has no chance of either happening, and stars Stephen Chiau's constant comedic companion from the early nineties, Sandra Ng, who gets her own film at last and makes everyone else look dull by comparison.
Golden Chicken
2002 | Samson Chiu

Golden Chicken

Sandra Ng is a not particularly good-looking prostitute who makes a living by working twice as hard as anyone else. Trapped in an ATM booth overnight with a would-be thief (Eric Tsang), she tells the story of her life in the sex trade in Hong Kong for the past few decades. Her career follows the economic and social ups and downs of the city itself, but she perseveres. When times are good, she works hard. When times are tough, she works even harder. She never gives up and never loses hope. A message everyone in Hong Kong these days could take to heart. Forget the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold stereotype, here is a hooker who develops marketing strategies and tries to make a comfortable living by providing a service. Sandra Ng delivers a career-topping performance, unashamed, unrestrained, and so enthusiastic she seems capable of bursting from the screen.
****

Infernal Affairs
2002 | Andrew Lau & Alan Mak

Infernal Affairs

The box office juggernaut of the year turns out to be worth every penny. Andy Lau is a triad mole in the police force, Tony Leung is an undercover cop with the triads. When the police chief (Anthony Wong) realizes there is someone in the force comprimising their activities, he assigns Lau the task of finding out who it is. Meanwhile, the triad boss (Eric Tsang) wants Lau to find out who the undercover cop is in his organization. A movie packed with deception and betrayal, where every word and expression is a mask to cover the truth. A well crafted film that builds tension until the very end. The two double agents both suffer from their constant duplicity and are detached emotionally, and directors Lau and Mak were able to bring that out not only in the actor's performances, but even in the sterility of the police station, the clothing, everything dominated by cold greys and blues and chrome. Edison Chen and Shawn Yue have cameo roles as a young Andy Lau and Tony Leung, respectively (despite the fact that Shawn Yue looks less like Tony Leung than I do).
****

Just One Look
2002 | Ip Kam Hung

Just One Look

A nostalgic coming of age film set on the small island of Cheung Chau in the 60s and 70s starring a gaggle of young cantopop stars (Charlene Choi, Gillian Cheung, Shawn Yue, and Wong Yau Nam). It should be painfully awful but surprisingly ends up just right, an incredibly sweet film that makes do with its young, inexperienced performers, and puts them to work in service of the story, rather than being a story written specifically as a vehicle for the stars. The movie theater is the focal point of the town. The boys (Shawn Yue and Wong Yau Nam) sell sugar cane in front of the local cinema, the changing marquee marks the years that pass. It is a story about growing up and falling in love, but it is also a story about how each of us use movies to help give our lives meaning, to shape our messy lives into a narrative in which we are the star, and how movies suggest to us new dreams and aspirations. Anthony Wong and Eric Kot round out the cast with strong supporting roles.
****

Three
2002 | Kim Jee-Woon, Nonzee Nimibutr, Peter Chan

Three

High concept horror angling for international box office dollars. Three short films, one Korean, one Thai, and one from Hong Kong, packaged together into one movie. There is no through line connecting the three films, excepting that each deals with ghosts or spirits, they can and were seen in different orders depending on the country screening it. MEMORIES (South Korea) is well crafted, in an interesting location (a new housing development outside of Seoul), but its story of a lost woman and devestated husband is also the most derivative of the three. GOING HOME (Hong Kong) concerns a cop (Eric Tsang) looking for his lost child is held hostage by a man (Leon Lai) who ritually bathes, grooms, and dresses his deceased wife every day, waiting for her to wake up again. Easily the best of the three, atmospheric and suspenseful, with excellent perfomances by both Tsang and Lai. But what puts THREE over the top is THE WHEEL (Thailand), about vengeful theater puppets. Art AND killer puppets -- how can you go wrong? [DVD] [VCD]
****

