Saturday, November 17

‘Go Johnnie To’ series will show movies of Hong Kong director


UCLA to feature films "˜Full Time Killer,' "˜The Mission;' filmmaker to appear in person

By Willy Flockton

Daily Bruin Contributor

Bullets fly in stylized color as
the camera swiftly jolts around the action and the
latest electronica music pumps through the theater. This is
what we expect of Hong Kong cinema. But Hong Kong filmmaker
Johnnie To Kai Fung’s works are a little different.

“Action films are close to his heart, but he is
deconstructional. He plays with the generic structure and
characteristics,”Â said Cheng Sim Lim, programmer for the
UCLA Film and TV Archive.

To is appearing in person at Melnitz this Thursday before the
U.S. premiere of his latest neo-noir thriller “Full Time
Killer.”Â This hails the start of a six-film series,
“Go Johnnie To,” organized by the UCLA Film and TV
Archive and the Asian Film Foundation.

“He is a towering figure. He doesn’t fit any
film label. He is a very respected film executive, but he’s
also a creator,”Â said Lim, who had the privilege of
working with To to select the films shown. 

He has been described as the “the hardest working
filmmaker in Hong Kong” and the “new godfather of
action cool.”

“He’s on the cutting edge,” said Helen Yu,
co-founder of The Asian Film Foundation, who originally had the
idea to exhibit a series of To’s films. “They appeal to
all of us”Â 

Beginning his career first in Hong Kong’s highest rated
television station, TVB, To began producing and directing
films. He had his first success with a comedy, “The
Eighth Happiness,” which became Hong Kong’s
top-grossing film of 1988. Since then, To has created film after
film. Other well known films that are screening as part of the
series include “A Hero Never Dies”, “Running Out
of Time” and “Lifeline.”Â 

To’s success stems largely from the 1997 partnership with
old friend, and now scriptwriter, Wai Ka-fai, in the independent
production company Milky Way Image. This creative union has
been hailed as the new energizing force in the Hong Kong
film industry, hit hard by Hollywood head hunting and political
transition. 

“Johnnie To represents the kind of creative Hong Kong
cinema that hasn’t existed for years. An
independent production company gives its filmmakers
creative freedom and diversity. Milky Way Image was created
with the goal of making quality movies and fostering the next
generation of Hong Kong filmmakers,”Â said Yuan Shan
Ding, a representative of Milky Way Image, via e-mail from Japan
where To’s latest movie is being filmed.

“To and his creative team know how to re-invent genre
formulas (and) give life to tired, old local genre movies. His
rich filmmaking experience allows him to move between commercial
and artsy projects with ease; with both achieving great
success,” Ding said. 

And success they achieved. To destroyed all competitors and
elevated actor Andy Lau to stardom with his dark action
flicks. Last year, To smashed box office records with
“Needing You,” a crowd pleasing quickie.

“His career swings like a pendulum. He will do a
commercial film very quickly. He prides himself on following
that formula completely for pure commercial reasons. Then he makes
another film that he considers his “personal” films.
They are more artistic. He has a very clear
strategy,” Lim said.

“Full Time Killer” is a post-contemporary, stylized
techno thriller about a ceaseless dual between two assassins (Lau
and Japanese pop star Takashi Sorimachi). Whirlwind camera
movements and editing allow the action to transition easily
between Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan. Various languages
heighten the film to one that is truly global.

“To takes the logic of heroism to the extreme.
Heroism is rarely heroic. It ends in death,”Â said
Lim

“The Mission,” which screens on Saturday as part of
the series, has been branded “To’s
masterpiece.”Â The film earned To the best director award
at the Hong Kong Film Awards and won best picture.
Action-packed bullet ballets are juxtaposed with psychological
stasis, while a computer musical score detaches the viewer
from reality. Centered around five bodyguards, it explores the
limits of masculine loyalty.

“He brings out the very best in actors. They are so
powerful. He brings out their charming side.” said
Yu.

All six films of the series were specifically chosen by To as
representative of his directional works. While they do include his
love for action films, there are also examples of
his gentler slapstick romantic comedies.  “Wu
Yen,” follows the tribulations of three women and allows To
to create problematic gender roles.

“The image that Hong Kong film is macho is an incomplete
view. Action films are the most well known, but there are
others. Melodramatic films are not known as much.”
said Lim. “He has a very radical treatment of gender,
which is surprising of filmmakers anywhere. It defies your
expectations.”

FILM: The series plays Saturday, Sunday and
ends Nov. 15. Most films begin at 7:30 p.m.

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