Heroic Cinema’s Best of 2003

Best film: Infernal Affairs
Runner-up: Sympathy For Mr Vengeance
Honourable mentions: PTU, Running on Karma, Save the Green Planet

Read on for the complete mini-reviews, as each teamster looks back on their cinematic highlights for 2003…


Golden Chicken
Just way too much fun to resist. Sandra Ng is impossibly endearing, the large collection of cameos are amusing, and this was probably my only chance to see Andy having a good moan. In fact, I think I need to watch it again right now…

Heroic Duo
A Byzantine plot that ties your brain in knots, complemented by a cast of rather attractive men, spells success for me. The fact that the entire cast could act their way, not only out of a paper bag, but across the harbour without a ferry, helps enormously. Fine fizzing entertainment.

Infernal Affairs
Heavyweight cops-n-triads stuff. Excellent performances from all leads and supporting actors, finely crafted characters, and just all-round superbity makes this a winner in anyone’s book.

Save The Green Planet
Some Korean films have the ability to make you think, or to touch your heart. This one pries the top off your skull, rips out your brain, and tapdances on your spinal cord. Misses out on a “This Film May Be Lethal” warning by a whisker. Not an easy ride, but one you’ll never forget.

Sympathy For Mr Vengeance
Another Korean heavyweight that goes at you with a pickaxe. Fine performances from all three stars, a story that punches you repeatedly in the face for 90 minutes, and plenty of necessary violence. All that, with a plot that offers a scathing commentary of society to boot.


1. Infernal Affairs
Finally, a return to form, what HK movies are all about!! Yay!

2. Come Drink With Me
Need I say more?? This movie rocks big time and in no way is my opinion swayed by the fact that I got to meet Cheng Pei Pei, shake her hand, speak to her and got her autograph. Nada. Zip. 🙂

3. PTU
A fine piece of work from Johnnie To – some may say it’s a little nasty but it’s dark, edgy and very watchable.

4. Cowboy Bebop the Series
Could not have survived my time in Hobart without Spike and the gang [especially Ein!] Beautiful music by Yoko Kanno.

5. The Way Home
Endearing mute [&toothless!] grandma versus bratty grandson demanding KFC.


Infernal Affairs (dir. Andrew Lau)
This film makes my personal Top 5 by virtue of the following things: It’s an action movie with little action; it’s really, really pretty to look at; Tony Leung reprises the first kind of role I ever saw him in and improves on it and Anthony Wong meets the roof of a car at 30 stories (not that I dislike Anthony Wong, but that was a full-on scene ya gotta admit).
Yep. That’s it.

Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, dir. Hayao Miyazaki)
Did you know that, aside from Kurosawa’s 1975 joint Japanese-Russian venture Dersu Uzala, the last full-length, wholly Japanese feature film to win an Academy Award was Hiroshi Inagaski’s epic Samurai, the Legend of Musashi in 1955? 1955! Not only that, but do you know what Miyazaki said, when he was awarded this prestige? He was more interested in capturing the hearts of children than Hollywood’s highest honour. The beauty and magic (not to mention success) of this film proves that it is not only children that can nurture the heart of a child…

Versus (dir. Ryuhei Kitamura. 2000)
Here’s my Made A Few Years Ago But Only Saw It For The First Time This Year entry. Versus was an amazing, rockin’, b-grade, bloody funny, brilliant zombie/sword-fighting film with a plot that wouldn’t die and a killer twist! I have decided that anything this director does is Good.

Witch Hunter Robin
Does it count if I’ve seen it but not everyone else has? Executive decision, since I’m the resident anime fanatic, I’m deciding it does. There’s been a number of top quality series out this year in Japan (too many to name in fact, although at some point I might try) but Witch Hunter Robin currently stands out as the pick of the crop (until Samurai
comes out at least). Look for its official release in 2004 and believe me you will not be disappointed. Mixing action with intrigue with witchcraft with some fine characters, great music and gorgeous animation, it’s a mature, quality work, which if you’re anything like me will be just the antidote for too many panties and not enough brains…

The Returner (dir. Takashi Yamazaki)
You might scoff. Go ahead. I am immune to your ridicule. It’s not like I like this movie because Takeshi Kaneshiro was in it, running around in leathers, packing heat and grinning that gorgeous, boyish grin of his. No way. What kind of partial, hormone-driven movie reviewer do you think I am? No, this was a fine film, top quality, well directed, with a good script and
a strong supporting cas-

Oh never mind. Ok, I liked it because Takeshi Kaneshiro was in it.