Princess-D
2002 | Sylvia Chang, Alan Yuen

Princess-D

When computer game designer (Daniel Wu) conceptualizes what he hopes to be his breakthrough game, there is only one thing missing: the star. He meets a young, street tough bartender (Angelica Lee), mixing drinks and handing out ecstacy, and sees her as the perfect model for his heroine. As he renders her digitally into a fetishized female heroine, the film offers a fresh perspective and shows how she draws strengh from, and buys in to his fantasy as well, to help keep together her troubled family. Anthony Wong plays Wu's father, a dance instructor, while Edison Chen plays Wu's younger brother, who becomes involved in another relationship in which fantasy and reality mix.
***

Fighting to Survive
2002 | Dayo Wong

Fighting to Survive

There was a time when mere mention of comedian Dayo Wong was enough to make me break out into hives. But not anymore -- I take back everything bad I ever said about him -- this movie is a gem. Wong plays a grown man who has never left Tien Mun, because he cannot stand to be in any moving vehicle. He concocts scheme after scheme in an attempt to get rich without ever leaving. FIGHTING TO SURVIVE is a throwback to the comedies of Michael Hui, a small potato with big schemes, caught in difficult situations, always trying to come out on top. The funniest comedy of the year, with a great ensemble cast including Sonija Kwok and the ever-versatile Anthony Wong.
***

Runaway Pistol
2002 | Lam Wah Chuen

Runaway Pistol

The premise of RUNAWAY PISTOL -- an entire movie from the point of view of a gun, as it moves from owner to owner -- is high concept and one might think almost doomed to stupidity. Several American movies have already done similar things -- chance encounters changing perspective, or a dollar bill changing hands from one person to another. But a well written and inventive script manages to inject the film with life beyond just the sales pitch. The gun profoundly changes lives, but never in a way that is quite expected. The film drifts from the darkly serious, to the comic, to the bizarre, and back again. The action is occassionally seen in a gun POV shot, at other times we see what the gun owner fantasizes as real, still other times the real and the fantastic merge. The gun itself narrates the story. Lam Wah Chuen pushes the unpleasant metaphor of humans as fish throughout the picture, opening with a sadistic child putting fighting fish into a single tank and watching them kill each other senselessly. They don't know why they do this, it is simply in their nature. In the end, we long for redemption, but only the gun itself is able to deliver.
***

Chinese Odyssey 2002
2002 | Jeff Lau

Chinese Odyssey 2002

Jeff Lau updates the classic story KINGDOM AND THE BEAUTY, adding gender-bending twists and modern in-references. The result is a delight, clever and playful, and his best work since the two-part CHINESE ODYSSEY, which other than the title bears no relation to this movie. Tony Leung and Vicki Zhao are brother and sister looking for love when the princess (Faye Wong), disguised as a man, fall into their lives and all three fall in love. Complications arise and despite its absurdity the story has real heart, too. A couple of updated Huangmei Opera songs are included and give the film the feel of beloved opera films of the fifties and sixties. Light, freewheeling, and fun.
***

The Eye
2002 | Danny & Oxide Pang

The Eye

Angelica Lee plays a young blind woman who gets corneal implants to restore her vision. Unfortunately for her, it also gives her the ability to see ghosts, and even more chilling, the strange visitors who come to take the dead away. A creepy and satisfying film that manages to put a new twist into the by now tired "seeing dead people" storyline. The second half of the picture, set in Thailand, is less effective, but the eye-popping conclusion more than makes up for whatever faults came before.
***

New Blood
2002 | Soi Cheang

New Blood

Dark, nasty, and bleak horror film about suicidal lovers. One of the victims has an unusual blood type and three donors are rounded up in the middle of the night to give. They end up saving the man, but the woman dies, and her vengeful ghost terrorizes the three donors for taking her boyfriend away from her by giving him life. Director Soi Cheang delivers an unrelenting vision of hopelessness, inhospitable environments, darkness, and blood, and emerges as a new and exciting voice in Hong Kong cinema. Too bad the evil ghost sports such a silly looking bald cap, though -- my only complaint about an otherwise excellent picture.
***

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 01, 2003.


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