Director in Action

Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film


Stephen Teo

ISBN : 978-962-209-839-8

Film, Media, Fine Arts

June 2007

308 pages, 6″ x 9″, 75 b&w illus.

  • HK$195.00

Also available in Paperback HK$195.00

Director in Action examines the career of Johnnie To, whose art-house action hits include A Hero Never Dies, The Longest Nite, Running out of Time, The Mission, PTU, Breaking News, Election, and Election 2. The author discusses the symbiotic relationship between director and genre, why To is regarded as an auteur, and the influence he has on the trajectory of the action genre in the Hong Kong cinema. The author’s view is that To’s idiosyncratic auteurist style transforms the generic conventions under which he is compelled to work, and that there is a discernible element of experimentalism in his most outstanding films. In addition, To modulates the film noir form to suit his local contexts, characters and locations, to create a highly personalized noir cinema in post-1997 Hong Kong.

Stephen Teo is currently a research fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and a senior associate of RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. His latest work is King Hu’s A Touch of Zen (Hong Kong University Press, 2007).

“With his customary range and depth, Stephen Teo gives us a remarkable study of the action films of Johnnie To. To is one of the finest filmmakers working in the world today, and Teo situates his distinctive achievement within the wider context of Hong Kong politics, culture, and film production. In-depth analyses of To’s films gain resonance from Teo’s survey of the wider history of Hong Kong and its genre cinema. This, the first book-length study in English of To’s work, is very likely to remain the best. It confirms Stephen Teo’s stature as one of the foremost historians and critics of Chinese-language filmmaking.” —David Bordwell, Jacques Ledoux Professor of Film Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and author of Planet Hong Kong: Popular Cinema and the Art of Entertainment (2002)

“Lively, engaging and packed with insight, this long-awaited study approaches Johnnie To as today’s action film auteur. Perhaps only Stephen Teo, with his unique knowledge of the Hong Kong film industry distilled from decades of experience and research, could produce such an authoritative analysis of To’s genius and working methods. Director in Action shows us how To has emerged as both the poet of post-1997 and the economic savior of the Hong Kong film industry.” —Chris Berry, Professor of Film and Television Studies, Goldsmiths College, University of London, and co-author (with Mary Farquhar) of China on Screen: Cinema and Nation (2006)