films seen
58
average score
3.12*
nationality
Hong Kong - 67 years old
status
Alive and kicking
more info

Master of the Hong Kong Triad cinema, though To's arsenal is way broader than the crime films that brought him international fame. Offbeat soundtracks, stylish cinematography and absurd touches make his films stand out from the competition.

Rare treats

Exiled

Fong Juk
2006 / 110m - Hong Kong
Action, Crime
Exiled poster

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.

Sparrow

Man Jeuk
2008 / 87m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Crime
Sparrow poster

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.

Mad Detective

Sun Taam
2007 / 89m - Hong Kong
Crime
Mad Detective poster

His genre work is strong, comes with a very personal signature, it's seamlessly executed, and seems to lack any obvious weak points. Mad Detective is a definite recommendation.

The good stuff

Turn Left Turn Right

Heung Joh Chow Heung Yau Chow
2003 / 102m - Hong Kong
Romance
4.0*/5.0*
Turn Left Turn Right poster

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.

PTU

2003 / 88m - Hong Kong
Crime
PTU poster

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.

Election 2

Hak Se Wui Yi Wo Wai Kwai
2006 / 95m - Hong Kong
Crime
Election 2 poster

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.

Vengeance

Fuk Sau
2009 / 108m - Hong Kong
Crime
Vengeance poster

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.

Throw Down

Yau Doh Lung Fu Bong
2004 / 95m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action
Throw Down poster

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.

Triangle

Tie Saam Gok
2007 / 93m - Hong Kong
Action, Crime
Triangle poster

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.

Fulltime Killer

Chuen Jik Sat Sau
2001 / 102m - Hong Kong
Action, Crime
Fulltime Killer poster

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.

Drug War

Du Zhan
2012 / 107m - China
Crime
Drug War poster

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.

Blind Detective

Man Tam
2013 / 127m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Crime
Blind Detective poster

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.

Solid pieces

Chasing Dream

Chihuo Quan Wang
2019 / 118m - China
Romance, Sport
3.5*/5.0*
Chasing Dream poster

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.

Three

San Ren Xing
2016 / 88m - Hong Kong
Action, Thriller, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Three poster

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.

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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.

Office

Hua Li Shang Ban Zu
2015 / 119m - China
Comedy, Romance, Musical
3.5*/5.0*
Office poster

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.

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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.

High Altitude of Love II

Gao Hai Ba Zhi Lian II
2012 / 111m - China
Drama, Romance
3.5*/5.0*
High Altitude of Love II poster

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.

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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.

Don't Go Breaking My Heart

Daan Gyun Naam Yu
2011 / 115m - Hong Kong
Romance
3.5*/5.0*
Don't Go Breaking My Heart poster

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.

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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.

Life without Principle

Dyut Meng Gam
2011 / 107m - Hong Kong
Drama, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Life without Principle poster

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.

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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.

Breaking News

Daai Si Gin
2004 / 90m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Breaking News poster

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.

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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.

Yesterday Once More

Lung Fung Dau
2004 / 99m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Romance, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Yesterday Once More poster

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.

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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.

Help!!!

Lat Sau Wui Cheun
2000 / 92m - Hong Kong
Comedy
3.5*/5.0*
Help!!! poster

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.

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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.

Running Out of Time

Am Zin
1999 / 93m - Hong Kong
Action, Thriller, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Running Out of Time poster

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.

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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.

Where a Good Man Goes

Joi Gin A Long
1999 / 90m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, Thriller
3.5*/5.0*
Where a Good Man Goes poster

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.

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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.

A Hero Never Dies

Chan Sam Ying Hung
1998 / 86m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
A Hero Never Dies poster

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.

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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.

The Longest Nite

Am Faa
1998 / 81m - Hong Kong
Action, Mystery, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
The Longest Nite poster

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.

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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.

Loving You

Wu Wei Shen Tan
1995 / 84m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, Crime
3.5*/5.0*
Loving You poster

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.

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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.

The Mad Monk

Chai Gong
1993 / 89m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Fantasy
3.5*/5.0*
The Mad Monk poster

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.

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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.

Justice, My Foot

Sam Sei Goon
1992 / 102m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Drama, Action
3.5*/5.0*
Justice, My Foot poster

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.

