Hong Kong movies had their prime in the 1980s and 90s. The movies produced during this time made Hong Kong well-known for movie production throughout Asia. These films are a great representation of nostalgia and a quick glimpse into the past. These classic Hong Kong movies you can catch by streaming on Netflix.
It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World (富貴逼人) 1987
This film depicts Hong Kong living in the 80s and 90s through the story of a couple as a grassroots family. When Mrs. Biu wins the lottery, the family who lives in government-sponsored housing has their luck changed. The family begins to realize that even without money, they still have each other. In Hong Kong, there is always the materialistic world around you, but it is short-lived compared to family. That value is brought to the screen in this comedy/action film, which is directed by Clifton Ko and stars Bill Tung and Lydia Shum.
God of Gamblers (賭神) 1989
This action/comedy story begins with Ko Chun (Chow Yun-Fat), a scheme gambler who loses his memory after an injury to his head. During a chase, he is saved by Michael Chan (Andy Lau) and the two start to work as a team. This catches the attention of Ko Yee (Fong Lung), who envies Chun’s fame, and the conflict between the two begins. There are other movies with Andy Lau in the main cast that are similar to God of Gamblers, but not all of them are part of the same film universe. Many of these are remakes or spin-offs in their own sense. Gambling movies were a big hit in the late 20th century due to the increased discussion regarding the Hong Kong Gambling Ordinance in 1977, which restricted gambling for entertainment, leisure, and personal reasons to a limited number of authorized establishments.
The Killer (喋血雙雄) 1989
Ah Jong (Chow Yun-Fat) is a professional killer that during a job blinds a bystander with his muzzle flash. He feels guilty due to his mistake and tries to raise money for her, but danger catches up to him. A hired killer is after him and Detective Li Ying (Danny Lee) is in hot pursuit. It’s up to Ah Jong to make things right and eventually, with Li’s help, he might just make it. This is a modern martial arts movie that shows the struggles between expectations, wishes, and responsibilities. Director John Woo draws upon animal symbolism to create a secondary narrative to his movies. For instance, the dove represents people’s spirits and in Hong Kong, it is known to mean long life together with your partner.
Fat Choi Spirit (嚦咕嚦咕新年財) 2002
In this comedy directed by Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai, mahjong master Andy (Andy Lau) always wins until he faces a curse. Andy begins to figure out a new way to play mahjong. He realizes the game takes effort, skill, and some luck to keep on playing. He learns to look at the game with less seriousness instead of complaining about bad luck or comparing himself to others. The film premiered during the Lunar New Year, hence the title. Mahjong is a popular gambling game and casual pasttime in Hong Kong, with so many films revolving around it that there is an entire film genre dedicated to the game.
Infernal Affairs (無間道) 2002
Infernal Affairs is a thriller and suspenseful crime movie directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak. Lau Kin-ming (Andy Lau) is a mobster mole in the police force, and Chan Wing-Yan (Tony Leung) is an officer who goes undercover as a mobster. They both are living their double lives learning more about the other since they were young. Slowly, they realize there is a mole in both of their groups and it becomes a race to uncover the truth. The movie is a portrayal of the collision between free will and decisions we make along the way, and the reality of good and bad in practice. This movie is a dramatization of what life might have been like for those involved in the triad gangs that existed in Hong Kong during the 20th century.
Initial D (頭文字D) 2005
A must-watch action/drama film directed by Andrew Lau and Alan Mak that is for any dream go-getter. Takumi Fujiwara (Jay Chou), a teen who has a passion for racing cars lives with his father, an alcoholic race car driver. He delivers tofu during the daytime and secretly practices racing during the night. He learns that with patience and practice, his driving skills can give him an edge. He decides to join a race with other top racers in a heated competition to take it all. His story inspires young people to spend time and effort to pursue their dreams. The story shows that life’s struggles are just temporary and hard work will pay off. This is a big thing for Hong Kong as a lot of people carry these same goals for their own life.
Painted Faces (七小福) 1988
This film about the life story of Chinese opera master Yu Jim-yuen (Sammo Hung) won Best Actor and Best Cinematography at the 8th Hong Kong Film Awards. Yu Jim-yuen studied at the China Drama Academy and became a master of his trade. The film portrays three actors’ journey of growing up and striving for success by learning from Master Yu before they became famous icons in the Hong Kong film industry. The movie is full of happy and sad moments going back to their childhood memories and flashbacks to their acting training, struggles, and living with their fellow classmates. This classic film shows gratitude, appreciation, and loyalty to a mentor for their nurturing and guidance. Yu Jim-yuen and his teaching of acting and film are an important part of Hong Kong film heritage.
Ip Man (葉問) 2008
This martial arts film is a Hong Kong and China co-production based on a true story. The film is directed by Wilson Yip, and based around the life of martial art master and instructor of Bruce Lee. Ip Man was a master and martial art winner in Foshan during the Sino Japanese War period. The film depicts this humble man being challenged by other masters and Japanese generals to heighten their own prestige. This is the first in a series of four movies about the legendary martial artist, the last of which was released in 2019.
Love in a Puff (志明與春嬌) 2010
The romantic drama is directed by Pang Ho Cheung and focuses on when the government set out to prevent indoor smoking by passing a new law. Cherie (Miriam Yeung) and Jimmy (Shawn Yue) meet during their cigarette breaks and start talking. These simple breaks begin to shift their relationship but when strained with work and relocations, their relationship is put to the test. Many can relate to this film as Hong Kong’s work environment leaves limited time for a growing relationship. This film received the 30th Hong Kong Film Awards for Best Screenplay and Best Actress for Miriam Yeung.
Weeds on Fire (點五步) 2016
This film is the first award-winning work of the First Feature Film Initiative, a plan by the Hong Kong government to assist the movie industry in finding new talents. The film tells the story of the first baseball team in Hong Kong to win a league. It follows school principal Lu Kwong-Fai (Kai Chi Liu) who recruits ten players including Tse Chi-Lung (Yiu-Sing Sam) and Fan Chun-Wai (Tony Tsz-Tung Wu). At each step forward, the team faces another conflict on their journey to greatness. It all comes down to their final match against the Japanese team, but they will have to overcome themselves and their most difficult hardships. This movie is a great depiction and dramatization of a classic story based on historical events of the Sha Tin Martins team.
These ten diverse movies take you on multiple journeys from action, thriller, and comedy, to romance. It is incredible to see the changes the Hong Kong movie industry has gone through in terms of performance and storytelling. Their portrayals of Hong Kong culture and creative storytelling have inspired Western greats such as The Departed and more. The film industry in their portrayal of Hong Kong shows reality in different times, cultures, stories and offers great life lessons we can learn to apply.