To's passion for the job shows in every single scene, choice and detail. Sparrow has a very particular and unique flow and knows to charm from start to finish.
One of the most stylish To films. The story is simple, but the cast is first class and every single scene is a little masterpiece in itself. Exiled is a string of iconic, vintage To moments that's even more impressive the second time around. An absolute must if you're a To fan, a good film to start with if you're not.
Together with Sparrow, To proves himself to be one of the most interesting directors in cinema today. His genre films are strong, original and seamlessly executed and seem to lack any weak points.
The good stuff
The ultimate proof that To can do serious crime cinema. It's a stylish and intriguing crime drama surrounding the chairman election of a Triad organization. It's a definite step up from the first film, with a powerhouse performance of Louis Koo, an amazing soundtrack and slick visuals to boot.
A very solid film in all departments, allowing you to sink back into your couch and let the film drift over you like a warm, dark blanket.
PTU is first class film making. Lam en Yam are good actors and know how to play their parts. The soundtrack is solid and the film is visually impressive.
It's just a very fun and entertaining film with a good few memorable scenes. In the end it's not one of To's absolute bests, but definitely worth watching.
A celebration of Hong Kong crime cinema. Three prominent Hong Kong directors each get a 30-minute segment to tell their part of a story of three incidental thieves, who have to do their utmost best to keep their freshly acquired bounty out of the hands of the police and the Triads. Dark, brooding and stylish, a superb experiment that I wouldn't mind seeing repeated.
If you like the HK police flicks Drug War is one of the best offerings around. It's a stylish, tense and strong crime flick, helmed by one of the most seasoned crime cinema veterans.
One of the films that foreshadowed a new beginning for Johnnie To. Stylish action, brooding crime and quirky details would come to define his films in the 00s. Fulltime Killer puts the most emphasis on action, but all the elements that would launch To as one of the prime HK directors of the decade are already present. Good stuff.
The package is stylish, quirky and fun at the same time. In the end I prefer To's more arthouse-oriented work, but a film like this is a welcome diversion, especially when executed so wonderfully.
Turn Left, Turn Right is a simple, light-hearted drama, but conceptually quite strong and pure. The film demands that you go along with its concept and leave it at that.
Decent To/Ka-Fai collaboration, but a little too safe and expected to compete with their high profile work. It's obvious the film was made by competent people with a long history in the business, but maybe that's finally starting to work against To, as there are very few surprises left. Still, the execution was top-notch, so To fans should surely seek it out.
A good but not great Johnnie To film. Most fans of his work will recognize that To lost some of his shine during the 10s. The base quality is still there, so is the budget and star power, but the things that made his films unique are dearly missing. It's difficult to not compare this with his better films, so a small twang of disappointment is justified.
The film revolves around a gang member who finds himself surrounded by cops. In an act of desperation he shoots himself, so the police can't take him in but have to take him to the hospital. There he tries to stall until his mates arrive, the police are onto his plan, playing along while hoping to book the entire gang in one go.
With Louis Koo and Zhao Wei in the leads the cast is solid. The film also looks pretty polished, though it isn't until the finale that some of To's genius finds its way to the surface. Other than that, this is a fun and entertaining genre film, with no real issues or downsides. It just doesn't stand out enough among To's other films.
A pretty special To. Hong Kong cinema isn't really known for its musicals, but whenever they do give it a go it usually ends up being quite special. Office is great despite the musical bits, which is always a bummer for a musical. While the influence on the aesthetic is definitely a big plus, the songs and singing are pretty dire. Maybe I'm just not enough of a Canto-pop fan, but it keeps the film from becoming a personal favorite.
The plot is pretty crazy too. I think this might be the first musical about a company going to market (though I'm certainly not an expert of the subject). When the company goes public, auditors arrive and find some creative bookkeeping, which reveals a hidden relationship between the CEO and one of the board members. Who wouldn't start singing in such a situation.
What will forever stay with me is the superb aesthetic. To plays with lines like nobody has ever done before him. The number of straight objects that zigzag through the screen is simply insane (I realize it sounds a bit odd, but you'll get it while watching). The cast is pretty good and the musical bits are pretty contained, but they still bugged me enough in the end. Worth a watch though, I'm pretty sure you've never seen something like this before.
