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The Rise of Johnnie To
Critical darling 3/4 - Page 10
Author(s) : Marie Jost
Date : 28/2/2011
Type(s) : Analysis
Food for thought
 Intext Links  
People :
Johnnie To Kei Fung
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Page 9 : Johnnie To best films?
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I think it is fair to say that information about film and film criticism has exploded on line in the past decade. There are innumerable information sites, news aggregator sites, on-line versions of trade papers like Variety and journals like Sight and Sound and Cahiers du Cinéma. There are all manner of general film sites offering reviews and news in addition to interviews, forums, articles, etc. Whatever you want to know about film, it seems, you can find it on line. Just a cursory glance of a selection at sites, such as those collected as worthy of attention on David Bordwell’s blog, shows how much information, opinion and analysis of film, all types of film, current and past, from whatever region, whatever genre, is featured somewhere on the web. Half the battle is finding the sources that correspond to a particular interest. For Hong Kong film, generally, and Johnnie To, in particular, the internet is a major place to learn about, discuss and even watch his films.

There appear to be three primary types of film people who write for these on-line publications. First are the bloggers. Some style themselves cinephiles and blog extensively on world cinema, especially what many now call “art house” cinema. Others are academics who publish works of scholarship, whether as work in progress or highly polished essays with all of the critical accoutrements of academic scholarship. A prominent film scholar, David Bordwell, has turned his blog into an intoxicating or infuriating platform (your view of this will vary depending on your opinion of Bordwell’s methodology of film) for expounding his views on cinema, with highly polished articles that masquerade as extensive blog entries. Some of the entries could be drafts of chapters to appear in upcoming monographs, variations on papers presented at conferences or contributions to scholarly studies on film. Other blogs are the work of “ordinary film-watching” folk who want to record what they have watched and share it with their on-line friends and fans. Finally, there are those whose interest in film tends toward “genre” cinema, especially action, martial arts, horror, etc. In many ways, this last group of bloggers is an outgrowth of the fanboy culture that is so prominent in certain Asian film circles. A good example of this is Twitch (http://twitchfilm.net).


PTU, © Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd., Mei Ah Films Production Co. Ltd.


Twitch was founded in September of 2004 by Todd Brown, an aficionado of international, independent and cult films. Twitch lists 13 genre categories on its home page: action, animation, comedy, cult, documentary, drama, exploitation, horror, martial arts, musical, sci-fi and fantasy, thriller and western. Many of these genres have traditionally been marginalized by critics and film historians--action, cult, exploitation, horror and martial arts--and it is just such genres that Hong Kong and other Asian film industries have embraced with enthusiasm. But Twitch is much more than news and reviews of films, it is, in fact, a developed internet community with enthusiastic reader participation through reader comments and forum posts. An example pertinent to our discussion of Johnnie To is an article posted by Michael Guillen, May 10, 2008, “PFA: HONG KONG NOCTURNE—Twitch on To. (1) ” The function of Twitch is apparent in Guillen’s first sentence of his post: “Whenever I come up against a genre I’m not too familiar with—especially from an Asian director—I need research no further than Twitch.” Guillen is posting the schedule of the upcoming Pacific Film Archives Johnnie To retrospective “Hong Kong Nocturne” May 29 through June 27, 2008. Curious about the films, none of which he has seen, Guillen pulls together a compendium of what his colleagues at Twitch have to say about the films appearing at this festival. But only five of the nine films were reviewed on Twitch. Guillen then says: “Hopefully, the Twitch readership will comment on the rest,” and comment they do. Guillen juxtaposes excerpts of every review of a given Johnnie To film posted on Twitch. It is interesting to note the diversity of opinions expressed in the reviews, even of the same film. Links to the full text of each excerpted review are presented at the end of the Twitch article. Then there are the 13 comments posted by readers of Guillen’s post, expressing their own opinions of the films, responding to what Guillen wrote in his article, and even to what other commentators have posted. It is a lively exchange, with a range of opinions expressed. The conversation stays firmly focused on the films themselves and the pros and cons of various aspects of the movies are presented in a cogent and often quite perceptive fashion. Those commenting appear quite familiar not only with the individual films under discussion, but also with Johnnie To’s oeuvre generally and, by extension, one feels with a great many other Hong Kong films. These posters may not be film historians or academics, but they impose criteria on the films they watch and make assessments based on how those films adhere to these criteria. The writers may not have the breadth and depth of film knowledge and formal education in film theory that some prominent film critics and academics possess, but these internet critics/bloggers often notice a lot that the professional critics miss.


Throw down, © Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd., China Star Entertainment, Sil-Metropole Organisation, One Hundred Years of Film Company

There are sites specializing in Hong Kong film coverage such as HKCinemagic.com, with a mix of news, reviews, bios of professionals in the industry and informative articles and interviews. News from the Hong Kong film industry is duly translated into English and posted on the HKMDB Daily News. LoveHKfilm is another site featuring contextually informed reviews from a fellow who goes by the nom-de-plume of “Kozo”. It also occasionally posts reader polls (the top 100 films of the 90s, anyone?) and other interesting special features, though they do not have interviews or articles. HKCinemagic offers perhaps the most extensive and varied coverage of Hong Kong film, including a French-language forum on Milkyway Image that posts breaking news on films Johnnie To is producing and directing. Various blogs are linked to most of these sites and are updated with varying frequency.

The world of blogs proper also features a surprising amount of information on Hong Kong cinema and the films of Johnnie To. Blogs like Roast Pork Sliced from a Rusty Cleaver and similar blogs cover a lot of the same ground as HKMDB Daily News site, but often with additional coverage of Hong Kong and Mainland starlets, and that peculiarly Hong Kong phenomenon of the Cantopop singing idol/movie actor. There is even an Italian blog dedicated exclusively to the world of Johnnie To and his films, http://johnnieto.blogspot.com, though sadly it has not been updated since 2007.

Finally, there are the academic heavyweights who write about Hong Kong Cinema and show a special interest in Johnnie To. Most important of these currently is David Bordwell, eminent American film scholar and author of Planet Hong Kong. Prof. Bordwell has posted blogs detailing screenings of Johnnie To films at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, visits to the set of various Johnnie To films, interviews with technical directors on some of his films and even accounts (with pictures) of karaoke night with Mr. and Mrs. To in Hong Kong! This website also includes informative entries on a wealth of other topics of interest to fans of Hong Kong cinema, including Shawscope and Wong Kar-Wai’s Days of Being Wild. The internet, much more than the established print outlets, is where the liveliest exchanges about Johnnie To’s work appear and where the most up-to-date information is published. Perhaps the one great weaknesses of the Internet is a dearth of in-depth analysis of To’s work. For that, we must turn to the academics and their uses of To and his films.

Mad Detective, © Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd., One Hundred Years of Film Company


(1) Michael Guillen, “PFA: Hong Kong Nocturne—Twitch on To,”

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