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Friday, February 10, 2006

My Recommended Valentine's Day Films Part 1 - Hong Kong Films.

Well, Valentine's Day is coming, and it's up to me, the Great Swifty, to recommend to you all some of the finest romance films (in my own opinion) to watch with your loved ones, or, erm, in my case, by myself just so that you won't feel so alone. All right, it'll make you feel more alone, but hey, who gives a shit when you're watching a good movie right?

So, for the next few days, I'll be providing a list of films from different countries to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Perhaps after HK, I'll look at Japanese and Korean, then Hollywood (which, naturally, will have a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG list).

My personal criteria for such films is simple, they should be mostly romantic, sweet stuff instead of angsty tragic stuff. But then, since tearjerkers do work fine too (for couples, so they can hold each other while bawling their eyes out, not recommended for singles, who will be driven to suicide by the overwhelming angst).

These films aren't in any particular order (well, maybe from the earliest to the most recent), and I shall provide ten of them.

1) An Autumn's Tale 秋天的童话 (1987)

Starring Chow Yun Fat and Cherie Chung, this film is voted as 'The Greatest HK Romance of All-Time' in a poll couple of years ago. Although my memories of this film is kinda fuzzy (I've watched it repeatedly... that was when I was 8), but I still remember its ending clearly. In fact, the iconic "Table for Two" ending is almost a part of HK pop culture. This subtle and romantic tale is about a college student (Cherie Chung) who went to New York to seek her boyfriend, with the help of a distant cousin (Chow Yun Fat), a Chinatown HK immigrant. He fell in love with her, tries to become a better person, sheer sweetness and romance occur. Yes, my dears, before Chow Yun Fat went to Hollywood and did those shit films, he was in film classics like this. And Cherie Chung is sorely missed (she's not dead, just retired from acting). For more info, check out LoveHKfilm.com's review or brns.com's review.

2) Eight Taels Of Gold 八两金 (1989)

I would've already forgotten about this film if I weren't researching Autumn's Tale. This movie is directed by the same director, Mabel Cheung, and it stars Sylvia Cheung and get this, SAMMO HUNG! Yes, the fat kungfu master, Sammo Hung, the one who kicked all kinds of ass in the recent Sha Po Lang, the one who was in Martial Law. This movie showed that he was by far a better actor than his 'classmate' Jackie Chan (they both studied under the same master). Once again, like Autumn's Tale, my memory of it is fuzzy. But the ending is so heartbreaking and bittersweet that it remains within my mind til this very day (it's a magic from Mabel Cheung's film). A man who works as a taxi driver in New York city (Sammo Hung) returns to his village in mainland China to seek his family, meets a childhood acquaintance (Sylvia Chang). An unspoken bond develops between them, but how can he do anything when she is engaged to another? Definitely a tearjerker that will have you holding your loved ones tightly when the ending comes. Not recommended for singles. Really. Don't. Read BRNS.com's review here.

3) Chungking Express 重庆森林 (1994)

This, in my opinion, is Wong Kar Wai's finest film. Quick-paced and simple, lighthearted (the second tale) and quirky, pulsating with energy, I think this should be the HK auteur's most accessible film (not counting his debut, the gangster melodrama, As Tears Go By). Of course, like most Wong Kar Wai films, it's either a hate-it-or-love-it film, his elliptical and languid style is more accepted in the West compared to the East (although I think his film's kinda popular in Japan). Two (not entirely connected) stories about two unnamed policemen, one falling for a drug dealer, the other nursing his heartbreak, oblivious that a girl crazily in love with him had snuck into his house everyday to clean up his stuff. The first story stars Takeshi Kaneshiro and Brigitte Lin (her final film before retiring from acting), and has the much quoted line that I used in my Sepet review:

"A woman says 'Happy Birthday' to me on May 1, 1994. Because of this, I remember this woman. If memory could be canned, I hope this one will never expire. If an expiry date must be added onto it, let it be 10,000 years."

The second story has Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Faye Wong, which features a very sweet and subtle ending that will have everyone (who were patient enough to sit through the whole film) cheering in joy.

"Where do you want to go?" "Wherever you want me to."

Lovehkfilm.com's review here. Brns.com's review here.

4) A Chinese Odyssey Parts 1 and 2 大话西游 (1995)

Right, technically, they are two films, but to me, it's pretty much one long film split into two. (but I'm referring more specifically to part 2) These two films made Stephen Chow a cultural icon in Mainland China, possibly even bigger than he ever was in Hong Kong. Yes, he may now be the guy whose two films are Hong Kong's top-grossing local films of all time (Kungfu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer), but the two Chinese Odyssey films, loose adaptations of the 'Journey to The West' legend (it's about a bittersweet romance the Monkey God was involved in during his er, journey to the west, the entire plot's way too complex for me to describe here), are the ones widely regarded as classics and part of Chinese pop culture. Originally regarded as a commercial flop (well, each made 20 million, which would've been regarded a hit in today's standards, but since they were Stephen Chow films, they were disappointing) that did nothing more than win an award for Stephen Chow (best actor in HK critics association) and one for best screenplay in the HK Film Awards.

