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15 best films set in Hong Kong that you need to watch

By Inés Fung 18 December 2019
Originally published on 10 September 2018 by Mat Gallagher. Last updated on 18 December 2019 by Inés Fung.

Forget Los Angeles, London, and Manhattan—Hong Kong provides the perfect backdrop to any blockbuster movie, from its stunning skyline to its dark and moody backstreets. It’s no surprise that our very own “fragrant harbour” has featured in hundreds of top films over the years—some good, some not so good. From this extensive back catalogue, we’ve compiled our list of its top chart-topping appearances. Whether you’re looking to show off our beautiful city to your foreign friends or just indulge yourself in some local cinematography, these films set in Hong Kong are a great place to start.

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1. Enter the Dragon (1973)

Considered by many to be the greatest martial arts film of all time, this was Bruce Lee’s final appearance on camera—and was released one month after he died. With locations such as Castle Peak and Tsing Shan Monastery clearly identifiable, it’s also a great showcase of Hong Kong’s scenic natural side. The opening scene features a fight between Bruce Lee and prolific martial arts choreographer and director Sammo Hung, whose name everyone who’s into Hong Kong action cinema would know.

2. Chungking Express (1994)

Chungking Express follows the stories of two policemen, played by 1990s heart-throbs Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro, who fall in love with two enigmatic leading ladies (the dreamy Faye Wong and brilliant Brigitte Lin in one of her last film appearances) amongst the streets of Hong Kong. Their tales play out with the intoxicating cinematography from the legendary Wong Kar-wai and his partner Christopher Doyle, and you may recognise shots of Central, Mid-Levels, and the infamous Chungking Mansions. This is a film everyone should see at least once.

3. In the Mood for Love (2000)

In the Mood for Love is another classic from Wong Kar-wai. A hauntingly beautiful romantic drama telling the story of unrequited love, it has gained global critical acclaim for both its cinematography and acting. Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung’s lead characters have their illicit rendezvous at the traditional steakhouse Goldfinch Restaurant in Causeway Bay (sadly, it’s now closed), and though the film was mainly shot in Bangkok, the film aptly captures the feeling of 1960s Hong Kong. If you want to fully immerse yourself in the film, Linva Fashion Co.—the cheongsam atelier that clothed Maggie Cheung for the film—is still around on Cochrane Street.

Read more! Pamper yourself with the most luxurious cinema experiences in Hong Kong.

4. The World of Suzie Wong (1960)

Based on the romantic novel by Richard Mason, an aspiring artist moves to Hong Kong and falls in love with a charming lady of the night. The story is outdated, for sure, but whether you love or loathe the tale of Suzie Wong, the film does go on to showcase gorgeous shots of colonial-era Hong Kong.

5. The Dark Knight (2008)

The second part of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, this blockbuster is considered to be one of the best portrayals to date, earning high praise for its acting, storyline, and styling. Parts of the film are clearly identifiable as Hong Kong, including the IFC tower and the Mid-Levels escalators, where Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne meets with Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox.

6. Police Story (1985)

Jackie Chan writes, directs, produces, and stars in Police Story, as well as the following five films based around a Hong Kong cop. The first film includes an epic 10-minute finale filmed in the Tsim Sha Tsui Wing On store, which should give you pause next time you go for a shop there.

Read more! Check out the best Korean films you need to watch right now.

7. You Only Live Twice (1967)

The James Bond classic starring Sean Connery as 007 starts in Hong Kong and features scenes from Nathan Road as well as Victoria Harbour. If you can’t get enough, rest assured that it is not the only Bond film to feature Hong Kong—our streets have also made an appearance in Man with the Golden Gun (1974) and Die Another Day (2002).

8. Contagion (2011)

Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion is a story that was inspired by Hong Kong’s tragic 2003 SARS outbreak—but features even deadlier consequences. The film starts off in Hong Kong and takes place in locations such as the Hong Kong International Airport, the Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant, and the InterContinental hotel.

