Hong Kong director Johnnie To, more familiarly recognized with the South Korean audience by his Chinese name To Kei-fung, was the first of the maestros invited to hold a master class at the 14th Pusan International Film Festival.
The two-hour long class, led by director Oh Seung-wook who is famous for particular interest in Hong Kong action films, did justice for its subtitle "My life, my cinema, Johnnie To" -- giving listeners a well-concentrated look into To's films and life. The nine chapters into his movie life that he prepared in itself was dramatic.
"I used to like watching western films, war films and movies with backgrounds in Rome," the To said while recollecting on his childhood where he "spent the happiest time of his life living within movies" because he could watch movies for free in his father's film storehouse in Mongkok.
This beneficiary of the video era who said he used to "enjoy watching TV dramas on Fridays" then decided he had no interest in scholastic achievement and quit his studies after middle school. His first tie to television came short after this young age where he started doing odd jobs at Hong Kong broadcaster TVB.
The handyman who "only did errands and was scolded all the time but really enjoyed watching how dramas were made" was briefly trained in an acting class where he "did better than expected" and then decided to become a director after realizing that it was what he truly wanted.
"I worked as hard as anyone else to cover up my shortcoming in academic achievement. Sometimes I worked all seven days of the week and barely slept a total of 40 hours throughout a month. They were tough times but it wasn't painful because I was so happy to be producing," said To, who four years later, got his chance to shoot his first movie.
"My first film was 'The Enigmatic Case' which I shot when I was 23 but I had such a hard time with it that I couldn't shoot another movie for the next seven years," laughed To while talking about his 1980 film. "I think I was finally able to take control of an entire movie upon shooting my second film."
To said "I was able to shoot the sort of film that I had really wanted to," of his third film "All About Ah-long", which became one of the biggest box office hits of 1989 and placed now-top Hong Kong actor Chow Yun-fat onto stardom.
"I made the 'Herioc Trio' with Michelle Yeo, Anita Mui and Maggie Cheung -- casting them for the price of one male actor," To explained of making films during times when Hong Kong male stars were cast for movies for infinitely high guarantees.
The 54-year-old director's confidence of his position in the film industry and pliancy which came from his experience in TV was noticeable in the remark which followed: "It didn't matter whether they were male or female. I was confident in making a great hero film with female characters."
Thereafter, the director set up a production company named Milkyway Image which produces 'Milkyway-type films' which he calls are based solely on creativity.
To ended the class explaining the reason to why his relatively more recent films "Throwdown" and "Sparrow" were his personal favorites.
"I wanted to express the vibrant energy of Hong Kong during the 70s when dark issues such as the economic slump or SARS. It is sad to see the Hong Kong government tear down old buildings and build new ones. Decade-old streets and buildings aren't just normal streets and buildings. I thought, we are now starting to lose our culture. I believe that a movie is a medium which makes records of an era. And I wanted to leave a record for our future generation in films. I wanted the films to contain what has disappeared and what will disappear about Hong Kong. These two films are my way of expressing respect to the old city of Hong Kong."
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