Hong Kong New Wave Films: The First Wave (1979 - 1989)

A Better Tomorrow  (Credit: Film Workshop)

A Better Tomorrow (Credit: Film Workshop)

Throughout the 1960s and early '70s, an increase in population led many third world countries to increase their cinematic output significantly; Egyptian productions targeted historical dramas towards African and Middle Eastern markets, while Mexico continued to dominate South America. Output from South Korea and Pakistan was also on the rise, but it was the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong that arguably benefitted the most from this significant shift.

Hong Kong cinema: Before the new wave

Understanding Hong Kong cinema prior to the new wave may shed light on why these directors stood out from their peers. A mass-production studio system had been implemented in 1950s Hong Kong, which would eventually produce over 120 features per year by the late 1970s. Making this feat possible was Run Run Shaw (of the hugely successful Shaw Brothers) who had built an ambitious Hong Kong studio called Movietown in 1958. While having great success with relatively low budget productions, Shaw would look to reinvent the martial arts genre by 1960. Instead of focusing on Confucian philosophy, the reinvigorated genre would become a celebration of cutting-edge stunts, taking influence from popular Japanese samurai flicks and spaghetti Westerns.

Directors King Hu and Zhang Che helped bring the genre into fruition, while also recruiting a line of assistant directors who would become significant to Hong Kong's film scene in the 1970s.

However, after the death of cult star Bruce Lee in 1973, there was a noticeable decrease in quality throughout the martial arts genre. But before his death, Lee had already helped martial arts cinema connect to a global audience. This allowed Raymond Chow, who had helped turn Lee into a global star and previously worked as Shaw's head of production, turn his enterprise Golden Harvest into a major production company. By the mid-70s, the martial arts genre had firmly found its global audience. It's wide appeal spread well beyond Asia, having also become popular in Africa, Latin America, Europe and North America. But in Hong Kong, creative young filmmakers were ready to subvert industry trends and make their own mark on the colony's cinematic output.

The First Wave

By the late ‘70s, martial arts cinema from Raymond Chow (of Golden Harvest) and Run Run Shaw (of the Shaw Brothers) had dominated the industry’s mainstream output for years. Despite the genre’s global audience, Hong Kong cinema was now ready for new developments. The very first Hong Kong Film Festival was held in 1977, and Hong Kong now had more high-brow film-focused magazines and filmmaking courses than ever before. The industry was ready for fresh blood and new innovations, and the likes of Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Tsui Hark and Alex Cheung were ready to inject their own creative flare into Hong Kong's film industry.

Many soon-to-be new wave directors had studied abroad, adopting styles that were not reminiscent of Hong Kong cinema at the time. They studied in ‘Shoalin Temples’ – the term affectionately used to describe a 2-3 year training program at a TV studio – and some had even become known for TV work before transitioning to directing feature-length films. While these directors were still working in television, a 1976 article in the very first issue of Tang Shuxuan’s Da Texie declared that “a new wave is rising that will force veteran directors to advance.”

So, what did these directors have to offer Hong Kong's creative output on the big screen? In his book Hong Kong New Wave Cinema 1978 - 2001, Pak Ton Cheuk best described their diverse incentives when he said “they were not revolutionists, but they were unquestionably reformists and innovators.” For directors such as Allen Fong and Ann Hui, this meant bringing social commentary and psychological nuance to genre flicks, providing what may have been lost during Run Run Shaw's shift towards stunt-focused cinema. Others, such as Tsui Hark and John Woo, were more focused on showcasing their unique styles to mainstream audiences.

The Extras (1978) Ka le fei

Director: Yim Ho

An aspiring actor who has become frustrated by his unsuccessful career, until he finally gets his big break. That is, until he realises that his new job is just more low-paid extra work. Now facing the grim reality of his new job, Yim Ho's humorous flick explores the unusual life of an extra in Hong Kong.

The Boy From Vietnam (1978)

Director: Ann Hui

Following the lives of Vietnamese immigrants residing in Hong Kong, director Ann Hui explores the hopes, dreams and limited possibilities they have of finding a better life outside of Vietnam. Importantly, the film marks the beginning of Ann Hui’s politicised Vietnamese trilogy.

Cops and Robbers (1979) Dian zhi bing bing

Director: Alex Cheung

As citizens show little trust in the Hong Kong police force, a witness refuses to cooperate with local cops. Despite this, a police officer must ensure that justice is served.

