21 Rouge (1988) Hong Kong Stanley KWAN
Hong Kong filmmaker Stanley Kwan directs this stunning supernatural melodrama about a passion, romance, and lost history. Fleur (Anita Mui) is a 1930s high-class courtesan who finds herself sucked into a doomed relationship with Twelfth Master Chan Chen-Pang (Leslie Cheung), the rakish scion of a prosperous business family that disapproves of their union. After a brief but intense courtship, the two resolve to be together in the afterworld by swallowing opium. Yet once there, Fleur discovers that she is alone. After waiting 50 years for her dearly beloved, she re-emerges in 1987 to place a personal ad. In the process, she enlists the aid of a pair of journalists: Yuen (Alex Man) and his feisty, occasionally jealous girlfriend Ah Chor (Emily Chu). Fleur learns that the Hong Kong she knew has by and large disappeared: the brothel where she worked was now a kindergarten. As she tells them of her love for Twelfth Master, the two journalists begin to find their relationship intensifying. As Fleur’s spirit grows weaker, their search continues until it yields results that are both sad and ironic..
22 Chungking Express (1994) Hong Kong WONG Kar-Wai
A Hong Kong fast food restaurant acts as the link between two unusual stories of police officers in love in this eccentric, stylish comedy-drama. Director Wong Kar-Wai plays freely with traditional narrative structure, dividing his film into two loosely connected segments. The first centers on a depressed cop struggling to come to terms with a recent break-up. His sad isolation is transformed when he encounters a beautiful, mysterious femme fatale, whose involvement with the criminal underworld proves troublesome for both. The second story explores the odd relationship between a female restaurant worker and another recently jilted police officer. The strange woman decides to regularly clean and redecorate the man’s apartment in his absence, allowing the two to form a close intimacy without meeting face to face. Both stories present a beautifully atmospheric look at modern urban life and romance, with its combination of isolation and casual, unexpected meetings. Chungking Express came to the attention of American audiences thanks to the efforts of director Quentin Tarantino, whose own brand of fractured storytelling and urban cool owes a debt to Wong Kar-Wai.
23 Homecoming (1984) Hong Kong YIM Ho
In a delicately balanced story about the estrangement of two friends — one living in the city and one remaining in their native village — the bonds of friendship are tested by the contradictory values of urban versus rural life. When a thirtysomething businesswoman seeks out her roots in a small Chinese village, the first person she looks up is a childhood friend who has become the headmistress in the local school. Prejudice and suspicion on the part of the villagers start to affect the relationship between the old friends — but their genuine desire to understand each other’s current environment may be just what is needed to overcome any obstacles. The simple facets of daily living are emphasized with perceptive care as the women strengthen their renewed bonds — while the specialized setting and topic suggest a broader meaning.
24 The Time to Live and the Time to Die (1985) Taiwan HOU Hsiao-Hsien
One of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s best-known films, this semi-autobiographical drama follows the childhood and teenage years of a young man named Ah-ha, as he comes of age in the Taiwan countryside. Though born on the Chinese mainland, Ah-ha moves to Taiwan at a very early age when his father accepts a government position upon the island. His family soon becomes permanent residents of the island, thanks a combination of historical circumstance — the Communist takeover of the mainland — and his father’s increasingly poor health. The family endures, despite serious financial difficulties that lead several of his older siblings to compromise their dreams for the sake of the common good, and cause increasing tension between the family members. Soon, Ah-ha’s father has passed away and his siblings have left home, leaving him responsible for the family’s well-being while dealing with his own personal struggles. This deliberate, intimately detailed drama utilizes a straightforward, unadorned style to present the family’s trials and tribulations, which also reflect the shifts in Taiwanese society during the time of the director’s youth. One of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s biggest successes in his home country, the film also received worldwide acclaim, winning special recognition at the Berlin Film Festival.
