Johnnie To’s “northern expedition”: from Milkyway Image to Drug War
Abstract After the Regulations on the Administration of Movies came into force in 2002, Johnnie To became famous for sticking with the Hong Kong market while Hong Kong filmmakers rushed north. In Drug War, his 50th film, he decided to bring his unique genre to the Mainland for the first time. Drug War was the first Johnnie To’s gangster film shot entirely in the Mainland. Despite its outstanding box office record in the Mainland, some Johnnie To fans would lament that his typical style is missing in Drug War, a film that has become “realistic.” This paper argues that Johnnie To’s “northern expedition,” backed up by a tradition of translations between business and pleasure, has to be interpreted against the backdrop of his production company Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd. Johnnie To, as a migrant crossing the border, brought with him the long tradition of cultural translations from Milkyway Image, which acted as a “seed of the untranslatable” in Homi Bhabha’s term. It was this untranslatability of Milkyway-cum-Hong Kong flavour that distinguished To from other Hong Kong directors who were assimilated into the Mainland market as a simple mélange. To capture the rich inter-textual allusions to not only Milkyway Image but also to Hong Kong in Drug War helps one to understand how Hong Kong cinema can move on in the age of Chinese cinema.
Keywords: Milkyway Image, Johnnie To, Drug War, mixing business and pleasure, border-crossing, cultural translations.
Yiu-Wai Chu is Professor and Director of the Hong Kong Studies Programme, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, The University of Hong Kong. His research interests focus on Hong Kong culture, globalization and postcolonial discourse. His most recent publication is Lost in Transition: Hong Kong Culture in the Age of China (Albany: SUNY Press, 2013).