The Butterfly Murders (1979) Dip bin

Director: Tsui Hark

The Butterfly Murders by Tsui Hark  (Credit: Seasonal Film)

The Butterfly Murders by Tsui Hark (Credit: Seasonal Film)

When a journalist tries to solve a mystery, he needs help from a celebrated fighter and a woman called Green Breeze. Together, they travel to a mysterious castle, where a kaleidoscope of poisonous butterflies stands between them and a leather-clad killer. The Butterfly Murders is a Wuxia film, which translates literally as 'martial heroes'. These films focus on heroic martial artists living in Ancient China.

The Secret (1979) Fung gip

Director: Ann Hui

A real murder becomes increasingly complex when a relationship unfolds between a suspect and a victim. A series of narrations then show conflicting stories. As well as introducing more nuanced ideas to the industry, The Secret would also be remembered for its significance to female filmmakers. Ann Hui would ensure that considerably more women would on the film's production than was commonplace at the time. The film was also written by Joyce Chan Wan Man.

From Riches to Rags (1980) Qian zuo guai

Director: John Woo

When a factory worker wins the lottery, he and his friend begin to spend carelessly until a fortune teller predicts his death. He immediately goes to the doctor, where a complication leads him to believe he doesn't have much time left. In an attempt to avoid a painful death, the man gives his fortunes to a suicidal passerby on the condition that he hires a hitman to take him out.

Encore (1980)

Director: Clifford Choi

Also known as Hot Choi, this romance film marks Clifford Choi’s directorial debut, and is one of Leslie Cheung’s first prominent roles in a feature film.

See-Bar (1980) 師爸

Director: Dennis Yu

When a man is tricked out of a fortune, his cousin, a young mechanic working in a small garage, seeks revenge. Little do they know that they are actually taking on a fearless gang boss, Kwok. Another trick leads the mechanic to bet his garage, forcing him to try and contact GhostEye, a man who may be able to outwit the crooks.

The Sword (1980) Ming jian

Director: Patrick Tam

The Sword (1980) by Patrick Tam  (Credit: Golden Harvest)

The Sword (1980) by Patrick Tam (Credit: Golden Harvest)

In the ancient city of the Song dynasty, a swordsman joins forces with a samurai in order to take on the evil husband of an old flame.

We're Going to Eat You (1980) Di yu wu men

Director: Tsui Hark

A man investigates a mysterious, dangerous village that is entirely populated by inbred cannibals.

The Beasts (1980) Shan kou

Director: Dennis Yu

When a woman is raped and her brother is murdered, their father plots revenge against the evil perpetrators.

The Happenings (1980) Ye Che

Director: Yim Ho

As societal customs faded, a group of counterculture teens struggle to find their purpose. The youths begin to loose control as they embark on a lifestyle of heavy drinking, constant parties and petty thefts.

Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980) 第一類型危險

Director: Tsui Hark

A beautiful yet sadistic girl leads a group of nerdy teens on a psychopathic rampage.

Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980) by Tsui Hark  (Credit: Fotocine Film Production Ltd.)

Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind (1980) by Tsui Hark (Credit: Fotocine Film Production Ltd.)

The original version of Dangerous Encounters of the First Kind is now lost, having been banned by authorities due to its dark depiction of Hong Kong’s society at the time. The film could be considered a turning point for Tsui Hark, who had to re-edit the film to exclude certain political messages. His future releases would then become far more commercial. In fact, Hark’s energetic films would eventually lead to comparisons between himself and leading popular directors in the west. In later years, he was even described as ‘the Steven Spielberg of Hong Kong’.

The Spooky Bunch (1980) Zhuang dao zheng

Director: Ann Hui

A wealthy man hires a Cantonese opera company to perform on the Island where he resides. He plans to match his nephew with a young actress working for the opera troupe, thereby ending a curse put upon her grandfather.

The Spooky Bunch did more than its fair part in bringing back the ghost genre to Hong Kong cinema. Directors Sammo Hung and Kuei Chih Hung also made notable Hong Kong exploitation horrors during this period.

The rise of Cinema City (and its affects on the New Wave)

In 1979, the Fendou Film Company was founded by Shek Tin, Wong Pak-ming and Karl Maka and renamed Cinema City the following year. The studio would initially create lower budget films focused on so-called hoodlums and the struggles of the lower class. It would also recruit New Wave directors such as John Woo and Tsui Hark. The studio’s films were profitable and popular with audiences for a short while, despite their low budgets and the absence of known actors. But audiences’ interest in these stories were short-lived, causing the studio to produce action comedies with strict formulas instead. These relatively wholesome comedies – which avoided vulgarity and perversion – would set records for their success at the box office throughout the 1980s. However, the studio’s success and business-minded approach to cinema led to a dominance that made less formulaic films harder to produce, promote and release.

