Chow Yun-Fat in a scene from "Office".
Throughout his illustrious career, renowned Hong Kong director Johnnie To has explored various genres such as crime, action, comedy and drama. But this is a rare moment where Johnnie To explores something new via "Office": a musical comedy based on a 2009 play called "Contemporary Musical Design for Living". Best of all, the upcoming movie finally reunites To with stars Chow Yun-Fat and Sylvia Chang after their last collaboration in the award-winning drama of "All About Ah Long" way back in 1989.
In conjunction with the release of To's "Office" this year, let's take a look back at some of best Johnnie To movies in different genres.
Alex Fong Chung-Sun (middle) in a scene from "Lifeline".
Unlike the cop genre, a firefighter drama was hardly a favourable topic for Hong Kong cinema, but Johnnie To's "Lifeline" proved to be a game changer during the 1990s. Popularly known as the Hong Kong's version of "Backdraft", "Lifeline" detailed on a group of close-knit firefighters of the "jinxed" Chi Wan team led by Yau Sui (Lau Ching-Wan) and Cheung Man Kit (Alex Fong Chung-Sun). The first half was basically a slice-of-life drama that focused on the main characters' personal lives, but it was the second half that made "Lifeline" such a memorable cinematic experience. The extended 45-minute finale set in a burning warehouse was easily the most realistic fire sequence ever staged in Hong Kong cinema, and it was surprisingly made possible without the need of the "Backdraft"-sized budget.
"Breaking News" (2004)
Richie Jen in "Breaking News".
Action movies revolving around cops-vs-robbers is nothing new, but in the hands of Johnnie To, he managed to spin an oft-told tale into something unique. Blending action genre and media satire, "Breaking News" was best remembered for its breathtaking opening gunfight scene in the street between the cops (led by Nick Cheung) and Mainland robbers (led by Richie Jen) that lasted nearly 7 minutes in an unbroken tracking shot.
"Election" (2005) and "Election 2" (2006)
Simon Yam in the scene from "Election".
A Hong Kong's answer to Francis Ford Coppola's seminal mafia classics of "The Godfather" (1972) and "The Godfather: Part II" (1974), Johnnie To's two-part gangster epic involved the power struggle between two opposing triad bosses (Simon Yam and Tony Leung Ka-Fai) fighting for their place to become the leader of the Wo Sing triad society. What makes "Election" and its second movie (which focused on Louis Koo's character rising to the rank) uniquely different from the typical Hong Kong triad genre was To's bold but interesting decision to present a procedural-like storyline detailing an insider's look of a triad operation. Both movies were also hardly an action-packed type, which might alienate casual viewers looking for a good old-fashioned triad drama. Despite limited action, the depiction of violence was noticeably brutal and shocking such as the scene where a character gets bludgeoned repeatedly with a heavy object.
"Life Without Principle" (2011)
Lau Ching-Wan stars in "Life Without Principle".
A wickedly fascinating look at money, greed and the dark side of human nature in the midst of world financial crisis in Hong Kong, "Life Without Principle" was a rare Johnnie To dramatic satire without his usual trademark of gun violence. Instead, he was bold enough to pump his movie with heavy dialogue that spoke louder than action. The movie was also densely plotted and the fact it was told in non-linear fashion might confuse casual viewers with short attention span. However, the movie was blessed with Johnnie To's unique sense of quirky humour and colourful characters. Lau Ching-Wan stole most of the show here with his enthusiastic performance as a loyal triad member, Panther. He was especially fun to watch for during a hilarious Rube Goldberg-like situation where he had to collect a large sum of money from various people to bail out Brother Wah (Cheung Siu-Fai), who was arrested for multiple charges.
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" (2011)
(L-R) Gao Yuanyuan and Daniel Wu in "Don't Go Breaking My Heart".
Johnnie To may be known for his crime and gangster genre movies, but he was no slouch either when comes to romantic comedy. One prime example was his hugely-popular "Needing You" (2000), which starred then-reigning Hong Kong screen couple Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng. Another one was "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" -- a story about a love triangle between a girl (featuring a bubbly performance by Gao Yuanyuan) and two guys (Louis Koo and Daniel Wu). Blessed with a witty script by Wai Ka-Fai, Yau Nai-Hoi, Ray Chan and Jevons Au, the plot was especially energetic and innovative. Among the highlights here was a high-concept premise involving the three main characters showing various gestures in their office windows across the buildings with different materials such as Post-It notes. A little trivia: this particular scene was actually done before in the Patrick Hughes-directed short film called "Signs" in 2008.
"Office" opens in Malaysia on 18 June and in Singapore on 1 October 2015.
Cinema Online, 14 June 2015