It’s time for yet another edifying plunge into the depths of Netflix Watch Instantly, and this time out, the Netflix Streaming Safari is taking a look at the dozen or so truly excellent Hong Kong movies available on Instant Watch. There’s a lot of crap in the Hong Kong selection, and a lot of bad dubbing and crummy transfers, too, but if you look carefully you can find enough subtitled classics to have a Hong Kong movie orgy that lasts you at least a week. Below I’ve only listed subtitled movies that have transfers that are at least watchable. NEW LEGEND OF SHAOLIN and SWORDSMAN 2 are the worst-looking ones I allowed in the line-up, and great movies like ETERNAL EVIL OF ASIA that have too much digital noise are left out, unfortunately.
One of the world’s great living directors, Tsui Hark wandered in a wilderness made of flops for ten years before making a huge comeback with the nutty, gothic DETECTIVE DEE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE PHANTOM FLAME, an Andy Lau kung fu mystery featuring talking deer, giant Buddhas, and killer marionettes (you can read my much longer review). While you’re at it, don’t miss Tsui’s fairy tale fantasia, GREEN SNAKE, a deeply touching, slightly absurd, hand-made special effects epic about two snake sisters who yearn to become human. If you ever wanted to know what an anti-Buddhist movie looked like, this is it.
Andy Lau in DETECTIVE DEE.
Tsui Hark was able to squeeze the best performances out of Jet Li, and nowhere is their collaboration better than in SWORDSMAN 2 (no familiarity with SWORDSMAN 1 required), a dark martial arts movie in which a drunk Jet Li takes on a martial artist who has acquired ultimate power by castrating himself and becoming a woman. Although the transfer is pretty grainy and full of digital noise, Jet Li has never been more over-the-top nutty than in NEW LEGEND OF SHAOLIN, a Hong Kong retelling of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies from Japan, starring Jet Li and Xie Miao, a child martial artist who is one of Li’s best onscreen co-stars. Tacky, loud, and ridiculous, it’s a lot of fun.
Brigitte Lin in SWORDSMAN 2.
On the other hand, Jet Li is also a really good actor, and he’s never been more sublime than in Peter Chan’s epic period martial movie, THE WARLORDS (a remake of a Shaw Brothers classic) and in OCEAN HEAVEN, a truly unexpected and surprisingly movie in which Li plays a father trying to prepare his autistic son to live on his own. Trust me and try it. You won’t quite know what hit you.
The three kung fu musketeers – WHEELS ON MEALS.
Jackie Chan’s been slowing down in recent years, too, with equally excellent results. His performance in LITTLE BIG SOLDIER is one of his best, and even though he’s aging and can no longer do the big stunts, you don’t miss them in this funny, smart film in which Jackie plays a farmer drafted into the army who can retire if he gets his prisoner, the enemy general, over 1000 miles of hostile territory and back to his home kingdom. If you want Jackie at his peak, there’s great action in between the lousy Canto-comedy in TWINKLE TWINKLE LUCKY STARS (fast forward is your friend in this movie) but his two best subtitled movies on Netflix Instant Watch are his collaborations with his Chinese Opera School “brothers,” Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao: WHEELS ON MEALS (which has a lot of comedy, but is really charming, and the action is top notch) and the jaw-dropping DRAGONS FOREVER (which, quite honestly, might be one of the ten best action movies ever made).
The three kung fu musketeers – DRAGONS FOREVER.
And let’s not forget the women. Even though Michelle Yeoh and Jackie Chan’s SUPERCOP is hideously dubbed (and thus won’t even get a link), her super-fun WING CHUN, and truly wonderful, classic cop flick, YES, MADAM (in which she teams up with the Blonde Fury herself, Cynthia Rothrock), are both subtitled and make for a great, high-kicking, hard-punching girl power double feature.
One of the biggest major movie stars that people associate with Hong Kong is Chow Yun-fat, and he’s pretty well-represented on Instant Watch in all his different flavors (although his most rockin’ movie here, FULL CONTACT, is only available dubbed – badly – for some dumb reason). If you want romantic Chow Yun-fat, try DREAM LOVERS, in which he and Brigitte Lin (who plays the transgendered, Asia the Invincible in SWORDSMAN 2) play ill-fated lovers, reincarnated after hundreds of years to try to make things work a second time. Very 80′s, it’s a cold, bleak, doomed movie that’s beautifully realized, and might make you want to commit suicide. Bad-to-the-bone, pistol-packing Chow Yun-fat is well-represented in FLAMING BROTHERS, his team-up with manly star Alan Tang back in 1987. A typcial, rags-to-riches triad story, with a script by Wong Kar-wai (not that you’d notice), nice doses of nasty gunplay garnish a standard-issue film.
Chow Yun-fat, looking RICH AND FAMOUS.
But, like a pair of twin .45′s, the one-two punch of RICH AND FAMOUS and TRAGIC HERO are way better. Shot simultaneously, Chow gets less screentime in R&F but he rules TRAGIC HERO, playing a triad boss who recruits two brothers (Alex Man and Andy Lau, star of DETECTIVE DEE) to build a criminal empire, while finding time to shoot pretty much everyone in the face. A long, B-list, Golan & Globus style version of the GODFATHER movies, these are action flicks that are low on posh production values, but high on narrative drive and high-octane gunplay.
If you want to see what Chow Yun-fat’s been up to recently, check out his starring role in the absurdist Chinese action comedy, LET THE BULLETS FLY, which I love, but it’s tough to follow for audiences who don’t have some grasp of current Chinese politics. Read this primer and give it a shot, though. If you don’t need to have everything spelled out for you it might be right up your alley.
Simon Yam, becoming a star.
Simon Yam started his career with DR. LAMB, playing real-life serial killer Lam Go-wan, a cab driver who managed to butcher several women in his bedroom. That doesn’t sound like a big deal until you learn that he shared his apartment (and his bedroom) with his entire extended family, who never had a clue. Half of the film is a cop comedy helmed by Danny Lee (THE KILLER) while the other half is a bleak, disturbing, ultra-stylish serial killer movie built around Simon Yam’s go-for-broke performance. Try it, you won’t regret it. These days, Yam is a well-respected star who wins well-deserved awards for tear-jerkers like ECHOES OF THE RAINBOW, but he’s rarely been more outrageous than in DR. LAMB.
The other character actor who kickstarted his career playing a real-life serial killer is Anthony Wong (THE UNTOLD STORY). These days, he does badass like nobody’s business. He’s all icy cold stares and lightning fast gunplay in Johnnie To’s kabuki-esque, high caliber Western, EXILED, but he gives the performance of his career in the lower-budgeted, slightly more threadbare PUNISHED. A movie that isn’t 100% successful, PUNISHED nevertheless is a great showcase for Wong, playing a ruthless real estate developer who sends his errand-boy to kill the men who kidnapped his trainwreck of a daughter. It’s a great performance, and one that makes this movie more than worth your time, despite some flaws.
If that’s too heavy for you, then it’s the Shaw Brother’s version of KING KONG you’re craving. THE MIGHTY PEKING MAN is truly one of the best worst movies of the 70′s, featuring amazing stock footage elephant stampedes, Danny Lee in denim bell bottoms, a giant, moth-eaten monkey, and Evelyn Kraft as his blonde girlfriend.
None of these things actually happens
in MIGHTY PEKING MAN, except Evelyn Kraft
in a bikini.