Programmed by Will Carroll
This series is a celebration of the films of Milkyway Image, a Hong-Kong based studio that has regularly put out some of the best genre films in the world since it was founded in the mid-90s. Directors and co-founders Johnnie To and Wai Ka-fai have gained international recognition for their action films. Few fans in North America, however, are aware of their equally excellent romantic comedies, which are enormously popular in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China. Like their action movies, these rom-coms deftly upend generic conventions, articulate spatial confusion in the modern metropolis, and craft elaborate sleights-of-hand to surprise audiences. In showing these films alongside each other, I hope to draw out the similarities between these apparently very different films. Though the studio is headed by To and Wai, who directed most of the films in the series, I've named the series after the studio to emphasize the collective creative process of these films between not just To and Wai, but a group of regular collaborators including Cinematographer Cheng Siu-Keung, Assistant Director Law Wing-cheong, Editor David Richardson, and a group of frequent screenwriters including Wai, Yau Nai-hoi and Au Kin-yee, along with a stable of regular lead and supporting cast members.
This series is sponsored by the University of Chicago Center for East Asian Studies with support from a Title VI National Resource Center Grant from the United States Department of Education.
(Patrick Yau & Johnnie To, 1998) · Two groups of criminals (one comically incompetent, the other brutally efficient) keep criss-crossing each other unexpectedly, and a special police team is called in to untangle the mess. Overlapping romantic entanglements among the members of the team, and with a key witness, add to the confusion. To deftly uses generic conventions to lull audiences into a false sense of security. Can the gangs be stopped? Who will end up with whom? Heed the title.
runtime: 87m format: 35mm
(Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2000) · Kinki (Cantopop star Sammi Cheng) is transferred into Andy's (matinee idol Andy Lau) department, and despite their initial difficulties getting along, they enlist each other in elaborate schemes to reunite with (and get revenge against) their exes, without realizing that they're really destined for each other. The first rom-com from To and Wai, Needing You... repurposes many conventions from their action films with hilarious and unexpected results.
runtime: 101m format: 35mm
(Johnnie To, 1998) · Martin (Lau Ching-wan) and Jack (Leon Lai) are rival hitmen who share a begrudging admiration of each other. When they are betrayed by their bosses and left for dead, they decide to team up to take revenge. A Hero Never Dies takes the (already extreme) conventions of John Woo's heroic bloodshed films to even further extremes not previously thought possible. In the process, To produces some exceptional action set pieces both small and large.
runtime: 86m format: 35mm
(Johnnie To, 1999) · An ex-con (Lau Ching-wan) is released from prison and sets out to find a missing $2 million and his ex-wife. He gets diverted, however, when he and his innkeeper (Ruby Wong), a lonely single mother, find themselves drawn to each other. A rare dramatic romance from Milkyway, Where a Good Man Goes breathes new life into hackneyed narrative devices on the strength of its leads and To's excellently realized sense of urban space in its Macau setting.
runtime: 92m format: 35mm
(Johnnie To, 1999) · A Triad boss hires five men to serve as his bodyguards after an assassination attempt. However, when he finds that one of the five has been carrying on an affair with his wife, it raises the question of whether their loyalty is to each other or to their boss. Shot in just 18 days, The Mission marks a departure from previous Hong Kong action films by marrying its brilliantly choreographed action to an unsettlingly distant filmmaking style.
runtime: 84m format: 35mm
(Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2000) · This rom-com satirizes the bureaucratic administration and the indifference it produces in contemporary Hong Kong. Yan (Cecilia Cheung), an idealistic doctor, enters a hospital and tries to restore its staff's long lost medical competence and sense of purpose. A more manic comedy than Needing You..., Help!!! is filled with farcically overdrawn caricatures and includes a talking car scene that Leos Carax must have seen before making Holy Motors.
runtime: 89m format: 35mm
(Johnnie To, 2004) · A botched standoff with a group of thieves (filmed in a virtuosic six-and-a-half minute long take) embarrasses the police, so Captain Fong (Kelly Chen) orchestrates a capture operation for the media to restore public trust in the police. When thief Yuen (Richie Jen) discovers her plan, he battles wits and uses her need for good press against her. To weds a brilliantly realized sense of space and place to a biting satire of government and media.
runtime: 90m format: 35mm
(Johnnie To, 2011) · Set during the 2008 financial crisis Life Without Principle follows an investment banker (Denise Ho), a low-level Triad (Lau Ching-wan), and a Police Inspector (Richie Jen), whose lives intersect when they each come upon $5 million in stolen cash. Facing uncertainty brought on by the economic crisis, they're forced to make important decisions without clear answers. The film won Best Director, Screenplay, and Actor (Lau) at the Golden Horse Awards (the Oscars of Chinese film).
runtime: 107m format: Blu-ray
(Johnnie To, 2009) · Two great Johnnies (To and Hallyday) meet at last! A French chef (Hallyday) seeks revenge in Macau, even as a head injury is making him forget why and against whom. It twists and turns between variations on plot arcs from older Milkyway films, and the dancing tumbleweeds and postage stamps in its set pieces suggest the influence of Jacques Demy as much as Sergio Leone, making Vengeance a free-for-all play with narrative and stylistic convention.
runtime: 109m format: 35mm
(Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2002) · In perhaps To & Wai's greatest New Year Comedy, a ne'er-do-well son (Andy Lau) is called upon to use his mahjong skills to fend off his mother's Alzheimer's disease. He has to call on his impulsive ex-girlfriend (Gigi Leung) for help when he runs afoul of a gang of mahjong sharps led by the self-proclaimed "Mahjong Master" (Lau Ching-wan in an exceptionally outrageous performance) in a series of mahjong matches filmed like Leone shootouts.
runtime: 96m format: 35mm