The Best of Hong Kong Cinema - 2004

The Acadamy Awards are this weekend and The Illuminated Lantern is in the spirit of honoring the best of the best in cinema this year. Forget the Hong Kong Film awards, the Golden Bauhinia Awards, and the Taiwan's Golden Horse. Right here are the only awards for Hong Kong movies not prejudiced by industry insiders scratching each other's backs, not manipulated by international politics, and not voted on by anyone but myself. Without further ado, here are the first annual Golden Lantern awards.

Best Actor
Props go to Tony Leung Chiu-Wai for another brilliant performance in a Wong Kar--Wai movie, but so what? Heck, I think I would look damn good if Wong Kar-Wai was directing me and Christopher Doyle was filming it. Go make a Wong Jing film or two, come talk to me if your performance there gets you recognized. Who else deserves a nod? Eason Chan for Love Battlefield, perhaps. Definitely Alex Fong, who turned in three of his best performances yet in One Night in Mongkok, Explosive City, and Astonishing. Whatever the merits of the individual films (I liked them all), he showed his quality. But the award goes to Andy Lau. He has demonstrated that you don't have to rush off to Hollywood once you've made it in Hong Kong, to make B-movie filler barely worth lining the litter box with. Instead, he popped over to the mainland to turn in two of the strongest performances of his career: the soldier who is more than he seems in HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS; the thief who doesn't care to change, but does, in A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES. Something clicked for Andy Lau in INFERNAL AFFAIRS 3, and now it seems there is no stopping how far he can go.

Best Actress
Rene Liu in A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES and Zhang Ziyi in HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS are notable runner-ups. So is Angelica Lee, for her frail, girl in renal failure in Koma, not to mention her other quality work this year in 20:30:40 and A1. But although all three were very good, they aren't even close to Shu Qi's emotionally raw performance in The Eye 2. The movie could have been laughable, but her performance made it real. A big thank you to Danny and Oxide Pang for taking her seriously and giving her the opportunity she deserved. It was not wasted, and their faith was well placed.

Best Performance by a non-Actor
This category is for all those Cantopop kids who don't know how to act, never learned, and don't seem to have the aptitude for it. Just playing themselves, i.e., Charlene Choi acting "sassy" -- just doesn't cut it. The runners-up are Miriam Yeung for not breaking character -- for the whole movie! -- in Dumplings: Three Extremes; Louis Koo as a former Judo expert losing his sight in Throwdown (Though his tan may be dark enough, Jamie Foxx does not need to worry about any competition in the blind musician category); The Twins, as evil chopsticks in Fantasia; Eason Chan as a male nurse kidnapped by mainland robbers in Love Battlefield. While Eason Chan gives the best performance of his career in LOVE BATTLEFIELD, this award is going to Edison Chen instead, who has suddenly become someone worth seeing, from his remarkable gangsta punk performance in Jiang Hu, to his cop on the edge in Moving Targets, to his loyal photographer in A1. None of the roles were totally flattering, all of them have edges some of the other canto-crudsters might run away from for fear of losing fans. Most importantly as supporting actor, he gives focus when appropriate and doesn't try and hog the limelight. 2004 brings a newfound respect to Edison Chen, he at least deserves this fictitious award to go with that.

Best Leading Actor in a Supporting Role
This category was created especially to give an award to Tony Leung Ka-Fei, who has suddenly become the man of 1,000 faces, and has worked magic in almost every one of his many appearances: Sex and the Beauties, 20:30:40, Throwdown, A1, Dumplings: Three Extremes, Twins Effect II. Since when did he become such an evil genius?

Best English Language Title
This was a tough one. While Twins Effect II follows the original in having a title unrelated to the content of the film, it's not fresh. Better was Heat Team, the sequel in title only to Dante Lam's Hit Team. The mind conjures many images of what a "heat team" might be, turns out it's just a really hot summer when the action is taking place. Oh, and one partner loves spicy food. Other runner ups include The End of the Stumer , for picking a real English word that no one who speaks English understands the meaning of; FREAKING SPICY KILLER for its emphatic language; and the team of Protege de la Rose Noire and MCDULL PRINCE DE LA BUN for their arbitrary use of French.

But the winner this year is Unplugging Nightmare, a phrase that is grammatically correct but utterly bewildering in meaning, two words that I have never seen together before. But then, now that the combination is there, I have to say that I have had an unplugging nightmare before. I was working on my laptop, when suddenly it urgently informs me I am running out of battery power. Both outlets nearby had plugs in them already. I wanted to pull out the plug for the lamp, but pulled out the clock plug instead. Hastily plugging it back in, I see by the blinking "12:00" that I am too late and have to reset the clock. I pull out the lamp plug, and in the dark, feel around to plug in the laptop. Then I realize the prongs aren't going to fit in that outlet...well, it's too horrible to go on. And needless to say, nothing of the kind happens in the movie.

Biggest Disappointment
You've heard about the movie for months. People living in Hong Kong have viewed the film and breathlessly reported about how fabulous it is and how pathetic you are for not having seen it yet. The buzz reaches a fever pitch. Finally the movie arrives and you hastily throw it in the DVD player. The movie doesn't match the hype. Suddenly, you're wondering if all that pumping up the film beforehand had prejudiced your ability to enjoy the film. It's a grim scene, recrimination all around. The runners-up are: Twins Effect II for not having any Vampires in it at all; Silver Hawk for conjuring memories of HEROIC TRIO but delivering another The Touch; Magic Kitchen for having Sammi Cheng and Andy Lau in a movie together but not pairing them together; and KUNG FU HUSTLE for not bringing World Peace (the hype was pretty high on that one). But the award has to go to White Dragon for featuring a blind swordsman played by Francis Ng but milking it only for laughs, and even then not very many.

Most Desperate Stephen Chow Impersonation
Ronald Cheung seems to be taking his inspiration from Ben Stiller more than Stephen Chow these days and I'm pretty sure that's a new low in shameless imitation. Which leaves us with Kenny Kwan of the boy band BOY'Z imitating the grand Stephen Chow entrance into the gambling hall from All for the Winner in his new film 6 AM, reminding us all how uncharismatic he is by comparison.

Most Shamelessly Manipulative Marketing Strategy
This award goes to Wong Jing, who made two movies this year, Moving Targets and Love is a many Stupid Thing, that were named (in their Chinese titles) after two of his older, classic productions, POLICE CADETS (which starred Chow Yun-Fat, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Lau Ching Wan, and others), and ROMANCING STAR (which starred Chow Yun-Fat, Eric Tsang, Nat Chan, and Stanley Fung). The trailer for Love is a many Stupid Thing even contained footage from ROMANCING STAR. But, neither movie has anything to do with their predecessors, leaving the suckered masses decidedly pissed.

Most Frequently Imitated Movie
At first it looked like KILL BILL would win this award, as it is riffed on in a number of movies, including 6 AM and Enter the Phoenix. The direct to video production My Baby Shot Me Down has an English language title obviously inspired by the Nancy Sinatra song that opens KILL BILL. And even an outtake from Jiang Hu sets a scene to the same Mexican flavored dance cover of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" that appears on the KILL BILL soundtrack. (In fact, the soundtrack of quite a few action movies this year seemed to be inspired by this track). But the winner in this category is INFERNAL AFFAIRS for the full length films it inspired, from a full length parody in Love is a many Stupid Thing to a digital video carbon copy, with women instead of men in the lead roles, in Infernal Mission.

Posted by Peter Nepstad on February 27, 2005.

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