Hong Kong has long served as an inspiration for filmmakers. So, it’s unsurprising that several Hollywood and non-English movies are set in our fair city. From sci-fi bangers to exciting thrillers, the movies offer an excellent opportunity for viewers worldwide to appreciate the unique culture of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s appeal to the world is undeniable. It not only serves as a gorgeous backdrop but has a personality and life of its own. The city exudes old-world charm along with modern skyscrapers, bustling streets and a glorious skyline. Sure, the city is often destroyed in movies, but that also makes for a visual treat on the big screen.
Whether it’s a reimagination of a futuristic city or just the classic backstreet and incredible skyline, Hong Kong is truly one for the movies. The Hong Kong Tourism Board is also supporting overseas film productions in town. Most recently, it provided advice on Thai-Filipino production, Under the Parallel Skies. And we’re sure it won’t be the last.
We have seen our city shine in thrillers, gritty biopics, and more. Regardless of the genre, one thing is for sure; Hong Kong knows how to steal a scene. Read our top picks of movies set in Hong Kong and save them to your (re)watch list!
Foreign movies set in Hong Kong to add to your watchlist
Starting off this list with a little something different. Instead of towering skyscrapers, Push heavily features Hong Kong’s markets, alleys, streets, and apartment complexes. This action movie stars Chris Evans and Dakota Fanning before they ventured into bigger projects. It follows a group of people with superhuman abilities who work together to take down an evil government agency aiming to create an army of super soldiers. While the movie performed poorly at the box office, we appreciate the scenes in Hong Kong, especially the ones taken on notable streets such as Peel Street or Soy Street.
Director: Paul McGulgan
Yes, Vengeance is directed by our very own Johnnie To with the majority of the cast and crew hailing from the city. But considering that it’s essentially an overseas, cross-collaboration production, we’re putting it here. The action film centres around Francis Costello (Johnny Hallyday), an ex-assassin and now, chef. When his daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren are attacked by triads, he embarks on a quest for revenge. The story is primarily set in Macau but you would still recognise some scenes in Hong Kong.
Director: Johnnie To
Almost a decade after its release, Contagion saw a resurgence and became a sleeper hit during the pandemic. That wasn’t surprising given how much the story resembled what went down during the height of Covid-19. So, as you can expect from the plot, it follows the spread of an infectious disease across the globe. At that time, it felt so uncanny to see how much the movie mirrored real life. Literal goosebumps! There are scenes shot overseas but part of the film still (obviously) took place in Hong Kong.
Director: Steven Soderbergh
4. Pacific Rim
Giant robots against otherworldly monsters, battling it out in Hong Kong? Count us in! Guillermo Del Toro’s epic sci-fi movie is probably any 90s baby’s childhood dream come to life—or screen rather. On one hand, you have robots (known as Jaegers, the word for “hunter” in German) recalling the likes of Transformers or Voltis V defending the city. And then, monsters (called kaiju, the word for “monster” in Japanese) resembling Godzilla destroying a futuristic version of Hong Kong. Despite this, those in the know will clearly recognise key locations that draw inspiration from the city. And we say inspired because the movie wasn’t actually filmed on location. Rather, the production team recreated the city!
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
5. Transformers: Age of Extinction
On the topic of sci-fi and giant robots, who could forget when the Autobots and Decepticons set foot in Hong Kong? The fourth film in the Transformers franchise partly took place in the city. And viewers can easily make out a comprehensive list of locations across Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and New Territories. Age of Extinction introduces an entirely new cast from the previous films. It revolves around Cade Yeager (another Jeager with a different spelling!) played by Mark Wahlberg as he discovers a damaged truck, which turns out to be a Transformer. No surprises there! The movie even had its world premiere in Hong Kong, complete with a life-sized replica of a Transformer.
