Johnnie To (22 April 1955), also known as To Kei-Fung (杜琪峯), is a Hong Kong film director and producer. Popular in his native Hong Kong, To has also found acclaim overseas. Intensely prolific, To has made films in a variety of genres, though in the West he is best known for his action and crime movies, which have earned him critical respect and a cult following (which include Quentin Tarantino, who once said that he really loves to watch To's gangster films).
His films, often made in collaboration with the same group of actors, screenwriters and cinematographers, frequently explore themes of friendship, fate and the changing face of Hong Kong society. Sometimes described as "multifaceted and chameleonic" due to his ability to switch tones and genres between movies, To is nonetheless seen as having a consistent style, which involves mixing subdued realism and social observation with highly stylised visual and acting elements.
Johnnie To began his career at age 17 as a messenger for the Hong Kong television studio TVB. From there To moved up the ladder, working as an executive producer and director for TV shows starting in 1973. In 1978, he shot his first theatrical feature, but continued working in television. In 1983, he directed and screen-wrote the critically acclaimed The Legend of the Condor Heroes, a dramatised TV series base on the martial art novel of the same name by Louis Cha.
While working as an assistant TV director during the Shaw Studios era, he directed All About Ah-Long in 1989, starring Chow Yun-fat, the film became one of the biggest box office hits in that year. In 1988, he co-directed The Big Heat, his first action movie. The film was produced by Tsui Hark. The end of the 1980s also saw some of To's biggest commercial successes, the vast majority of which were comedies. His 1988 film The Eighth Happiness was that year's highest grossing movie.
Commercially successful in his native Hong Kong, To's films have regularly appeared at international festivals, most notably in Europe and North America. Six of To's films have been featured at the Cannes Film Festival: Breaking News premiered as an Out-of-Competition midnight screening in 2004;Election was shown in Competition in 2005; its sequel, Election 2 (aka Triad Election) was screened in Out-of-Competition midnight screenings in 2006, and Triangle was screened in Out-of-Competition midnight screenings in 2007; Vengeance competed for the prestigious Palme D'Or in 2009; Blind Detective was screened in Out-of-Competition midnight screenings in 2013.