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Milkyway Image (Hong Kong) Ltd. (Chinese: 銀河映像(香港) 有限公司) is a production company based in Hong Kong. The company was established in 1996 by prolific director Johnnie To in joint partnership with frequent collaborator Wai Ka-Fai. The company is known best for producing dark crime films inspired by the work of French director Jean-Pierre Melville and the genre of film noir. Milkyway Image's productions have been repeatedly praised as a bold move against the slapdash commercialism found in post-handover Hong Kong cinema, and have also attracted a significant international fan base.
Milkyway Image is principally engaged in providing comprehensive film production services for film companies, such as pre-production, shooting, and post-production services. Milkyway Image's films are not only box office hits, but they are also produced with cost-effectiveness and efficiency, bringing film investors promising revenue.
Johnnie To founded Milkyway Image (HK) Ltd. in 1996, together with his longtime partner Wai Ka-Fai. The early years proved to be difficult for the company, as its first productions were unsuccessful at the Hong Kong box office. Hong Kong audiences did not appreciate the bleak and intellectual tone of the films - later to become the company's signature style - which was very different from the highly commercialized productions usually present in cinemas at the time.
After more works in the same style and Johnnie To's first official directorial outing with A Hero Never Dies, neither of which managed to make a significant impact at the box office, the company shifted its focus to producing lighter films for the first time in 1999. This year saw the release of Running Out of Time, followed up by Needing You... in 2000. Both films became box-office hits and likely saved Milkyway Image from bankruptcy. Recognizing the surprising success, the company continued to produce films in a similar vein during the most critical years of the Hong Kong film industry, which - while already in decline by that time - was further wounded by the SARS crisis in 2003.
After putting out a string of successful mainstream comedies from 2000 to 2003, critics and fans who had previously been enticed by Milkyway's fresh take on the trodden triad film genre were starting to express concerns over the company's new direction. However, these concerns were quickly put aside with the release of PTU in 2003, a film that To had worked on for 3 years and which was greatly praised by critics worldwide, eventually becoming a poster child for To's company.
Milkyway Image employs a unique business strategy among Hong Kong film production companies, as its output can mostly be divided into two categories: Inventive and gritty action dramas which sit somewhere between genre film and arthouse cinema and often go on to achieve significant critical recognition; as well as light-hearted romantic comedies and Lunar New Year films, geared for box-office success by utilizing popular singer-actors such as Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng. This for the most part clear distinction has sometimes been blurred thanks to productions such as Running Out of Time and Sparrow, which possess elements of both approaches and became local box-office hits as well.
The company has made a number of famous and successful films, which include Needing You..., The Mission, Exiled, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts, Election, as well as its sequel Election 2 (a.k.a. Triad Election), and Running on Karma. These films and more have either been produced and/or directed by both To and/or Wai.
Johnnie To is the principal director and filmmaker at Milkyway Image, as the majority of Milkyway Image films have been directed by him, sometimes in collaboration with Wai Ka-Fai. However, the company also works with other established Hong Kong directors such as Lawrence Ah Mon and nurtures young directing talent, for example To's longtime assistant director Law Wing-Cheong, writer Yau Nai-Hoi and Cheang Pou-Soi.
Writers of Milkyway Image films include Wai Ka-Fai, Szeto Kam-Yuen, Yau Nai-Hoi, Au Kin-Yee and Yip Tin-Shing. The company's writers are sometimes collectively referred to as the Milkyway Creative Team (Chinese: 銀河創作組).
Patrick Yau controversy
In 1997, Johnnie To hired his former assistant director Patrick Yau to direct a number of low-budget crime films for To's then-young company: The Odd One Dies, Expect the Unexpected and The Longest Nite. However, due to a difference in opinions and To questioning Yau's ability to put his creative vision into place, he took over, directing The Odd One Dies and The Longest Nite himself. The same happened again with Expect The Unexpected. To eventually stopped working together with Yau.
While Yau is formally credited as the director of all three films, To has since gone on to confirm that he is in fact the director of the films. When asked why he still let Yau be credited as the director, he responded, "I had wanted him to succeed and be recognized as a director. [...] Both he and Patrick Leung were my former assistant directors, and perhaps they both felt that I was supervising them. Therefore, if they left the company, it might be better for them."
Festivals and awards
Milkyway Image's films have played around the international festival circuit. Throw Down was screened Out-of-Competition at the Venice Film Festival in 2004; Exiled was shown in Competition at the festival in 2006; Mad Detective was shown in Competition in 2007; Life Without Principle was shown in Competition in 2011.
Six of Milkyway Image's films were featured in the Cannes Film Festival: Breaking News in the Out-of-Competition midnight screening in 2004; Election in Competition in 2005; Election 2 (a.k.a. Triad Election) was shown as an Out-of-Competition midnight screening in 2006; Triangle was screened as an Out-of-Competition midnight screening in 2007; Vengeance competed for the prestigious Palme D'Or in 2009; Blind Detective was screened in Out-of-Competition midnight screenings in 2013.