25 Red Sorghum (1987) China ZHANG Yimou
Red Sorghum was the first directorial effort of controversial Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou. The director’s favorite leading lady Gong Li plays a young woman of the 1920s whose family sells her into marriage with a wealthy winemaker. At first a loveless union, the relationship blossoms into one of strong friendship and mutual respect. During World War II, Gong Li fights side by side with her husband against the invading Japanese. A sweeping yet intensely personal historical epic, Red Sorghum won the 1988 Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. Despite its patriotic overtones, the film was heavily censored (when not banned altogether) in certain provinces of Communist China.
26 Father and Son (1981) Hong Kong Allen FONG
Father and Son is a breakaway from the usual kung-fu killer-thrillers that roar out of Hong Kong studios on a weekly basis. The men in the story are San-muk (Shek Lui), a strong-willed father with a no-end, low-income job as a clerical worker, and a son Ka-hing (Lee Yu-tin as the young boy (Cheng Yu-or as the teenager) who is often at odds with his father’s authoritarian hold over him. In spite of his son’s failure in school, the father is determined he should get a good education so he marries his oldest daughter off to a rich man ensuring that the son will have his college years paid for — in the United States. When the son finally does well and graduates, he sends his diploma to his father, who is so completely overwhelmed and excited at how his life-long dreams are finally coming true, that the news causes a fatal heart attack. He and his son had parted four years earlier in friendship, their differences buried and with a mutual understanding. Now the son returns to the backwater home where he grew up; his father who was responsible for his advancement in the world is no longer around to enjoy his success. The young man sits in his room and remembers life in their squatter housing, and as he thinks back on his childhood and the poverty of his family — the film unfolds in flashbacks that explain how he got to where he is now and what the relationship to his father meant over the years.
27 The Spring River Flows East (1947) China CAI Chusheng
This epic drama begins in 1930s Shanghai: poor but honest Su Fen (Bai Yang) and Zhang Zhongliang (Tao Jin) meet in the factory where they work. They marry and live with Zhang’s parents in one room of a small house. Zhong Liang’s brother and sister-in-law work for the revolution in the northeast. As the Japanese Army approaches Shanghai, Zhong Liang flees to Chongqing with Nationalist sympathizers-namely a Miss Wang Lizhen (Shangguan Yunzhu).
Unable to contact his family for months, Zhong Liang has no idea that his father has died and his wife has borne him a son. In fact, his new life in Chongqing keeps him so busy that he forgets about his family left behind in wartime Shanghai, and eight years pass without contact between them. While Zhong Liang works his way up the ladder of success by using Miss Wang’s guanxi, Su Fen, her child and mother-in-law slip deeper and deeper into poverty.
At the end of the war, homelessness and starvation threaten Su Fen and her family. Assuming that Zhong Liang has died in the war, she goes out to find work. But with her previous experience as a factory worker, Su Fen can only find work as a maid in the home of a wealthy Shanghai family that have just returned from Chongqing. The family turn out to be relatives of Miss Wang, now Zhong Liang’s spoiled and jealous wife. When Miss Wang and Zhong Liang return to Shanghai, Miss Wang’s cousin throws a large party at which Sun Fen must serve the guests. Finally, she comes face to face with her long lost husband, now married into a wealthy, bourgeois family.
The last half hour of the film sees Zhong Liang struggling to pacify his spoiled wife while his impoverished family waits in the wings for him to recognize their existence. Distraught and heartbroken, Su Fen heads to the Bund with her son in tow…
A prime example of Shanghai’s leftist film-making past, The Spring River Flows East stars two of the biggest female stars of that era: Bai Yang and Shangguan Yunzhu. Bai revels in the melodramatic role of Su Fen, while Shangguan’s role as the spoiled playgirl challenges the likes of Alex in Fatal Attraction – but 50 years earlier.
Despite the melodrama and rather obvious bourgeoisie versus proletariat plot line, The Spring River remains nothing less than a masterpiece. The diversity of Shanghai society at that time is revealed in this film that captures the imagination for the entire playing time of 3 hours.