The Story of Woo Viet (1981) Woo Yuet dik goo si

Director: Ann Hui

Following a Vietnamese man seeking refuge in the United States, The Story of Woo Viet is a political drama led by frequent John Woo collaborator, Chow yun-Fat, in the leading role. Ann Hui used the film to explore Hong Kong’s management of refugees, while also discussing the island’s uncertain future. It is the second instalment of the director’s Vietnamese trilogy, which began with The Boy From Vietnam in 1978.

In the United States, the film is also known as God of Killers, in an attempt to draw in an audience based on Chow yun-Fat’s notoriety for playing violent yet heroic protagonists.

No U-Turn (1981) Bu zhun diao tou

Director: Clifford Choi

A taxi driver moonlights as a race-car driver. He forms a relationship with a cosmetics saleswoman, leading to an embarrassing misunderstanding.  

Love Massacre (1981) 愛殺

Director: Patrick Tam Kar-Ming

Set in San Francisco, Love Massacre tells the story of a woman whose boyfriend becomes a stalker after his sister commits suicide. The film stars Brigette Lin in the leading role, showing an early example of her success throughout the 1980s. Her popularity throughout the decade would lead her to become a beloved icon of Asian cinema.

Wedding Bells, Wedding Belles (1981) Gong zi jiao

Director: Yim Ho

Gong zi jiao is a rom-com starring Suet Lee and James Yi Lui.

Father and Son (1981) 父子情

Director: Allen Fong

Father and Son (1981) by Allen Fong  (Credit: Feng Huang Motion Pictures)

Father and Son (1981) by Allen Fong (Credit: Feng Huang Motion Pictures)

Despite his dreams of pursuing a career in entertainment, a young man’s father is desperate to give his son a formal education instead.

Father and Son opened to immediate domestic acclaim, winning Best Director and Best Film at the very first Hong Kong Film Awards. Prior to filming, Allen Fong had studied at the University of South California and had been stylistically linked to Francois Truffaut.

Man on the Brink (1981) Bian yuen ren

Director: Alex Cheung (a.k.a Kwok-Ming Cheung)

Bian yuen ren explores the life of a Hong Kong undercover cop working against the triads. Comparisons have been made to Sidney Lumet’s 1973 crime drama, Serpico.

The Imp (1981) 凶榜

Director:  Dennis Yu

An unemployed man struggles to support his pregnant wife before getting a job as a security guard. However, the mysterious death of his colleagues leads him on a horrifying journey to save his own life. To make matters worse, his wife starts to act in a particularly strange manner.

The Club (1981) Wu Tin

Director: Kirk Wong

A man working in a gang-owned nightclub must face-off against rival members of the Hong Kong underworld. The Club marks Kirk Wong’s directorial debut, after returning to Hong Kong after studying in England.

Teenage Dreamers (1982) 檸檬可樂

Director: Clifford Choi

Ting-Ting is a teenage girl experiencing an interest in love and romance for the first time.

Boat People (1982) 投奔怒海

Director: Ann Hui

Boat People (1982) by Ann Hui  (Credit: Bluebird Film Company)

Boat People (1982) by Ann Hui (Credit: Bluebird Film Company)

A Japanese photojournalist goes back to Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon, learning the truth behind its regime and ‘New Economic Zones’.

Boat People concludes Ann Hui’s Vietnam trilogy. The film was Hong Kong’s most critically acclaimed film of the year, winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best New Performer, Best Screenplay and Best Art Direction at Hong Kong’s second annual Film Awards. Domestically, it even outgrossed Steven Spielberg’s E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial. The film also made history by becoming the first Hong Kong production to be filmed in communist China, and is still considered to be one of the finest examples of Chinese-language cinema of all time.

To Hell With the Devil (1982) Mo deng tian shi

Director: John Woo

In an attempt to impress his dream woman, a man makes a deal with the devil in order to become a pop star. He is followed by a Catholic Priest, who warns him that he must try to undo the damage he has done if he wants to save his soul from eternal damnation. Just as he was forewarned, things turn sour for the pop star, but the devil proves a hard man to bargain with. In a state of despair, the man turns to the Priest for help.

