Movie masters

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2006, 12:00am

Two of Hong Kong's best-loved filmmakers will be honoured at this year's Hong Kong International Film Festival with the screening of their best films from the last decade.

Johnnie To Kei-fung and Wai Ka-fai are founders of production house Milkyway Image. The series is called Milkyway Image, 1996-2005.

Some of the company's best films, such as Running Out of Time, The Mission, PTU and Throw Down, as well as Election 2 - To's triad epic sequel and the festival's opening film on April 4 - will be shown.

Eager fans snapped up tickets for Election 2 online in just two hours - a record in the festival's history and a testimony to the production house's reputation.

'We want Hong Kong films to be original. The development [of Milkyway Image] is very local, and we demand that we be strong creatively. I also have

to thank [director and screenwriter] Wai Ka-fai for his creative ideas,' To said.

Wai and To, who have worked together for 10 years, have emerged as a creative force in Hong Kong cinema. Many of their films, such as the romantic comedy Needing You, were box-office hits. The duo have also made their mark with action thrillers such as Running Out of Time and Full- Time Killer.

But it is Running on Karma that's been their biggest hit. The film took the Best Film prize at the Hong Kong Film Awards in 2004.

'There are many different ways of making a film. Milkyway's early films were different from mainstream films and weren't well accepted by the market,' Wai said. 'The style was well received overseas and by local critics, but they were not box-office hits.'

For instance, films such as Wai's Too Many Ways to be No1, the company's first production, and The Longest Nite, directed by Patrick Yau Tat-chi who is part of the Milkyway team, are gangster movies that were too sophisticated for mainstream tastes.

The pair decided to change their filmmaking style in the late 1990s, when the industry was going through a dry patch. Wai said the turning point was Needing You, a box-office winner co-directed by To and Wai.

'I think it was a natural development. When we first established Milkyway, the film industry was producing a lot of movies, and we wanted to offer something different,' Wai said.

'But when we made Running Out of Time and Needing You, the industry was suffering and we wanted more people to go to the movies.'

But the pair have not given up on making cutting-edge and uncompromising films that reflect their distinct style.

'To brings in new substance to the archetypal characters in each film, such as the patrol officers in PTU and the bodyguards in The Mission,' said writer and critic Lawrence Pun Kwok-ling, who edited and co-wrote the book Milkyway Image, Beyond Imagination, which will hit the shelves next month.

'To's action style is also different from that of John Woo, who has plenty of gunfights in his work. For example, The Mission is a very quiet film, and in Election, the gangsters don't even use guns.

'These films are also tied to the social climate in Hong Kong after 1997.'

With 37 movies under its belt, Wai says Milkyway has always tried to send out a positive message.

'Milkyway strives to offer things that are lacking in mainstream films and has maintained a level of output during both good and difficult times. I think this is a positive signal for the industry.'

For more information on the series, visit www.hkiff.org.hk