The Hong Kong movie industry is rightly celebrated. Numerous outstanding films have been made here – see our top 100 Hong Kong movies list – but let’s be honest, some are more worthy of applause than others. In the same way that Crash is definitely not the best movie of 2004, there are certain local flicks that have been praised beyond reason. Here are some of the the worst offenders. And if you think we’re being too harsh and disagree with our list, let us know what you think on Facebook and in the comments.
And if you’re after more Hong Kong movies – including plenty that deserve the praise they got – check out our lists for the best Hong Kong romcoms and best wuxia movies.
The most overrated Hong Kong movies
Let’s start with a big ‘un. Voted the greatest Hong Kong film ever made by the Hong Kong Film Critics Society in a 2010 poll, Days of Being Wild has one of the most oversized reputations of any local movie. ‘A rapturous film’ says The New York Times and Wong Kar-wai’s ‘first undisputed triumph’. Possibly it’s that tag of this being Wong Kar-wai’s first ‘real’ Wong Kar-wai film that explains the undue praise. After all, Wong’s decision to shoot without a script hobbled the production – Leslie Cheung’s Yuddie is an opaque lead difficult to empathise with; Tony Leung Chiu-wai had his character removed almost completely and only appears in the credits and for no discernible reason; and we see little of the interior life of the film’s two female leads.
Even perennial hit machine Stephen Chow drops some duds. And while we can all agree that CJ7 was just awful, Kung Fu Hustle has a curiously good reputation – ‘delivers a savage karate-chop to the funny bone’ wrote The Guardian – for a film that marks the point at which Chow started to lose his Midas touch. The 2004 film lacks the strong local character of Chow’s earlier movies and its humour is laboured – no aspect of the film has the panache or zaniness of, say, Sixty Million Dollar Man. As for the kung-fu, action choreographers Yuen Woo-ping and Sammo Hung are legends but their work here isn’t patch on their best films like Magnificent Butcher or The Matrix.
“It’s cool, thematically involving, knowing and sustained in its tension. Are you watching, Michael Mann?” Those were the words of Time Out itself upon the release of this quintessential Johnnie To triad flick. Well, clearly we got it wrong then. Although Exiled is loaded with many of To’s signature stylistic ticks and themes, the entire exercise comes across as near-parody rather than anything authentic.
Perhaps it’s because it was Jackie Chan’s first classical kung-fu movie in nearly 15 years or maybe it’s because it was one of his last movies before heading to Hollywood to make Rush Hour but Drunken Master II is usually thought of in excessively glowing terms. The climatic fight scene is excellent but that’s only because Jackie took over directorial duties himself. The rest of the film, helmed by Shaw Brothers legend Lau Kar-Leung, is sluggish, needlessly confusing and weighed down by clunky comedy. The final 20 minutes might dazzle but the film is far from ‘simply amazing’ as Roger Ebert described it.
Although McDull remains Hong Kong’s favourite piggy – not that he has much competition, mind – it has to be acknowledged that every sequel since his motion picture debut, My Life as McDull, simply hasn’t been very good. Even if you can keep up with the Cantonese wordplay the stories have become increasingly esoteric and the original’s heart-warming focus on life in Hong Kong as it really has gradually disappeared.
Johnnie To’s original Election ranks as one the director’s best films, a smart and engaging critique of Hong Kong ‘democracy’. This sequel, often mistakenly considered better than the original, isn’t bad as a stand-alone film but it fails as a sequel. Sure, the Mainland getting involved in proceedings adds an edge that increasingly resonates but Simon Yam’s triad boss, formerly deviously subtle, is properly maniacal in a way that’s totally out of sorts for the character he portrayed in Election.
Immaculately made, Raining in the Mountain is by no means a bad film but its game of cat-and-mouse temple hijinks isn’t worthy of being considered alongside director King Hu’s legitimate masterpieces A Touch of Zen and Dragon Inn. The film is largely inscrutable, a tough work to sink into, much like Hou Hsiao Hsien’s tedious wuxia tale The Assassin. The film teases excitement without quite delivering, making for ultimately frustrating viewing.
Want to learn more about the Hong Kong film industry?
We speak to Chan Hoi-yan, a veteran of nearly 40 years in the local film industry. A man who’s worked on award-winning films like Paradox and with legends like Sammo Hung, we hear his insights on what it’s like to perform one of the most physically demanding roles on set.