But then, it was resurrected few years later by Chinese university students, who realized that it was an underrated gem, and then, it caught on throughout the entire nation. Until now, the film's quotes and plot is still dissected by philosophers, literary professors, university students and others in China til this very day. If you think that Stephen Chow's just some slapstick comedian, wait til you see how heartbreaking the second film is. One of the most memorable quotes in the film (which is pretty much memorized by almost every single Chinese youths) was meant to be just a spoof of Chungking Express, but then it became (arguably) even more popular than its original source:

"There was once a sincere romance placed before my eyes, yet I knew not how to cherish. When it was gone, my regret is indescribable. If I am given the chance to see her again, I want to tell her three simple words, 'I love you'. If my love for her has to have an expiry date, let it be 10,000 years."

That ain't all, as it's filled with all kinds of memorable lines and scenes. It started out only as a slapstick and silly comedy, but then slowly, it became a deep and moving romantic epic. This kind of transition, although long used in many Asian films (especially Korean, Hong Kong and Japanese ones), is rarely seen in Hollywood films. Most Stephen Chow comedies do not age well (especially those Wong Jing fares), but this is definitely an exception.

HKfilm.com review here.
Brns.com review here.

5) Comrades, Almost A Love Story 甜蜜蜜 (1996)

This film was awarded Best Picture in almost every single Chinese award show back in 1996 and 1997. Spanning ten years, this love story between two illegal immigrants from mainland China in Hong Kong is made rather complex with numerous substories surrounding it. The guy (Leon Lai) has to marry a childhood sweetheart from his hometown, the gal (Maggie Cheung) falls for a triad boss who is so sweet and nice that despite his rather comical appearance and a Mickey Mouse tattoo on his back (he's played by Eric Tsang), you can see why he could compete against someone like Leon Lai's character. Although rather slow-paced, this is a great riveting film that feels almost historic and educational (some of the major going-ons of HK from 1985 to 1995 are alluded in this film). I recommend this not for the love story or the romance itself, but by the strength of the entire film. I don't know whether we can see a romantic drama like this from Hong Kong anymore. It's not just a love story between two people, it's also like a love letter to Hong Kong.

Brns.com review here.

5) Needing You 孤男寡女 (2000)

Among the many films listed here. This should be the most lighthearted. A true romantic comedy that will make you chortle non-stop in laughter (especially if you can understand the numerous pop culture references and in-jokes in it) as it is more comedy than romance, but don't get me wrong, the romantic scenes are pretty sweet and subtle in their own way too. A simple tale of how an office lady, Kinki (Sammi Cheng) and her boss (Andy Lau) fall in love amidst tons of comedy and zaniness. This film might actually be the grandfather of the HK screwball romantic films you see today that pairs up attractive Cantopop artistes (you see Miriam Yeung in stuff like these more nowadays) and was the birth of an instant box-office success formula, the pairing of Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng. (Their subsequent pairing in Love On A Diet (2001) is pretty damned good too.) Click here for lovehkfilm.com review and here for brns.com review.

6) In The Mood For Love 花样年华 (2000)

This should be the Wong Kar Wai film that received the most international acclaim, and served as an inspiration for Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. But once again, if you are not a fan of Wong Kar Wai's languid, contemplative style, definitely steer clear from this. After spending years complaining about how boring this film was (I first saw it back in 2000, when I was 16), I was amazed how much things changed for me when I watched it again two months ago. Not only was I taken in by the beautiful choreography and the great Nat King Cole Spanish songs (one of which I used to make my Chinese New Year video), I realized how much I've missed the subtleties of this flick, how emotionally rich it actually was and how painful the ending was (I felt indifferent during my first viewing, numbed with boredom). It's really not everybody's cup of tea, but if you want to watch a melancholic film about unrequited, unspoken love for your Valentine's Day, here's one for you.