28 Comrades: Almost a Love Story (1996) Hong Kong Peter CHAN
Destiny brings two people together, but they aren’t sure if they’re meant to be friends or lovers in this romantic comedy-drama. In 1986, Xiaojun (Leon Lai) [rrives in Hong Kong from mainland China, full of dreams about life in the big city and determined to make enough money to send for his fianc?e and marry her. Xiaojun knows no one in Hong Kong except his aunt, but with her help, he finds a room in a cheap hotel and picks up a job peddling a delivery bicycle for a butcher. On his day off, Xiaojun decides to get lunch at a McDonalds, which he’s heard about but never seen. Xiaojun is waited on by Chiao (Maggie Cheung), a pretty girl who has also moved to Hong Kong from the mainland to seek her fortune. Chiao is taken with Xiaojun, but thinks he’s too much the country bumpkin, especially since he can’t speak Cantonese or English. Chiao arranges for Xiaojun to get lessons in English and teaches him about life in Hong Kong and how to get rich quick; she also ropes him into helping with her latest business scheme, using his delivery bike to sell flowers. Xiaojun and Chiao become best friends — indeed, each is the only real friend the other has in Hong Kong — and one night, on New Year’s Eve, the two find themselves alone together and end up making love. The next morning, both Xiaojun and Chiao are certain they’ve made a mistake; Xiaojun goes on to marry his sweetheart from home, while Chiao opens a flower shop and becomes involved with a kind man who has ties to organized crime. As the years pass, however, Xiaojun becomes convinced that his mistake wasn’t sleeping with Chiao, but letting her go, and eventually he decides he must find her and win her heart. Comrades: Almost a Love Story was a runaway success in Hong Kong, where the film won nine trophies at the 1997 Hong Kong Film Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actress.
29 The Goddess (1934) China WU Yonggang
Before she took her own life at the age of 24, Ruan Lingyu was hailed as the symbol of the suffering Chinese nation for the powerful performances she gave in a series of social dramas made between 1927 and 1935. Long considered one of the greatest Chinese films ever made and one of the silent cinema’s final masterpieces. The legendary actress Ruan Lingyu is a Shanghai streetwalker raising her son during the day while plying her trade at night. She falls under the ?protection? of a local gangster but still manages to save enough to send her son to a good private school. Yet when some of the parents become aware of her line of work, they force school officials to decide whether they’re willing to educate the son of such a woman.
30 The Highway (1934) China SUN Yu
Sun Yu climaxed his work in the silent cinema with Dalu (The Highway), filmed in 1934 and released in early 1935. His only concessions to the sound film are the inclusion of striking sound effects and the characters singing songs which express the spirit of the time. Dalu returns to the social urgency of Daybreak and Little Toys in its stated purpose of arousing the Chinese people to collective action in the face of impending aggression from Japan. But as with Sun Yu?s other films, Dalu is shaped by deeper concepts that ultimately transcend the immediate social goals. Sun Yu?s attention to characterization in this film continues to express his warmth and humanity and his admiration for strong women, while his imagery is suffused with sensuality and a love of nature. The narrative begins with scenes from the early life of a peasant victimized since childhood by China?s conflicts and, once he grows to manhood, soon swells to include other characters who share his experiences and, like him, embody the Chinese national spirit. Dalu thus becomes a cinematic epic of a nation united in purpose at a time when its very survival was threatened. The story concerns the building of a highway to be used by the army as a defense against a threatened Japanese invasion. The first half of the film delineates the interaction between the six laborers working together on the road and the two canteen girls who befriend them and is dominated by a light-hearted mood. The latter half becomes an exciting, suspense-filled adventure story as the heroes, imprisoned by wealthy landowners collaborating with the Japanese, stage a daring escape with the aid of the canteen girls. In the powerful conclusion, the protagonists are massacred by enemy aircraft firing on them as they work to complete building the road. But their sacrifice has not been in vain since the highway, a symbol of the resurgent Chinese nation, has been constructed. With its joyous humor and intense drama, its sensitivity to characterization, its brilliant technique–as in the elaborate camera movement across the landlord?s table in a banquet scene–Dalu is ranked as Sun Yu’s greatest masterpiece and a film reflecting Chinese aesthetics. As Li Cheuk-To notes, the film?s structure has the cyclical form of classic Chinese novels rather than the linear logic of Western narratives.