Once you start getting serious about film you can't get around the influence a director has on the final product. Directors can make or break a film and I'm going to use this feature to put some of them into the spotlight. I'm not just going to list my favorite directors though, instead I'm going to single out the directors of whom I've seen at least 10 films, providing a little introduction into their work.

alan mak

date
November 14, 2013
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Alan Mak

Hong Kong-based director Alan Mak should need no introduction, but for some reason he never became a household name amongst film fans. Even though he (co)directed what may as well be the most popular and critically acclaimed trilogy coming out of Hong Kong, Mak failed to build up a huge fan club and remains somewhat in the shadows of his contemporaries.

After directing a couple of low-key films in Hong Kong, Mak got a major break when he was invited by Wai-keung Lau to co-direct the Mou Gaan Dou (Infernal Affairs) trilogy. It was the start of a successful collaboration, as they would go on to direct Tau Man Ji D (Initial D) and Seung Sing (Confession of Pain), two high-profile Hong Kong films. Sadly, Mak got a little eclipsed by Lau's success in the process.

Mak switched teams soon after and rebooted his career with Felix Chong on his side. A new collaboration that led to a series of successful films, gaining Mak some renewed international attention. Qie Ting Feng Yun (Overheard 1) and Sit Yan Fung Wan 2 (Overheard 2) both made it out of Hong Kong, while Guan Yun Chang (The Lost Bladesman) reached us with a little help of Donnie Yen's star power.

Even though Mak branched out occasionally to other genres, he's at his best when he can pen his way through stories of espionage. His latest film (The Silent War) is perfect proof of this. In the end his films may lack that little extra to make them truly stand out, but apart from the rare dud (Daai Sau Cha Ji Neui - Lady Cop & Papa Crook - is the only one that comes to mind so far) Mak delivers stylish, quality thrillers that offer tense and exhilarating stand-offs between intriguing characters.

Best film: Mou Gaan Dou III: Jung Gik Mou Gaan (Infernal Affairs 3) (4.0*)
Worst film: Daai Sau Cha Ji Neui (Lady Cop & Papa Crook) (1.5*)
Average rating: 3.27 (out of 5)

jackie chan

date
September 12, 2013
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Jackie Chan

Does a man like Jackie Chan really need an introduction? He's no doubt one of the most famous Chinese actors working in cinema today and one of the select few that managed to build up a successful international career. But Chan's career spans more than just acting. When he's not in front of the camera he's busy being a stunt coordinator, writer, singer ... and director.

When I started getting interested in martial arts cinema I deliberately avoided Chan's films because of his Hollywood image. But when the work of other directors started to dry up, moving on to Chan's oeuvre was a natural evolution for me. It turned out that Chan wasn't much of a director in the traditional sense of the word. I don't think he was ever truly interested in making his own films, instead he simply seemed to want more control over his stunts, his co-stars and the pacing of his action work. And what better way to do that than to direct your own films.

I can't really comment on his earliest features as I have been primarily focusing on his more popular work, but from what I've seen most (if not all) of Chan's films follow a pretty fixed pattern. They are all a mixture of comedy and action, featuring elaborate stunt and fight sequences where Chan is allowed to demonstrate his signature style of fighting and acrobatics. It's a golden concept, especially when people like Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao are helping out, but his films don't really amount to much beyond that. The only exception to the rule so far seems to be Xinhai Geming, though I haven't caught up with that one yet.

Chan's films are neither very good or very bad. Some of them are better than others, but apart from minor variations you pretty much know what to expect from the get-go. They seem to follow the ups and downs of the HK industry quite closely, then again it's hard to fault Chan for choosing to direct his own films considering he really did produce the best stunt sequences in his self-directed films. The Police Story series in particular (Ging Chat Goo Si and Ging Chaat Goo Si Juk Jaap) contains some of Chan's most impressive acrobatics, making them a perfect target should you wish to break into Chan's oeuvre.

If you're not into martial arts and/or you can't appreciate the HK style of comedy, Chan's films probably won't be for you, but if you like Jackie Chan (the actor) films in general you can't go far wrong with the films he directed.

Best film: 'A' Gai Waak (Project A) (3.5*)
Worst film: Wo Shi Shei (Who Am I?) (2.0*)
Average rating: 2.77 (out of 5)

wai man yip

date
August 26, 2013
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Wai Man Yip

Wai Man Yip (sometimes credited as Raymond Yip) is a somewhat inconspicuous director. Not that he hasn't been able to enjoy a few mild successes, but most of his films lack international appeal and when they do he is often overshadowed by his co-directors. Still, sifting through his oeuvre can uncover a few interesting gems.