9. Doctor Strange (2016)

This Marvel blockbuster highlighted a range of global locations as Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Stephen Strange protects the Earth from evil, but Hong Kong is clearly featured, particularly in the final fight scene. Though the apparent backstreets were most likely sound stages—and the mass of neon somewhat overdone—the name check is appreciated.

Read more! Did you know that these seven Hong Kong films inspired Quentin Tarantino?

10. Snowden (2016)

This Joseph Gordon Levitt-led thriller follows the real-life events of Edward Snowden, including the whistleblower’s time spent in Hong Kong, specifically in room 1014 of the Mira Hotel. Parts of the movie were actually filmed inside the hotel, as well as the Kowloon peninsula.

11. Ghost in the Shell (2017)

The decision to make a live-action remake of the famous anime Ghost in the Shell was controversial from the start, but whether you enjoyed this film or not, we can all agree that the true star of the show was its Hong Kong backdrop. Shot on location in the city and infused with CGI and cyberpunk elements, spots like Lippo Center, Victoria Harbour, and Tsuen Wan Chinese Permanent Cemetery are clearly in view.

12. Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (2003)

Whether you’re a fan of the original video game series, Angelina Jolie at her most badass, or just a decent early 2000s action flick, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life is the movie for you. Jolie’s Lara Croft finds herself embroiled in a hunt for a glowing orb that could have devastating consequences for the world if it falls into the wrong hands, and the adventure takes her to Hong Kong.The Hong Kong scenes were shot on location in our city and feature sweeping views of Aberdeen Harbour, Times Square, and a daring base jump from the top of IFC. The series reboot in 2018, starring Alicia Vikander as Croft, paid homage to the original films by including a chase through the Aberdeen docks, though that was actually shot on a set in South Africa.

Read more! Everyone should know these iconic Hong Kong actors.

13. Pacific Rim (2013)

Pacific Rim is another guilty pleasure—ahem, action blockbuster that takes place in Hong Kong. While not shot on location, the film is primarily set in a realistic futuristic version of our fair city. The film delivers phenomenal mecha kaiju fight scenes on the streets of Hong Kong, which are so thrilling to watch that you might almost forget that the buildings they’re trashing aren’t actually real.Director and creative mastermind Guillermo Del Toro loves Hong Kong’s aesthetics, stating in an interview: “When you go to Hong Kong, the thing that is so impressive and beautiful is the sort of neon-colour night. There is literally a time when the night is falling in Hong Kong that there is a light show that all the buildings do and the night becomes almost like a living comic book.”

14. Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Join Marky Mark Wahlberg as he battles alongside alien robots in Hong Kong. Shot on location and enhanced with CGI, Michael Bay and his film crew set out to “destroy” some of the most iconic spots in Hong Kong, such as the old streets of To Kwa Wan, the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre and the Central Government Headquarters.The filming location that really catapulted to fame, however, are the Oceanic Mansions in Quarry Bay (as well as surrounding streets), where the final boss fight takes place. Tourists flock to the towering residential block for the best Instagram pic, and if you’d like to check it out too, remember to be respectful of the local residents, as some were so angered by the film crew that they pelted them with AC units (ha ha).

15. Push (2009)

There aren’t many Hollywood flicks that really make use of Hong Kong as both a set and a character as well as Push, a superhero film starring Chris Evans before Captain America fame. Shot entirely on location in Hong Kong, watch great performances from Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, and Camilla Belle in this vibrant and flashy flick that will take you on a psychic journey through famous sites, as well as lesser-known places like Kwun Tong Public Pier, Soy Street in Mong Kok, and Wan Chai Wet Market.

Read more! Visit these famous cinematic locations in Hong Kong yourself, or explore the rest of our Culture section.

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Inés Fung

Part-time editor

Currently based in Hong Kong by way of Calgary, Inés has always had a passion for writing and her creative work can be found in obscure literary zines. When she’s not busy scouring the city for the best gin-based cocktail, she can be found curled up with her journal and fur-ever friend Peanut. Don’t be surprised if you cross paths with her and she already knows all your mates.