As Hong Kong dominates headlines lately, we at Cinema Escapist have kept a keen eye on the city’s film industry. Accordingly, we’ve put together this list of the Best Hong Kong Movies of 2019.
Hong Kong was once Asia’s Hollywood. Not only did the local movie industry produce a large quantity of films, but Hong Kong cinema also built a reputation for high quality—producing international stars from Bruce Lee to Jackie Chan, and world-class directors such as Wong Kar-wai and John Woo. Although Hong Kong’s movies face greater competition from other parts of Asia today, Hong Kong still produces some of the best movies to be found.
In 2019, Hong Kong’s best movies were not found in action-packed kung fu movies, nor were they found in the criminal thrillers that the city is famous for. While the city made a number of great action movies and criminal thrillers this past year, Hong Kong’s top movies from 2019 are more heartfelt dramas that highlight the struggles of the everyday people who live there.
• • •
10. Line Walker 2
Chinese title: 使徒行者2：谍影行动 | Director: Jazz Boon | Starring: Louis Koo, Nick Cheung, Francis Ng, Jiang Peiyao | Genre: Drama, Action, Crime
We kick off our list of the best Hong Kong movies this year with Line Walker 2. Based off an eponymous TV series, Line Walker 2 follows a group of Hong Kong police officers as they try to capture the kingpins of a terrorist ring. The film sees the protagonists travel to Myanmar and Spain in an attempt to retrieve crucial intelligence.
While there are classic Hong Kong police drama elements of mole hunting in Line Walker 2, the film is mostly driven by explosive action. The plot takes a backseat to action in Line Walker 2; the story merely exists to provide some context for shootouts and car chases. Still, the film is well-executed and keeps the audience engaged with flying bullets and plenty of high adrenaline stunts. As a bonus, Line Walker 2 features some great shots of Myanmar, a country rarely seen on the silver screen.
Want to learn more about Line Walker 2? Check out our full review here!
9. White Storm 2
Chinese title: 扫毒2天地对决 | Director: Herman Yau | Starring: Andy Lau, Louis Koo, Karena Lam, Chrissie Chau, Michael Miu | Genre: Drama, Action, Crime
In keeping with the criminal drama sequel theme, our number nine best Hong Kong movie of 2019 is White Storm 2. Louis Koo and Andy Lau headline the film as an antagonist drug dealer and reformed criminal-cum-financier respectively. Koo’s character Jizo and Lau’s Yu Shun-tin were once members of the same triad, but they split ways when Jizo began dealing drugs against Yu’s boss’ orders.
While the film doesn’t offer anything original in terms of plot, it does have high production quality in its action sequences and engaging drama. White Storm 2 also explores some deeper issues around the morality of vigilante justice; Yu tires of waiting for the Hong Kong police to take action against Jizo’s syndicate, and takes the law into his own hands.
Chinese title: 廉政风云 烟幕 | Director: Alan Mak | Starring: Sean Lau, Nick Cheung, Karena Lam | Genre: Drama, Crime
The next film on our list of Hong Kong’s best movies of 2019 doesn’t stray far from the autonomous city’s roots of crime dramas. Integrity tells the story of a public prosecutor trying to break a cigarette smuggling ring.
Sean Lau stars as King, who leads a team in Hong Kong’s ICAC investigating a corrupt customs official. It turns out his star witness absconded to Sydney, and the ICAC must convince their absent witness to return to Hong Kong. Unlike other Hong Kong criminal dramas, Integrity doesn’t rely on fast-paced action to drive the film. Instead, Integrity focuses on plot twists and character drama. That doesn’t make the film any less exciting, however—Integrity‘s twists and turns will keep you fully engaged and entertained.
7. Bodies at Rest
Chinese title: 沉默的證人 | Director: Renny Harlin | Starring: Nick Cheung Ka-fai, Richie Jen Hsien-chi, Yang Zi | Genre: Drama, Crime, Thriller
Bodies at Rest opened the 2019 Hong Kong international Film Festival this year. Bodies at Rest is set in a morgue during Christmas Eve, staffed by pathologist Dr. Chan (Cheung) and intern Lynn Qiao (Yang). Three gunmen wearing Christmas-themed masks attack the the morgue, intent on removing a bullet from a woman’s body—key evidence of a drug deal gone wrong.
The 93 minutes of the film are essentially a cat and mouse game, as the gunmen pursue Dr. Chan and Lynn through the morgue. Gratuitous violence abounds as the gunmen kill a number of secondary characters, and Lynn gets to stab a few bad guys as well. Other secondary characters who survive the killing spree are humorously illogical, ranging from a janitor wearing headphones oblivious to the events unfolding around him, to a stumbling policeman.
