Johnnie To

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Johnnie To

#51 Post by Michael Kerpan » Fri Jan 29, 2016 2:34 pm

How did you manage to see Logest Nite?

masterofoneinchpunch
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Re: Johnnie To

#52 Post by masterofoneinchpunch » Fri Jan 29, 2016 3:06 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:How did you manage to see Logest Nite?
I have the Universe Laser R0/NTSC DVD (the same DVD release that Stephen Teo used for his book on Johnnie To.) I give a paragraph of description on that DVD in the long-winded post. Unfortunately the extras are not translated. While that and the VCD are OOP the prices for them are not too high on Amazon compared to say Too Many Ways to Be No. 1.

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joshua
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Re: Johnnie To

#53 Post by joshua » Fri Jan 29, 2016 3:18 pm

It was also added to Amazon Prime recently along with The Mission.

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The Fanciful Norwegian
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Re: Johnnie To

#54 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Fri Jan 29, 2016 6:39 pm

Don't bother with the versions on Prime. They're "HD" but obviously upscales, and they're stretched from the original 'Scope to full-frame 16:9, which makes them completely unwatchable. The lack of basic professionalism, combined with the rights issues that have long surrounded these films and the fact that Amazon lists the distributor as "Unavailable," leads me to suspect that we're dealing with the streaming equivalent of those once-ubiquitous bootleg DVD outfits like Red Sun. The best video edition of The Longest Nite is the HK Video release from France, which looks fantastic compared to the Universe disc. Unfortunately it's also OOP and unsurprisingly lacks English subs.

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feihong
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Re: Johnnie To

#55 Post by feihong » Wed Jun 29, 2016 1:37 am

Johnnie To's new thriller, Three, was playing today at an AMC theater in Monterey Park, with English subtitles. Even the song near the end was subtitled, which kind of surprisingly turned out to be about Confucius.

The film is very good. It takes place in a single setting––a hospital. An injured member of an armed gang is brought in for surgery by the cops that shot him. It happens on the day when neurosurgeon Vikki Zhao is having a brutal crisis of confidence. The brassy gangster refuses surgery, the cops, led in a very sure performance by Louis Koo, want to question him...and get their stories straight. The byplay between neurosurgeon, cop and criminal provides very invigorating tension, and the cinematography is superlative, dwelling on pensive faces waiting for disaster to break out. At the very end there is some regrettable CGI, which is very unbelievable and which really piles on the aerial hijinks, but up until that point, and afterwards, as well, the film is very sure of itself, and comes off really beautifully. Performances are top–notch, and the direction is crackling. It's a very cool thriller, but it has time for a lot of character scene-chewing and playful humor. Lo Hoi-Pang especially shines as a puckish patient who escapes his bed and sneaks around the hospital stealing keys.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: Johnnie To

#56 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jun 29, 2016 10:57 am

Sounds great. It looks like it is here in Boston -- but only until tomorrow.

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Re: Johnnie To

#57 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jun 29, 2016 7:03 pm

I found Three (on first viewing at least) rather disappointing. The pieces didn't really seem to fit well together -- and I didn't buy the "logistics" (for instance, didn't believe the police could be as inept as they were here).

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rockysds
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Re: Johnnie To

#58 Post by rockysds » Sun Mar 12, 2017 2:02 pm

HK blu-ray of The Mad Monk getting released in a couple of weeks.

By the way, would anyone happen to know if the HK blu-ray of Office is region-free? I have a region-free player, but my 3D-capable player is Region B only.

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chiendent
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Re: Johnnie To

#59 Post by chiendent » Thu Jun 29, 2017 7:36 pm

SFMOMA will have a Johnnie To series this summer in San Francisco with him attending in person for Election along with a talk the night before. I'm looking forward to catching as many as time/money allows since I've only seen his more recent films. For some reason, Drug War and Three are listing as screening from blurays but the rest seem to be a mix of DCP and 35mm.

