One of the things I most like about HK films is the ability to surprise: that scene where you’re really, truly, not at all sure what’s going to happen. Or, indeed, that what just happened really did happen. So I’ve compiled a list of my favourite breathtakers. Here they are, in no particular order. Go for your life.
SPOILER alert: if you don’t want to know what happens, then don’t read further…
1) I’ll have to start with Bride With White Hair (how predictable, I hear you cry. Well, pfui to you). The scene near the end where Leslie The Eternally Young (has he sold his soul to the devil? Is there any other explanation for his ever-tasty appearance?) confronts Brigitte The Dramatically Beautiful, and the nasty sister thrusts Leslie’s sword into Brigitte (a bit of action that begs for a tacky joke. Alas for you that I won’t make one). All characters look shocked, then Brigitte grasps Leslie’s hand (with sword) and drives it further. This is one scene that’s shocking every time, and effectively so. But then, the whole film is so well-crafted that one would expect nothing less, would one?
2) Sex And Zen: Elvis Tsui Kam Kong, swinging by one arm from a loooooong chain, manages to have screaming sex with someone whose name eludes me (and why not, when Elvis The Man occupies the screen?). Only in Hong Kong. Only, it must be added, with Elvis Tsui: no-one else would be even remotely believable, yet this larger-than-life frequenter of Cat III films manages to make it all seem quite credible, and not even slightly uncomfortable.
3) A Bullet in the Head: the most standout scene from this film would have to be the one in which Tony Leung Chiu Wai takes the gun, shoots a coupla prisoners, and aims at Jackie Cheung: I honestly didn’t know which way he’d go. Mind you, this film had me on edge for most of the time, so I may have been dizzy from lack of oxygen before then.
4) The Storm Riders: The scene in question is the one where Aaron (aka Cloud), cornered by Sonny Chiba in full flight as Lord Conquer, takes the obvious (?!?) path and rips off his own arm. Excuse me? My first thought, I’m ashamed to say, was along the lines of “What a waste of a perfectly good leather boy”. Happily for all of us, he wasn’t totally wasted after all. Bit of an extreme reaction, though. He probably needed to get out more…
5) Yes, you knew I’d get around to Andy sooner or later, didn’t you? And here he is, for the first, if not the last, time: Moon Warriors. Not a true gem of the genre, it must be admitted, although it has a fine cast and a good plot. The breathtaker here, for me, came fairly early. “That’s a killer whale”, I thought. “That’s Andy Lau Tak Wah. That’s Andy Lau Tak Wah ON TOP OF a killer whale. That’s a major star perched carelessly atop a bloody great carnivorous cetacean, fer god’s sake! How can this be?!?” Never ever would Hollywood allow such a star to frolic so casually with something so large, never mind so intelligent/carnivorous/whatever. Nor would such a star even think of doing so: no, the job would be relegated to some poor bunny of a stuntman, paid peanuts and treated like dross.
And, as an added bonus, the movie apparently was the cause of ALTW becoming interested in the preservation of marine life, so he’s got a social/global conscience as well as being talented, brave, and ever-so-dishy. Ahem. Sorry.
6) Drunken Master 2: Jackie’s big stunt, in what was arguably his best movie. I was just atonished that he actually threw himself into a bed of hot coals for a film. No-one but Jackie. Nowhere but Hong Kong. Never again.
7) Comrades: Almost a Love Story. Anyone who has the slightest romantic bone in their body must have held their breath in the “buttoning up the coat” scene. I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me that scene took, ohhh, about 3 hours to pass. Will-they-won’t-they, Leon and Maggie edging closer together with a speed roughly comparable with continental drift, this scene positively drips sexual tension.
8) Along the same lines is the malt sugar scene from Sword of Many Loves. I don’t know about you, but if Leon Lai Ming paid that much attention to cleaning malt sugar off my fingers, I’d be Nun-No-More.
9) Andy again, this time in Needing You: I, along with Sammi, couldn’t believe he would bite into that piece of bull’s penis. Eeeuuuwwwww.
10) The Mission. Well, I couldn’t let Francis The Inordinately Talented go without a mention, could I? If there’s anyone on earth (this one or any other you can find) who is more talented, I’ll eat my hat. I’ll eat your hat. I’ll eat his hat.
Back to the programme: I’m referring here to the shopping mall scene: Roy Cheung at the bottom of the escalators, Francis and Anthony Wong aiming out into the emptiness, and Lam Suet, Ray (?) and Da Boss waiting. All in silence, all unmoving. An incredibly effective scene in an incredibly well-crafted movie, and the reverse of the usual “I’ve gotta lotta guns and a lotta ammo and I’m gonna go ‘blam blam blam’ at you ’til you die!” sort of filmmaking. And I’ve always disliked those (“where do they get all the ammo?” I’d demand. “Are they constantly wheeling around trolleys of boxes full of the bloody things, just in case?!?” I’m a pain to watch movies with…).
And, just because I’m a perennial cheat, here’s some HONOURABLE MENTIONS
11) Chinese Ghost Story 2: purely for the scene of Leslie in the tub. Well, I never claimed to be completely highbrow, did I?
12) Shanghai Grand: the restaurant scene, when Andy gets to play “mah jong” with the Bad Fat Man. Aiyeee, that one was more than a bit tense, and again very well done: many films involving torture don’t show anything other than a gleeful revelling in the act, as if the writer feels him or herself to be in the place of the torturer. This time, the POV is firmly on the side of Andy and Leslie, and both do a sterling job of making a stomach-churning tension-ridden scene.
13) The Eagle Shooting Heroes. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but watching Leslie booting Tony Leung Ka Fai’s head about to the tune of “Match of the Day” was more than I could bear: I sat, mouth agape, making vague squeaking noises for a while, I must confess.
14) Ah yes, the scene from Bride With White Hair (again!), when Leslie removes the poisoned needle from Brigitte’s shoulder. With his teeth. Mmmmmmmmm.