Bodies at Rest is unlike the other movies on our list of the best Hong Kong movies this year; it more resembles a Hollywood action flick than a Hong Kong one. Perhaps that’s because of Harlin’s Hollywood roots (he directed Die Hard 2), but there’s another, simpler, reason: a Hollywood writer crafted the script before Wanda Pictures bought it. Regardless of its origins, Bodies at Rest‘s unique blend of violence, suspense, and sprinklings of comedy is a sure hit.
6. Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch
Chinese title: 追龍II：賊王 | Director: Wong Jing | Starring: Tony Leung, Louis Koo, Simon Yam, Gordon Lam | Genre: Drama, Crime, Action
2019 was certainly a year of sequels in the world of Hong Kong movies. Director Wong Jing delivers the follow-up to 2017’s Chasing the Dragon with Chasing the Dragon II: Wild Wild Bunch. Chasing the Dragon II is based on the exploits of Hong Kong criminal Cheung Tze-keung (renamed Logan Long in the film), who was famous for his lavish lifestyle funded by ransoms from kidnapping family members of local tycoons. In
Chasing the Dragon II is not the first film to feature Cheung—2016’s Trivisa also highlighted Cheung’s exploit, and was banned in the mainland for glorifying crime. The Chasing the Dragon franchise has thus far avoided this fate owing to some politically savvy screenwriting—the franchise frequently reminds audiences that the British were bad governors of Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong is very much a part of China.
Politics aside, Chasing the Dragon II delivers straight-up entertainment. Long’s spoiled little brother screws up important operations, while Long’s girlfriend Bunny seductively teases the other members of Long’s gang. There’s high-octane car chases, gun fights, and a flamboyant model of a Macanese casino made with stacks of thousand-dollar bills. Fans of more serious criminal dramas will also appreciate the presence of an undercover cop who skillfully avoids being discovered.
Whether undercover suspense, gun fights, or car chases are your thing, Chasing the Dragon II will deliver beyond expectations.
Interested in reading more about Chasing the Dragon II? Check out full review here!
5. A Home with a View
Chinese title: 家和万事惊 | Director: Herman Yau | Starring: Francis Ng, Louis Koo, Anita Yuen, Cheung Tat-ming | Genre: Comedy, Drama
Our list of the best Hong Kong movies of 2019 continues with A Home with a View, a cross between family drama and black comedy. A Home with a View is set in the context of sky-high housing prices in Hong Kong; property agent Lo Wai-man (Francis Ng) purchases a small flat with a sea view for his family, only for his neighbor Wong Siu-choi (Louis Koo) to build a large billboard blocking their view.
The bulk of the film is focused on Lo’s attempt to remove Wong’s billboard to little avail. While there’s no hard-hitting action or intense drama, A Home with a View is still quite entertaining through it’s comedic depictions of incompetent government bureaucrats. The film also serves to highlight the societal problems surrounding real estate for Hongkongers—who live in one of the world’s most expensive real estate markets.
4. Ip Man 4: The Finale
Chinese title: 叶问4：完结篇 | Director: Wilson Yip Wai Shun | Starring: Donnie Yen, Wu Yue, Van Ness, Scott Adkins, Chris Collins | Genre: Action
Our fourth best Hong Kong movie of 2019 returns to a staple of Hong Kong cinema: kung fu movies. Donnie Yen reprises his role as wing chun master Ip Man in Ip Man 4: The Finale. The film largely takes place in San Francisco, where Ip Man grapples with both Chinatown’s leaders and racism from white Americans hostile to an increasing Chinese immigrant population.
Fans of Bruce Lee will delight that he makes an appearance in Ip Man 4. Ip Man visits San Francisco at Lee’s invitation, and audiences get to see Lee beat up a group of white karate students who denigrate Chinese martial artists. Still, Donnie Yen remains the center of the show as he handily defeats each of his opponents (who are mostly Americans who insult Chinese martial arts). Ip Man 4 certainly captures some of the zeitgeist surrounding US-China geopolitics, but it does so in an action-packed, entertaining way.
Also of note—Ip Man 4 is Donnie Yen’s final kung fu movie. The 56 year old actor intends to explore other genres, which makes Ip Man 4 a must-watch film for Donnie Yen fans.
Want to learn more about Ip Man 4? Read our full review here!
