|PAO CH'OU (Vengeance)
|John G. Avildsen
|Zhi fa xian feng
|Once upon a Time in the West
|Gangs of Wasseypur
|Dragon Gate Inn
|RUDAO LONGHU BANG
|Johnnie To Kei-fung
Unrivalled for beauty and visual imagination, this film is the passage between nineteenth century folklore and fairy tale, on the one hand, and a future full of multiple genre possibilities and iffy political questions on the other.
PAO CH'OU (Vengeance)
At the beginning of the re-invention of Hong Kong kung fu cinema, an exquisite performance of the relationship between the operatic and the murderous in historical everyday life.
Playing today more like an art film than an "action movie", this is one of the great melodramas in film history and, in terms of the dispersal of its imagery and ethos across popular cultures world-wide, one of the most influential films of all time.
Easy to favour the production values of *The Road Warrior* (1981), *Beyond Thunderdome* (1985) and the virtuoso style of *Fury Road* (2015), but this cheaply made work of genius not only created a global myth space but showed that you could do it from a marginal location (as Australia was then) and with a subtext that only local audiences would recognize. This method has been as consequential in world cinema as the film's imagery.
Bringing a Weimar aesthetic to bear on the critique of late twentieth century American cultural industries, *Showgirls* is one of the great films made about women and work.
Zhi fa xian feng
This acidly comic take-down of the very possibility of "righting" the wrongs that pervade a corruptly policed society is not only watchable endlessly for the superb choreography and fighting chemistry of Yuen Biao and Cynthia Rothrock, but now greatly refreshed in its pertinence to policed life in contemporary Hong Kong. It was also one of the first major films to have the geo-political world directly interfere in its narrative curve, with Mandarin audiences rejecting the Hong Kong ending in which both heroes die, and requiring that they (or, in yet another version, the man) survive but be punished for crimes committed "above the law".
Once upon a Time in the West
A few bars of music or a still image casually encountered on-line can evoke the whole experience of watching this film, so great is the intensity of its composition. Screen it with *Once Upon a Time in America* (Leone, 1984) and *Once Upon a Time in China* (Tsui Hark, 1991), and you have the essence of twentieth century historical masterpiece fiction.
Gangs of Wasseypur
More than five hours long and split it into two for convenience most screenings/on DVD, this is one singular film, the ultimate gangster epic that can (like the *Mad Max* series) tell the story of the social and economic formation of a national polity from its harsh rural hinterland. Overwhelmingly good.
Dragon Gate Inn
If not generally recognised as "King Hu's best film" from a director-focussed perspective, this is the great wuxia epic about the margins of empire that from Taiwan shaped socially resonant Chinese film imaginaries for decades after its release. Remade twice in Hong Kong (by Raymond Lee, 1992, and more obliquely by Tsui Hark, 2011), it initiates paths towards, on the one hand, Tsai Ming-Liang's lugubrious take on endings, *Goodbye, Dragon Inn* (2003), and, on the other, the hilarious sci-fi bathos of Zhang Yimou's monster mash, *The Great Wall* (2016). A case where the first film outlives the rest.
RUDAO LONGHU BANG
At once a response to the sense of depression in Hong Kong after the turbulence of SARS and mass demonstration against the government in 2003, and a tribute not only to Kurosawa's *Sugata Sanshiro* (1943) but to its impact in Hong Kong popular culture through much-loved remakes and TV series in the 1970s, *Throw Down* is as moving as it is startling in its tracing of the small events that enable the emotional recovery of a judo champion going blind from glaucoma as his martial world decays around him. This film made a way for the kung films of recent years that focus on the anxieties and affective crises of martial artists in contemporary urban life.
I have drawn only on the cinema that I actually watch, and with two criteria. One is that the films should be germinal; they create imaginary worlds that others develop. The other is that I am prepared to watch them repeatedly for pleasure, not from scholarly need or critical duty.