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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.

Flying Butterfly

Hu Die Fei
2008 / 88m - Hong Kong
Drama, Romance
3.5*/5.0*
Flying Butterfly poster

Johnnie To shows Hong Kong how to do drama properly. If the Hong Kong film industry has one obvious weakness, it's that it is not very proficient in making good dramas (though that has changed a bit in the last decade or so). This probably explains why I was well impressed the first time I watched Flying Butterfly. Fifteen years later it's still a good film, but the cracks are starting to show.

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Yan loses her boyfriend in a car accident, while they were having a lovers' spat on the road. She is riddled with guilt and has trouble picking up the pieces of her life. Yan is unable to build up new relationships, but then her dead boyfriend begins to appear in her dreams, helping her to deal with the trauma the accident left behind.

The drama is a little slow to start and the performances aren't quite strong enough. Better leads could've made the difference here, but they're just a little too poppy. The presentation is nice (but not exceptional), and the finale does hit home, but on the whole, I wasn't as impressed as the first time I watched this. It's still a good film though, and To shows he's capable of more than just good old genre cinema.

The inoffensive

3.0*/5.0*
Septet: The Story of Hong Kong poster

Not the greatest anthology. Don't be fooled by the names involved, I know they include some of the biggest Hong Kong directors from the past few decades, but the anthology itself is quite rigid and singular. Only Tsui Hark dares to do something different, the rest all went for sentimental throwbacks. Much like their Chinese counterparts.

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The stories are pretty simple, Sammo Hung reminisces about classic martial arts training, To looks at the stock market, Ann Hui digs up the old school life and Patrick Tam finds two lovers torn apart. Hark is the only one who had a bit of fun, throwing us inside a mental hospital where doctors and patients are too alike to distinguish.

I'm not a fan of nostalgia and sentimentality, many of the directors present aren't really equipped to deal with these themes either. It would've been a lot better if they'd stayed closer to their signature craft, that's what the anthology concept is for. A little disappointing, though I can't say I'm all that surprised. Hark deserves lots of props for his short though.

Election

Hak Se Wui
2005 / 100m - Hong Kong
Drama, Thriller, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Election poster

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.

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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.

Running on Karma

Daai Zek Lou
2003 / 93m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, Thriller
3.0*/5.0*
Running on Karma poster

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.

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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.

Fat Choi Spirit

Lik Goo Lik Goo San Nin Choi
2002 / 96m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Romance
3.0*/5.0*
Fat Choi Spirit poster

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.

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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.

My Left Eye Sees Ghosts

Ngo Joh Ngan Gin Do Gwai
2002 / 98m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Romance, Horror
3.0*/5.0*
My Left Eye Sees Ghosts poster

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.

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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.

Love on a Diet

Sau Sun Nam Nui
2001 / 94m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Romance
3.0*/5.0*
Love on a Diet poster

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.

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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.

Running Out of Time 2

Aau Chin 2
2001 / 95m - Hong Kong
Action, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Running Out of Time 2 poster

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.

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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.

Wu Yen

Chung Mo Yim
2001 / 123m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Fantasy
3.0*/5.0*
Wu Yen poster

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.

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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.

Needing You

Goo Laam Gwa Lui
2000 / 101m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Romance
3.0*/5.0*
Needing You poster

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.

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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.

The Mission

Cheung Foh
1999 / 84m - Hong Kong
Thriller, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
The Mission poster

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.

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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.

Casino Raiders II

Zhi Zu Wu Shang II Yong Ba Tian Xia
1993 / 91m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action, Crime
3.0*/5.0*
Casino Raiders II poster

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.

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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.

Heroic Trio 2: Executioners

Xian Dai Hao Xia Zhuan
1993 / 101m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Sci-fi, Action
3.0*/5.0*
Heroic Trio 2: Executioners poster

It wasn't uncommon to shoot sequels back to back in the 90s Hong Kong film industry, but Heroic Trio: Executioners isn't really that. It's more of a reimagining of the titular trio in a very different setting. Out is the historic world and in comes a postapocalyptic future where our heroes will have to save the day once again. An interesting setup alright.

