Thursday, August 20, 2009


Johnnie To Kei Fung
courtesy of

"Revenge of course can be ignored. When you don't look for him for revenge, he looks for you."

A Time to Remember.

A Time to Revenge.

"To foreigners, destiny is only a coincidence."

His company has no dragon head staff, only a few ping pong paddles.

On the day of the interview, To Sir is in great spirits. Even if he forgets our appointment for an interview at Kwun Tong's Milky Way Image, he still takes time for pictures and autographs. Dressed in a shirt and pants, he even complies to a request to play his favorite past time of ping pong and ends up all sweaty. He sees us using Polaroid and even chats with the photographer. "Instant photos are almost a thing of the past."

In his upcoming release VENGEANCE, the French lead gradually loses his memory. In the end he forgets revenge and plays beach soccer without any care. In order to remember who is friend or foe, he has to take Polaroids of the "Three Musketeers" and adds the term "vengeance" on the back of his late daughter's photo. Then in the coffee shop scene, his memory is completely lost as he asks the "Three Musketeers", "What is revenge?" You are the one who wants revenge! The dark humor won a laugh from the entire audience, a laughter that ends all feuds.

In the reality of fierce competition, tabloids that already become old news before the next issue, reporters like us believe that the value of a successful interview not only serves as a communication bridge between the interview subject and the readers but at a certain time it actually can be a photo. No matter how many moons have passed, at least the buyer can still chase back the conversation with an interview subject on a certain date and thus prove that whether his words have been confirmed or rejected.

Thus, every interview subject actually should save their interviews. Because tomorrow you may have to find revenge from you today.

"Film is an art, no different from you looking at a painting or listening to a song. You have to experience it."

"For a book, a film, the center idea is more important than the dramatic effect."

This year he directed VENGEANCE, started DEATH OF A HOSTAGE, produced TACTICAL UNIT: COMRADES IN ARMS, and ACCIDENT. Cannes and Venice both have Milky Way Image traces.

"Forgetting revenge is the happiest. The best is everyone is happy. That's enough."

"VENGEANCE and THE MISSION and EXILED (FONG, JOOK) on a certain level is connected. It is the same world."

Speaking English

New film VENGEANCE is To Sir's first foreign funded film. It spent Euros and shot "France's Sam Hui Koon Kit".

"French investors approached me about making a film. I went to a meeting in Paris. They asked me which French actor I would like to work with. I said that when I was little I already loved to watch Alain Delon. So they introduced me to Alain. At our first meeting, he brought ELECTION and said that he really liked my movie. He even gave me a personally autographed film and said that he would like to work with me. When I got back, screen writer Wai Ka Fai and I tried to create VENGEANCE, about a retired killer's aging and memory loss. Actually Alain is already a senior, but perhaps he doesn't want to admit it as he turned it down. The investors thought the story was good and suggested finding another star. However, the script later was no longer our original idea as the Hong Kong style jokes and the concepts behind the film had to be changed. Because we understood that this time the market was mainly Europe, we had to accept the French people's opinion. Otherwise making this film would be meaningless. This time's goal actually was to see whether Hong Kong style film after leaving Hong Kong has any developmental room, to gauge what French audience wants to see so we tried to satisfy the producer as much as possible. In the end, the investors actually wanted our (Milky Way Image)'s original stuff. I think, VENGEANCE's only difference from my other work is -- speaking English."


Aside from English dialogue (poor Lam Suet), screen writer Wai Ka Fai also tried to simplify the story to accommodate the French producer.

"If we wrote another MAD DETECTIVE, they would think it's too complex. Even though MAD DETECTIVE at the Venice Film Festival had foreign remake right negotiations, Orlando Bloom and Clive Owen liked it very much, ultimately some foreign distributors feel MAD DETECTIVE is rather deep. The French feel style among simplicity is enough. Hong Kong style humor and philosophy are all be done without. Chinese thinking more or less has religious elements, with fate and Buddhism's karma, destiny. Yet to foreigners, destiny is only a coincidence. They are after the explicable, they don't believe in destiny or the so-called "butterfly effect". They don't know what RUNNING ON KARMA was talking about and feel it is a super hero film as the lead has superpower. We deeply believe that (Andy) Lau Tak Wa's character can see his past lives, but foreigners especially priests feel only God has super powers. Ordinary people all worship God."

"You can't just go all out with style alone to be considered good. When I work with Mr. Wai or when I direct myself, I express style with different stories. Relying on style alone is impossible, you have to know what the story is before deciding on how to make it. VENGEANCE has a scene in the forest, the moon comes and goes. Johnny Hallyday's character Costello due to a bullet in the brain immediately loses memory. Between the passing of time, light, darkness, have and have not, he suddenly forgets where he is. The moonlight creates an air of mystery that becomes this gun fight's style. In the end, style to me cannot possibly be any greater. At most I would spend a little more, to shoot a little better and fill the visual -- but where is the guts? How do you affect people? This is what I am after."


Wong Chau Sun is again called "ghost", Lam Suet's "Fat Lok" still loves to crack peanuts; although in EXILED they before the Macau Hand Over already bought the farm.