A pleasant film. Newborn Johnnie To fans may be a bit surprised by this film, certainly when they got to know him through his internationally renowned crime work, but like most Hong Kong directors, To is someone with a broad skill set and an oeuvre to match. He started out exploring quite a few genres, so it's no surprise he landed himself in a short romance phase.
When a famous film star is stood up in front of the altar, he retreats and moves to a place high in the mountains to process his loss. There he tries to reconnect with himself, but one of his biggest fans gets wind of his location, and she travels after him. He isn't interested in what she has to say, but she will prove to be exactly what the doctor ordered.
Louis Koo and Sammi Cheng are a nice duo, though I will say that I would've preferred Andy Lau in Koo's place. His cinematic history with Cheng is a bit more precious. The cinematography is nice enough, the score is solid, and the romance is cute. It's not a very exceptional film, but if you're looking for a pleasant romance, this won't disappoint.
Johnnie To switches to romance. After a decade of more or less doing crime films exclusively, it was clearly time to explore some different genres. The result is better than expected, though To fails to give this film the extra flair and original takes he brought to his crime films. It's best to keep your expectations in check in other words.
The story revolves around Yen, a young Mainland Chinese woman who works for an IT firm in Hong Kong. She has just been dumped by her boyfriend and feels quite down, when she sees a handsome man who works in the office across the street. They start communicating with each other using post-its, but somehow they struggle to actually meet in person.
The performances are decent, the setting makes for some attractive romantic encounters and there is enough chemistry between the leads. To does little to set his film apart from other romantic films, but his execution is on point and people looking for some prime romantic filler won't be disappointed. Not up there with To's best, but I don't think anyone expected it to be.
Leaving the criminal world behind, To tackles the financial market (which, according to some, is just as criminal). The result is an entertaining film, but one which lacks the standout moments that made To's 00s work so distinctive. Maybe it isn't fair to keep comparing his regular work to his best films, but it's impossible to ignore his legacy.
Three people are in desperate need of money. A cop whose wife made a down-payment on a flat they can't afford, a petty thief who wants to help out his friend, and a bank employee who took too many risks on the stock market. Their lives intersect when they meet each other at a loan shark. Luck is not in their side, because the man just got robbed.
There's really nothing wrong with this film. The performances are solid, the cinematography is fine, and the soundtrack has a typical signature. At the same time, there's nothing that really jumps out. It's perfectly fine To filler and fans are sure to have a good time, but if you're hoping for that little extra, it's not here.
A film famous for its opening shot. A 7-minute-long long take doesn't sound that impressive, but when you know it's an action scene AND one that shifts quite a bit in altitude, it's hard not to be in awe of it, even when the camera work isn't always perfect. The bigger problem is that the rest of the film never really lives up to that intro.
When the police are trying to catch a criminal gang, they suffer an embarrassing defeat. To make thing worse, they find out that their failure was broadcast live on television. The trust in the Hong Kong police is at an all-time low, so they come up with a plan to use the media in their favor and catch the bad guys in one single swoop.
Breaking News is a slick crime/action flick, with a cool score, some flashy editing and some nifty action scenes. The whole media angle isn't that well realized though and putting the best scene at the very start of your film is always a risk. It's a must-see for Johnnie To fans and there's a lot to love here, but I don't count it as one of his best films.
Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng are one of the best on-screen couples in Hong Kong. They are good actors in their own right, but put them together and something extra happens. Put them together in a Johnnie To film, and you better expect something special. Those expectations are nearly met, though this isn't quite masterpiece material.
Mr and Mrs To are a happily married couple. They're also both thieves. They're at their happiest when they can challenge each other, and they love their job as much as they love each other. Until one day Mr To decides to file for divorce, abandoning his happy marriage. Two years later, the two meet again when they are both working on the same jewel heist.
To loves to fool around with the medium from time to time, this is another one of those films where he seems to throw all genre expectations out of the window and just tries to have fun with the material. And he's pretty successful too. The cinematography is solid, the soundtrack quirky, the performances on point. To maybe tries a little too hard to fool the audience, other than that this was a really fun ride.