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Re: Johnnie To

#60 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Fri Jun 30, 2017 11:00 pm

Well Go (the U.S. distributor of Drug War and Three) doesn't seem to keep DCPs of their back catalog, so if you want to screen something more than a few months after the end of its U.S. theatrical run, you're stuck with a Blu-ray and maybe not even that—I recently inquired about screening one of their titles from last year and was told I would have to use an iTunes download, since they decided not to do a BD release. (Unfortunately it's also a title without a BD release elsewhere.) Life Without Principle looks to be screening from a BD as well, but that's not a Well Go title.

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chiendent
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Re: Johnnie To

#61 Post by chiendent » Sun Jul 02, 2017 1:42 pm

Interesting, I figured it had something to do with Well Go but I didn't realize they didn't keep DCPs of their back catalog; is this common practice among smaller distributors? I wish they were better about home video releases but I shouldn't complain too much because at least they give me the chance to head to a nearby AMC and see new To films and the like. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to organize a retrospective like this, at any rate.

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Re: Johnnie To

#62 Post by colinr0380 » Sun Jan 19, 2020 5:23 am

According to this month's edition of Neo Magazine Eureka is bringing Throw Down out on Blu-ray in the UK at some point "TBC" this year.

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feihong
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Re: Johnnie To

#63 Post by feihong » Tue Jan 21, 2020 7:06 am

Chasing Dream

It might have been because I had just seen a really beguiling and marvelous French film, "Simone Barbes, or, Virtue"––a movie barely feature–length; yet one which very productively explored the theme of waiting, and the pin–sized romantic virtue of persevering through tedium––that I was especially exorcised by the massive boredom attending "Chasing Dream," the dismaying remake of "Throwdown" which is Johnnie To's latest and unequivocally worst film. The misery of sitting through this slog is really in a class of its own, and, even with the 3–year gap in his filmography, his own hinted plans to retire, and with the messy ending of his last film, "Three," all perhaps auguring a downturn in To's lengthy and mostly exciting career, it is still alarming to see every strength of To's filmmaking, including the combined work of much of his normal collection of collaborators, fail to produce anything worth seeing. A combination MMA–fight movie and American–Idol–style musical with a love story awkwardly wedged in the margins, the film comes off quite a bit like a Bollywood production. And like a Bollywood musical, it seems to go on forever, plodding through shopworn and over–obvious story beats until it covers absolutely all the bases you are expected to get through in a movie of so many different tones and genres.

The picture is stuffed to bursting from absolutely every angle, as if Johnnie To were imitating Tsui Hark. But while Hark usually manages a kind of dizzying but ultimately sensible focus for his movies, To imitating that style is an overwhelming endurance test. The two leads are flanked with an enormous cast of supporting characters––too many to count, and too few making any impact at all on the proceedings. There are multiple villains for the MMA plot, and a villain for the singing competition as well, along with a whole host of variously–aligned supplementary antagonists. Jacky Heung, the MMA fighter "hero" of the film, also has a boxing sifu and a whole gym full of kids hanging around, a cast of characters who owe him money that all gather around the square in front of his loft, and a cast of loan shark gangsters he works with who also function as his MMA crew. Kero Wang, the putty–faced leading lady of the film, has a grandmother and eventually a village of characters who know her, as well as the entire cast of the televised singing competition she places in. There are endless, dreadfully dull MMA scenes to be had, and whenever there is no MMA to be had, there is this odorless, textureless singing competition, and its host of musical numbers, which are, like the MMA scenes, constantly cheered on by a barrage of fans which fill the frame of oh so many shots in the film. Last month I saw "Rise of Skywalker," and I thought I'd never seen a film with so many strobe effects. "Chasing Dream" holds it's own record as well––it's the film that cheers for itself louder and more incessantly than any picture I ever hope to see.

