Friday, February 12, 2016

3 HK movies I plan on watching this year….

It has been awhile since I’ve watched a HK film.  Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I am grateful to have witnessed the ‘heyday’ of HK cinema back in those days (especially given what the HK movie industry has become today).  As an avid follower and huge supporter of the HK entertainment industry back then, I watched my fair share of HK movies and found most of them enjoyable, regardless of whether the story was good or not.  Of course it helped that there were so many big stars back then who possessed both charisma as well as acting skill, plus all the talent behind-the-scenes in terms of scriptwriters/directors/producers, etc., so it made it easier (in my opinion at least) to enjoy even the lowest quality of movies (i.e.: those raunchy slapstick ones where there is no coherent plot whatsoever yet still manage to be funny and enjoyable).

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about HK movies is the distinct ‘HK flavor’ that most HK movies – especially the CNY (Chinese New Year) ones – possessed back then (those of you who’ve been watching HK movies for a long time will probably understand what I mean).   Unfortunately, that distinct ‘HK flavor’ has greatly eroded over the years, to the point that nowadays, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a ‘purely HK flavor’ movie that is meant to cater to the HK market (I’m throwing completely bogus numbers out there right now, but as a means of comparison, if 8 out of 10 HK movies back in those days were ‘HK-centric’, then that number is only 1 out of 10 today – if that….).  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to diss non-HK movies in any way, as I don’t feel it’s in my realm to do so…I’m merely lamenting the erosion and ‘slow death’ of the HK movie industry (actually, the entire HK entertainment industry as a whole if we think about it) due to various factors that cannot be explained in one blog post.

When the industry started going downhill in the mid to late 90s and most of the artists/production people I knew and loved became less active in movies, I also became less and less interested in watching HK movies.  In the past 2 decades or so, I would venture to say that the number of HK movies I’ve watched is less than a third of what I used to watch in the old days – while I do have a few favorites from recent decades that were absolute gems and that I would re-watch all day if I could, it’s not surprising that a huge majority of my favorite HK movies are actually from the 80s/early 90s eras. 

At this point, you’re probably wondering why I’ve been ranting on for 3 paragraphs about the demise of HK movies in a blog post that is supposed to be about movies that I intend on watching this year.  Well, considering how few HK movies I watch nowadays, the fact that there are 3 movies that I plan on (more like WANT TO) watch this year is quite significant (last year, I only watched 1 HK movie – mostly because my idol was in it…in a sense, I’m trying to put things in perspective).  I have specific reasons for wanting to watch these 3 movies, which I will attempt to explain below (in my usual ‘wordy’ way of course, lol) – though in the case of #1 and #3, I admit that I am also trying to ‘shamelessly plug’ both movies in the hopes that more people will go see them (#2 obviously doesn’t need any ‘plugging’ from me, since there is enough ‘hype’ with the movie already and it will do well in the box office based on cast alone). 

So here are the movies:

1)      Heaven in the Dark (暗色天)

Cast:  Jacky Cheung, Karena Lam, Anthony Wong, Helena Law, Wong Hei, Edmund So, Catherine Chau, Michelle Wai

Director:  Steve Yuen

Distributed by:  Emperor Motion Pictures

Premiere date:  3/24/2016 in Hong Kong, 4/15/2016 in Taiwan (not sure if this movie will be shown in Mainland or not)

Trailer (note that this is the first ‘official’ trailer for the movie – as premiere date gets closer, there will undoubtedly be more trailers released):

I’m actually working on a blog post dedicated to this movie that will have details on the plot, background on filming and production, etc., so I’m not going to say much here.  Just note that Heaven in the Dark is absolutely the MOST ANTICIPATED movie of the year for me, one that I am very much DYING to see (3/24, please get here quickly!!!) – to find out why, please stay tuned for my follow-up post (which should be posted up by this weekend)…

2)      From Vegas to Macau III (賭城風雲III)

Cast:  Chow Yun Fat, Nick Cheung, Andy Lau, Jacky Cheung, Carina Lau, Li YuChun, Charles Heung, Jacky Heung, Law Kar Ying, Sean Yue, etc.

Director:  Andrew Lau

Executive Producer:  Wong Jing

Distributed by:  Wong Jing’s production company, Shaw Brothers, plus a plethora of other HK and Mainland production companies

Premier date: 2/6/2016 in Hong Kong, 2/8/2016 in Mainland China

Trailer (one of many):

Sub-theme song MV trailer (incomplete version): "Frozen" (停格) by Jacky Cheung

I was actually already working on this post prior to the movie premiering in HK, but had to put it aside due to getting busy with stuff, which of course means I had to re-write some content, so please cut me some slack if my comments sound choppy or don’t flow as coherently as they should.