He started his career under the wings of Jing Wong. Yip's first film (Zhu Guang Bao Qi - Whatever You Want) is a pretty typical Hong Kong comedy, with all the usual traits (and pitfalls) intact. Like most other comedies Yip would direct in his career, they serve well as mere filler but fail to rise about the myriad of other films out there. His best comedy film to date is Baak Bin Sing Gwan (Sixty Million Dollar Man), where he is helped by a stellar Stephen Chow to raise the bar, if just a little.

For his next four films Yip switched camps, teaming up with Wai-keung Lau (Andrew Lau) to expand on Lau's Young & Dangerous series with a trio of spin-offs. Their fourth collaboration was a lukewarm comedy better forgotten. The three spin-offs are pretty decent films though, with Goo Waak Chai Ching Yee Pin Ji Hung Hing Sap Saam Mooi (Portland Street Blues between you and me) as the clear winner of the pack. A slick combination of triad action and drama with Sandra Ng headlining.

Yip would go on to direct two more comedies after that, only to resurface with what is probably his best solo project to date. Fate is a very unique little film. A weird mixture of romance, sci-fi and urban fantasy. In many ways it feels like a fresh start for Yip, finally freed from the reigns of co-directors and Hong Kong clichés. It's not without faults mind, but the good easily outweighs the bad here. That same year Yip would also co-direct Tau Ming Chong (The Warlords),undoubtedly the most accomplished project he's ever worked on, though one can only wonder how much of that should be attributed to Peter Chan as his partner in crime.

With his biopic on Bruce Lee Yip would once more enjoy a small chunk of international attention, though the reception of this film was mediocre at best. The cue for Yip to focus more on Mainland China, which resulted in a decent comedy Ren Zai Jiong Tu (Lost On Journey) and his upcoming horror project Xiu Hua Xie (Blood Stained Shoes).

Ignoring Fate for a moment, Wai Man Yip is a director that mostly caters to Hong Kong enthusiasts who are looking for films beyond the confines of Hong Kong's most famous directors. Yip made some solid filler along the way, just beware his comedies if you're not all that familiar with Hong Kong's peculiar style of comedy.

Best film: Tau Ming Chong (The Warlords) (4.0*)
Worst film: Fung Hung Bei Cup (Beauty and the Breast) (2.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Fate - The Warlords
Average rating: 2.81 (out of 5)

oxide pang

date
August 22, 2013
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Oxide Pang

Even though Oxide Pang (Chun) has had his fair share of international success, I still feel he's somewhat undervalued by many people. Not that all his films are absolute genius, but too often Oxide Pang is considered a mere horror director, a one trick pony who simply rode along the Asian horror wave. After seeing most of Pang's films, my conclusion is a little different.

For one, Oxide Pang (together with partner and brother in crime Danny Pang) first burst onto the scene with a bona fide crime/thriller. Bangkok Dangerous was the first international success of the Pang brothers and still stands as one of their best films to date. Pang made two other thrillers (Ta Fa Likit and Som And Bank) before he would properly start off his horror career with Gin Gwai (The Eye). But even after his horror successes Pang would continue to dabble his feet in the crime/thriller pool from time to time, resulting in The Tesseract and the Jing Taam trilogy.

Pang's first horror film was Bangkok Haunted, a solid entry in the genre that inspired him and his brother to work on one of the biggest Asian suspense wave classics of the past decade: Gin Gwai (The Eye). A film that eventually led Pang to direct his first American film: The Messengers, which in its turn opened the doors for a Hollywood remake of Bangkok Dangerous. Both American films are solid entries in Pang's oeuvre, but failed to make a big splash with international crowds. The Gin Gwai series on the other hand would continue with a decent sequel (Gin Gwai 2) and a poorly conceptualized comedy spin-off (Gin Gwai 10), one of the few real stinkers in Pang's body of work. There is also a horrible Hollywood remake (simply called The Eye, featuring Jessica Alba), but luckily neither of the Pang's were involved in that one.

Throughout his career Pang made quite a few horror derivatives, films that borrowed from the horror genre but ended up as something slightly different (most often as mysteries). Sei Mong Se Jun (Ab-Normal Beauty), Gwai Wik (Re-Cycle), Mon Seung (Diary) and Meng You 3D (Sleepwalker) all belong to the best films Pang has directed so far. Ultimately it's Pang's strong sense of styling that acts as a constant throughout all of his films. Superb camera work and amazing use of color effectively mask a slight overeagerness to incorporate CG in the wrong places, yet linked with a unique (though not always perfect) feel for music Pang's films are always a pleasure to experience.