On top of all this excess, there are two other kinds of scenes dotting the film (there is also a lengthy passage of heavy, heavy misogyny in the first act of the movie––I thought it would be the principal subject of this writeup, but it evaporated in Act II and didn't really return––though the camera and some supporting actors do pause to ogle Kero Wang later on as she washes a car and then again as she repeatedly spins on a stripper pole, and Jacky's character does try to rape Kero's character when he comes to realize he's in love with her...yeah, you know what? This movie's misogynistic as f*ck! It's disgusting): There are big–budget, Bollywood–style musical numbers that aren't part of the talent contest (this seems to be why Jacky Heung's warehouse loft is built on an absolutely garishly fake studio set––not purposefully stylized like in "Office," but really just an antiseptically–lit street set dressed with tons of extras all seemingly busy with some bogus occupation or another), and then there are comedy scenes, which stop the movie absolutely dead in its tracks and which are stuffed with queasy, weird humor. These scenes offer us chances to laugh at fat people, laugh at ugly people, laugh at the threat that Jacky Heung's character might get brain damage or go blind, laugh at Kero Wang's character's sexual exploitation––and there is a really weird recurring joke about a lady rock singer who appears in every round of the singing competition increasingly infirm (she comes out in crutches after doing the splits the previous night; she comes out in one of those plastic body-casts after switching her guitar–picking posture). The jokes are as crude as in the most all–things–to–all–people New Year's comedies, and they all feel out of place in a movie which aspires to both inspire and to drop a heavy warning about the dangers of seeking fame. That warning, by the way, is the one plot line they never really deliver on, though Jacky's sifu seems to get paralyzed. Honest to gosh, the sifu––this guy appears in the first few minutes of the film. Then an hour goes by focusing on other stuff, and then the sifu and his students get re-introduced as a source of plot points for the second half of the picture. The plot of this movie goes all over the place and back again. And what's most disconcerting about this film may be how many elements of style To's collaborators usually bring to the film, all of which fall apart in this one.

Wai Ka Fai's script is protracted and very hammy. In a classic Milkyway film, like "P.T.U." or "The Mission," plot threads are made concise and compacted together to make a dense movie. The "Chasing Dream" script defies density, distributing each of the mass of plot points in its own dedicated, dialogue–heavy scene, full of stage business with the actors, and sometimes full songs or cage matches. But special mention has to be made of Cheng Siu–Keung's cinematography––usually one of the highlights of To's elegant style. In this movie everything seems to go wrong with the cinematography, from the jarringly intense colors (tons of clashing reds and blues) to the astounding lack of depth in the camerawork. Usually the depth of field is the hallmark of the pictures, but this movie constantly comes across as flat and intensely digital. The entire film seems to be shot in too fast a shutter speed, as every single movement of any actor is delineated in excruciating clarity. It's okay for the MMA scenes, I suppose, but the musical numbers get this treatment too, as well as the comedy scenes, the talent show scenes, and the harrowing scenes of abuse and humiliation which pass for the film's romantic payload until very near the end (at the end the romance gets surprisingly sweet––a song in the competition gives it much more of a narrative throughline than the film had heretofore provided, and by that point you are so beat down by the shrillness of this experience that the genuine–seeming feeling the actors manage, in this hour of their most desperate need, to summon...almost gets to you). The film is also full of extreme closeups with a fisheye lens––not just for the grinding gore of the fights, but also, very inappropriately, for the singing competition scenes as well (the camera is often way up in the singers' faces). But aside from all that, the film is missing To's generally more subtle mis en scene. The main actors––both reasonably appealing, I imagine, in better circumstances, read every line in a bellow, a wail or a scream. The film seems shrill from beginning to end, and it left my ears ringing from the endless scenes of confrontation. Nevertheless, I have to single out the singing scenes in the talent competition as the worst element of the production. The singing and dancing in these sequences could have lifted the more tired aspects of this story up; instead they are uninspired, and really just the pits. The musical scenes in "Office" were fun––partly because of the choreography, which had the actors performing realistic office activities in rhythmic patterns and interacting with the jungle–gym like artificial set––the musical scenes in this movie are shot very flat, and offer the kind of hambone choreography we saw in the nightclub dance in "Drug War." Summing up the craft of the film, it made me feel that "Where a Good Man Goes"––as far as I was previously concerned one of the lesser films in To's filmography––is by comparison a masterpiece of sensitive restraint and artistic modulation. At least Ruby Wong's performance in that film is genuinely empathetic and moving. Nothing in "Chasing Dream" is really moving. Nothing.