"Honestly, VENGEANCE may truly be several To Kei Fun films that people want to see the most rolled into one. The appreciation from watching EXILE isn't the pleasant surprise from MAD DETECTIVE because MAD DETECTIVE's starting point is to daringly make an unusual detective film. Yet VENGEANCE is not like this. It doesn't play all the way and isn't daring, on a certain level it is an elite work. You say VENGEANCE along with THE MISSION and EXILED are the "gunslinger trilogy". On a certain level all three are connected, but they aren't connected like the "spaghetti western" trilogy; just the same group of people, again with Wong Chau Sun, Lam Suet and Simon Yam Tat Wa. The world is the world. The story revolves around honor and revenge. The three films have an invisible relationship."


When Fat Lok sees Costello's amnesia, he asks Ghost, "Do you think he still remembers what is revenge?" Ghost answers, "He doesn't remember, but we do."

"Living in this world, a lot of questions of whether you are willing or not appear. Revenge of course can be ignored, but in the film the environment forces Lam Suet and others to turn against the boss (Yam Tat Wa). If you don't find him for revenge, he will find you. When something happens, it creates a second burden. Although the first burden may already be resolved, the second burden remains."

"I ask myself is it better to remember or to forget. Like when a senior suddenly loses his memory, does he still love you? Actually that isn't important. When it doesn't exist then it doesn't exist. When it doesn't exist it naturally has another change. If I want revenge, then the bias always exists. I feel one person is bad, even if what he does is right I feel it is wrong. Forgetting hatred is the happiest. The best is everyone is happy. When you do something if it makes people happy it's enough. Whatever your ability can do, the result satisfies you then it's the best. Like a movie, some people say it's good some say it's bad. The ones who say it's bad may not have bad intent, but the movie is made for the general public. Then I have to accept their opinion and can't hinder other people's thinking."

Akira Kurosawa

The end credit of THROWDOWN (YAU DOH LUNG FU BONG) clearly saluted late Japanese master Akira Kurosawa. What remains unspoken is, To Sir seems to always follow Akira Kurosawa's footsteps.

"He is teaching material. A movie in a lifetime, he makes one genre of movie for a lifetime; just like Hitchcock. In the 50s he made SUGATA SANSHIRO, until around DODESUKADEN he changed himself. Then with KAGEMUSHA and DREAMS he changed again. His changes come from life; from the post war Japan to the flourishing economy to the earthquake again, he wrote about them all in his autobiography. After the earthquake it was hell. After he failed to commit suicide, when he made movies again they were already another genre and entered a very personal style. Very artistic and very abstract, they won't tell you clearly. Later, he suddenly would shoot Japan at war, everything is different. Yet he didn't want to tell a complete story, but talked about a feeling. Finally DREAMS told the story less and less. Many directors couldn't achieve what he did in these three stages. He died in his 80s, with 60 years of film experience but never declining. If he didn't die, who knows what he would have changed into."

ELECTION is a stop, VENGEANCE is a new start.

"Living in this world, a lot of willing and unwilling appear."

To Kei Fung and Milky Way

Actually, his last Cannes film ELECTION was his watershed. It seems to say that SPARROW, LINGER and even VENGEANCE's experimental elements have their reasons.

"As for my stages, they are simpler than Akira Kurosawa's. One is television to later when I made commercial films EIGHTH HAPPINESS and JUSTICE MY FOOT, to 95 when I had no movie to make and started to think about the future. A year later Mr. Wai and I formed Milky Way Image, I produced his TOO MANY WAYS TO BE NUMBER ONE (YUT GOR JI TAU DIK DAN SUN). From TOO to ELECTION it seems to be a stop. When VENGEANCE came, I expanded my collaboration space and attempted the step of 'Hong Kong produced foreign film'. Now, I am trying to make a movie that can be released in the Mainland (tentatively Sammi Cheng Sau Man, Miriam Yeung Chin Wa and Andy Lau Tak Wa starred Lunar New Year film). Then maybe I have a chance to make a movie in the U.S."

"Now, I still hope to create an era without any vision; not to make whatever is trendy in the era, insist on originally created independence. No matter the audience accepts it or not, at least it is my own film. Most recently I think, ten years later do I hand (Milky Way) over to the next generation of directors? Thus, (Milky Way second generation directors) Yau Nai Hoi, Law Wing Cheong, Soi Cheang Po Shui appear. Ah Hoi after EYE IN THE SKY 'vanished' and hasn't brought any new film. He can't be forced; Ah Soi's ACCIDENT from conception to production took over two years......I believe the road they take is like ours (Milky Way), with our principles. They are very personal and with independent thinking they walk their own film world without any need to resemble anyone. I at the Fresh Wave told the 'kids', independent thinking is the greatest. Theories can be learned very quickly, read a few more books and you can learn them in two to three years. Yet how do you make movies that people appreciate, how to get there before other people do like Wong Kar Wai did back then, that is important, that is the future Hong Kong film direction. Hong Kong film's problem is not commercial or otherwise; to me I of course want more people to appreciate, not just me alone."