Plain Jane to the Rescue (1982) Ba cai Lin Ya Zhen

Director: John Woo

In this slapstick comedy, a woman is hired to teach a CEO’s father some manners. The film stars Josephine Siao, a beloved Hong Kong actress who had previously been a famous child star.

Nomad (1982) 烈火青春

Director: Patrick Tam Kar-Ming

Nomad (1982) by Patrick Tam  (Credit: Century Motion Picture)

Nomad (1982) by Patrick Tam (Credit: Century Motion Picture)

As a group of Hong Kong youths live their carefree lives, a Japanese assassin disturbs their peaceful existence and sends them on a quest for the true meaning of life.

Nomad star Leslie Cheung would go on to become one of Asian’s biggest stars. He is now synonymous with the works of Wong Kar-wai, as well as becoming a ‘founding father’ of Cantopop during his incredibly successful singing career. Nomad was nominated for every major category in 1983’s Hong Kong Film Awards.

Ah Ying (1983) 半邊人

Director: Allen Fong

Chronicling the journey of a young woman, Ah Ying highlights Hong Kong’s indie film scene. It is partly based on the real life experiences of So-ying Hu, who plays the titular role. The docudrama won Best Film and Best Director at the 3rd annual Hong Kong Film Awards.

Hong Kong, Hong Kong (1983) 男與女

Director: Clifford Choi

A young woman travels to Hong Kong illegally from mainland China. She encounters Kong Yuen Sang, a young gambler and aspiring boxer.

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star (1983) Xing ji dun tai

Director: Alex Cheung (Kwok-Ming Cheung)

When a failing private investigator witnesses a woman’s abduction, he seizes the opportunity in order to obtain fame and fortune. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is an example of the Hong Kong New Wave taking on sci-fi, and also shows the off-beat themes New Wave directors were willing to explore.

Flash Future Kung Fu (1983) Da Lui Toi

Director: Kirk Wong

In a futuristic dystopia, the fight for survival involves martial arts combat, illegal boxing and neo-Nazi zombies. When a maverick pupil of a competitive fighting school secretly takes part in underground boxing matches, he encounters a fascist organisation known as the X-Gang. He then discovers that the rival gang are planning to take over the city with an army of mind-controlled soldiers.

Kirk Wong’s dystopian sci-fi is also known as Health Warning, De Lui Tai and Digital Master.

Comedy (1984) Ma hou pao

Director: Dennis Yu

Dennis Yu’s slapstick comedy belongs to the ‘Mo lei tau‘ sub-genre, a specific type of ‘nonsense comedy’ that plays on cultural subtleties and the element of surprise. The term loosely translates from Cantonese as “with no source“, which could then in turn be described as nonsense or silliness.

In the same year, the Shaw Brothers Ltd. – once the largest product company in Hong Kong – ceased their feature film output, opting to produce television by TVB instead. The company would not resume film production until 2009.

Love in a Fallen City (1984) 傾城之戀

Director: Ann Hui

Set in 1941, the film shows a woman who has become ostracised by her family after divorcing her husband. Taking pity on her, a match-maker takes the young woman to Hong Kong to (unknowingly) introduce her to a man. Despite an instant connection, he decides not to marry her. However, wartime is looming, forcing him to rethink the nature of his feelings.

Love in a Fallen City is based on Eileen Chang’s novel of the same name. Ann Hui would adapt another novel from the author thirteen years later, Eighteen Springs (Bànshēng Yuán).

Homecoming (1984) 似水流年

Director: Yim Ho

Coral, a Hong Kong woman tortured by city life, went back to her home town to visit her two old friends. They all found that some precious things in life which disappear through the years could never be recovered.

Homecoming swept the Hong Kong Film Awards’ fourth annual ceremony, winning Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Newcomer, Best Screenplay and Best Art Direction. It was the clear favourite of 1984’s event, with another 5 nominations to its name.

Cherie (1984) 雪兒

Director: Patrick Tam Kar-Ming

An exercise teacher begins two relationships, one with an older, wealthy man and another with a youthful photographer. She begins to feel discontent with her interactions with the wealthy man, but also comes to realise that the photographer may be more interested in her striking looks than true love.

Lifeline Express (1984) Hong yun dang tou

Director: Kirk Wong

In an attempt to save his brother, offering half of his life to the Gods in return. But now that his brother is safe, the man becomes consumed with paranoia that the end is nigh.