Don't worry too much about the deceptive poster. This film may look like a simple, fluffy To romcom, but there's a bit more to it. Fun performances, a somewhat kooky plot and To's signature direction manage to lift this film well above the expected norm. Seeing how this is another To/Ka-Fai collaboration, that shouldn't be too surprising.
Yan works in a hospital where the doctors have lost all will to do a proper job. Yan isn't willing to simply accept defeat, and when an old colleague joins her crew she figures it is time to get the hospital care back on track. It won't be easy to get everyone excited about their work again, but Yan is determined to bring her mission to a good end.
The main trio (Jordan Chan, Ekin Cheng and Cecelia Chung) do a good job, the plot has plenty of quirky details and To adds the necessary flair. Help is a somewhat odd, atypical comedy that stands out among the other Hong Kong comedies, which is exactly what Hong Kong cinema needs from time to time. Not one of To's very best film, but fans looking for some lesser known To gems should definitely give this one a go.
Hong Kong cinema struggled for relevance during the late 90s, it's people like Johnnie To and Andrew Lau who made a real difference. Not that Running Out of Time is the savior of an entire nation, but it is a clear predecessor of the crime cinema that would make To one of the prime Hong Kong directors of the 00s. Good fun, in other words.
When a professional criminal learns he is mortally ill and only has a couple more months to live, he comes up with a plan to spend the remainder of his life usefully. He plans a heist on a jewelry store, of which the owner allegedly killed his father. The closer he gets to his goal, the more he begins to doubt the info he was given.
The two Laus are in excellent form, the setup of the plot is pretty entertaining and there are some nice visual touches spread throughout the film. It's all a bit simple and not as stylish or refined as To's best work, but he was clearly having fun playing around with genre elements. For those wondering about the films leading up to To's best period, this one is a must-see.
Johnnie To takes a typical crime setup and adds a more dramatic twist. Not too many directors are capable of pulling that off, certainly not in Hong Kong. The ease with which he goes about it shows what a skillful director he is, even when the execution here isn't quite on the same level as some of his later films.
Michael is a former Triad boss who spent quite some time in prison. When he finally gets out, he finds himself a small apartment where he hopes to reboot his life. It doesn't take long before he falls back into his old ways. His landlord sees the danger and tries to show him there is more to life that being a big shot gangster.
Don't take it too literally, but there were moments this felt a bit like a Ki-duk film, with a central character who isn't too likeable, but gains the respect of the audience regardless. The night scenes look pretty lush, the soundtrack stands out and the performances are on point. It lacks that final bit of polish, other than that a very good film.
The late 90s were a time for To to develop his unique crime signature. His films from this era already showcased his talents, but the balance and execution are often just a little off to call them true masterpieces. A Hero Never Dies is a great example. At its best, this is prime To, but the imbalance between the first and second half of the film keep it from greatness.
We follow Jack and Martin, two members from warring Triad gangs who are tasked with protecting their bosses. The two bosses like to use the same Thai mystic for telling them their fates, so they were bound to run into each other. What follows is a heavy shootout that puts both Jack and Martin in the hospital.
The first half of the film is by far the best. Lai and Lau are great opposite each other, the action scenes are superbly shot and the tension tangible. The second half tilts more towards drama, but To had still some ways to go to make that work. The soundtrack wasn't quite there yet either. A very worthwhile film still, but not one of To's true classics.
Tat-Chi Yau. Who is he, where did he come from and where did he go? That's what I've been wondering after seeing two films of him last week. I've seen quite a few Hong Kong films the past couple of years, but somehow Tat-Chi Yau never appeared on my radar. That's more than just a little odd, considering the talent he worked with (Tony Leung Chiu Wai, Simon Yam, Eric Tsang, Takeshi Kaneshiro, Ching Wan Lau, Francis Ng). And that's just for a total of 4 feature films, directed between 1997 and 2001.
If you know a thing or two about Hong Kong cinema, you may look at the dates and think "Oh, but that's a pretty dire period for Hong Kong films". Fair enough, but apparently Yau's films didn't suffer from the industry's local depression. The two films I've seen so far (that's 50% of is his feature film oeuvre) are well above average, even signalling Hong Kong's return to form during the early '00s. So why didn't Tat-Chi Yau's career take off? Well, your guess is as good as mine, the fact of the matter is that he made at least two worthy films, one of which is Um Fa [The Longest Nite].