Ok, so before anyone gives me crap about why I’m ‘supporting’ a Wong Jing-produced movie, I’m going to come right out and say that I am watching this movie for 2 reasons only:  1) my idol Jacky Cheung and 2) the nostalgia factor (more specifically, 80S/90S HK film industry nostalgia).  I will explain more about both reasons in a minute.  First though, for the record, I did not watch the first 2 installments of From Vegas to Macau and I don’t intend to in the near future either (just to make it clear:  no, I’m not ‘boycotting’ either movie, I just have no desire to watch, whether from a cast perspective or story perspective).  I don’t normally watch Wong Jing’s movies (I’m referring mostly to his movies from the past 2 decades or so, not the older ones from the 80s/early 90s) because I find them cheap, vulgar, and raunchy with recycled plots and storylines, crappy scripts, and generally bad acting (mostly from the newbies and his ‘Jing ladies’) – besides, most of Wong Jing’s movies the past several decades have been low quality category III sex movies anyway, so of course I won’t bother to watch.

Before I elaborate on my 2 main reasons for watching, just wanted to give a quick shout-out to the ‘legitimate’ naysayers out there by saying that I totally GET why you guys don’t want to watch this movie. [Side note: I use the word ‘legitimate’ because nowadays, people boycott stuff left and right purely out of political reasons that have nothing to do with the work/program itself.  If people are not watching this movie purely because Wong Jing holds different political views than them – um, sorry, but your opinion doesn’t count in my book!)  With that said, I personally can’t stand Wong Jing, but not because of political reasons (I don’t give a crap what his political stance is to be honest, since politics should be completely separate from entertainment and therefore – in my opinion anyway – it’s dumb to refuse to watch a movie just because the producer’s political views differ from one’s own).  I dislike Wong Jing as a person mostly because of his aggressive attitude toward people as well as his forever childish behavior (the guy is like in his 60s I think, yet he always acts like he’s 10 or something with all the tantrums he throws, especially when people criticize him or disagree with him) – oh and of course, his ‘annoying as hell’ arrogance doesn’t help things either.  From a filmmaker perspective, I’ve actually always felt that Wong Jing is overrated – like I mentioned above, he’s actually one of the few directors/scriptwriters/producers in the industry whose formula has not changed one bit in the 40+ years he has been in the industry…he basically recycles and rehashes his stories/plots/gimmicks over and over again, to the point that there is no need to watch all of his works because they all end up looking similar anyway…if you’ve seen one of his movies/TV series, you’ve pretty much seen them all.  As with most of his movies, the script for Vegas III was penned by Wong Jing himself, so no doubt this will be more of the same (which, as of this writing, has been confirmed by those who’ve actually seen the movie – the basic sentiment is that the script is HORRIBLY written).

So why do I want to watch this movie then?  One reason (actually, the first and foremost reason) is because of Jacky – he rarely ever films movies nowadays so every opportunity I get to see him in a movie, I am absolutely taking advantage of it (call me a crazy fan if you want -- when it comes to Jacky, I have no qualms about being labeled as such!).  While it’s true that Jacky actually doesn’t have a whole lot of screen time in this movie (technically, his role is less than supporting but more than cameo), the time that he does have is well-used and his acting still manages to stand out amongst all the ‘greats’ in this movie.  Amidst all the criticism toward the movie itself (since the movie premiered, the feedback has been all over the place – some people like the movie and feels it lives up to CNY standards, some hate it and hugely criticize it for being nonsense and ridiculous, some are neutral and see it no better or worse than other run-of-the mill CNY movies), there have been 2 ‘elements’ of the movie that have been consistently praised in both positive as well as negative reviews of the movie:  the first is Jacky’s acting/performance and the second is the sub-theme song he sings at the end of the movie (people have commented that listening to the sub-theme song paired with watching the final scene of Jacky’s character’s demise in the  movie truly moved them to tears, which is unusual for a CNY film that is supposed to be comedic rather than tragic).  Those who have watched the movie have noted Jacky’s meticulous acting, with special mention of his on-the-spot facial expressions – despite the horribly written script, Jacky managed to make his crazy, schizophrenic character Yik Tin Hang amazingly convincing.  Of course, I am not surprised at the positive feedback toward Jacky’s performance, as he has always been a solid actor who is hugely underrated (mostly because everyone – including Jacky himself – focus more on his singing career rather than his acting).  The last few days I’ve actually read quite a few reviews as well as media reports on the movie (from various sources, both in HK and Mainland) and interestingly enough, there has been one particular common sentiment amongst all those reports:  ‘Jacky Cheung is the only actor amongst the star-studded main cast who actually took the acting piece seriously and it shows’ (basically meaning that everyone else still delivered the goods, but didn’t put as much emphasis on the acting since this is a CNY movie after all and most audiences won’t care as long as they are ‘entertained’).  In other words, Jacky’s performance is one of the ‘highlights’ in an otherwise forgettable movie.  Again, I am not surprised, as Jacky is a ‘perfectionist’ when it comes to his work and has high standards towards all his performances – whether it involves singing or acting – so of course he is going to take it seriously (one of the articles actually said that it’s obvious from the end result that Jacky put 120% effort into his performance).  As a fan, I am of course happy to see all the praise for Jacky’s performance, though too bad it was for such a lame movie overall.  However, it does make me proud know that my decision to watch the movie mainly because of him was definitely not in vain. 