The Musical Singer (1985) Ge wu sheng ping

Director: Dennis Yu

When a media agent loses his best singer, he decides to make an inexperienced dancer into an even bigger success. However, his ambitions have negative implications on his current relationship.

Danger Has Two Faces (1985) Huang jia da zei

Director: Alex Cheung

Using a pet store as a front, an ex-cop really makes his money from assassinations. His best friend has been investigating this series of murders, leading to a series of shocking revelations regarding the Hong Kong police force.

The Time You Need a Friend (1985) Xiao jiang

Director: John Woo

A vaudevillian duo who have been broken up for years must overcome their differences in order to perform at a charity event.

Run Tiger, Run (1985) Liang zhi lao hu

Director: John Woo

Run Tiger, Run (1985) by John Woo  (Credit: Cinema City)

Run Tiger, Run (1985) by John Woo (Credit: Cinema City)

Two homeless boys befriend a wealthy heir to a great fortune. However, his confused uncle abducts the wrong boy in an attempt to steal the family inheritance. The remaining homeless boy and the wealthy heir must work together to save their friend.

New Wave director Tsui Hark makes an appearance as the wealthy grandfather, Grandpa Steak.

City Hero (1985) Fei hu ji bing

Director: Dennis Yu

A group of young police officers grow tired of jobs, aspiring to join the Special Duties Unit instead. However, they must first live up to the standards of an incredibly disciplined instructor.

A Better Tomorrow (1986) Ying hung boon sik

Director: John Woo

A Better Tomorrow (1986) by John Woo  (Credit: Cinema City)

A Better Tomorrow (1986) by John Woo (Credit: Cinema City)

A gangster who has left his violent life behind him tries to reconnect with his estranged brother. But it’s not easy when your brother is a police officer and your old gang persistently tries to bring you back into a life of crime.

Ying hung boon sik, literally translated as ‘the true colours of a hero’, stars New Wave regulars Leslie Chung (who also sang the film’s theme) and Chow yun-Fat. Upon release, the film made a huge impact on the Hong Kong film industry, which would then in turn make a larger international influence. What made A Better Tomorrow stand out was its use of seemingly sensitive characters who are conflicted by their criminal activity, as well as combination of martial arts and automatic weaponry now known as ‘Gun Fu’.

The film would break box office records in Hong Kong, despite having very little attention prior to release. It notably solidified Chow yun-Fat’s status as a Hong Kong star of epic proportions, thanks to his scene-stealing role as Mark Lee. John Woo would make a sequel to this smash hit crime flick in 1987. Tsui Hark, who produced the film, would then direct the third instalment in 1989.

Heroes Shed No Tears (1986) Ying xiong wu lei

Director: John Woo

Thailand’s government recruits a team of Chinese mercenaries in the hopes that they can take down a Golden Triangle drug lord. The group are successful, but things escalate when his men inevitably try to hunt them down. Considerably outnumbered, the mercenaries must fight to survive against their new-found enemies.

Heroes Shed No Tears was filmed prior to Woo’s incredible success with A Better Tomorrow. At that time, director John Woo had become desperate to be released from his contract with Golden Harvest - where he was contractually obliged to complete one more film for the studio. He took on a script titled The Golden Warriors thanks to its simplistic storyline, which would eventually become Heroes Shed No Tears. Notable changes were made in order to give the film more emotional depth.

The film was initially shelved by Golden Harvest, before being released in 1986 thanks to Woo’s success with A Better Tomorrow. However, John Woo himself noted the tonal issues throughout his version of the film, and later stated that he has never seen the released version in its entirety.

Just Like Weather (1986) 美國心

Director: Allen Fong

The trials and tribulations of married life are on full show as a couple emigrate to the United States.

True Colours (1986) 英雄正傳

Director: Kirk Wong

Two young friends become estranged when one of them flees the country in order to escape the death penalty. However, they are reunited five years later, where one of them has chosen to become a priest.

A Better Tomorrow II (1987) Ying hung boon sik II

Director: John Woo

A restaurant owner must recruit a policeman and his brother, an ex-convinct, in order to avenge a young woman’s death. Following on from John Woo’s blockbuster hit A Better Tomorrow, the sequel sees Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung reprising their roles. Chow Yun-fat also returns to the franchise, this time playing the twin brother of Mark Lee, who he famously played in the first instalment.