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The world is in shambles after a nuclear event. While the government is mostly interested in saving itself, a villain has seized control over the water supply of the city. He is trying to force a military coup by levering access to the water. A trio of female heroes takes it upon themselves to save the city from this harrowing fate.

While everything was there to make this into a great film, the result feels a bit lackluster. To's direction is okay but doesn't stand out, and neither do the action scenes. There's a bit too much drama hidden away in the plot, time that would be better spent on developing the futuristic setting or simply adding more and better action scenes. It's not bad, but for a '93 HK action film, not very memorable.

The Barefoot Kid

Chik Geuk Siu Ji
1993 / 90m - Hong Kong
Drama, Action
3.0*/5.0*
The Barefoot Kid poster

Johnnie To directing a Shaw Bros film. It's a bit of an odd combination, as To isn't known for his martial arts cinema, while the Shaw Bros studios is a true genre hallmark. It's not the biggest surprise then that the film can't quite compete with the best of early 90s Hong Kong action cinema, but that doesn't mean it's not worth a try.

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The titular character moves to the city to go and work for one of his father's friends. Competitors of the company hire a gang to mess up their business, but the kid is a skilled martial artist and protects the company. He isn't praised for his efforts though, as the owners fear retribution, and so they fire him. Unsure of where to go next, he joins the criminal gang.

The Shaw Bros signature is more visible than To's personal style, which was to be expected. The film looks rather polished, the action scenes are proper and the runtime is fine, it's just the middle part that feels a little sluggish, with some unnecessary drama and romance scenes holding everything up. Not a bad film, but hardly a highlight within To's rich oeuvre.

Lucky Encounter

Ti Dao Bao
1992 / 88m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Fantasy
3.0*/5.0*
Lucky Encounter poster

90s comedy To. Though the Hong Kong industry was enjoying one of its all-time highs and To was already pretty active, it wasn't really a definitive time for him. He was more of a follower than a leader then, keeping up with what was popular, but never pushing the envelope, as he would in the following decade. Lucky Encounter is a perfect example.

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Chan is a malicious criminal who kidnaps Bou, his little nephew, for ransom. The boy ends up dead, the random stashed away in a well-guarded house. Chan needs the money and hires two cronies to help him get the ransom. When they find out what Chan did, they decide to help the boy's spirit in his quest for revenge.

The comedy isn't too subtle and the plot is all over the place, but that is part of the charm. With guys like Tony Leung and Anthony Wong on board, the cast is well fleshed-out, the cinematography is pretty solid too and the pacing is perfect. It's not the most memorable film, but good fun and a perfect oeuvre filler for fans of Johnnie To.

Worthy but flawed

Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2

Daan Gyun Naam Yu 2
2014 / 113m - Hong Kong
Romance
2.5*/5.0*
Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 poster

A somewhat disappointing sequel. I liked the first film, warts and all, but here I missed To's typical signature to elevate it above random HK rom-com fodder. There are too many elements that were mere repetitions of the first film, the characters are a tad too superficial and unlikeable, and I simply didn't care for the core romance.

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Sean and Yen's relationship didn't last, Sean was too much of a womanizer to remain faithful to her. They each go their own way, but years later they run into each other once again. Yen is about to get married, while Sean is in a somewhat stable relationship. It is obvious the two are still attracted to each other, and that there is unresolved business between them.

Romantic woes between the rich and unfaithful only work when the characters are somewhat nice to hang around with, which isn't really the case here. The film looks slick and To makes good use of their rich lifestyles, but cinematically there isn't all that much happening. A pointless sequel, and one of To's lesser films in recent memory.

A Moment of Romance III

Tian Ruo You Qing III: Feng Huo Jia Ren
1996 / 95m - Hong Kong
Romance, War
2.5*/5.0*
A Moment of Romance III poster

Johnnie To continues Benny Chan's series. Not sure what prompted To to direct the third part in the franchise, but his entry is slightly better than the previous films. Not much, mind. It's still way too sentimental and Hong Kong wasn't quite ready to do mainstream romance back then, but at least there are some pretty pictures to look at.

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Hoping to kick-start his political career, Lau joins the army and gets a job as a pilot. The Japanese are pushing back the Chinese army and Lau is tasked with delivering an important message. On his way, he is shot down by Japanese fighter planes and ends up in a small mountain village. There he meets Ting, a sweet and innocent girl who takes care of his injuries.

