While the stars on-screen often get all the glory, Hong Kong film directors deserve your recognition, too, for shaping the movie industry through their incredible work behind the camera.
The Hong Kong film industry is renowned for producing some of the greatest and most influential movies of all time, with Hong Kong classics widely considered among the best works in cinema and even impacting Hollywood. While the icons we see on-screen like Leslie Cheung always have a place in our hearts and minds, what about the folks behind the camera? Learn more about the top Hong Kong film directors who have helped shape the industry we know and love.
Hong Kong film directors who have defined cinema
1. Ann Hui (許鞍華)
A prominent figure in Hong Kong’s New Wave, Ann Hui is one of most acclaimed and prolific film directors in our city’s cinematic history. Most of Hui’s films focus on female perspectives while highlighting marginalised voices and diverse personalities. Depicting slice-of-life stories against a changing world, Hui spotlights everyone from queer women in All About Love (2010) to elderly maids in A Simple Life (2011). The record holder for most “Best Director” wins at the Hong Kong Film Awards, Hui is hailed as a defining voice in Hong Kong cinema.
Notable works: Summer Snow (1995), July Rhapsody (2002), A Simple Life (2011)
2. Wong Kar-wai (王家衛)
One of the most internationally lauded Hong Kong filmmakers, Wong Kar-wai is known for his lush and dreamy storytelling. Playing with non-linear narratives, colour, and music, Wong’s aesthetic, assisted by the cinematography of his frequent collaborator Christopher Doyle, granted him the reputation as a striking and subtle auteur. Wong’s LGBTQ classic Happy Together (1997) made him Hong Kong’s first winner of the illustrious “Best Director Award” at the Cannes Film Festival. Perhaps one of his most defining works, In the Mood For Love (2000) is also highly regarded as one of the greatest films of all time, with its breathtaking visual showcase of Wong’s filmmaking style.
Notable works: As Tears Go By (1988), Chungking Express (1994), In the Mood For Love (2000)
3. Johnnie To (杜琪峰)
Across his decades-long career, Johnnie To has established himself as one of the most consistent and versatile Hong Kong film directors. While he directed several comedic hits like Justice, My Foot! (1992), To is predominantly known for his action and crime films. Depicting Hong Kong’s swirling social and political climate through authentic human relationships, movies like Election (2005) have granted To a cult following for his realistic portrayals of Triads and the police.
Notable works: All About Ah-Long (1989), The Mission (1999), Election (2005)
4. Stephen Chow (周星馳)
Legendary funnyman Stephen Chow is also one of the most compelling Hong Kong film directors in recent history. After finding success as an actor in films like Fight Back to School (1991), Chow soon turned to directing where he honed his distinctive brand of humour. Chow gained international recognition with Kung Fu Hustle (2004), which earned nominations at the BAFTAs and Golden Globe Awards. The film is considered a stunning showcase of modern comedy and remains a hallmark of the Hong Kong action comedy genre.
Notable works: From Beijing With Love (1994), Shaolin Soccer (2001), Kung Fu Hustle (2004)
5. Andrew Lau (劉偉強)
Before Andrew Lau became a distinguished director, he cut his teeth as a cinematographer for other Hong Kong filmmaking giants like Wong Kar-wai and Ringo Lam. The Infernal Affairs Trilogy (2002-2003) exhibited Lau’s highly stylised take on crime thrillers and revitalised Hong Kong cinema when first released. The films gave Lau international recognition and led to The Departed (2006), an Oscar-winning remake by Martin Scorsese. Scorsese went on to be the executive producer for Lau’s American feature Revenge of the Green Dragons (2014).
Notable works: The Storm Riders (1998), Infernal Affairs Trilogy (2002-2003), Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (2010)
6. John Woo (吳宇森)
A pioneer of the heroic bloodshed genre, John Woo is one of the few Hong Kong film directors who made the crossover into Hollywood flicks. The profoundly influential A Better Tomorrow (1986) solidified Woo’s standing as one of the greats of Hong Kong cinema. The watershed film made its mark across multiple areas, redefining Hong Kong’s action movie genre and even finding its way into Wu-Tang Clan’s songs. Woo soon ventured to the US to make several notable films like Face/Off (1997). Made by the action filmmaking legend, both Woo’s Asian and Hollywood films have a notable cult following.
Notable works: A Better Tomorrow (1986), Hard Boiled (1992), Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)