Now for the themes, and the unsuspected relationship between this movie and "Throwdown." I said it was a remake––I have no proof of that, except that when you watch the movie it surely feels like a remake. As in "Throwdown," the characters in "Chasing Dream"––the MMA fighter, trying to navigate a landscape of crooked managers and bloodthirsty opponents, and trying to avoid going blind (this is one of the threats his physician levels against him if he keeps fighting, which he does, and yet he doesn't go blind), the woman a runaway and aspiring singer trying to avoid prostitution and destitution––band together to give each other courage to face their goals instead of running away from them. There is even the distinct sense, like in "Throwdown," that these characters are failing to muster the grit and determination to become their best selves, and are somehow at fault for this––although Kero Wang's character faces an astoundingly more bleak world than Cherrie Ying does in "Throwdown," and the rich backdrop of judo tradition in "Throwdown" is traded down for the bland thrills of MMA in "Chasing Dream." The quirky karaoke bar from "Throwdown" is built into an enormous singing competition a bit like "The Voice," but that trade is also to the new film's detriment, making this new movie feel at once much bigger and a lot more hollow as a result. The songs in the talent competition are characterless pop. The tunes in "Throwdown" are classic and catchy, and delivered with warmth, intimacy, and genuine quirk. The reveal of Szeto's blindness in "Throwdown" is extraordinarily complicated and subtle, whereas "Chasing Dream" seems allergic to subtlety. Above all the humor of "Throwdown" is unique and winning, integrating readily into the plot and reinforcing the themes of the film. The humor in the new picture is entirely detachable, and the movie is stocked full of jokes that are crass, repetitive, and cliched. An unhappy feeling just bleeds out of this new picture, and I think that misplaced humor is a big part of it.

But the two films do share themes, as well as dramatic setup; both movies are about characters defeating their fear of achievement, facing their varied fears, and wholeheartedly committing to their goals and desires, and finding the will to do this by being together. And this is where I think "Chasing Dream" has been engineered to be a minor corrective to "Throwdown." "Throwdown" is the far more charming of the two movies, but it has to be said that Cherrie Ying's character gets pretty short shrift in the triangle of heroes of that movie. Her plot gets resolved in a very superficial way, and she's actually absent for the climax and denouement of the film. It's very hard to get a good read on who she is supposed to be––she's both excessively money–hungry and yet she also seems not to mind being evicted and ending up living on the street. She's dodging her successful parents, but what she really wants is to become a star, something you imagine they might be able to help with in some way. With less screen time, and with really no connection to the judo plot which is the movie's main thrust, Cherrie's character just doesn't have the opportunity to flower into a person with clear motivations. And sometimes a woman in a Johnnie To film seems to only be in the way, I fear. "Chasing Dream" does go a good part of the way towards fixing that problem, sorty of, by giving Kero Wang and her character almost the same amount of plot and screen time as Jacky Heung––although the solutions the film suggests place Kero Wang's character in far more nail-biting and uncomfortable jeopardy than Cherrie ever faced in "Throwdown"––jeopardy that seems excessive for the film's alleged attempt at musical fun. Kero's character actually begins the film living on the street, up to her neck in debt, and from there seems to face prostitution or work in porn when her loan sharks catch up to her, only to be rescued from this by a deranged–seeming fighter who locks her in the warehouse where he lives and puts her to work washing cars, dancing in a strip club, and generally suggesting he is a violent threat to her life. When she finally softens on this guy, he actually turns out to be more dangerous and self–destructive, and it's then when he tries to rape her as an initial gesture of affection. If I was predisposed to vomit, it would have been happening while I watched all this. That said, Kero's character does have a good deal of internal consistency that Cherrie's character in "Throwdown" lacks. You always know why she's doing what she's doing––she has Stockholm Syndrome, and eventually she gets so threatened, tricked, brutalized and exploited by every other member of the cast that she doesn't know which end is up anymore (when she returns eventually to her long-lost grandmother, with tears streaming down her face, even this delicate old lady starts beating her with a straw whisk––there is literally no place in the movie this woman could go and feel safe). So while the new film is far more thorough in explicating it's female lead's experience and motivations, I'm not sure we're all that better off for that improvement. "Throwdown" is fun. "Chasing Dream" is a torment.