In North America, Milkyway Image's films have been consistently screened at the Toronto International Film Festival. The Mission, Fulltime Killer, PTU, Breaking News, and Throw Down all screened between 1999 and 2005. In 2006, Election, Election 2, and Exiled were screened .
Election isn't one of "Quentin Tarantino presents...", but Tarantino loved this film so much and he still helped the DVD release of this film in someway; his quote "The Best Film Of The Year" is on this film's United States DVD cover. 
In 2007, Election 2 (a.k.a. Triad Election) and Exiled were released in the United States theatrically. Johnnie To was also honoured as a "Filmmaker in Focus" of the 2007 Rotterdam Film Festival. In 2008, Mad Detective was given a limited release.
|1996||Beyond Hypothermia||攝氏32度||Patrick Leung|
|The Odd One Dies||兩個只能活一個||Patrick Yau||Ghost-directed by Johnnie To.|
|Too Many Ways to Be No. 1||一個字頭的誕生||Wai Ka-Fai|
|Final Justice||最後判決||Derek Chiu|
|1998||A Hero Never Dies||真心英雄||Johnnie To|
|Expect the Unexpected||非常突然||Patrick Yau||Ghost-directed by Johnnie To.|
|The Longest Nite||暗花||Patrick Yau||Ghost-directed by Johnnie To.|
|1999||Where a Good Man Goes||再見阿郎||Johnnie To|
|Running Out of Time||暗戰||Johnnie To|
|The Mission||鎗火||Johnnie To|
|Sealed with a Kiss||甜言蜜語||Derek Chiu|
|Needing You...||孤男寡女||Johnnie To|
|Spacked Out||無人駕駛||Lawrence Ah Mon|
|2001||Fulltime Killer||全職殺手||Johnnie To|
|Love on a Diet||瘦身男女||Johnnie To|
|Running Out of Time 2||暗戰2||Johnnie To|
|Gimme Gimme||愛上我吧||Lawrence Ah Mon|
|Wu yen||鍾無艷||Johnnie To|
|Let's Sing Along||男歌女唱||Matt Chow|
|2002||My Left Eye Sees Ghosts||我左眼見到鬼||Johnnie To|
|Fat Choi Spirit||嚦咕嚦咕新年財||Johnnie To|
|Second Time Around||無限復活||Jeffrey Lau|
|2003||PTU||PTU||Johnnie To||Also known as PTU: Police Tactical Unit; start of the Tactical Unit series.|
|Looking for Mr. Perfect||奇逢敵手||Ringo Lam|
|Turn Left, Turn Right||向左走．向右走||Johnnie To|
|Running on Karma||大隻佬||Johnnie To
|Also known as An Intelligent Muscle Man (大只佬/大块头有大智慧)|
|Love for All Seasons||百年好合||Johnnie To|
|2004||Throw Down||柔道龍虎榜||Johnnie To|
|Breaking News||大事件||Johnnie To|
|Yesterday Once More||龍鳳鬥||Johnnie To|
|2006||2 Become 1||天生一對||Law Wing-Cheong|
|Election 2||黑社會以和為貴||Johnnie To||Also known as Triad Election|
|Hooked on You||每當變幻時||Law Wing-Cheong|
|Eye in the Sky||跟蹤||Yau Nai-Hoi|
|Mad Detective||神探||Johnnie To|
|Tactical Unit – The Code||機動部隊─警例||Law Wing-Cheong||Part of the Tactical Unit series.|
|Tactical Unit – No Way Out||機動部隊─絕路||Lawrence Ah Mon||Part of the Tactical Unit series.|
|Tactical Unit – Human Nature||機動部隊─人性||Andy Ng||Part of the Tactical Unit series.|
|2009||Tactical Unit – Comrades in Arms||機動部隊─衕袍||Law Wing-Cheong||Part of the Tactical Unit series.|
|Tactical Unit – Partners||機動部隊─伙伴||Lawrence Ah Mon||Part of the Tactical Unit series.|
|Accident||意外||Soi Cheang||Originally titled Assassins (暗殺)|
|Vengeance||復仇||Johnnie To||French-Hong Kong co-production|
|2011||Don't Go Breaking My Heart||單身男女||Johnnie To
|Life Without Principle||奪命金||Johnnie To|
|2012||Romancing in Thin Air||高海拔之戀II||Johnnie To|
|Drug War||毒戰||Johnnie To|
|2013||Blind Detective||盲探||Johnnie To|
|A Complicated Story||一個複雜故事||Kiwi Chow|
|2014||Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2||單身男女2||Johnnie To|
- To departing Milky Way
- Teo, Stephen (2007). Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film. Hong Kong University Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-962-209-840-4.
- Teo, Stephen (2007). Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film. Hong Kong University Press. p. 228. ISBN 978-962-209-840-4.