41 The Terrorizer (1986) Taiwan Edward YANG
Three groups of complete strangers are shown to have their lives intertwined in strange ways in this enigmatic thriller. An amateur photographer witnesses a police raid on a gang during which one, a girl, escapes. Meanwhile, a doctor and his wife are having a difficult time together. He is completely obsessed with his career, she is obsessed by her need for romance and by her presumption that he is being unfaithful to her. The escaped girl has been locked up at home by her worried mother, and to ease her boredom she makes random telephone calls. During one of these, she calls the doctor’s wife and claims to have been having an affair with him. At the same time, the photographer has been growing increasingly obsessed with his photographs of the escaped girl.
42 The Killer (1989) Hong Kong John WOO
Though John Woo’s lifelong admiration of Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Martin Scorsese, and Stanley Kubrick are also evident in this stylish actioner, the film is essentially a tribute to Jean-Pierre Melville and his cult thriller Le Samourai. During a restaurant shootout, hitman Jeff (Chow Yun-Fat) accidentally hurts the eyes of a singer (Sally Yeh). Later he meets the girl and discovers that if she does not have a very expensive operation very soon, she will go blind. To get the money for the surgery, Jeff decides to perform one last hit. The cop (Danny Lee), who has been chasing Jeff for a long time, is determined to catch him this time. The film’s number of victims makes The Terminator or Rambo pale in comparison, but its brilliant visual style and bravura direction earned accolades even from non-action fans.
43 Once Upon a Time in China (1991) Hong Kong TSUI Hark
Though generally unknown to Western audiences, Tsui Hark is considered a giant among Asian filmmakers and this exceptional epic, combining hard-hitting martial-arts action with romance, comedy, history, genuine poignance, and sharp insight into the effects of the century-long encroachment of Western civilization in Asia more than amply demonstrates why. The story centers on the exploits of Master Wong Fei-hung (a familiar figure in Hong Kong cinema) a 19th-century doctor, Confucian, and exceptional martial artist. As the film begins, he has just opened a new clinic in Canton Province. To help him with patients, he hires a few apprentices including Porky Lang (the comic relief) and Buck Teeth Sol, who was raised outside China and barely can speak the language. Wong is platonically involved with the lovely, worldly Aunt Yee, who has been abroad most of her life. Wong soon gets in trouble when he begins using his skills to protect and assist the poor and helpless in his community. As a result, someone torches his clinic, forcing Wong and his compadres to set off and get spectacularly staged revenge. They also try vainly to stop Western culture from changing traditional Chinese ways, but they soon find that they may as well be shoveling sand against a rising tide.
44 The Actress (Centre Stage) (1992) Hong Kong Stanley KWAN
In the 1930s, in China, there was a woman film-actress who was tagged as “the Chinese Garbo.” She was a wildly popular performer who made her first film at age 16 and died by her own hand at age 25. Ironically, she was famous for playing tragic heroines, and her own life mirrored the kinds of situations she portrayed onscreen. In this biopic, Ruan Ling-yu (Maggie Cheung) is riding high in her career when the press decides to take her down a notch or two, bitterly criticizing her for an affair with a married man. This situation is unbearable for her, and she kills herself, but not before uttering the words “Gossip is a terrible thing.” In addition to the central drama, scenes from actual films starring the actress are included, and the actors in this biopic occasionally step out of character to address the camera, recounting some significant fact about the individuals whose lives they are playing, and the nature of those times in China.
45 Story of Qiuju (1992) China ZHANG Yimou
With The Story of Qiu Ju, internationally acclaimed Chinese director Zhang Yimou shifts his attention from powerful historical dramas (Raise the Red Lantern and Ju Dou) to contemporary life. Gong Li plays the titular heroine, an average woman in a rural village whose life is unexceptional until her husband is physically attacked by the village elder. When the elder refuses to apologize, Qiu Ju decides to seek legal action with the help of a local magistrate. Soon, her quest for simple justice balloons into a series of frustrating battles with a complicated and unproductive bureaucracy. In contrast to the rich, painterly look of his previous films, Zhang adopts an unadorned, realistic style that allows the film’s increasingly absurd situations to speak for themselves. Indeed, while the look at government gone wrong has serious underpinnings, the overall tone remains one of understated satire. As might be expected, The Story of Qiu Ju was received with greater appreciation by international critics than in its home country.
