Not only were filmgoers in Hong Kong potentially confused by the abrupt about-face at Milkyway Image, it is easy to imagine that programmers and filmgoers at the Western festivals were less than enthusiastic about the latest offerings coming from Milkyway after having their appetites whetted by Milkyway’s dark, nihilistic, highly stylized takes on the Hong Kong heroic bloodshed tradition. Between 2000 and 2002, Milkyway Image released eight films. Six of them were comedies features attractive and popular stars, including a wacky, cross-dressing Cantonese New Year’s Comedy (a genre very popular with Hong Kong audiences, but little known in the West). That left Running Out of Time 2, starring Ekin Cheng (replacing the charismatic Andy Lau in the lead antagonist role), a rather weak sequel to the critically acclaimed and popular Running Out of Time, and Fulltime Killer, a pan-Asian crime thriller that showcased Andy Lau but was not an entirely satisfying film, to appeal to the nascent fans of To’s earlier Milkyway Image films in the West. Milkyway Image and 100 Years of Film adopted a local strategy to launch the new venture on a sound financial footing and establish a reputation among Hong Kong audiences for quality popular entertainment featuring some of the top stars in Hong Kong. Two Cantopop singing big names, megastar Andy Lau and the charming Sammi Cheng, starred, between them in six of the eight new releases. They were paired in two of the highest grossing Hong Kong films to that time, Needing You and Love on a Diet, both of which broke box-office records in Hong Kong and established Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng as the reigning king and queen of the Hong Kong box office. Clearly during this time Milkyway Image was not concerned with its image abroad, even though it must have been gratifying to have so many of their films selected for screening at Western film festivals during those years: Help!!!, Berlin 2001, Udine 2001; Fulltime Killer, Toronto 2001, Berlin 2002, Udine 2002; Love on a Diet, Udine 2002; Fat Choi Spirit, Udine 2002.
Even with screenings of A Hero Never Dies, The Mission, and Fulltime Killer at international film festivals, Johnnie To’s films were mostly absent from the radar of serious critics because they were “genre” pictures. Those subscribing to the auteur theory of filmmaking were focusing on two other Hong Kong directors in these years: Wong Kar-Wai and Fruit Chan. In 2000 and 2001, the international festival stage was whole-heartedly embracing In the Mood For Love as the revelation of Hong Kong filmmaking, alongside the works of Fruit Chan. In list after film critic list of the best international films of 2000 and 2001, In the Mood For Love dominated. Clearly, Johnnie To pictures were not making that much of an impression on critics who were not already aficionados of Hong Kong genre movies.