Blog Archives

Drug War (2012)

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In just under twelve months, I’ve had the good fortune to have watched three superb new release Asian crime movies. In my opinion, they mark a turning point in their respective film cultures. The films are: from India, Gangs of Wasseypur, a very un-Bollywood-like crime saga which chronicles a century long blood feud; the Chinese feature Lethal Hostage from wannabe auteur Cheng Er; and Johnnie To’s first mainland produced and financed cop drama, Drug War. More on the … (read more)

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Life Without Principle (2011)

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Looking through our archives, it seems like almost everyone who’s ever written for Heroic Cinema has sat down at a keyboard to bash out a review of a Johnnie To film at one time or another. Ching Yee compared films from Milkyway Image to comfort food in her review of My Left Eye Sees Ghosts, and she’s right — To’s films have developed a distinctive style and consistently high level of quality over the years, and I always look … (read more)

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Vengeance (2009)

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I didn’t think I would see a better Cantonese film this year than Soi Cheang’s Accident – then along came Johnnie To’s Vengeance, a remarkable crime drama which ultimately transcends the genre.

A Hong Kong / France co-production, Vengeance is set mainly in Macau and stars French actor/singer Johnny Hallyday. Initially, Alain Delon was to be the lead but he pulled out and was replaced by Hallyday.

The opening twenty minutes are superb and announce to the audience that … (read more)

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Election 2 (2006)

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With this sequel to the excellent 2005 film Election, Hong Kong director Johnnie To adds yet another great film to his long and impressive list of work. Few other directors have managed to make so many movies and maintain the same high standards in one film after another. Election 2 sees the return of all the characters (at least those who managed to survive) from Election, and guess what; it’s time for another triad election.

It’s been two … (read more)

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Mad Detective (2007)

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Hong Kong’s most reliably excellent director brings back Lau Ching Wan for another collaboration in Mad Detective, their first in several years. It’s a Hong Kong police procedural, familiar territory to Hong Kong film fans, except that it has a rather creative twist. Lau Ching Wan plays Bun, a brilliant intuitive detective who has a knack for solving crimes through putting himself in the shoes of their participants, seeing their inner conflicts and motivations. Unfortunately, he’s also a little … (read more)

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Sparrow (2008)

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Johnnie To’s films have been favourites here at Heroic Cinema for years: Alison showed me The Mission years ago and got me hooked on modern Hong Kong film. Hong Kong and its surroundings transform through To’s pictures into somewhere preternaturally cool: all rain-slicked night metropolis, populated by street-crawling thugs (often played by Lam Suet) and the occasional ambiguously dangerous Anthony Wong. And he makes it look easy, too — most of Milkyway Studios’ pictures are beautifully shot, from … (read more)

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Exiled (2006)

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After following reckless and ruthless triad bosses across Hong Kong and China in Election and its sequel, Johnnie To returns to the perspective of the heroic underling as well as to the celebrated story dimension of 1999’s The Mission, one of the major highlights of his prolific career.

Exiled is neither a direct sequel or prequel to The Mission, but rather an interplay of similarities and divergences from the earlier film’s plot, themes, characters and stylistic approach. … (read more)

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Love on a Diet (2001)

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How will your loved one[s] react if you suddenly put on 200 pounds? Will they love you any less? Does being beautiful = thin? What sort of message is this film trying to send? These questions whizzed through my head as I watched Love on A Diet, Johnnie To’s latest offering, with HK’s über popstars, Sammi Cheng and Andy Lau [suffering for their art by packing on heavy sumo suits]. These human insecurities form the basis for the premise of … (read more)

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