City on Fire / Lung Foo Fung Wan (dir. Ringo Lam, 1987) – Ko Chow goes on his last mission as an undercover, but rouses the suspicion the gang he infiltrated.
Just one year after John Woo’s A Better Tomorrow, the late Ringo Lam made his own cinematic mark with the release of City on Fire. His film is now recognised for its major influence on Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, which infamously pilfered its classic heist set-up and the iconic stand-off.
After finally seeing the alleged original, I am convinced that the accusations are completely unfounded and made by mad men who had seen neither. Dwelling on the similarities between shots is not merely a reductive call. It also does disservice to both films, each with its own distinctive voice to offer.
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A Better Tomorrow / Ying Hung Boon Sik (dir. John Woo, 1986) – An ex-triad member breaks away from his former life, while attempting to reconcile with his brother in the police force.
Modern action cinema thrives on bone-crushing carnage and limitless bullets. Gareth Evans can tell you that much. But back in 1986, the violence in A Better Tomorrow had once been responsible for riling up a conservative audience so much, a tiered movie rating system was born because of it.
This notoriety almost overshadows its compelling story, which proves much more than an excuse for brutality. Ex-triad member Tse Ho (Ti Lung) is attempting to step back on the right path after three years in prison, despite a cop brother Kit (Leslie Cheung) who doesn’t believe in his will to change and the relentless shadow of his past.
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Tigertail (dir. Alan Yang, 2020) – A Taiwanese factory worker leaves his homeland to seek opportunity in America, but struggles to fit in.
Pin-Jui (Hong-Chi Lee) lives a poor but comfortable life in Taiwan. He spends happy days with his mother, his first love Yuan (Yo-Hsing Fang), and a steady job at the factory. Still, he dreams of better. The opportunity comes when his boss offers him the chance to start a new life in America.
He takes the chance and agrees to an arranged marriage to his boss’ daughter Zhenzhen (Kunjue Li) in return, leaving his past behind. But it is not long before he tires of his dead-end job and loveless marriage, realising just how much he has given up.
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Beast Stalker / Ching Yan (dir. Dante Lam, 2017) – A reckless young cop gets into a severe car accident during a police chase that changes lives of its victims.
Ching Yan directly translates to ‘Witness’. In a misguided move to draw fans of Dante Lam’s previous film Beast Cops, it was deliberately mistranslated into Beast Stalker, a misnomer that misses its mark entirely. But look past the b-movie title, and what you will get are the reasons why Hong Kong directors have remained at the forefront of action cinema for years.
Crime syndicates roam the city of bustling markets and works-in-progress, where the story begins in the midst of a police operation. The team barges into action and almost suffers its losses. When Sun (Liu Kai-chi) takes a bullet in his vest, Sergeant Tong Fei (Nicholas Tse) severely berates Michael (Derek Kok) for his nearly fatal mistake. It is the perfect introduction to Fei, whose hotheaded personality eventually drives him to a second mistake – his own.
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Blade of the Immortal / Mugen no jûnin (dir. Takashi Miike, 2017) – A young girl seeks the help of an immortal samurai in her quest for vengeance.
Versatile seems a word too small to describe a filmmaker with over a hundred productions under his belt and not a genre untouched. Comedy, sci-fi, family movies, and extreme cinema – Takashi Miike has done them all and done them well. It is both impressive and baffling how the directors behind Audition and Zebraman could actually be the same man.
In 2017, his 100th film greeted in the form of manga adaptation Blade of the Immortal. Just months after kooky comedy The Mole Song and bizarre monster movie Terra Formars, Takashi Miike had stepped into dark fantasy territory with no beats missed, just like a seasoned veteran would.
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Parasite / Gisaengchung (dir. Bong Joon-ho, 2019) – An unemployed family takes interest in the wealthy Parks and goes down a dangerous road of fraud.
Genre-bending masterwork Parasite dives into the intimate lives of two families, forcing an introspective look into the difficult subject of the world’s growing social divide.
Bong Joon-ho is anything but a conventional filmmaker. Undeterred by controversy, his string of masterworks never steer away from sharp critiques on politics and capitalistic greed. The Host, Memories of Murder, and Mother; few have made movies as resonant as his, earning deserving acclaim for their layered reflection on South Korean society.
Recent years saw him reach English-speaking audiences with genetically-engineered pigs ripe for slaughter (Okja), and a brewing revolution aboard an analogous train (Showpiercer). The commentaries on class divisions again hit home for many, especially during this politically trying decade.
Back on home grounds, the South Korean director continues to transcend borders with his latest social satire on economic inequality. More akin to his former all-Korean productions, Parasite roots itself back in harsh reality, homing in on two families of different worlds.
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