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The Signature Moves of Johnnie To

Hear from the Hong Kong legend on the Tao of To

JohnnieTo
by
Dec 21, 2017

Add one part King Hu to two parts Jean-Pierre Melville — with a dash of Kurosawa for taste — and you get Hong Kong cinema legend Johnnie To.

Revered among Western audiences for his crime and action thrillers, the intensely prolific To has directed films in a variety of genres, from melodramas to musicals, and is best known in Hong Kong for — you’d never guess — romantic comedies. Browsing through his 60+ films, it’s clear that To and his frequent co-director and screenwriter Wai Ka-fai don’t like to repeat themselves.

Yet, from To’s dazzling ability to shoot on-the-fly — sometimes without a script — to his striking minimalism and formal control, there are always telltale signs that you’re watching a Milkyway Image film. Is Simon Yam pulling focus? Is Suet Lam pratfalling? Is Louis Koo suffering (whether from a broken heart or a bullet wound)? Well, if so, you’re probably watching a movie directed by Johnnie To. Oh, and a heads-up: It never works out for Louis Koo in a Johnnie To joint.

Johnnie To: Expect the Unexpected, a retrospective of the Hong Kong legend’s eclectic body of work, plays TIFF Bell Lightbox until December 28.