Get our free newsletter
Hong Kong cinema has been hit hard in the past decade, with A-list directors such as John Woo (Hard Boiled), Tsui Hark (Once Upon a Time in China), Wong Kar-wai (2046) and the Pang Brothers (The Eye) all having been lured by the siren song of the Hollywood machine, with mixed results. Thankfully, director Johnnie To is holding down the fort. To is not only prolific, directing several major films each year, but he consistently cranks out intelligent, entertaining movies in a wide range of genres, from triad shoot-’em-ups (The Mission) and gritty police procedurals (PTU) to quirky romcoms (Love on a Diet), sci-fi epics (the Heroic Trio films), and films that combine several genres or defy categorization altogether. An industry veteran, To has been getting some long-overdue recognition on the international festival circuit with awards in Cannes and Berlin of late, and the AFI’s “Johhny To: Action Auteur” series is a great way to get acquainted with his work. The retrospective focuses mainly on To’s crime-based films, but even the series opener, 2007’s cop thriller Mad Detective, serves as a perfect example of his genre-bending sensibilities. Lau Ching-wan, one of To’s stable of recurring actors, stars as Inspector Bun, a psychologically damaged man who employs a bizarre combination of deductive reasoning, ESP, and highly erratic, borderline schizophrenic behavior to solve crimes. It’s a wild ride and a testament not only to To’s originality but to the unique spirit that put To and his fellow Hong Kong directors on the map in the first place. The series runs to Monday, Aug. 18, at the AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $9.75. (301) 495-6700; see afi.com/silver/new/ for a complete schedule.