3. Still Human
Chinese title: 淪落人 | Director: Oliver Siu Kuen Chan | Starring: Crisel Consunji, Anthony Chau-Sang Wong | Genre: Drama
Our top Hong Kong movies of 2019 veer away from adrenaline-pumping action movies into the world of more personal dramas. Still Human tells the story of wheelchair-confined pensioner Leung Cheong-wing and his Filipino live-in helper Evelyn. Still Human opens with an exposition of the challenges that Hong Kong’s 400,000-odd foreign domestic workers face—from being cheated by unscrupulous shopkeepers, to open racism.
However, what makes Still Human a great movie is not its exposé of the treatment of Filipino workers in Hong Kong. Instead, Still Human focuses on an inspirational story of two people coming together to help each other pursue their dreams. Leung discovers that Evelyn dreamed of being a photographer, and later buys her a camera and enters her into a photography competition. As it turns out, Leung has an unfulfilled dream of his own: to go on a graduation trip with his son. After being paralyzed from the waist down in a work accident, and being divorced by his wife, Leung appears to have given up on life.
While the story of a domestic helper and her employer grounds the film in a real-world context, the story and characters are no less relatable for audiences unfamiliar with live-in helpers. Most importantly, the film does not portray Evelyn or Leung as pitiful. Instead, it gives both of them a base of empowerment from which they can choose their own destinies, and escape the limitations that social, economic, and physical circumstances have imposed on them. Still Human shows that gaps in language, culture, gender, age, or social status are not hindrances to forming a connection with someone else. Regardless of one’s background or societal standing—a helper or a disabled man—we are all still human.
Want to read on? Check out our review of Still Human here!
2. I’m Livin’ It
Chinese title: 麦路人 | Director: Danny Wong Hing Fan | Starring: Aaron Kwok, Miriam Yeung, Alex Man, Nina Paw, Cheung Tat-ming | Genre: Drama
Our second best Hong Kong movie of 2019 also gives a voice to a group of people society often overlooks: the homeless. I’m Livin’ It centers around the life of a group of homeless Hongkongers, who gather each night in a 24/7 fast food chain. This is based on the real world, where Hong Kong’s homeless often find shelter in 24/7 McDonalds.
Aaron Kwok stars as Bowen, a disgraced financier. His “housemates” are a motley bunch: a single mom (“Mother”) and young daughter (“Daughter”) beholden to loan sharks, a skinny man who draws caricatures (“Chatting Cheung”), an old widower who waits for his deceased wife to return (“Uncle Wait”), and a young runaway boy (Sam Chai). Perhaps as if to highlight the anonymity of Hong Kong’s homeless, most of the fast food chain’s “residents” are only ever referred to by their nicknames.
Each character has their own backstories and challenges, ranging from stories of redemption to the sacrifices a mother is willing to make for her child. I’m Livin’ It has myriad subplots to keep the audience engaged, but it ties its multiple narrative strands together with a common theme—the value of human relationships.
Want to learn more about I’m Livin’ It, and see how director Danny Wong Hing Fan prepared for the film? Read our full review and interview with Wong here!
Chinese title: 花椒之味 | Director: Heiward Mak | Starring: Sammi Cheng, Megan Lai, Li Xiaofeng | Genre: Drama, Family
Our top Hong Kong movie of 2019 is Fagara. Fagara is a pretty straightforward family drama—the film centers on the life of three stepsisters who meet for the first time after their father Leung dies. However, the family in Fagara happens to cross political and cultural borders—the sisters from are mainland China (Cherry, played by Li Xiaofeng), Hong Kong (Acacia, played by Sammi Cheng), and Taiwan (Branch, played by Megan Lai).
When the sisters first meet, they couldn’t be any different. Acacia is a straight-edged Hong Kong office worker, but Branch and Cherry have taken much more unconventional paths; Branch is a professional pool player, while Cherry livestreams about fashion and is trying to launch her own fashion label.
Fagara explores the journey of the three sisters as they come to realize they have a lot more in common than they do apart, despite their vastly different lives. Their newfound sisterhood also starts to provide an escape from the challenges of their daily lives, whether it’s a grandmother nagging Cherry to get married, or Branch dealing with a dysfunctional family life.
Foodies will delight as the three sisters attempt to recreate the hot pot recipe that made their dad’s restaurant famous, but the real beauty of the film is in seeing Cherry, Acacia, and Branch grow into a family of their own—one they never had before their father passed. There’s nothing heavy about the film’s drama, and Fagara is remarkably upbeat and heart-warming—a perfect movie to watch with the whole family.
Interested in reading more about Fagara? Read our full review!
• • •