Hong Kong is home to the most influential film industry in Asia, outside of India and Japan. The city has produced an impressive list of some of the most important film artists of the last half-century: Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Ann Hui, Tsui Hark, John Woo and Wong Kar-wai, to name a few- one. If you’re making a film in the martial arts, action, police procedural or art film genres, you’re undoubtedly drawing inspiration from the legacy of Hong Kong filmmakers.
The work of these master artists, and others, is celebrated each year with the city’s premier awards ceremony, the Hong Kong Film Awards. The 40th Hong Kong Film Awards took place earlier this month on July 17, 2022, after being repeatedly postponed due to COVID. At the ceremony, three films stood out well above the others and won 13 of the 18 awards in total: raging fire, Limboand Anita.
Two grudges clash in Raging Fire
raging fire is a crime thriller in the tradition of John Woo’s 1980s action films. Detective Cheung Sung-bong (played by the incomparable Donnie Yen) is dedicated to truth and justice no matter what, even when it gets in the way of his career. When the division commander invites him to dinner and demands that he falsify a criminal report to exonerate his wealthy friend’s son, Bong storms out. Later that night, he finds he’s been pulled from the biggest case of his life, the bust of a major drug dealer. But when the rest of the team is wiped out by a group of masked killers, Bong is the only detective capable of bringing the criminals to justice, no matter what harsh truths the case reveals.
At the Hong Kong Film Awards, raging fire won Best Film, Best Director, Best Film Editing, and Best Action Choreography. Its director, Benny Chan, had made several award-winning films, such as A moment of romance (1990), big ball (1996), and Who am I? (1998), and had been nominated five times for Best Director at the Hong Kong Film Awards, but never won. raging fire eventually landed the esteemed filmmaker his first-ever Best Director award, but sadly he wasn’t there to receive it — he died of cancer before the film was released.
The lead role in the film is given by Donnie Yen, one of Hong Kong’s, if not all of the Chinese-speaking world’s, biggest stars. Yen specializes in martial arts roles, best known for international sensation Ip-Man (2008) and its sequels. Even those who haven’t seen Yen’s many iconic Chinese-language roles will likely recognize him from his recent supporting roles in Hollywood films, including space monk Chiirrut Îmwe in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), the villain Xiang in XXX: The Return of Xander Cage (2017), Commander Tung in Disney Live-Action Mulane (2020), and an upcoming role in John Wick: Chapter 4 (expected release in 2023). As always, Yen’s performance is captivating to watch.
raging fire released on August 19, 2021 in Hong Kong, and it’s available to stream on Kanopy and Hoopla (mostly free in the US via their local library).
Detectives digging through the dirt of Hong Kong in Limbo
Limbo is a gorgeous yet repulsive action-thriller about two detectives desperate to catch a wandering serial killer in Hong Kong. The characters writhe in the filth, literally and figuratively: the film projects its characters into cluttered sets overflowing with heaps of rubbish sometimes hiding sprawling corpses. All that filth is transformed by the stunning black-and-white cinematography into grudgingly gorgeous images that serve as metaphors for the city’s hidden evils.
The film is directed by Cheang Pou-soi and stars Gordon Lam (Hellish Affairs, Ip-Man, Cold War), Cya Liu, Mason Lee and Hiroyuki Ikeuchi. It is based on the 2016 Chinese novel Wisdom tooth by Lei Mi. At the Hong Kong Film Awards, it won Best Screenplay, Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction.
Limbo released on November 18, 2021.
One last song from the Queen of Cantopop to Anita
Anita is a biographical musical centered on singer Anita Mui, dubbed “Queen of Cantopop” and “Madonna of the Orient”. It follows the contours of her hugely influential life and career as one of the most iconic singers in Hong Kong history, performing from the age of 4 until her death at age 40. cancer of the cervix in 2003. The film debuted to mixed reviews but was praised for its musical and theatrical performances. At the Hong Kong Film Awards, it won Best Supporting Actress, Best New Performer, Best Costume and Makeup Design, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Design.
The film is directed by Lok Man Leung (Cold War) and features Louise Wong in her breakthrough first performance, in addition to an ensemble cast including Gordon Lam, Fish Lew and Louis Koo. Anita released on November 12, 2021.