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A Better Tomorrow

11 things we’ve learned about Hong Kong from its movies

Our local cinema accurately reflects the lives of ordinary people, right? Wrong

Written by
Douglas Parkes
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With a film industry that at its peaked cranked out more movies per year than countries like the UK, France or Japan, there are numerous great Hong Kong film (see our top 100 list). And what many things they have to tell us about Hong Kong and its citizens. Forget the Hollywood lies about superheroes jumping from our skyscrappers and giant robots demolishing the Bank of China Tower, these are the true (by which we mean false) things to learn about Hong Kong from its movies.

And if this gives you a taste for local flicks, then check out our women in martial arts feature.

Things we’ve learned about Hong Kong from the movies

Foreigners here are evil

1. Foreigners here are evil

Let’s start with an obvious one. The foreigner can be a dastardly British colonial official, a vile officer of the Imperial Japanese Army, or a ruthless American tycoon but, basically, they’re always up to no good.

Triad fights only take place in restaurants

2. Triad fights only take place in restaurants

Triads are a clever bunch. Ensuring their turf wars never spill out on to the streets, where it would be more expensive to film, their fights frequently take place in dai pai dongs or cha chaan tengs where chairs, bottles and cleavers are all close to hand.

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Hong Kong women fail the Bechdel test

3. Hong Kong women fail the Bechdel test

This test states that a work of fiction should feature at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. Given the prevalence of female roles centred around landing a man and getting married, our ladies are often poorly served by local movies.

Hong Kong is a heavily armed society

4. Hong Kong is a heavily armed society

Of course, when triads or other criminals tire of playing with sharp objects, they can rest easy knowing that heavy weaponry is never far away. Okay, Yip Kai-foon really did commit a series of robberies armed with assault rifles in the 1980s, but gun ownership is in fact tightly controlled. Not that you’d know from our movies...

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Hongkongers have terrible fashion sense

5. Hongkongers have terrible fashion sense

See picture. We blame Stephen Chow.

Everything corrupt and violent happened before 1997

6. Everything corrupt and violent happened before 1997

Thankfully, since 1997 all crime has been eliminated in Hong Kong. These days, if there’s a violent and/or corrupt movie (like SPL, pictured) it must take place before the handover when everything was so much worse in the city. Even if everything looks the same as our contemporary decade, just pretend.

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Hong Kong cops are all hard boiled detectives

7. Hong Kong cops are all hard boiled detectives

Forget the officers you see on the streets of Mong Kok who look like a stiff breeze might knock them over, our city’s cinematic cops are all trigger happy hot heads whose shoot outs are likely to demolish entire buildings.

Hongkongers have magical gambling abilities

8. Hongkongers have magical gambling abilities

No one is quite sure how they do it, but Hongkongers seem to possess the ability to enact metaphysical change in the numerical makeup of mahjong tiles or playing cards.

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Domestic helpers do not exist

9. Domestic helpers do not exist

Government statistics about there being over 300,000 domestic helpers is clearly fake news as we almost never see these individuals represented in Hong Kong movies.

Hong Kong streets are surprisingly uncongested

10. Hong Kong streets are surprisingly uncongested

Remember that time you decided to take a taxi on a Friday afternoon via the Cross-Harbour Tunnel? Neither do the movies.

Looking for great wuxia movies?

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