Lastly, to touch on the second reason why I want to watch this movie – the nostalgia factor.  For someone like me who grew up watching HK movies in the 80s/90s, this movie will actually have a little more significance in that I will be able to recognize a lot of the ‘classic’ scenes / dialogues / songs, etc. incorporated into the movie.  Also, there are a BOATLOAD of veteran artists and other familiar faces (whom long-time HK movie-goers will for sure recognize) that make cameo appearances in the movie.  The nostalgia piece is actually a unique component of this particular installment of Vegas that was absent from the previous 2 installments – though to be honest, I’m pretty sure it’s not lost on anyone that the nostalgia piece is a ‘gimmick’ on Wong Jing’s part to get audiences who have fond memories of ‘the good old days’ to watch the movie. Ah well – it is what it is, I guess….

3)      Ten Years (十年)

Cast:  Liu Kai Chi, Leung Kin Ping, Courtney Wu Zerisawa, Peter Chan, Wong Ching, Lau Ho-Chi, Ng Siu Hin, Tanzela Qoser, etc.

Directors:  Kwok Zune, Wong Fei Pang, Jevons  Au, Chow Kwun Wai, Ng Ka Leung

Distributed by:  Ten Years Studio (low budget independent film)

Premier date:  12/17/2015 in Hong Kong


Since probably not many people have heard of this film, I will attempt to give a brief summary of it (though I also attached an article from SCMP that does a pretty good job of summing it up, plus there’s also Wikipedia for those who want more detail). 

Anyway, this is a low budget independent movie consisting of 5 short films directed by 5 newbie directors (from the younger generation obviously, given the movie’s theme).  Basically, the movie is a political satire that attempts to depict what Hong Kong might be like ten years from now, in 2025 (hence the very fitting title).  Though largely ‘fictional’ in nature, the very realistic portrayal of political and social issues that HK has been facing (with some of what has been depicted in the movie eerily ‘coming true’ already) has made this film a haunting reminder of Mainland China’s increasingly suffocating stronghold on HK. 

Initially, this film did not draw much attention, especially since all the directors are young newbies, plus the cast is largely unknown (except for a few veteran supporting artists such as Liu Kai Chi and Leung Kin Ping, though if you read up on the film, there are other familiar faces who do have cameos, it’s just not highly publicized).  Not long after its release though, ticket sales went through the roof, with sales surpassing the new Star Wars movie at one point in a few theaters.  That’s when mainstream media started reporting on the movie more, giving it much needed publicity.  In the short amount of time the movie has been in theaters, it managed to rake in $5 million HKD in ticket sales, which is virtually unheard of for an independent film helmed by unknowns (plus the film only cost $600,000 HKD to make, so the directors definitely got a return on their investment).  So far, this film has gotten wide critical acclaim (in HK of course) and has been touted as a film that all Hong Kongers must watch.  Those who’ve watched the film praise its daring yet relevant portrayal of HK’s political and social issues – the film is powerful on many fronts, but ‘disturbing’ and scary at the same time due to how closely it hits home with its candid commentary of the HK-Mainland conflict as well as the CCP’s ominous influence.

As a Hong Konger, I am definitely interested in watching this movie.  For the record, I have always taken a ‘neutral’ stance when it comes to politics and nothing will ever change that.  I refuse to involve myself with politics or associate myself with any party / political faction because to me, there is no party out there that will ever jive completely with my views and value system – therefore I prefer to remain ‘neutral’ so that I can both understand and appreciate both sides of the argument, so to speak.  Besides, as I mentioned above, I have always taken the position that politics should be separate from entertainment, so I don’t allow my entertainment choices (whether in television, movies, music, books, etc.) to be ‘influenced’ by any political leanings.  With all that said, I am interested in watching Ten Years mainly due to its artistic merit and critical acclaim – I want to see for myself whether this movie is as poignant and powerful as everyone has said it is.  Regardless of its heavy socio-political theme, if the movie is good, then it’s absolutely worthwhile to watch -- no amount of criticism, whether politically-laced or not, will discourage me from watching a worthy film!