Big directors are all making national co-productions. To Sir instead co-produces with France first. Only with next year's commercial Lunar New Year film will he use "little people" to test his national box office draw. "My thinking is, if the film develops like this I won't change it to accommodate the market. My way is changing along the way, how do I get a script inspection? In addition I like to shoot the mob, gunplay, killers, all of which never pass inspection in a lifetime. If I change I am not me, I would rather stay to do what I want to do. Earlier I was rumored to make GWAI JUI DUNG (GHOST BLOWN LANTERN). It would be harder to make, up there doesn't want to make ghost, tomb raiding, the chance of failure is very high."


Earlier at TVB he ran into LEGEND OF CONDOR HEROES (SEH DIU YING HUNG JUEN). His new film VENGEANCE even thoroughly brought China's wuxia world to Europe as the Three Musketeers risk their lives for a tea house.

"I really admire Louis Cha (Gum Yung). His work is not only wuxia novel but 'wuxia literature'. Although the content has a lot of wild history, from his character designs and scenes it already contains a lot of love and hate. I always like to read wuxia novels, I also like to watch Chang Cheh, King Hu (Wu Kam Chuen)'s wuxia films. Perhaps in that era, my entertainment was those. My preference also grew up there. Subconsciously my thinking also has wuxia elements and its basis. A lot of my work has wuxia scenes, many scenes had wuxia shadows. Some wuxia thinking would achieve wuxia emotions. Someone else may not make it like this."


Once rumored to be making WATER MARGIN (SHUI FU JUEN) movie, earlier he said in a publication interview that he planned to "go toward literature" and further people's suspicion that Milky Way will adapt it. "Speaking of going toward literature, my meaning isn't making literary work like DREAM OF RED CHAMBER and WATER MARGIN but to further change my work to a near life level without pulling away -- THE MISSION and SPARROW all pulled away. For example, I really like the movie SECRET SUNSHINE. A lot happen in the lead's life -- in our (Milky Way) creative world we have to grasp how every moment and every event of the story affect every person's view in the film. We don't necessarily have to make drama, but make how people respond to something in life in the film. Whether it is a book or a film, whatever its center thinking is it is more important than its dramatic effect. I feel (Ann) Hui ON Wa's THOSE ARE THE DAYS (TIN SHUI WAI DIK YUT YU YEH) is literary, Jia Zhangke's STILL LIFE also has literary elements. Yet that doesn't mean THE GODFATHER doesn't! I am still learning about how I am going to do it. I need a long time to practice. I also hope my new film DEATH OF A HOSTAGE is a start. I don't look literature, I don't have much of an education, but I like this type of movies. So I use this genre to think about my ideas, I hope my film would can develop into variation in the future."

Try to Remember

"Without memory, does hatred still exist?" is the film VENGEANCE's theme. Memory is the source of revenge. However you can use your memory to recall some film details that are worth reliving. Below are ten film questions from To Sir's movies, you can try to see how many you can answer based on your memory.

In FAT CHOI SPIRIT (LEH GU LEH GU SUN NIN CHOI), when Andy Lau Tak Wa's home is seized and he receives a housing department letter for public housing assignment, where is he assigned to?
A. Ngau Tau Kok Upper Village
B. Ngau Tau Kok Lower Village
C. Cho Hiu Village

In THROW DOWN, Louis Koo Tin Lok's nickname when he is studying judo is?
A. Little Judo Bully
B. Little Judo King Kong
C. Little Judo Tornado

In FULL TIME KILLER, Andy Lau Tak Wa plays Tok Yi's real name is Lok Tat Wa. Which year did he almost win the Olympics shooting gold medal?
A. 1984
B. 1988
C. 1992

In THE MISSION, when Roy Cheung Yiu Yeung tests his gun, how many pounds did he ask Lam Suet to add to his hand gun spring?
A. 2 pounds
B. 3 pounds
C. 4 pounds

In RUNNING ON KARMA, when Andy Lau Tak Wa and Cecilia Cheung Pak Chi are eating and referring to that chicken goose mix dish as only a couple in a former life has the chance to be mixed together. Yet a third party appears in the middle, what is it?
A. squid
B. goose intestine
C. duck liver

In PTU Lam Suet plays Sa Sir. What color of paint do the Wise Guys throw on his car outside the hot pot casserole shop?
A. Yellow
B. Red
C. Blue

In ELECTION Tony Leung Ka Fai's Big D did not win the boss post. At the detention center he claims to start his own title. What was it?
A. new Sing Wor Luen
B. new Luen Sing Wor
C. new Wor Luen Sing

In MAD DETECTIVE, how many times does Lau Ching Wan order "shark fin, fish, half a fried chicken and a bowl of white rice" in order to enter Lam Ka Tung's thought?
A. 3
B. 4
C. 5

In EXILE, when Anthony Wong Chau Sun had soup at Nick Cheung Ka Fai's home, what was in it?
A. rock
B. coin
C. bullet

In NEEDING YOU, after Sammi Cheng Sau Man went on a boat with Raymond Wong Ho Yin, what did Andy Lau Tak Wa write on the big wooden board to touch Sammi?
A. I love you
B. I need you
C. I miss you

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