7) Healing Hearts 侠骨人心 (2000)

After all those cinematic gems I've mentioned, this film definitely does not belong to this list. It's neither a critically-acclaimed masterpiece nor a major blockbuster. Just a modest hit that made more than 10 million and was intended as a film pilot for a disastrously bad TV drama series. Yet I have a soft spot for this film, maybe it's because of Michelle Reis (who had never looked more beautiful in anything else I've seen, and this is her, er, best role), maybe it's because of that charming scene where Michelle's character had to help remove this needle stuck in Tony Leung's finger as the duo struggled to restrain themselves from expressing the love they have for each other, maybe it's that Patti Austin 'Say You Love Me' song. A neurologist's (Tony Leung) life was turned upside down by a quirky and eccentic former coma patient (Michelle Reis) who moved into his place, originally morose and angsty over the sudden death of his former love, she made his life interesting again. But then, it was later learnt that she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Can he save her? Can they live happily after? Oh, the melodrama. Yet the melodrama worked for me. The film has an open-ended ending so how it will end entirely depends on whether you're optimistic or pessimistic (just ignore the existence of the TV series, which doesn't have Tony and Michelle, and that Tony's character was killed in some lazy plot device). Lovehkfilm.com lukewarm review here. BRNS.com's lukewarm review here. But then, remember, this list isn't about the quality of the films, but about which romantic films will really work for you on Valentine's Day. Er, it worked for me.

8) My Left Eye Sees Ghost 我左眼见到鬼 (2002)

Righto, another romantic comedy. This is another underrated gem (in my opinion) since it is never mentioned that much compared to other Sammi Cheng films. In my opinion, besides Needing You, this is Sammi Cheng's finest film, and it also helps that Lau Ching Wan's in it. Hong Kong has long been churning out films about paranormal romance (love between a ghost and a human) since the days of A Chinese Ghost Story (a film that would've been in this list if I've actually seen it, I guess), and this one seems rather different from its predecessors since the guy is actually the ghost here instead of the gal (in most HK films of this genre, it's rare to see the guy being the ghost). Watch Sammi deliver one of her most subtle and best performances as May, a gold-digging widow haunted by a male ghost of a childhood acquaintance (Lau Ching Wan) after a car accident. The nicest moments of this film are the bonding between the woman and the ghost, and most of all, the character development of May, when we grow to realize that she's not really a golddigger and the death of her husband (whom she married for only a week) has actually wound her deeply. Then, the twist ending occurred when we realized whom the ghost actually was, and the film was suddenly infused with depth and romance that I didn't initially expect. Like I said, Asian films are great when it comes to having a film transform from zany slapstick comedy to something with gravitas. Lovehkfilm.com review here. BRNS.com review here.

9) Lost In Time 忘不了 (2003)

Might be a strange choice of film to watch during Valentine's Day, but bear with me. This film bagged Cecilia Cheung all kinds of acting accolades out there, and deservingly so. It's more drama than romance, yet the romantic subplot in here is so sweet and nice that it beats most other crappy romantic comedies out there. After the untimely death of her minibus driver fiance, Siu Wai has to help raise his young son (from a previous relationship) by driving his minibus. Another minibus driver, Dai Fai, (Lau Ching Wan) enters her life, helping her with everything. This is less about the love story between two people, but more about what people are willing to do for love. Siu Wai keeps the minibus of her departed love because she is incapable of letting him go, and it is also this love that made her shoulder all responsibilities in raising a child that isn't hers. While Dai Fai's feelings for Siu Wai can only be conveyed by the things he did for her. No melodrama, no theatrical romance, everything is realistic and understated here. Why is Dai Fai so nice? When can Siu Wai ever let go of her dead fiance? Lovehkfilm.com review here. BRNS.com review here.

10) Perhaps Love 如果...爱 (2005)

The last film on the list was deliberately kept for a 2005 film since it's probably easier for someone to get their hands on a more recent film. And after looking at the rather mediocre romance offerings from last year, I came to a conclusion that Perhaps Love edges out Andy Lau's All About Love as the most romantic Hong Kong film of 2005. Although both films are rather morose and moody, not exactly for the mainstream viewers, I would say that Perhaps Love is more accessible compared to All About Love with the musical numbers and all. I mean, even if you couldn't get the the entire film in the end, some of the most romantic scenes in the film will probably stick with you (I'm a sucker when it comes to seeing lovers embracing under the swirling snow). The most interesting experience for me was when I finally 'got' the ending upon second viewing. ("Aha! Zhou Xun's character has actually chosen ______ !!") Well, I don't know, if you are desperate for a 2005 HK romance flick, and not any of the older stuff I mentioned above, go for this. My review of the film is here.

There are many other good films that are excluded from the list due to various reasons. Some are fine films, but the romantic parts aren't exactly that romantic. Some are great, but way too depressing for Valentine's Day viewing. Some are classics, but more for other things than the romantic aspects of it. But anyway, it is now up to you all to suggest whatever Hong Kong romantic films that I've missed out on this list (which I puked blood and spent hours to compile. And that webmasters of lovehkfilm.com and brns.com should award me for my free plugging of their fine sites).

So, once again, it's up to you all to suggest what YOU think should be fine HK films to watch for Valentine's Day.

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