  1. Hello! I am a quiet reader of this blog and I came across here from Asianfanatics. I don't check Asianfanatics that much because I have stopped watching HK dramas a long time ago. I do rewatch the TVB dramas I grew up with to have a throwback moment. Reading your previous comment just boggles my mind that the HK film industry is going downhill.
    But the very last film you mentioned, Ten Years, caught my attention. I rewatched the trailer several times already and LOVE the last line, "It's not hatred that keeps me going, but hope." I am crossing my fingers and hoping it will come to US as soon as possible!
    Thank you for sharing your 3 must watch movies for this year!


    1. Regarding Ten Years – I’m actually super happy to see someone else support this movie. I read an interview recently that one of the directors of the movie did and hearing him describe some of the hardships he and the other directors encountered when filming the movie really moved me and made me want to see the movie even more. Oh, there are a few updates that came out of that interview that are extremely disturbing. First, the movie is no longer being shown in any HK theater – well, the release of the movie was already limited in the first place, as most larger theaters refused to show the movie out of fear that it would affect future business with Mainland China. The few theaters that were willing to show it have now removed the movie (though not after the movie was able to rake in 5 million HKD, which is absolutely impressive given that this is a small budget independent film released only in a few theaters). I have some friends who are going back to HK this month and are already complaining that they can’t find a single theater (not even in the more remote areas) still showing the movie. The director who was interviewed talked about how one of the theaters that agreed to show the movie (it was a pretty ‘famous’ theater in HK, but the owner has business ties to Mainland) immediately pulled the movie ‘off the shelf’ when it found out that tickets for the showing sold out in a matter of hours (that’s SO messed up – I sure hope that stupid theater gave the audiences who bought tickets refunds!!!).

      The second thing I found out (which I am extremely bummed about) is that the movie most likely won’t be released on DVD. The director said that due to all the attention the movie has gotten, the powers-that-be appear to be stepping in now (one hint of this is the fact that all HK theaters have stopped showing the movie)…without revealing too much, it was implied that the movie will no longer be allowed to be distributed in HK in any way, shape, or form.

      The director said something in the interview that really resonated with me. The reporter asked him what his thoughts were on the “criticism” that the movie got from Mainland China media (the Global Times – a major government-leaning newspaper in China – slammed the movie big time, basically claiming that the directors and producers were trying to “poison” HK society and incite fear in its citizens). He was also asked about all the “indirect” intervention from the powers-that-be. His reply was this: “The criticism from Global Times obviously represents the strong stance that the Mainland government backing them has decided to take. To me though, it really goes back to the ‘one country, two systems’ ideology and whether you believe it or not. If ‘one country, two systems’ truly does exist, then I shouldn’t have to worry, right, since I’m merely going about my own business in HK. But if I’m being told that I SHOULD be worried now because ‘trouble’ will be knocking on my door soon, then that’s proof right there that the so-called ‘one country, two systems’ mandate actually does not exist anymore. If we think about it, isn’t this precisely the type of ‘worry’ that Ten Years is trying to convey?”

    2. Thank you for your reply llwy12!
      I can't believe it is not in theaters anymore. Lucky to those who watched it already! It is crazy that some theaters did not accept the film due to their business ties with Mainland! This only emphasizes the increasing power of the Communist Party over the Hong Kongers. That ridiculous Global Times article makes me even more angry, and all I can say is that the director needs to be stronger. Regardless of whoever is stopping from this film to air, he should find a way in United States. For example, last summer, they held Cinema on the Edge in New York City. Cinema on the Edge showcased independent films that were usually shown annually in the Beijing Independent Film Festival. However, I forgot why but the festival was banned. They held a Kickstarter project and raised a lot money to showcase these films in NYC. I was so happy this happened and I am crossing my fingers that this will happen for Ten Years, too.

    3. @dxalemap:  You’re welcome! :-)

      I agree with how crazy it is that theaters are pulling the movie left and right, even after the movie got such widespread attention (oh, btw, the movie was also nominated for Best Picture at the HK Film Awards – I doubt it will win given the controversial nature of the movie, but good to see that at least the HK film industry is opened-minded enough to give the movie a well-deserved nomination).   In a way, I’m not sure if I should be happy for the directors that the movie got all the attention it did, since the attention and focus on the movie were obviously huge factors in the movie getting pulled. 