Um Fa feels almost like a stepping stone to Johnnie To's '00 successes. That's not even all that far-fetched if you consider To produced Yau's first feature film only one year earlier. At its core, Um Fa is a pretty simple Triad film, resulting in a game of cat and mouse between the police and a killer hired by the Triads. Tony Leung Chiu Wai takes on the role of stone cold cop, Ching Wan Lau is the ruthless killer.
Leung and Lau are excellent, but it's Yau's deliberate direction that stands out. A remarkable soundtrack and lots of visual prowess complement Yau's flair and make Um Fa a film to remember. All of this comes together in a kick-ass finale, where the stand-off between Leung and Lau reaches a more than satisfactory conclusion. It would take To a couple years longer to reach the quality of Um Fa's finale, which is saying something.
Tat-Chi Yau is one of the mysteries of Hong Kong cinema. If you're a fan of Johnnie To's 21st century films then I can wholeheartedly recommend Yau's films, Um Fa in particular. I'm not sure why his films haven't garnered a greater following or how I could've missed his films for so long, but I'm glad that wrong has been righted once and for all.
A pretty solid mix of action and drama, though To clearly still struggled with the more dramatic moments. It's the stylish blend of action and crime that elevates the film, fans of the director will surely appreciate spotting the budding quality of his work, which is already very apparent here. Not too shabby for a film made when the HK film industry was in the midst of imploding.
Lau is a less than admirable police detective. He doesn't take his work too seriously and his marriage is just a shell of its former self. But then he gets shot in the head and Lau loses all sense of smell and taste. He is forced to rely on his wife to take care of him, even though she is carrying the child of a different man. Still, Lau's condition helps them to reconnect.
Chung Wan Lau's performance isn't that great (certainly not the dramatic parts - he would notably improve in the coming years), but he does have a tremendous screen presence. The soundtrack is a little iffy too, luckily, the shoot-outs are excellent and To's visual flair is already present. A fine film, but not at all close to his best work.
Johnnie To directs Stephen Chow in a madcap comedy from the blessed year 1993. What else do you need to know, really. The Mad Monk isn't quite as great as all the name-dropping might suggest, but if you like To and/or Chow, and you're looking for some daft Hong Kong comedy, this is a film that will not disappoint.
Lo Han is an angel who loves to gamble. One day, he boasts about being able to gather three souls in a mere three days. The bet is on when he reincarnates as a monk and is tasked with convincing a prostitute, a beggar and a criminal to follow him. Han believes this to be a piece of cake, but his mission will be a lot tougher to complete than expected.
Chow and Ng are a superb duo, add Maggie Cheung in the mix, and you have a pretty great central cast. The film is a typical Chow comedy, which is certainly no negative, but it does lack To's signature style. Chow fans are sure to have a blast with this one, if you're not quite familiar with Hong Kong comedy yet, I believe there are better films to get acquainted with the niche.
Though the Chow/To combo never resulted in top tier comedy, the quality of their collaborations was consistently strong. Justice, My Foot is a film that delivers exactly what you want and expect from it. That said, it's probably best kept for people who have had prior experience with Hong Kong comedies. Otherwise, this might be a bit much.
Sung is a gifted but rather amoral lawyer. He solves cases at incredible speed, his wife isn't too happy with his the way her husband behaves. She is a veritable martial artist, so Sung promises he'll stop his work as a lawyer. When a pregnant woman is wrongly accused of murder, Sung is willing to make one final exception.
Chow is a delight, To's direction is above average and the hectic, rapid-fire dialogues are a lot of fun. It's not a very leisurely comedy, the energy levels are high from the very start and Chow doesn't really let up. It's a very solid film for people who like this kind of thing, as long as you're in the right mood you can't really go wrong with this one.
A pivotal film in Johnnie To's oeuvre. The Election duology is often seen as one of the high points of Hong Kong cinema, and this first part was instrumental in cementing To's name in post-Handover Hong Kong cinema. I'm not the biggest fan, my clear preference is with the second part, but To's talent for crime cinema is undeniable.
Hong Kong's oldest and most influential Triad is about to change leadership. This is always a volatile time, but things get worse when the traditional scepter has gone missing. The scepter has to be found as quickly as possible, before others get wind of the disappearance, which may jeopardize the future of the syndicate.