Andy Lau is decent and the cinematography has its moments, but it's not enough to balance out the glaringly unsubtle score and the predictable plot. This isn't really a Wong Kar-wai contender, instead, you get some bland romance with a pretty picture here and there to take your mind off the sentimentality. Not the worst film, but unless you're a big fan of commercial Hong Kong cinema, it's best to keep your expectations in check.

The Heroic Trio

Dung Fong Saam Hap
1993 / 88m - Hong Kong
Fantasy, Action
2.5*/5.0*
The Heroic Trio poster

The Heroic Trio looked like fun filler, and To seemed pretty dedicated to delivering. The result is an extremely messy film though. I'm usually pretty partial to Hong Kong's chaotic cinema, but somehow it didn't quite work for me here. It felt as if the film tried to be too much, and didn't really deliver on any of the separate pieces.

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A villain is plotting to overtake China. She kidnaps 18 babies, hoping that the new Emperor will be among them. One of the babies belongs to a prominent detective, who calls in the help of two women to help him get his baby back while saving China from a hostile takeover in the process.

The performances are decent, there are some pleasant enough action scenes and the pacing is zany (as it should be). I'm still not sure whether I was watching a sci-fi, fantasy, or martial arts film though, and I'm not sure even To had a clear idea what this film was supposed to be. It's not a terrible feature, it has its moments, but too many ideas simply didn't land and there were just too many boring parts.

The Royal Scoundrel

Sha Tan-Zi yu Zhou Shih-Nai
1991 / 89m - Hong Kong
Comedy
2.5*/5.0*
The Royal Scoundrel poster

While the early 90s were a definite highlight for Hong Kong cinema, Johnnie To was still looking for an identity. On paper, The Royal Scoundrel looked absolutely amazing (a To comedy with Tony Leung and Man-Tat Ng in the lead), but the actual film is pretty pedestrian, though still decent enough for people who appreciate the genre.

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Two longtime partners (Beach Boy and Mrs. Chow) are put on a counterfeiter case. During the investigation, Beach Boy meets Ah Yuk, whose father-in-law was arrested by him. He falls for her charms, but that doesn't please Beach Boy's boss, who tries to incriminate him and his partner.

With Leung and Tat on board, there is certainly some fun to be had. The comedy helps to liven up the police investigation, but there's not really enough here to set the film apart from similar work. It's a far cry from the films that would make To famous a decade later, but completists won't have too bad of a time with this one. Decent oeuvre filler.

The Fun, the Luck & the Tycoon

Ji Xing Gong Zhao
1989 / 90m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Romance
2.5*/5.0*
The Fun, the Luck & the Tycoon poster

Old To. It's fun to watch these films while being fully aware of his trademark style. It will help to pick up smaller details that foreshadow the powerhouse Johnnie To would eventually become. The film still has some charm in its own right too, but the appeal is pretty limited and unless you're a huge fan of late 80s Hong Kong comedy, you shouldn't rush to see it.

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Two elderly women each have amassed a sizeable fortune. In order to protect their wealth after they are gone, they want to marry off their grandchildren. They can't stand to be around each other, so marriage looks pretty unlikely. Still, the two women won't simply give up on their plan.

The film starts off pretty well, but as the plot grows clearer and takes up more and more of the runtime the film gets a little stale. Chow is nice, Li Chi isn't bad either, there are some interesting soundtrack choices and some elegant shots, but in the end, this is a pretty basic romcom that relies purely on star power and general accessibility. Decent filler.

Dubious filler

Love for All Seasons

Baak Nin Hiu Gap
2003 / 93m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Romance
2.0*/5.0*
Love for All Seasons poster

I expected quite a bit from this one. A Louis Koo/Sammi Cheng collab from the hands of Johnnie To/Ka-Fai Wai is difficult to mess up, but somehow the film tries a bit too hard and fumbles because of some unnecessary complexities it took on. Ambition doesn't always work in a film's favor.

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May is a skilled martial artist who wants to learn the "Heartbroken Sword" technique. Her master pushes her to go out into the world and experience heartbreak firsthand, for that May consults Tiger Hung. A womanizer she helped out before and should be the ideal person to help break May's heart.

