New York programmers and movieheads can’t seem to get their fill of the Hong Kong quintessence; up to five retros in the last 18 months have visited the territory’s canon, favoring pre- and post-’80s–’90s material. The new Walter Reade series gives us another opportunity—if needed, given their ubiquity on video—to see Tsui’s heart-stopping Time and Tide (2000), the Pang brothers’ paradigmatic chiller The Eye (2002), Wong Kar-wai’s well-worn but timeless In the Mood for Love (2000), and the Sixth Sense retread Inner Sense (2002), with the late Leslie Cheung, in his last film, as a workaholic psychologist whose patient (Karena Lam) is plagued by ghost sightings.
However fecund it remains, the HK movie machine has had its ideas and styles coopted by a beguiled world culture. Which is perhaps why Andy Lau and Alan Mak’s two Infernal Affairs sequels (2003) aren’t as seductive as Stanley Kwan’s Beijing-based gay requiem Lan Yu (2001). Just as personal, in their own preposterous way, are Johnnie To’s films, gently Tarantino-ish mélanges of cartoon gangsterism, martial arts parody, and mock melodramatics. Running on Karma (2003), Breaking News (2004), and Throw Down (2004) are often senseless but overrun with personality and lovable idiosyncrasy.
William Kwok’s digitally shot Darkness Bride (2003)—dealing with a fugitive trio of village outcasts haunted by a dead virgin—fits no mold and maintains a unique visual texture so disarming you’re tempted to think it was shot on the moon. But Ann Hui’s July Rhapsody (2002) is the breakout wonder, a thoroughly adult and literate ballad about a discontented but good-hearted high school teacher (Jacky Cheung) struggling to keep his equilibrium as he’s tempted by a student. The late Anita Mui, in her last role, as the wife with an entirely separate docket of issues, is gloriously sad, and Hui, in her rich career’s third decade, deserves to be recognized as one of her industry’s most resonant voices.