The cast is superb, it's nice to get a somewhat more serious and down-to-earth rendition of the Triad genre, and some of To's trademark skills are already in full effect. The first half was a bit too slow and dry for my liking though, and compared to the second film, it's just a bit too basic. Still, if you care about Hong Kong crime cinema, this is essential viewing.
Commissioned anthology that was made to lift the spirit of Hong Kong during the SARS epidemic. The who's who of Hong Kong cinema participated, but the result is a little uneven. Not too surprising considering the exterior motives behind this anthology, and there are a couple of worthwhile entries, but overall it's probably best to lower your expectations when watching this.
Johnnie To's collaborations with writer Ka-Fai Wai certainly are unique. I'm not the biggest fan of Wai's writing, which can be a little too sentimental for my taste, but he brings something different to the table. In To he found a director who could execute his wacky ideas with style, and so many of their collabs became instant fan favorites.
Big isn't just very muscular, he can also see people's future. It's a very handy skill, certainly for the police corps. Yee, a police detective, makes good use of Big, and they work well together, until one day Big finds out Yee is going to die soon. Yee commits to finding the murderer of Big's best friend before she dies, Big will try to change Yee's fate in the meantime.
Andy Lau in a bodysuit is simply hilarious, the story is pretty wacky and To uses every visual trick he has to his disposal. The result is a somewhat messy film, but one that is not short of surprises. The only downside is the rather sentimental ending, which doesn't go well with the rest of the film. Worth a watch, but a bit too uneven for me.
When you get into Hong Kong cinema, you'll soon find there's no way around mahjong. This Eastern gambling game is so omnipresent that it is virtually a niche of its own. The beauty of the game is that you don't have to understand any of the rules, it's just fascinating to watch regardless. Point in case, To's Fat Choi Spirit.
Andy is addicted to mahjong, so much in fact that he broke off relations with his family. His luck changes when he meets Gigi, a young girl who seems to be increasing his chances of winning his games. The only problem is that Gigi is a very sore loser herself, whenever she doesn't win she throws a veritable temper tantrum.
The film features an all-star cast and puts quite a bit of focus on the mahjong games, but it's essentially just a very basic romcom. The cast is fine, there are some funny scenes and the pacing is solid, there just isn't enough here to make it a true To classic. Hardcore fans of his work (and his collaborations with Ka-Fai Wai) won't mind, I just wanted a little more.
Another To/Wai production. While Johnnie To is best known for his crime films in the West, he also made a fair few comedies. Hong Kong comedy isn't a great export product, so unless you're well familiar with the niche, it may be difficult to see how To's films stand out. Believe me, they really do, and something like My Left Eye Sees Ghosts isn't all that representative for the genre.
The title should be pretty self-explanatory. When May becomes a widow, she discovers she can suddenly ... see ghosts with her left eye. The ghosts quickly catch on and bug May with requests. She isn't too interested in helping them, she only wants to find the soul of her deceased husband. For that, she seeks help from a shady psychic.
Sammi Cheng is always a pleasure, Lau is solid too, though you have to be able to stand a hefty bit of overacting. The mix of genres is fun (just don't expect any horror elements, this is basically a quirky romcom) and To's direction is on point, only nowhere near his best work. An amusing diversion for fans of To and Hong Kong comedy.
To has a bit of fun with superstars Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng. This glamour couple are back to star in a To/Wai romcom, only this time they have both gained a considerable amount of weight. The result is a somewhat outmodish comedy, that survives on the skills of To and Wai, but probably won't find its way to the top of most people's list of favorites.
Mimi is a Hong Kong girl who lives in Japan. She has a relationship with a Japanese composer, who tells her he has to go to the US to pursue his career. They promise each other to meet up again a decade later, but Mimi is so heartbroken that she gains a bunch of weight. When the deadline draws close, she wants to lose the extra pounds, helping her is Fatso, another sizeable Hong Kong fella living in Tokyo.
If you can't stand fat jokes and a little body shaming, it should be obvious that you're better off avoiding this film. Apart from that, the comedy is pretty docile and the plot not too exceptional, though the star power attached to this project more than makes up for it. Not a To highlight, but decent fun regardless.