The film wants to be a full-blown comedy, which is tricky since it's dealing with heartbreak. The two objectives don't go well together, the somewhat overstated performances don't really help the film either. Some decent action scenes make sure this isn't a complete disaster, but I wanted a lot more from Love for All Seasons. Somewhat of a letdown.

The Story of My Son

Ai De Shi Jie
1990 / 75m - Hong Kong
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
The Story of My Son poster

Not a great To. Don't be fooled by some of the jolly-looking promo materials, this is a pretty straightforward drama without laughs and a pretty dark ending. The 80s/90s Hong Kong cinema wasn't too great with drama and that becomes pretty clear while watching this film. Apart from the ending, it lacks any kind of meaningful impact.

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Li Chi-Leung is a single dad who raises his two sons on his own. He is short on cash, a problem he tries to solve by going to the race tracks. Time and time again he squanders his money on gambling, which only makes his situation worse. When he can't pay back his creditors, they come for his sons to teach Li a lesson.

The performances are pretty weak, the cinematography is bland and the score is negligible. Though the film isn't too long, the middle part is pretty repetitive and predictable, which makes it dull. The ending is right on the mark though and that almost saved the film for me. To can do so much better, this is mostly for To completists.

All about Ah-Long

Ah Long dik Goo Si
1989 / 95m - Hong Kong
Drama
2.0*/5.0*
All about Ah-Long poster

To's early attempts at drama are pretty lackluster, especially when combined with some more traditional Hong Kong genre work. All about Ah-Long might've been a commercial success purely based on the themes (racing was big back then) and the star power (Chow Yun-Fat was even bigger), but a quality film this wasn't.

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Ah Long is a former race champ who became a contractor in order to take proper care of his son. When his ex returns from America a wealthy woman, she wants to have custody over their son. Neither Ah Long nor his boy is won by the idea, so Ah Long needs to find a way to get his life back on track. With the help of his son, he tries to revisit his former glory.

Chow may have been popular back then, but he wasn't really ready to take on more dramatic roles. To's signature is virtually unrecognizable, the plot and styling are pretty bland, and the ending is ill-fitting and well over the top. The pacing is fine though and the film isn't too long, but this is far from To's best work. For completists and hardcore 80s fans only.

The Enigmatic Case

Bi Shui Han Shan Duo Ming Jin
1980 / 91m - Hong Kong
Action, Mystery
2.0*/5.0*
The Enigmatic Case poster

Every director has to start somewhere, and this is where To's career saw its origin. Don't expect too much from the film, like most of his fellow Hong Kong directors To needed a couple of films to get the hang of things. The Enigmatic Case is pretty basic genre fare, a film made with a very specific audience and goal in mind.

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Lu is a prisoner who is waiting for his execution. The government isn't too keen on going through with it, as they suspect he knows the location of a secret treasure. Their torture techniques aren't very successful and Lu manages to escape. As he flees, he runs into Yu, an attractive young woman on the way to collect her father's ashes.

There isn't too much martial arts here (and the bits that are there are pretty crummy), instead, the film focuses more on the titular case. Sadly, that case isn't all that enigmatic and apart from some smaller interludes, there is very little of note here. It's just simple genre filler, a perfect film for a beginning director to learn the trade.

Plain forgettable

Fireline

Shi Wan Huo Ji
1997 / 108m - Hong Kong
Action, Thriller
1.5*/5.0*
Fireline poster

The late 90s were a disastrous time for Hong Kong cinema (though you could also argue that's when the 00s renaissance started). To didn't stand above these issues and delivered some doubty films, Fireline being one of them. Too much padding, limited budgets, and waning star power crippled what was supposed to be a tense firefighter thriller.

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The film follows a firefighter squad as they go about their daily routines. They face difficult situations on the job, but they also have to deal with personal issues. After an hour-long intro where we get to know the characters, the film is ready to start its more than half-hour-long finale, with a pretty predictable outcome of course.

Ching Wan Lau is a decent lead, but that's about it. The rest of the cast isn't on the same level, which is a problem for a film that is quite drama-heavy during its first half. Sadly, the big finale isn't all that tense or exciting either, though it does have its moments. There just wasn't enough To here, poor oeuvre filler from someone who can do so much better.

