Before becoming an renowned auteur, a favorite of critics and film festivals the world over, Johnnie To was known primarily in the West for the two films he made in 1993 in collaboration with director and action choreographer Ching Siu-tung. The Heroic Trio and Executioners star Michelle Yeoh, Maggie Cheung and Anita Mui as superheroes in a pre- and then post-apocalyptic Hong Kong, a wuxia Charlie’s Angels. Though he’d had a run of local hits, including back-to-back highest-grossing films of the years 1988 and 1989 (the ensemble farce The Eighth Happiness and the melodrama All About Ah-Long, respectively), none of his films managed to find much interest outside of Hong Kong, and his reputation, locally as well as abroad, was one of a competent professional filmmaker, subservient to the authorial personalities of his stars (Chow Yun-fat, Stephen Chow and Andy Lau) and producers (the gang at the Cinema City studio, where he worked alongside more accomplished peers such as Tsui Hark and Ringo Lam). But the prospect of beautiful women in sexy costumes flying around, doing weird shit and beating the hell out of people was enough to get the Heroic Trio films a home video release in the US, where more than 20 years later they remain among the most available of all of To’s films, standard content for streaming services. It was the first Johnnie To film I ever saw, I rented the old English-dubbed VHS from Scarecrow Video a long time ago. It plays tomorrow night in a definitely-better (hopefully subtitled) version in Scarecrow’s Screening Lounge.
Of the members of the Seven Little Fortunes Peking Opera troupe to become major figures in the Hong Kong film industry in the last 20 years before the colony’s handover to China, Corey Yuen is the least well known. Unlike Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, he stayed mostly behind the camera, though he does have some memorable supporting turns in a few films, most notably in the Yuen Biao vehicle Righting Wrongs and as one of Hung’s Eastern Condors. He’s best known for his directorial work, on some of Jet Li’s best films (the Fong Sai-yuk series), on All for the Winner (the 1990 film that made Stephen Chow a superstar), and on the films that launched Jason Statham and Jean-Clude Van Damme into the action world (The Transporter and No Regret, No Surrender, respectively). With 1985’s Yes, Madam! he launched two careers (Michelle Yeoh and Cynthia Rothrock) and a whole subgenre of the Hong Kong action cinema (the Girls with Guns cycle).