It's impressive enough when a director retains the creativity and energy needed to reinvent themselves after working in the film industry for over two decades, but it's another thing entirely when -- as in the case of Hong Kong director Johnny To -- a filmmaker is almost single handedly responsible for keeping that entire industry afloat in a time of dire financial crisis. Nevertheless, when such powerhouse Hong Kong filmmakers as John Woo and Tsui Hark opted to take their trade to Western shores, To remained back home to play a key role in keeping the spirit of Hong Kong film alive -- a challenge which he greeted with not only staunch determination but considerable skill as well.
Following his directorial debut with the 1980 period martial arts fantasy The Enigmatic Case, To's career came to something of an apex in the late 1980s thanks to such memorable action films as The Big Heat and tender, personal dramas like All About Ah-Long (the latter of which landed star Chow Yun-Fat a Best Actor award at the 1990 Hong Kong Film Awards). After taking the helm for such memorable action films as The Heroic Trio and directing Stephen Chow in such films as Justice, My Foot and Mad Monk in the early '90s, To moved into producing with the creation of independent film company Milky Way Films -- a company which yielded such popular Hong Kong action efforts as Nai-hoi Yau's The Longest Nite and Expect the Unexpected. Though To's production company was indeed a success, his career behind the camera was in need of some rejuvenation -- an issue which he readily addressed with the release of his highly praised 1999 crime drama The Mission.
Utilizing convention as a springboard to explore new territories of characterization in the well-worn crime genre, To breathed new life into Hong Kong cinema and began to gain international attention thanks to such efforts as The Mission and the outrageous 2001 action thriller Fulltime Killer. Despite the fact that To excelled at action films, it wasn't all about the gunplay. Such projects as the lightweight New Year's comedy Fat Choi Spirit and the supernatural comedy My Left Eye Sees Ghosts proved without a doubt that he was equally adept at getting laughs from fun-loving filmgoers. It was during this period that To began to develop fruitful professional relationships with such talents as director Wai Ka-Fai and actor Andy Lau. After exploring the effects of karma among the musclebound set in the bizarre but effective 2003 action thriller Running on Karma (the film which served as the seventh collaboration between To and Lau), the director explored the effects of media violence on the public in the fast-paced action thriller Breaking News.