To some people Oxide Pang will forever be a simple genre director, a one hit wonder remembered for a Gin Gwai and forgotten soon afterwards. The fact is that Oxide Pang has continued to crank out great films after his initial successes. Most of them didn't reach Western shores and very few of them are straight-up horror films, but that just makes his oeuvre all the more interesting.

Best film: Mon Seung (Diary) (4.5*)
Worst film: Gin Gwai 10 (The Eye 10) (1.5*)
Reviewed film(s): The Detective - The Detective 2 - Som and Bank - Basic Love - The Storm Warriors - Mon Seung - Sleepwalker - Conspirators
Average rating: 3.69 (out of 5)

jing wong

date
August 12, 2013
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Jing Wong

80 films ... I swear that is not a typo. Jing Wong is without a doubt the most prolific film maker in Hong Kong, if not one of the most prolific in the world. He may not be the best (far from it), he may not be the coolest, but even his lesser films are at least in some way entertaining. And even though he may be a perfect business man first and foremost, you can't dismiss the fact that he has a heart for cinema, even when he doesn't really seem to have the patience to make truly great films.

Though Jing Wong is mostly known for directing films (104 and still counting), he has even more writing (165) and production (151) credits to his name. He is also an avid actor, though I don't think he's ever starred in a lead role. While he is many a critic's worst nightmare (and his films are almost always shot down by them), he is the top grossing director in Hong Kong and he's worked with (literally) all the great modern Hong Kong actors. From both Tony Leungs to Andy Lau, Jet Li, Stephen Chow, Eric Tsang, Anthony Wong and even Chow Yun-Fat and Jackie Chan. Jing Wong's track record is simply astounding.

It's pretty much impossible to run down all the Jing Wong films I've seen so far, not just because 80 is too large a number but also because many of his film don't leave that big an impression. The majority of his oeuvre consists of similarly looking, quick to forget entertainment flicks. Most of them are pretty fun to watch just once, but you'll be hard-pressed to remember any specifics two days later. Most of what Wong directs are comedies, though he is quick to blend them with other genres, whichever sells best at the box office. He's dabbled in action, crime, scifi, martial arts, erotica and even horror cinema, but apart from a few notable exceptions the delivery is always light-hearted and easy to stomach. Except once, when he directed Ban Siu Haai (Crying Heart), no doubt his worst film to date.

Jing Wong did make his own mark on Hong Kong cinema, when he introduced the world to his particular style of gambling films. A unique sub genre that's quite typical of Hong Kong cinema (even though far from popular in the West), Jing Wong started out with Chin Wong Dau Chin Baa (Challenge Of The Gamesters) and would peak when he released Du Shen (God of Gamblers), still one of Hong Kong's greatest classics to date. Later he would start to parody his own work with Jeuk Sing (Kung Fu Mahjong), a silly mix of martial arts and mahjong that will only appeal to the most hardened Hong Kong fanatics.

Once you start exploring Hong Kong cinema it's impossible to pass up on the work of Jing Wong. His oeuvre is pretty hit and miss, so I suggest you look for actors and genres rather than pick a random film and hope for the best. But even if you don't like that first film, it's somewhat comforting to know there are 100+ of this movies out there to try if the first one failed.

Best film: Wong Fei Hung: Chi Tit Gai Dau Neung Gung (Last Hero In China) (4.0*)
Worst film: Ban Siu Haai (Crying Heart) (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Princess and Seven Kung Fu Masters
Average rating: 2.61 (out of 5)

yimou zhang

date
July 23, 2013
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Yimou Zhang

Yimou Zhang is the man that put China on the map, cinema-wise. From his early arthouse successes to his lush, expensive martial arts epics and flirtations with Hollywood, through the years Zhang managed to appeal to a larger crowd of film enthusiasts. Depending on what type of film you prefer, there are a few good entry points into Zhang's oeuvre.

Most of his Zhang's earlier films focus on Chinese rural life, highlighting the living conditions of the poor. What sets these films apart from their peers is Zhang's abundant use of color. Where similar films often look drab and murky, Zhang's film flourish thanks to bright and pure colors. Film like Ju Dou, Hong Gao Liang (Red Sorghum) and Huozhe (To Live) all helped to establish Zhang's name early on. He kept making these type of films in the second half of his career (Qian Li Zou Dan Qi - Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles - and Shan Zha Shu Zhi Lian - Love of the Hawthorn Tree), but they are far less prominent.