5. Dolls
Ugh. So much psychic damage yet so beautiful. Felt like a small animal entranced by a pair of headlights towards the end there. Who would have thought a Beat Takeshi film would have so much pathos…

4. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
Beautiful landscapes and the broadening of experiences and expectations through art. Now why would a film like that be special?

3. Face of Another
A 60’s Japanese film that I caught at SIFF. Dealt with image, identity and how they relate to social interaction and responsibility akin to themes seen in Invisible Man stories of which it quite obviously pays homage to. The design of the doctor’s office was just amazing to watch and what the film was able to do without today’s whiz-bang effects was very impressive.

2. Running on Karma
The action sequences and SFX were just darn impressive and the unapologetic explanation of the idea of karma was just educational.

1. Zhou Yu’s Train
It’s been a while since we’ve seen Gong Li at work and in Zhou Yu’s, she really gets a character where her abilities shine (as opposed to, say Emperor and the Assassin, where she was really just a shiny thing on a pedestal)


Blue Gate Crossing
Teenage sexuality done well without overly precocious teenage characters.

Infernal Affairs
Because I had to see it twice to get it (at least).

Doing Time
I’m a sucker for subtle subversion.

Because Johnnie To has to be on this list (given the number of earlier To films I’ve only seen this year… heck, that goes for 90% of the Asian films I’ve seen: I’m waaay behind ya’ll)

Voices of a Distant Star
I don’t like it so much, but because it’s (obviously?) drawing from The Forever War, a favourite SF book, it gets major kudos for sharing my taste, heh.


Sympathy for Mr Vengeance
Truthfully, I didn’t really like this one much (or at least as much as I hoped I would). Pretty dodgy in places, but it’s still on this list because it features uniformly excellent performances and some genuinely affecting direction.

Babycart in the Land of Demons
A fairly arbitrary choice, given that any of the six Babycart films could have been on this list. Based on the popular Lone Wolf and Cub manga, these films are not just nasty samurai-sploitation but are as beautiful as they are violent. Which is quite beautiful, actually.

Infernal Affairs
Quelle surprise. Not.

Seven Samurai
Can you believe I’d never seen this before this year? No, neither can I. In my defense, I’d like to point out that the full 206 minute cut isn’t available in Australia. Yet.

Kill Bill
I Got The Feelin’ that The Payback is coming for including this – that y’all Think that I’m Doing It To Death. But Kill Bill really is My Thang – I’ll Go Crazy if I don’t list it, and I’m not just Talkin’ Loud And Saying Nothing. Super Bad!


1. Save the Green Planet
Deliriously inventive and just plain delirious, this crazy mixed-up Korean millenial serial killer sci-fi torture-comedy displays more ingenuity per square 35mm than anything else made anywhere on the planet in 2003.

2. Sympathy For Mister Vengeance
The final, bleeding answer to revenge films (take that, Quentin), this film drags you down to the sub-basement where the worst human emotions are lying in wait and gnawing on raw liver. Unforgettable, try as I might.

3. Running On Karma
Hands down the best martial arts superhero buddhist detective karmic muscle suit comedy drama of the year. The final moments say something about the value of payback that stay with you weeks afterwards (and that, Quentin).

4. Cowboy Bebop the Series
Shinichiro Watanabe sustains high adventure, human emotion, corgi hijinx, starship dogfighting, kinetic action and scorching heartbreak over 26 episodes in this addictive space frontier bounty-hunting western.

5. Interstella 5555 – The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem
A delightful fusion of dance music and visuals, this one-hour japanimated Daft Punk extravaganza tells an entire story without a single word of dialogue. And it’s downright funkier than anything in this galaxy or the next.

That was our year in cinema – hope yours was equally big.

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