Beyond that, like this review, "Chasing Dream" just goes on for ever and ever. Sorry. As the film wound to a conclusion, I looked at my watch and discovered that in fact there were over 40 minutes left. But there never was a filmmaker more ill–equipped to take on tedium and duration as subject matter as is Johnnie To, so the boredom never becomes any kind of self–reflexive insight. The whole production comes in at about 2 hours, but it felt so much longer than that. I found myself talking back to the screen by about 45 minutes in, grousing at my mutual enmity with a film that seemed determined to break my spirit. How can one of my most adored directors fail so hard, so aggressively, and so completely? For one thing, while previous movies like "Office" felt like optimistic experiments, like To was stretching his style and broadening his subject matter to see what was out there, even as tried to cunningly package things the audience might really go for, "Chasing Dream" feels like a movie as naked cashgrab, pairing a bland story with appealing but not well–directed stars in a series of everything-but-the-kitchen-sink scenarios designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of audience. I find myself hoping both that this isn't the end of To's career, but also that it isn't a harbinger of films to come. I wonder if Preminger fans felt this way when "Rosebud" came out. I can't imagine why To found himself making quite this flat and broad a movie (I have to admit, I have always been afraid to watch "Love on a Diet," or many other To movies of its ilk––so maybe this is just an avenue of his filmmaking I don't normally indulge?). It's hard to credit the idea that the same filmmaker devised "Sparrow." And maybe I was a bit spoiled by having a really unique and wonderful movie experience right before it (the aforementioned "Simon Barbes"), but I haven't had such an awful experience watching a movie as I did watching "Chasing Dream" in quite a long time. It broke me.

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Re: Johnnie To

#64 Post by dda1996a » Tue Jan 21, 2020 10:15 am

Where was it written To was considering retiring?

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feihong
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Re: Johnnie To

#65 Post by feihong » Tue Jan 21, 2020 2:45 pm

He made some comments at the Cannes festival, I think around the time he was making "Vengeance." He mentioned plans to make Election 3, and in several different interviews from the time said he was planning on retiring, I think around 70? It was something he said in a several different articles at the time.

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Re: Johnnie To

#66 Post by The Fanciful Norwegian » Tue Jan 21, 2020 3:48 pm

I think the retirement stuff is the internet telephone game at work. He's mentioned retiring from his managerial role at Milkyway by age 65, but I can't find anything from the man himself about retiring from filmmaking altogether. (To turns 65 in April, but he's well ahead of his deadline, having turned over his administrative duties to longtime line producer Elaine Chu in 2016.) And nothing in any of the recent interviews To has given suggests he's about to hang it up—he admits he's working a lot more slowly because the "production environment" has shifted to a larger scale than he's used to, but he has two projects well along in the pipeline: a long-gestating omnibus film with Ann Hui, Patrick Tam, Tsui Hark, Yuen Woo-ping, Sammo Hung, and Ringo Lam that's apparently in post-production, and another movie with Jacky Heung that started shooting last year and involves an "anti-traditional" undercover cop. To says the latter will be a "more personal" film than Chasing Dream, with "more Johnnie To elements," and he's been more or less open about Chasing Dream being a favor to Charles Heung, who's co-produced most of Milkyway's output. He also still wants to do Election 3 but is waiting for the situation to "mature," a not-too-veiled reference to the mainland censors.

