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The Rise of Johnnie To
From fanboy favorite to internationally acclaimed filmmaker 1/6 - Page 2
Author(s) : Marie Jost
Date : 28/2/2011
Type(s) : Analysis
Food for thought
 Intext Links  
People :
Johnnie To Kei Fung
Wai Ka Fai
Movies :
A Hero Never Dies
The Mission
Running Out Of Time
Companies :
Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd.
< Previous
Page 1 : Introduction
Next >
Page 3 : First Years on the Festival Circuit

In 1996 Johnnie To did a professional about-face and totally reinvented his career as a filmmaker. He and business and artistic partner Wai Ka-Fai founded a new, independent film production company, Milkyway Image, to promote a new approach to filmmaking and to identify and assist a new generation of filmmakers at a critical junction in Hong Kong filmmaking. The industry was in decline with the impending return of Hong Kong to China. This was compounded by the Asian economic crisis and erosion of the viability of Hong Kong cinema in the face of competition from Hollywood blockbusters. The crisis also negatively impacted Hong Kong’s role as moviemaker for Southeast Asia. Furthermore, many of Hong Kong’s most prominent filmmakers had left the territory to try their luck in Hollywood. Milkyway Image was founded with the intent of salvaging the Hong Kong film industry artistically and commercially. Milkyway films tended to be dark and were often violent and nihilistic. While they did manage to garner some critical acclaim, local movie audiences largely ignored them. Johnnie To was credited with directing three Milkyway Image films in 1998-99: A Hero Never Dies, Running Out of Time and The Mission.

The Mission
(c) Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd.
It was just at this critical juncture that a group of “fanboys” in New York City decided to mount a film retrospective focusing on Milkyway Image Productions. “Contemporary Urban Cinema from Hong Kong’s Milkyway Image Productions” was screened in New York September 15 - 17, 2000. The festival was a shoestring operation mounted for US$5,000 that showcased seven Milkyway Image films. The write-ups promoting the individual films are typical fanboy hyperbolic purple prose that, while over-the-top, do capture the heady excitement of the discovery of a whole raft of exciting new cult films from Hong Kong. A Hero Never Dies is described as “dark old swamp magic at its most baroque, this movie sinks its teeth into you and won’t let you go.” (1) Similarly, The Mission is characterized as “movie as haiku, and despite a non-sequitir (sic) last shot…this zen garden is meticulously arranged, raked, styled and set….the film is an icy-cool diamond of perfection.” (2) Minus the over-the-top language, these assessments of the individual films still hold up and would produce understanding nods from many critics and scholars ten years later.

(1) Subway Cinema: A Hero Never Dies (1998), Expect the Unexpected: Contemporary Urban Cinema From Hong Kong’s Milkyway Image Productions, September 15-17, 2000 at the Anthology Film Archives, New York, http://www.subwaycinema.com/etu2000/hero.htm.
(2) Subway Cinema: The Mission (1999), Expect the Unexpected: Contemporary Urban Cinema From Hong Kong’s Milkyway Image Productions, September 15-17, 2000 at the Anthology Film Archives, New York, http://www.subwaycinema.com/etu2000/mission.htm

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Previous :
Page 1 : Introduction
Next :
Page 3 : First Years on the Festival Circuit

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