Zhang's first big breakthrough came in the form of Da Hong Deng Long Gao Gao Gua (Raise The Red Lantern), a look at the life of concubines in the early 1920's. Zhang would repeat that success with Yao a Yao Yao Dao Waipo Qiao (Shanghai Triad), a crime story set in the 1930's. In stark contrast with these films, Zhang also made two contemporary films (both pretty good), of which You Hua Hao Hao Shuo (Keep Cool) is definitely the most interesting one.

In 2001 Zhang made an important career move, leaving behind his comfort zone to work on a martial arts epic. Ying Xiong (Hero) went on to become a big international hit, kickstarting an entire line-up of similar films coming out of Hong Kong and China. Even though a film like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon predates Hero, I feel the latter did a lot more for the buzz of these martial arts epics in the West. Zhang was able to repeat the success of Hero with Shi Mian Mai Fu (House of Flying Daggers) and Man Cheng Jin Dai Huang Jin Jia (Curse of the Golden Flower), but by then international interest had started to fade again.

More recently Zhang has been flirting with Hollywood. First he remade the Coen's Blood Simple into San Qiang Pai An Jing Qi (The First Gun), then he hired Christian Bale to be the lead of Jin Ling Shi San Chai (The Flowers of War), but a real trip across the ocean seems far off. Not that I think Zhang minds, as long as he can continue to make films he wants to make (and do interesting little side projects like directing the opening ceremony of the Olympics), he's pretty set where he is right now.

So far there have been very few missteps in his career, the only subpar film I've seen is Daihao Meizhoubao (Codename Cougar), Zhang's second film and a real oddity in his oeuvre. That's not bad for a man who's been making films for almost 25 years now.

Best film: Ying Xiong (Hero) (4.5*)
Worst film: Daihao Meizhoubao (Codename Cougar) (1.0*)
Reviewed film(s): Flowers of War
Average rating: 3.30 (out of 5)

pou-soi cheang

date
July 09, 2013
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Pou-soi Cheang

Pou-soi Cheang is one of Hong Kong's brightest talents, though he remains largely undiscovered in the West. Hong Kong genre fanatics will be familiar with his more recent films, but outside this little niche mentioning his name will more often than not result in blank stares. A downright shame because Cheang's film do have what it takes to appeal to a broader audience.

Even though Cheang's most famous films are his dark, crime-laden thrillers, few people know he started his career as a director of horror and comedy flicks. Films like Hung Biu Hyn Sin Ji Daai Tau Gwaai Ang (Horror Hotline... Big Head Monster) and Goo Chak Sam Fong Fong (The Death Curse) already betrayed Cheang's talent, even if they were a little uneven. Cheang did deliver at least one masterpiece in his early years though. Hyn Huet Ching Nin (New Blood) is a slick and stylish little chiller that definitely deserves more love.

But it wasn't until Cheang released Gau Ngao Gau (Dog Bite Dog) that his career took him where he needed to be. Ai Zuozhan (Love Battlefield) did signal his rise in crime cinema, but poor distribution pretty much failed that film. Shamo was a great follow-up, full of raw anger and lushly stylized, marking the rise of Shawn Yue as one of Hong Kong's best young actors. With Yi Ngoi (Accident) and Che Sau (Motorway) Cheang solidified his name, landing him the director spot for one of Hong Kong's most expensive releases of 2013: Da Nao Tian Gong (The Monkey King).

Be it horror, comedy or crime, Cheang is always good for some stylish yet slick and accessible fun. Some of his film are clearly better than others and even his best films can struggle a little with sentimentality, but apart from these minor quibbles he is one of the strongest and most stable directors working in Hong Kong today.

Best film: Gau Ngao Gau (Dog Bite Dog) (4.5*)
Worst film: Gwai Muk (Home Sweet Home) (2.5*)
Reviewed film(s): Shamo - Accident - Love Battlefield
Average rating: 3.32 (out of 5)

danny boyle

date
July 08, 2013
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Danny Boyle

Danny Boyle really needs no introduction. As one of Britain's most influential and constant directors of the past 20 years, Boyle worked hard to assemble a varied and challenging selection of films that make up his oeuvre. While few of his films turned out to be true crowd pleasers, almost every film he directed has a loyal and dedicated fanbase.

Even though Boyle's first film, Shallow Grave, was a more than solid genre film, his fame truly exploded when he released Trainspotting just two years later. It is one of the defining films of the 90s (almost single-handedly launching the careers of Even McGregor, Robert Carlyle and big beat group Underworld), successfully adapting Irvine Welsh's book into what became a true cult favorite.