A sequel in name, with some returning cast members, but not doing much to honor the original concept. Unless of course the English title is completely random (which, admittedly, isn't unthinkable). Whatever the case, I did enjoy the first film a bit more, as the urgency and tension here aren't quite as pressing. The difference in overall quality is limited though.
Detective Ho Sheung Sang returns and finds himself entangled in another tricky case. A master thief approaches him and wants to involve Sang in a revenge plot against a hardened business lady. Sang will need all of his wits to play along, while trying to build a solid case against the thief. Only this way could he hope to arrest the thief.
Ekin Cheng is a somewhat mediocre substitute for Andy Lau and the lack of fixed deadline for the immediate danger makes the film a little less tense. The cat and mouse games are fun and Ching Wan Lau is pretty good though, add some standout To moments (like the bike scene) and you have a pretty entertaining film. It's just nowhere close to his best work.
A pretty neurotic To/Ka-Fai collaboration. The duo is taking situational/cross-dressing comedy to the next level in Wu Yen. It's far from my favorite type of humor, but when it is done with this kind of intensity it does become quite intriguing to behold. I can't say I kept full track of everything going on, but it sure was amusing to watch.
Mo-Yim is destined to marry the emperor, before her marriage, she frees a fairy from captivity. The fairy is grateful, but she also falls madly in love with the emperor. In order to stop the marriage, the fairy disfigures Mo-Yim, but she isn't willing to just give up on her destiny and she comes up with a plan to keep the marriage going.
The result is a court comedy with lots of ploys, misunderstandings and people dressing up as other people. The performances aren't that great and not all the jokes land, but the pacing is solid, and the chaos is pretty fun to watch. It's not one of To's better films, but as simple comedy filler there's enough to look forward to.
Not just a To/Ka-Fai collaboration, also an Andy/Sammi one. When it comes to onscreen couples, they have something special going on, something that makes their films a little better than they ought to be. Needing You isn't a very remarkable entry in To's oeuvre, but if you're looking for a pleasant romcom you can't really go wrong with this one.
Wah and Kinki both work at the same company. At first, they can't really stand each other, but after a while, a fondness grows between them. Then Wah's ex suddenly turns up again, hoping to get Wah back. To makes things more complicated, she also tries to set up Kinki with another man. Wah is going to have to decide who he cares for the most.
It's still a relatively early To, which shows in the lesser polish. The cinematography isn't too great, the score a bit lazy. Performances are good though and with Ka-Fai writing the script there's a bit more intrigue than usual. It's perfectly fine filler, just not up there with the best of his films.
A pivotal film in To's career and often cited as one of his first real highlights. I didn't quite enjoy the film that much, but looking at To's famed crime cinema, it's hard to deny the important role this film has played in the rest of his career. Watch it for its historic value, just be wary that you don't expect a fully fledged To masterpiece.
The plot revolves around an eclectic group of personal bodyguards who are hired by a gang boss. Their mission is to protect the man, even though they have never worked together before. After a somewhat rough start the gang of five begins to learn each person's strengths and friendships and brotherhood start to form.
The structure of the film is pretty odd. The titular mission takes up the first 60 minutes, which is followed by a half hour long epilogue. The cinematography is promising, the cast is solid, and the action is stylish, though a little subdued. The score is quite weak and the mix of crime and drama didn't really work for me either. To would make good on the potential on display here in later films, so for that reason alone this is worth seeing.
Johnny To does Jing Wong. Hong Kong loves a good gambling film and Wong's involvement in the first film should come as no surprise. This sequel is pretty fun, maybe a bit darker than necessary, but if you're looking for some pleasant gambling filler, it's a more than solid option. It's far from a To highlight though.
Chicken Feet and Uncle Fan are running a local gambling joint. They are quite successful, so much that a local gang boss takes an interest in their operation. He wants to take over the business, but Chicken Feet doesn't care for his proposition. He is too busy preparing for his next gambling tournament. The gang leader won't take no for an answer.
Andy Lau is fun (though hardly challenged by his role), Anthony Wong notable in a minor part. There's some decent action, the gambling scene is properly developed and the pacing is pretty much perfect. The problem is that this film doesn't really stand out from the crowd, and that others have done a better job in the past. Ideal filler in other words.