When it comes to crime thrillers, some of the best ever made have come from Hong Kong. Thought provoking, action packed, noir tinged, captivating sometimes even slow burning and comedic. The sub genre has given us some film auteurs actors who have ventured into Hollywood, most of all great films. To coincide with Running Out Of Time Masters Of Cinema box set we have a list of some of Hong Kong cinema’s best crime thrillers. Not in any order of preference nor is it complete list.
Hard Boiled (1992, John Woo)
This was the film that opened the Pandora’s box to Hong Kong cinema for myself. A personal favourite that stars Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung (who made his English language debut in Disney’s Chang Chi and The Legend Of The Ten Rings as the film’s villian). Truly inspired many Hollywood action films with iconic tropes ( hyper-kinetic film editing, camera style, slow motion, gun trotting). In this one a renegade cop and an undercover man take on Triad gun-runners who store their munitions in a hospital morgue. The Hospital scene is breathtaking. The Bird cage, teahouse opening scene is equally rewarding. There’s even a cameo or two from Woo.
Raging Fire (2021)
Our genre editor Bradley Hadcroft (The People’s Movies ) watched this at Fantasia Fest describing it ” a towering behemoth of escapist destruction. “. It was also director Benny Chan’s final film who sadly died of cancer not long after completing the film. If you are looking for a film that is bursting with the essence of old school Hong Kong Action crime thrillers, this is your film. Starring Donnie Yen and Nicolas Tse as a noble cop (Yen) whose sting operation is ripped apart thanks to a group of criminals led by a former protégé (Tse). A rising star in the force driven to a life of crime and bears a grudge with a core to settle.
A Better Tomorrow (1986, John Woo)
Woo’s breakout film and what a film. Once again stars Chow Yun-Fat. In their first collaboration. Inspired by Jean-Pierre Melville and Sam Peckinpah, Woo weaves a gangster picture that’s high on action as well as melodrama. It made Yun-Fat a household name. The story of redemption, grief, and morality, following the tense relationship story between the brothers after the death of their father. Gun violence to the max.
The Killer (1989, John Woo)
Once again Woo and Yun-Fat work again, the film that helped Yun-Fat into Hollywood and it inspired many of Tinsel Town’s directors. The film follows Ah Jong, who is a brutal assassin, but during a job, he accidentally blinds an innocent woman. Even though he had decided to quit, he decides to take on one last job, in order to raise money to reimburse the girl.
Infernal Affairs Trilogy (2002, 2003, Dir.Andrew Lau, Alan Mak)
The trio of films that would see Martin Scorsese remake for Hollywood in the shape of The Departed starring Jack Nicholson. Instead of picking one film I’ve combined them as they are all pivotal parts. Neo noir thriller of an undercover cop and his criminal counterpart, who has infiltrated the Hong Kong police force, with both men locked in a game of cat and mouse.
Police Story (1985,)
You can’t have a action thriller from Hong Kong and don’t have a Jackie Chan film. This is one of his best. Starring, written and directed by the superstar himself, when he’s framed for murder of another cop when both are protecting a drug witness. The action scenes are some of the best especially the one in the shopping centre.
City On Fire (1987)
The film that inspired Quentin Tarantino to make Reservoir Dogs or depending who you speak to, the film he borrowed the plot from. Ringo Lam’s film is also about a cop who goes undercover and infiltrates a gang that plans a jewelry heist. Different storystyle from Tarantino thats a more straightforward storytelling that lams up on unsettling violent sequences.
Made In Hong Kong (1997)
Fruit Chan’s indie film considered a forerunner of great true guerilla filmmaking. Made from film stock Chan found on the streets. One of the first films created after the Hong Kong handover . We follow an nihilistic hoodlum nothing to do but hang out in playgrounds shooting hoops, getting into fights. When he witnesses the suicide of a young woman , he makes it his mission to deliver two letters found near her body. A look at the struggles of wasted youth trying to find their place amidst Hong Kong’s mighty urban sprawl.
Another fine Johnnie To entry starring Simon Yam. If you adoredark crime films in the vein of Jean-Pierre Melville as well as super-stylised action films, this one is for you. Police Tactical Unit (PTU) is a character-led drama follows a group of increasingly corrupt police factions as the hunt for a sergeant’s stolen gun turns into a violent, night-time cat-and-mouse chase around Kowloon City. This one go for non stop stop action, instead going foratmospheric, suspenseful face-offs, and intense silences.
Protege (2007, Derek Yee)
A Night In Mongok (2004, Derek Yee )
The Mission (1999, Johnnie To)
Exiled (20067 Johnnie To)
Mad Detective (2007, Johnnie To)
Election (2005 + 2007, Johnnie To)
The Stool Pigeon (2010, Dante Lam)
The Longest Nite (1998, Patrick Yau)