Final Victory (1987) 最後勝利 Zui hou sheng li

Director: Patrick Tam Kar-Ming

Final Victory (1987) by Patrick Tam  (Credit: D&B Films)

Final Victory (1987) by Patrick Tam (Credit: D&B Films)

A triad member asks his innocent brother to look after the two love interests in his life (his wife and his mistress) while he serves a prison sentence. The ill-fortuned brother must juggle between the two women’s demands in this comedy from director Patrick Tam.

Along with Patrick Tam and Tsang Yu, Wong Kar-wai co-write the screenplay for Final Victory. Wong, who would become a pioneering name in Hong Kong’s second wave, said that his early scripts would never turn out as he’d imagined – with the exception of his work with Patrick Tam. “[Tam] treated each film as his “first and last rose“ – an idea from a line by Jean-Luc Godard, whom he greatly admired,” says Wong. “Patrick never waited for ‘next time’ to do something. He just did it. Final Victory‘s script was already good and he made it even better.“

Amnesty Decree (1987) 魔鬼天使’

Director: Clifford Choi

Amnesty Decree is a drama starring Nina Li Chi, who had made an impression one year prior in The Seventh Curse, her acting debut.

Evil Cat (1987) 凶貓

Director: Dennis Yu

Every 50 years, a demon cat is reincarnated. The Cheung family have long been devoted to killing the cat until it uses all 9 lives. This time, Master Cheung fears that his cancer will defeat him because the cat can be killed, so he imparts his wisdom of Mao Shan magic onto a man whose boss has become possessed.

Burning Snow (1988) 雪在燒

Director: Patrick Tam Kar-Ming

A woman is forced to marry a despicable man who runs a roadhouse saloon. While enduring this abusive marriage, the woman takes in a young man wanted by the law. As police search for the man while investigating a murder, a turbulent romance blossoms between the pair.

Chatter Street Killer (1988) Dian zhi zei zei

Director: Alex Cheung

A group of gossiping neighbours become key witnesses to a Rear Window style murder. In order to investigate further, a clumsy policeman goes undercover as their new neighbour.

Bless This House (1988) Meng gui fo tiao qiang

Director: Ronny Yu, Tony Leung Siu-Hung

When a building designer gets a promotion, his family moves to a new house. However, unbeknownst to them, the house has a sinister past. The previous owner was an abusive actor who murdered his family within the premises. Now that the new family have settled in, the murderer’s evil spirit wants to reclaim ownership of the house.

Gunmen (1988) Tian luo di wang

Director: Kirk Wong

A cop policing 1930 Shanghai finds his department overrun with corruption and deceit. Meanwhile, gangsters dominate the city’s streets with the booming opium trade.

My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989) Sha shou hu die meng

Director: Patrick Tam Kar-Ming

My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989) by Patrick Tam  (Credit: Maverick Films Ltd.)

My Heart is That Eternal Rose (1989) by Patrick Tam (Credit: Maverick Films Ltd.)

A retired gangster manages a bar on the coast. The film centers on his daughter and partner-in-crime, as their criminal past catches up with them.

Framed (1989) 沉底鱷’

Director: Alex Cheung

After a long sentence, an ex-policeman is released from prison. Insisting on his innocence, he seeks out those who framed him.

A Better Tomorrow III: Love & Death in Saigon (1989) 英雄本色3-夕陽之歌

Director: Tsui Hark

Chow Yun-fat reprises the role of fan favourite, Mark Gor, for a prequel to John Woo’s blockbuster franchise. The film explores the rise of Mark Gor and his criminal enterprise.

Tsui Hark finally goes from producer to director within the Better Tomorrow franchise for its third instalment. John Woo had previously written his idea for the a third film, but was not invited back to direct due to a disagreement with Tsui Hark during the production of A Better Tomorrow II. Notably, Woo’s script ultimately became his 1990 effort, Bullet in the Head. Both films take place in the Vietnam War.

A Second Wave Begins

The dominance of Cinema City and the poor performance of less formulaic productions spelt the end of Hong Kong’s first wave. Many new wave directors were now producing more commercial fare; for example, Tsui Hark was now targeting family entertainment with titles such as Peking Opera Blues and Warriors of the Magic Mountain. Ann Hui would have a short hiatus until 1997, while John Woo went on to make his mark on Hollywood.

The prominent figures of the new wave may have integrated with Hong Kong’s commercial cinema, but the new have is a two-sided coin. A ‘second wave’ would yet again challenge the industry norms and produce some of Hong Kong’s most renowned titles to date.