Hong Kong continues to be a city obsessed with cinema. Over the years this exceptionally fertile and exciting Asian outpost of film-making has created some of the world's most startling, innovative and influential motion pictures. It has also been the spawning ground for many of the world's most famous and feted movie makers. Here we look at five of Hong Kong's greatest directors.
Born in 1951 in Vietnam, Tsui is known throughout the world of cinema as one of the finest and most distinctive writers, directors and producers around. What marks out his career most, perhaps, is that Tsui has managed to maintain his status as a cinematic innovator and agitator, thanks to his work in the politicised New Wave of the late 70s and early 80s, while also going on to create mainstream commercial fare as part of the Cinema City team later on in his career. His huge filmography includes classics of New Wave cinema such as A Better Tomorrow, A Chinese Ghost Story and Once Upon a Time in china, plus large scale blockbusters like Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame and Young Detective Dee.
Like Tsui Hark, Ann Hui is a celebrated member of what is known as Hong Kong New Wave cinema. Unlike Tsui, however, Hui has never gone into the more clear-cut commercial output that has marked out the former film-maker's career. Hui's work has always maintained a challenging, gritty dynamic, driving home confrontational and frequently controversial messages about prevalent social issues. Amongst her most startling films are Love in Fallen City, which portrays a heart breaking romance during World War 2, Boat People, which follows a journalist's attempts to document the Vietnamese people's recovery from their civil war and the vicious treatment of the North Vietnamese in its fallout, and July Rhapsody, about a literature teacher tempted to enter an affair with one of his pupils in an exclusive high school.
Johnnie To is not only one of Hong Kong's most famous directors but also one of its most prolific. His directing CV has 59 credits on it, all of them made in a 35 year period, beginning in 1980. That's not even to mention the some 70-odd producer credits he boasts. What is also notable about To is his variety and flexibility as a director. Though western audiences will know him best for his gangster pictures, such as Election, Mad Detective and Drug War, his canon also includes a range of razor sharp comedies like Fat Choi Spirit, romantic melodramas such as Turn Left Turn Right, plus movies that simply defy pigeon holing, like the startling Sparrow, the moody Throw Down and the wonderful Romancing in Thin Air.
When a western film fan thinks of Hong Kong directors, the first name that will pop into their heads is likely to be John Woo. Is that fair? Many hardcore fans of HK movies would say no, pointing particularly to Woo's somewhat patchy output since moving to Hollywood in the early 90s as proof that he does not deserve such attention, when somebody like Ann Hui, for example, is unknown to most members of the English speaking audience. However, particularly during his mid-80s period, Woo created some of the most flat-out entertaining action movies available anywhere in the world. The Killers, Hard Boiled, A Better Tomorrow – regardless of how you feel about his later work, these stonewall greats of their genre remain classics to this day.