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Director in Action

Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film

Stephen Teo
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 308
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  • Book Info
    Director in Action
    Book Description:

    Director in Action examines the career of Johnnie To, whose art-house action hits include A Hero Never Dies, The Longest Nite, Running out of Time, The Mission, PTU, Breaking News, Election, and Election 2. The author discusses the symbiotic relationship between director and genre, why To is regarded as an auteur, and the influence he has on the trajectory of the action genre in the Hong Kong cinema. The author's view is that To's idiosyncratic auteurist style transforms the generic conventions under which he is compelled to work, and that there is a discernible element of experimentalism in his most outstanding films. In addition, To modulates the film noir form to suit his local contexts, characters and locations, to create a highly personalized noir cinema in post-1997 Hong Kong.

    eISBN: 978-988-8052-18-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-30)

    This monograph is a study of a genre and the work of a director in the contemporary Hong Kong cinema. The equation of genre and director opens a question about the nature of the Hong Kong film industry and its structure of genres. Since the industry employs filmmakers to achieve and consolidate its objective of entertainment and commerce, how does a director make use of and transcend the limitations of genre to make films of his own wishes and design?

    The relationship between genre and director is an underdeveloped area of Hong Kong film studies. Much of the published studies...

  6. 2 From The Big Heat to Lifeline
    (pp. 31-64)

    The films to be discussed in this chapter were produced within a ten-year period from 1988 to 1997: The Big Heat (1988), The Heroic Trio (1993), Executioners (1993), Loving You (1995) and Lifeline (1997). In this period, To also directed The Barefooted Kid (1993), an action film in the martial arts genre. The Barefooted Kid is a Qing-period costume movie, a remake of Zhang Che’s 1975 Shaw Brothers kung fu masterpiece Disciples of Shaolin, re-engaging Lau Kar-leung, who had originally worked on Disciples as martial arts director, in the same capacity. The movie features Maggie Cheung, veteran kung fu star...

  7. 3 Nucleus of the Milky Way
    (pp. 65-100)

    In this chapter, we will discuss a cluster of action films that Johnnie To produced for Milkyway Image, the production company that he founded in 1996. Its first production was Too Many Ways to Be Number One, released in 1997. I will however begin the discussion with Beyond Hypothermia, a film released in 1996 and produced by To under a separate independent entity (the film was eventually affixed under the Milkyway banner after the setting up of the company and was released as a Milkyway film). We will consider how these films, Beyond Hypothermia, Too Many Ways to Be Number...

  8. 4 Directed by Johnnie To
    (pp. 101-144)

    The year 1999 saw a retrospective dedicated to Johnnie To organized by the Hong Kong International Film Festival, the first such retrospective on To, and the first official recognition of To as a major filmmaker in the contemporary Hong Kong cinema. The focus of the retrospective was on the Milkyway films where his credit of producer did not prevent critics from identifying him as the real auteur of these films. As critical acclaim began to flow his way, To put off any pretence of letting others direct his films or to bestow the director’s credit on younger protégés (though he...

  9. 5 The Uneven Auteur
    (pp. 145-176)

    The career of Johnnie To has tended to move within a wide berth of genre films which can be fairly divided into “commercial” or “personal” projects. For those films in the former category, To keeps his eyes carefully trained on the market, taking few risks, producing mass-entertainments geared towards avoiding the pitfall of box-office failure attached to the more personal “exercises”. Examples are the Chinese New Year comedies Wu Yen (2001), Fat Choi Spirit (2002), Love for All Seasons (2003) as well as special effects-lite farces such as Love on a Diet (2001) and My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002)....

  10. 6 Postscript
    (pp. 177-198)

    This postscript updates the monograph to include Johnnie To’s three most recent films, Election (2005), its sequel Election 2 (2006), and Exiled (2006). All three films show the director engaging in a dialectical discourse with his own work in the action genre discussed in the previous chapters. The two Election films were made as I was in the process of finishing the monograph, and by the time the first film was released in 2005, I had completed the manuscript and submitted it to the publisher. Exiled was released in October 2006, after I had already submitted the final draft. This...

  11. Epilogue
    (pp. 199-214)

    This monograph has set out to demonstrate To’s auteur function in the genre cinema. I have tried to avoid taking a naïve romantic view of To as auteur. His films are vital expressions of the Hong Kong film industry in which To himself has a stake in maintaining and preserving. Only in this way has To been able to produce a corpus of major works which he deems to be “exercises” and what I call his “neo-exercises” in the last chapter — films with high formalistic segments that distinguish the narratives as a whole. Though uneven, To’s films are marked by...

  12. Appendix 1: Author’s Interview with Johnnie To
    (pp. 215-244)
  13. Appendix 2: Johnnie To on Election
    (pp. 245-248)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 249-272)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-280)
  16. Filmography
    (pp. 281-282)
  17. Index
    (pp. 283-294)