The Eighth Happiness

Ba Xing Bao Xi
1988 / 91m - Hong Kong
Comedy
1.5*/5.0*
The Eighth Happiness poster

Johnnie To tries to mimic Jing Wong, and the result is exactly what you'd expect from such a horrendous premise. The Eight Happiness is an archetypical 80s Hong Kong comedy, stacked with bankable actors and sporting an easily digestible (but incredibly dated) romantic setup. These films can be fun in the hands of a director who can manage this type of material, clearly To was a very poor fit.

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Three young men are short on cash, and their self-esteem suffers from it. To give their lives some flair, they decide to get married. For that, they need girlfriends first, so they set off on a quest to find women that are interested in marriage. Easier said than done, but they are very committed to their goal.

People who only know Chow Yun-Fat from his heroic bloodshed work should definitely give this film a go, you'll never look at him the same way. The rest of the cast is pretty terrible too, including the odd dump of cameos at the end of the film. The plot is bland, the comedy is cringey and the direction is uninspired. Not To's finest hour.

Happy Ghost III

Kai Xin Gui Zhuang Gui
1986 / 89m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Fantasy, Crime
1.5*/5.0*
Happy Ghost III poster

The Happy Ghost franchise is typical Clifton Ko fare, but somehow To managed to wiggle himself into the director's chair for part 3. He does little to make this film his own, instead, he opts to stay in line with the previous entries. Sadly, that just isn't his strong suit, and as a result, this third part is a pretty big dud (save the finale).

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A rather unsuccessful singer can't believe her luck when she finds out she is slated to reincarnate into a very musical family. On her way to the hospital she bumps into Mr. Hung, causing her to miss her window of opportunity. This happens twice, leaving her just one chance to get it right. The problem is that she has fallen in love with Hung.

The performances are very poor and overstated, the effects are extremely crummy, and stylistically there's no sign of To's signature elements. The only thing that slightly redeems this film is the final 20 minutes, which do get pleasantly absurd. It's not enough to wholeheartedly recommend the film to fans, but at least To completists will have something to look forward to.

Big nopes

The Big Heat

Seng Fat Dak Ging
1988 / 98m - Hong Kong
Action, Thriller, Crime
1.0*/5.0*
The Big Heat poster

A forgettable and poorly executed police procedural from the hands of the otherwise so-capable Johnnie To (and companions). I did find it pretty remarkable that two decades later To would build his signature upon the crime genre, clearly he needed a little more time (and an implosion of the local film industry) to get to that point.

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The plot is as generic as can be, but that's not at all uncommon for this type of film. Inspector Wong is ready to resign from the force when his longtime partner is suddenly found murdered. Wong assembles a team and starts an investigation, which leads to some very unexpected (but not really though) revelations.

I'm not the biggest fan of the genre, but with a proper cast and/or with some extended action scenes, these films can still be quite fun. There's none of that here. The styling is also completely rubbish and even though the film is on the shorter side, it hardly matters since most of it serves no purpose beyond simple genre filler. Disappointing.

Seven Years Itch

Qi Nian Zhi Yang
1987 / 82m - Hong Kong
Comedy, Drama
1.0*/5.0*
Seven Years Itch poster

One of To's absolute weakest films. Seven Year Itch is a typical 80s Jing Wong project, only this wasn't half as random, mental, or bonkers compared to Wong's trademark comedies. And as a more straightforward comedy, films like these just aren't any fun. A few famous actors and predictable situational humor is all this film has to offer, and even that it squanders.

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Willie and Sylvia have been married for seven years. The romance has disappeared from their relationship, and they both start to worry about their future. Willie sees his chance when he has to go to Singapore for work. There he tries to hook up with Lam, a crafty thief who wants to take advantage of Willie's gullible nature.

Raymond Wong isn't terrible and Eric Tsang is perfect for his part, but that's about it for the positive feedback. The plot is dumb, the ample misunderstandings are annoying, and the presentation is third-rate. Unless you're a major Hong Kong comedy fan, or you just want to complete To's oeuvre, there's no good reason to prioritize this film.