46 This Life of Mine (1950) China SHI Hui
Based on a short story by one of China’s most important novelists, Lao She, This Life of Mine is the story of “I” – he refers to himself in the first person throughout the story – a poor man who finds work as a Beijing policeman near the end of the imperial regime. Witnessing many of the major events of modern Chinese, “I” is a simple, essentially decent man who would like to do good and see justice done, but who sees again and again how easily the rich and powerful are able to do what they like. At the heart of this remarkable film is director Shi Hui, who also plays the lead role. Historical incidents are perceptively integrated with personal tragedies. Unquestionably one of the period’s major film artists, Shi Hui was denounced in the so-called ‘Anti-Rightist Campaign’ of 1957; despondent, he took his own life.
47 The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959) Hong Kong LI Han-Hsiang
The young Emperor Zhengde (Zhao Lei) is a rather callow youth, easily distracted and not particularly interested in matters of state, much to the chagrin of his mother, the empress (Tang Ruoqing). One day, he hears peach-blossom girls singing of the wonders of Kiang-nan in the south and decides to leave the Forbidden City disguised as a commoner and travels to the province. He arrives in the midst of a Spring Festival and is immediately smitten with a young woman participant, whom he later learns is Li Feng (Linda Lin Dai). He seeks her out and learns she waits tables at a local teahouse. He pursues her, despite the objections of her brother-in-law, Ta Niu (Jin Quan, later to become a legendary director for the film’s producers, the Shaw Brothers, under the name King Hu). She puts up a show of resisting him, but she’s attracted to the mysterious stranger. Circumstance throws them together one fateful night. The next morning, she’s shocked to discover the imperial army at her door, sent by the empress to retrieve Zhengde. After their night of passion, he promises to send for Li Feng when he gets back to Peking. But the empress won’t allow Zhengde to marry a commoner. He’s despondent at first, but soon enough he’s distracted by other women and forgets all about it. For her part, Li Feng discovers she’s pregnant. When Zhengde fails to send for her, she sinks into despair. Released in 1959, Li Han-Hsiang’s The Kingdom and the Beauty was an early effort by the Shaw Brothers at bringing huang mei opera-style films to the screen. The film was shown by the Film Society of Lincoln Center at the 2004 New York Film Festival as part of a sidebar tribute to the Shaw Brothers.
48 Dong Nuan (Winter Warm) (1969) Taiwan LI Han-Hsiang
49 An Autumn’s Tale (1987) Hong Kong Mabel CHEUNG
Mabel Chueng directs this wildly popular romantic comedy featuring Chow Yun-fat. With two years worth of savings and starry-eyed ambitions of being an actor, Jennifer Lee (Cherie Chung) leaves her comfortable home in Hong Kong for more modest digs in New York City, above the abode of her bumptious cousin, Figurehead (Chow). When her effete longtime boyfriend, Vincent (Danny Chan), dumps her and heads for Boston, Jennifer is left thunderstruck and deeply lonely. Figurehead goes all out to cheer up his pretty relative by buying her Broadway tickets and redecorating her apartment. Soon he finds himself falling for the lass though he is self-conscious about his humble upbringing, compulsive gambling, and coarse ways. Jennifer loves being around Figurehead but cannot imagine being married to him. Things get worse for the earthy protagonist when Vincent returns to New York, hoping to patch things up.
50 A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) Hong Kong CHING Siu-Tung
Legendary Hong Kong producer/director Tsui Hark and filmmaker Ching Siutung combine forces in this high-flying supernatural romance classic. Ning Caichen (Leslie Cheung) is a lowly tax collector who takes refuge for the night at the spooky Lam Ro temple. There he encounters and promptly falls in love with a beautiful ghost named Nie Xiaoqian (Joey Wang). Unfortunately Xiaoqian is damned to serve the evil hermaphroditic tree spirit Lao Lao, who (thanks to an extraordinarily long tongue) feasts on the souls of amorous young males. Usually Xiaoqian, along with her comely sister Qing, tempts would-be Lotharios to their arboreal doom, but she too is smitten with the downtrodden wanderer. Soon afterwards, Caichen meets Master Yan (Ma Wu), a Taoist hermit, martial arts master, and a sworn enemy of Lao Lao, who tells him of Xiaoqian’s true, otherworldly nature. Nonetheless, true love proves to be strong. Caichen promises Xiaoqian that he will help spring her from her dubious employment and Xiaoqian protects her love from the evil wood sprite. Later, things grow more complicated for the lovers when they learn that Xiaoqian has been betrothed to a demon warlord.