Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To has been making films for more than 3 decades. His career in the film industry dates back to as far as the late 70s. But it wasn’t until the late 90s that he started getting noticed and gained a cult following. He has dabbled in a variety of genres but is most notable for his stylish action thrillers that are reminiscent of the films of John Woo and French director Jean-Pierre Melville. I would also add Akira Kurosawa’s name to that list because I can point out at least two films that were influenced by Kurosawa’s 1949 film Stray Dog. But I would refrain myself from calling him a copycat because these films just used the basic premise as a jumping off point. The ideas in To’s own films are quite original and fresh. Some of them were made on a very small budget and a very short amount of time. Sometimes they didn’t even have a script.
Some of his films may look and sound the same but he has a remarkable talent for making each one seem different. For e.g, let’s look at Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu’s films. They all shared the same themes but still Ozu had a remarkable talent for making each one seem fresh. I have mentioned above that Jean-Pierre Melville is one of To’s major influences and this influence is quite visible on some of the characters in To’s films. For e.g, you can’t help look at the protagonist in his 2009 film Vengeance and not think of Alain Delon from Le Samourai. What’s more interesting here is that To initially wanted Delon to play that character but he declined. Also, To’s films feature some of the best “mexican standoffs” I’ve seen. Anyway, I happened to come across To’s films few years ago and found them to be very entertaining. So today, I thought of compiling the list of 6 essential films from this maverick filmmaker. Here they are:
1) Election (2005)
2) Triad Election (aka Election-II) (2006)
3) Exiled (2006)
4) The Mission (1999)
5) Vengeance (2009)
6) Mad Detective (2007)