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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.