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Re: Johnnie To

#67 Post by whaleallright » Tue Jan 21, 2020 6:19 pm

colinr0380 wrote:
Sun Jan 19, 2020 5:23 am
According to this month's edition of Neo Magazine Eureka is bringing Throw Down out on Blu-ray in the UK at some point "TBC" this year.
I just watched the Hong Kong Blu-Ray of this. Got to be one of To and Wai's most eccentric films. It's impressve that, as mainstream Hollywood films seem to employ more and more redundancy on all fronts, To manages to make reasonably popular films that actually place demands on the viewer to pay careful attention -- there's a lot of blink-and-you-miss-it exposition in this film that, indeed, I often missed.

That review of Chasing Dream (what a terrible English title btw) -- oof. To has struck out before, but I've never seen such a vituperative reaction to one of his films, not that your descriptions don't make it sound warranted.

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feihong
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Re: Johnnie To

#68 Post by feihong » Tue Jan 21, 2020 9:51 pm

Normally I'm the one defending To's movies––I'm maybe the one person in the world who finds "Blind Detective" one of the best movies I've seen in the last 10 years, and I liked "Three" far more than anyone else I've talked to about the picture––and that might have made this film more disappointing rather than less so. What has made To's movies special for me in the past has been the sophistication he brings to them––not the norm in even the most creative Hong Kong new wave cinema. To's has become a cinema of narrative subtlety. There's a lot of nuanced performances, and he seldom leaves a theme on the floor without some unique exploration. So a movie like "Drug War" has a line of discreet criticism of China's drug policy, and "Life Without Principle" blames Hong Kong's panicked investor class for the impact of the financial crisis. But there wasn't any of that on display in "Chasing Dream (you're absolutely right, a barely acceptable English title)." I was a little aghast at how determined this movie was to appeal to the very lowest common denominator of viewer, and the endlessness of the picture ended up seeming shocking. There are definitely failures for To, even in some of the crime films––I find "Fulltime Killer" pretty unsuccessful, but that movie at least has sequences of fluency and creativity that make watching the picture worth seeing. But "Chasing Dream" is a total rout, moreso than any To movie I have seen. I'd rather watch "The Enigmatic Case" over and over, or "Breaking News (a movie that steadfastly refuses to be about anything)," or "Running on Karma (which crumbles in its third act)." But I hope To is able to pick himself up from this low point and put together his next movie out of more promising material. Personally, I'm still one of his biggest fans, even though this new movie feels like a real betrayal of To's promise.

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yoloswegmaster
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Re: Johnnie To

#69 Post by yoloswegmaster » Tue Jan 21, 2020 10:19 pm

Never thought I would see a fellow fan of 'Blind Detective'. It's easily one of his best (and probably his most goofiest) films that's bolstered by the fantastic chemistry between Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng.

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feihong
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Re: Johnnie To

#70 Post by feihong » Wed Jan 22, 2020 3:52 am

yoloswegmaster wrote:
Tue Jan 21, 2020 10:19 pm
Never thought I would see a fellow fan of 'Blind Detective'. It's easily one of his best (and probably his most goofiest) films that's bolstered by the fantastic chemistry between Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng.
It is To's "Tristram Shandy."

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Re: Johnnie To

#71 Post by Michael Kerpan » Wed Jan 22, 2020 2:48 pm

Love Blind Detective -- but also Running on Karma and Breaking News. ;-) Sorry to hear his latest is a stinker. Any recommended blu-ray version of Three? (which I never bought for some reason)

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Re: Johnnie To

#72 Post by masterofoneinchpunch » Wed Jan 22, 2020 2:59 pm

I really liked how Three brought everything together for the end. For me an absolutely beautiful use of slow motion and camera. I was just sharing yesterday the opening of Breaking News (the use of one-shot). Now you have me curious (not a good curious) on his latest. I was a fan of Drug War (I posted my review/essay on the first page) so your comment on rewatching "The Enigmatic Case" instead has me concerned.

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