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Hong Kong Nocturne: The Films of Johnnie To

May 29, 2008 - June 27, 2008

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Exiled, June 21

“One of the greatest action directors working in the world . . . (Johnnie) To has built a dazzling brilliant career out of cinematic mayhem.”—Manohla Dargis, New York Times

If there’s one name that has kept Hong Kong cinema alive from its post-handover hangover to today, it’s Johnnie To. From motormouthed comedies to romantic melodramas, gangster shoot-em-ups to bizarre fantasies, To has made nearly fifty films in his illustrious career, often at a rate of three or four a year. If this were the sixties, Cahiers du cinéma would have put his name up there with Hawks, Mann, or Walsh; he’s living proof that the best genre films are now made in Hong Kong.

This small sampling of To’s work concentrates on his post-1997 films, created after forming his own production company, Milkyway Image, which gave him the freedom and economic security to mix commercial works with more out-there experiments. Hollywood noirs reimagined in nocturnal, neon-lit, mega-capitalist Hong Kong, gritty gangster films like The Mission and Election boast a self-assured command of machismo and male bonding, a wry sense of humor, and a steady, deadpan cast that could out-macho Robert Mitchum. Also featured are a few of To’s over-the-top cinema fantasies like Fulltime Killer and Running on Karma (codirected by Wai Ka-fai), works that unchain genre filmmaking from the tethers of reality and showcase a talent willing not just to tweak the rules, but to break them entirely.

Jason Sanders
Associate Film Notes Writer

Thursday, May 29, 2008
6:30 p.m. The Mission
Five gunmen must unite to keep a triad boss alive. A neon-lit tribute to Hawks, Mann, and Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai.

Thursday, May 29, 2008
8:15 p.m. Fulltime Killer
Two killers battle for supremacy in this comic-book montage of film tributes and pulp-novel conceits that makes Tarantino look like Bresson.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008
7:30 p.m. Running on Karma
Andy Lau is a Buddhist monk turned male stripper who can see past lives and predict the future in To’s crazed superhero genre mash-up. Like Spider-Man rewritten by the Dalai Lama.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008
7:30 p.m. Throw Down
Aaron Kwon seeks judo guidance from ex-champion, now-drunkard Louis Koo in To’s sweet-natured remake of Kurosawa’s Sanshiro Sugata. “The absolute best neo-samurai judo farce in town.”—Village Voice

Thursday, June 12, 2008
7:00 p.m. Breaking News
A police-versus-gunmen showdown turns into media warfare in this Cannes-selected thriller, a Dog Day Afternoon on the streets of Hong Kong.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008
6:30 p.m. Election
Two gangsters campaign (and kill) to win a triad election in this gunless thriller with “a Shakespearean hue, and a rich political and moral subtext.”—N.Y. Times

Wednesday, June 18, 2008
8:30 p.m. Triad Election
An over-educated, money-obsessed hoodlum gets sucked into triad (and governmental) deceits in this Darwinian-capitalist satire and “exemplary gangster thriller.”—N.Y. Times

Saturday, June 21, 2008
8:45 p.m. Exiled
Nattily attired hitmen square off in scenic Macao in this “enjoyable action thriller with a bracing touch of political satire.”—Manchester Guardian

Friday, June 27, 2008
8:40 p.m. Mad Detective
Lau Ching-wan is a cop who can sense the paranormal in a “wild, hilarious, and thoroughly disturbing entertainment.”—Vancouver Film Festival

Series curated by Kathy Geritz and Jason Sanders.

PFA wishes to thank the following individuals and institutions for their assistance with this series: Barbara Scharres, Gene Siskel Film Center; Isa Cucinotta, Film Society of Lincoln Center; David Bordwell; Ryan Werner, IFC Films; Neal Bloch, Magnolia Pictures; Shan Ding, Milkyway Image; Ed Arentz, Palm Pictures; Debbi Berlin, Tartan Films; Jon Soo, Tai Seng Entertainment; and Nicholas Davies, Toronto International Film Festival.