Director: Michael Bay
When Chris Hemsworth isn’t busy playing Thor in the MCU, he starred in this edge-of-your-seat title set in Hong Kong. Here, the Australian actor traded his hammer Mjölnir to play a hacker, taking on a global cybercrime syndicate. The movie also stars award-winning actress Tang Wei and singer-songwriter Wang Leehom. It didn’t perform well in the box office but it was able to highlight key places in Hong Kong whether it’s Quarry Bay, Shek O, or Central. So, next time you’re at Quarry Bay MTR Station, you’ll feel like you stepped out of a scene in Blackhat.
Director: Michael Mann
7. Ghost in the Shell
The 1995 Ghost in the Shell animated feature was one of the OG films to heavily feature Hong Kong. So, it’s only right that its live-action adaptation did the same. For those not familiar with the source material, the film adaptation takes place in the near future when the lines between humans and robots start to blur. Major (Scarlett Johannsson), a cyborg supersoldier starts to look into her past.
The director of the 1995 film, Mamoru Oshii saw Hong Kong as an ideal location for the theme of his movie because of its countless signs and cacophony of sounds. The city also perfectly represented the clash of old and new, which is an important aspect of both film versions. The 2017 adaptation captured locations such as Central and Tsuen Wan. It also allowed Hongkongers to see what the city could potentially look like in the distant future. By now, it’s obvious that Hong Kong is a favourite location for sci-fi films.
Director: Rupert Sanders
Who can forget Hong Kong’s iconic skyscrapers? It finally becomes the main star in this 2018 film, aptly titled Skyscraper. The city has yet to have a 225-storey-tall building like in the movie but it does serve as the perfect location for a story that revolves around a skyscraper. The plot centres around Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), a former FBI agent. As terrorists set the building on fire, Will must rescue his family amidst the tallest building in the world. Fun fact: The skyscraper in the film is located where the real-life Hong Kong Cultural Centre is. Of course, it was shot there too.
Director: Rawson Marshall
9. Hello, Love, Goodbye
While this isn’t exactly a Hollywood movie, we still wanted to include this on the list given that it’s the highest-grossing Philippine movie of all time—and it’s set and entirely shot in Hong Kong! This romantic drama narrates the story of Joy (Kathryn Bernardo), who moves to Hong Kong as a domestic worker. While struggling to make ends meet, she meets Ethan (Alden Richards), a bartender. A budding romance ensues and the two attempt to make their love work as their career and dreams hang on the line.
Compared to the other movies on the list, Hello, Love, Goodbye doesn’t only use Hong Kong as a backdrop but depicts the city through the lead character’s perspective. It’s a heartwarming story that doesn’t need to reimagine or destroy the city. So, don’t expect to see neon-lit skyscrapers here. Instead, you’ll get day-to-day shots of the lives of foreign workers. And it tugs at your heartstrings. Warning: Prepare tissues.
Director: Cathy Garcia Molina
10. Godzilla vs. Kong
In Godzilla vs. Kong, the two legendary monsters have their epic showdown right in the middle of Hong Kong. The 2021 banger is the fourth in the MonsterVerse, 36th in the Godzilla franchise, and 12th in the King Kong series. It continues where the previous movie left off, five years after King Ghidorah awakened “Titans” around the world. Kong is being monitored by an organisation called Monarch in a giant dome. Meanwhile, Godzilla has been unleashing mysterious attacks.
Upon its release in theatres, the film broke several pandemic records. After all, cinemas were closed and social distancing measures were implemented. Many moviegoers were excited to see the two mythical beasts battle it out. And it just happens to be in Hong Kong!
Director: Adam Wingard
(Hero image credit: Paramount Pictures, feature image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)
This story first appeared here
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- Why are Hong Kong movies famous?
Hong Kong movies are famous for a number of reasons. The Hong Kong film industry was once known as the Hollywood of the East. During its heyday in the early 1990s, the industry was the second-largest exporter of films. This influenced filmmakers since then. Genres such as kung fu, wuxia, and action gained cult followings.
- Was Pacific Rim filmed in Hong Kong?
Pacific Rim is set in Hong Kong. However, the production team didn’t shoot on location. Instead, the team recreated entire blocks of the city in a film studio.