      In a way, I don’t blame the director if he decides not to pursue the matter further and just let whatever happens happen.  Given how sensitive the political environment is in HK right now, the entertainment industry is in a precarious position that is absolutely unprecedented in HK, so it doesn’t surprise me that most folks in the industry would choose to take neutral positions or just go about their work without leaning toward any political position…after all, why cause unnecessary trouble for themselves?  Also, since the movie is so HK-centric, I’m not surprised that the directors wouldn’t try to pursue an overseas market for the film, since that’s really not their target – plus we should remember that these are 5 newbie directors with no commercial / big name backing whatsoever, so they might not have the means to pursue alternative routes such as independent film festivals or distribution in other arenas/countries. 

      With all that said though, I also hope that there will be an alternative way out for the film.  Part of me is actually hoping that the movie wins Best Picture at HKFA (even though I know it’s a long shot and has pretty much zero chance of happening) because with that clout , it means a brighter future for the film and people will be “forced” in a way to acknowledge its contribution to HK.  To me, an HKFA win for the movie is very powerful and definitely is a much more peaceful, non-antagonistic way to get the message across than a violent protest!

    4. Well, here’s the latest news about Ten Years:  Tencent and CCTV have officially announced that they will NOT be broadcasting the HK Film Awards this year due to Ten Years’ nomination in the Best Picture category (CCTV has official broadcasting rights for the program in Mainland while Tencent has broadcasted the program live every year prior).  Of course, I’m not surprised by such a move, since this IS Mainland China after all, so we expected such censorship.  Kudos to the HKFA people though for not budging in the face of pressure – the board’s president, director Derek Yee, said that the nominations were the result of 1149 votes by film association members and will not be changed no matter what….he said that it is regrettable that the awards ceremony won’t be broadcast in Mainland, but there’s nothing they can do about that – every place has their policies and procedures

      I also loved the response from one of the directors of Ten Years, Chow Koon Wai:  “I would like to ask – what are they [Mainland] afraid that the film will do?”  This response is very much in-line with Ten Years’ other director Au Man Kit’s sentiment, which was essentially that if ‘one country, two systems’ truly exists like people claim it does, then why should he have to worry that doing his own work in HK will get him in trouble with Mainland? 

    5. no surprise there. Do you know where I can watch the movie online?

    6. @tamaya:  I actually want to know too.  I checked their FB page, but haven’t been able to find anything.  I also did a few searches for it last week when I wrote my post, but the only stuff that came up in terms of videos were the trailer and various interviews with the directors as well as news clips about the movie.

      Some good news is that production company Golden Scene has ‘signed up’ to support Ten Years and help them with distribution of the film outside of HK.  The first stop in their ‘international tour’ will be Japan, as the movie will be featured in the Osaka Film Festival.

      Also one other piece of possible good news – I found out last night that they may be able to release a DVD version after all.  I don’t have any details though, since I heard it through someone else on weibo (which being a Mainland platform and all, the person didn’t want to give tremendous detail).  I’m hoping this news is true though and a DVD version does get released so that at least overseas viewers can watch.

  2. @dxalemap: Welcome and thank you for your comment! Yea, totally hear you about not watching HK dramas anymore, especially TVB ones, as that seems to be the trend nowadays. We’ve definitely noticed that decline in AF and it’s actually quite sad. Even someone like me who has been an avid follower/supporter of TVB and HK drama series for most of my life has gotten to the point where I don’t want to bother with TVB series anymore.

    I think for me, the biggest frustration is that it’s not just the HK television industry that is in decline – both the film and the music industries are as well. This essentially means that the entire HK entertainment industry is in bad shape and for someone like me who grew up with HK entertainment as a way of life, it’s like watching a close friend or relative deteriorate right before my eyes yet not being able to do a thing about it. Call me a pessimist, but I wouldn’t be surprised if sooner or later, our only option will be to re-watch old stuff because the ‘new’ stuff will no longer be watchable.

    1. I completely agree that the HK entertainment industry means a lot. I grew up watching several TVB shows and improved my Cantonese. But now my Cantonese is going downhill, too. ): I do find myself watching K dramas and I get curious about the culture. Yet I feel disconnected. I feel disappointed in myself that I should learn more about my own culture, my ancestry. It is always that conflicting knot of thoughts I have...
      I went off on a tangent. But music industry! I grew up listening to 张学友 and other 90's singers. I was born in the mid 90's and apparently it is weird that I listen to "old" music at my very age. Regardless, 90's music is a part of me. I only hope that there would be more singers that were as talented as 张学友. That will be hard, but I'll keep my hopes high for now.