Trainspotting opened up a lot of doors for Boyle, opportunities that would take him around the world. A Life Less Ordinary and 127 Hours are his American ventures, Slumdog Millionaire is Boyle's Bollywood vision and The Beach took him to Thailand. Not satisfied with the confines of our planet Earth, he started work on Sunshine and assembled a cast from around the world, sending them into (cinematic) space. But Boyle never fully abandoned his roots. He returned to Britain to do two BBC films (one of which is Strumpet, easily his worst film to date), he single-handedly revived the zombie hype with 28 Days Later... and tried his hands on a kids films, which resulted in Millions. All good genre films with a little extra.

Unless you're dying to see his obscure TV work, you really can't go wrong with Boyle. And even when a film doesn't really appeal to you, you can be assured that Boyle will have at least a couple of tricks up his sleeve to ease the pain, if only just a little.

Best film: Trainspotting (4.5*)
Worst film: Strumpet (1.0*)
Reviewed Film(s): Slumdog Millionaire - Trance
Average rating: 3.59 (out of 5)

james cameron

date
July 01, 2013
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James Cameron

I can't say I'm a very big James Cameron fan, but there is simply no way to avoid the man's films. When it comes to producing mass hysteria film epics, I don't think there's a director out there more qualified to deliver. With only a handful of feature films, he managed to capture the hearts of 80s sci-fi and horror lovers, 90's romance adepts and 00's sci-fi/fantasy adventurers alike.

Cameron started at the very bottom of the food chain though. His first film was a low-budget horror sequel (I don't think you can start much lower than that) and safe for a select group of die-hard 80s horror fans Piranha Part Two has lost pretty much all of its appeal (if it ever had any to begin with). Still, Cameron was given a green light for his next project, which would truly start off his career. I never really liked the first Terminator, but it's impossible to contest its enormous fan base.

For me Cameron's best period started with Aliens, the more action-oriented follow-up of Ridley Scott's Alien, followed by The Abyss, still one of the most magical underwater adventure films ever produced. Terminator 2 is also part of that list of highlights, though it is slightly overshadowed by the decline in quality that would creep in Cameron's films from here on. True Lies was barely saved by a fun and over-the-top last 30 minutes, but Titanic and Avatar were hideously long and over-budgeted disasters I never want to revisit.

Still, the enormous success of these films allowed Cameron to explore another one of his passions: science. If you're wondering why he made so few films that past 15 years it's because he's been diving to Earth's deepest and most barren places. This resulted in a few documentaries, sadly none of them very interesting. If you're really dying to see what the man's been up to though, I suggest you pick Aliens of the Deep instead of Ghosts of the Abyss.

Best film: Aliens (4.0*)
Worst film: Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (0.5*)
Average rating: 2.00 (out of 5)

hideo nakata

date
June 24, 2013
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Hideo Nakata

Hideo Nakata, master of the Japanese Asian suspense wave, director of the original Ringu and international horror icon supreme. What most people don't know though is that Nakata's Ringu was just the international trendsetter. About 7 years prior to the release of Ringu, it was Norio Tsuruta who kicked off the Asian ghost rage with Honto ni Atta Kowai, a Japanese horror anthology series (in which Nakata did participate by directing one of the sequels).

Still, Nakata did earn his stripes and has been a constant in the Japanese horror scene ever since. When Tsuruta disappeared from the scene after the Honto ni Atta Kowai series faded away, Nakata continued to work hard, releasing Joyu-Rei (Ghost Actress, a film that would later get a remake by Fruit Chan) in 1996. It paid off big time when he released Ringu two years later. Nakata went on to direct the Ringu sequel and scored another international hit with Honogurai Mizu no Soko Kara (Dark Water), still one of his best films to date.

Nakata's international ventures (The Ring 2 and Chatroom) weren't big successes, though Chatroom in particular did deserve a better fate. His attempts to break himself loose from the horror scene (Last Scene, Garasu no No) didn't fare any better, which probably explains why Nakata is now back in Japan, releasing horror titles at a rather steady, if not blistering pace. His overall best film is Kaidan, a rather obscure but interesting take on the classic Kaidan horror, his worst is Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi, though it's a must see for people interested in the roots of the modern Asian suspense wave.

I'm not the biggest Hideo Nakata fan as I never truly liked the Japanese suspense wave, but if you're into horror you owe it to yourself to at least try out some of his films, as they played a big part in defining the Asian horror scene.

Best film: Kaidan (4.0*)
Worst film: Honto ni Atta Kowai Hanashi: Jushiryou (Curse, Death & Spirit) (1.0*)
Average rating: 2.71 (out of 5)