Autumn is now in full effect — the carefree days of summer are behind us and we’re left to ponder the oncoming cold and the meaning of our existence as we watch campaign ad after campaign ad. To us, that makes the season all about two things: complicated relationships… and elections. Thankfully, we’ve got the appropriate films for any occasion. We’re an all-season network!
Equally as comfortable with broad slapstick humor as he is with brooding psychological drama or straight-up genre films, Johnnie To is one of the (if not the) hardest working producer/directors in the Hong Kong film industry. A genuine auteurist who also knows how to create a crowd-pleasing hit, To’s career began in television back in the 1970s. Turning to cinema towards the end of the 80s, he spent the next seven years churning out a sizeable number of genre films – everything from comedy, action, suspense, and melodramas both large and small. Most of these films found a fair amount of success at the box office, but none were runaway hits. (The closest was THE HEROIC TRIO, which featured the dream leading-lady trifecta of Michelle Yeoh, Anita Mui, and Maggie Cheung.)
In 1996 he partnered with writer/producer/director Wai Ka-fai and formed Milkyway Image, a production company that allowed for the freedom to direct the kind of films that appealed to them. Early titles, such as WHERE A GOOD MAN GOES and A HERO NEVER DIES were decidedly different than typical Hong Kong fare of the time. These were darker stories, with a greater emphasis on character than on action. As liberating as that freedom was, To soon realized he’d have to find a balance in order to remain commercially viable, so he and Wai decided on an alternating pattern – “one film for the audience, one film for us”. (Example – The somewhat abstract and dark, complex crime film FULLTIME KILLER versus the lightweight, audience-friendly RomCom NEEDING YOU.) Yet even within his mainstream films, which strictly adhered to genre convention, To still managed to insert enough signature directorial flourishes to distinguish them from the multitude of titles flooding the market at that time.
Scene from TRIAD ELECTION
Just in time for the dog days of summer, Sundance Channel is gearing up to launch the sixth season of Asia Extreme, which features thirteen incredibly cool films to dive into beginning August 1 free on demand. Just as past seasons brought an eclectic mix of cutting edge Asian cinema from visionary directors breathing new life into (and in some cases subverting) such genres as horror (ONE MISSED CALL), thriller (A BITTERSWEET LIFE), action (SAVE THE GREEN PLANET), or science-fiction (NATURAL CITY), so too does the new lineup offer fresh takes on familiar forms.