Milkyway Image

Milkyway Image
Milkyway Image (Hong Kong) Ltd.
Type Production Company
Industry Film
Founded 1996
Founder(s) Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
Headquarters Hong Kong, China
Key people Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
Dennis Law
Ding Yuin-Shan
Yau Nai-Hoi
Au Kin-Yee
Yip Tin-Shing
Catherine Chan
Elaine Chu

Milkyway Image (Hong Kong) Ltd. (Chinese: 銀河映像(香港) 有限公司) is a Hong Kong independent film production company. 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. Its 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.

In 2007, Milkyway Image split from parent company Brilliant Arts and chairman, executive director and investor Dennis Law[1].


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 (aka 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[2]. 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."[3]

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; and Mad Detective was shown in Competition in 2007.

Five 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 (aka 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. Sparrow was also shown in Competition at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2008.

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. [1]

In 2007, Election 2 (aka 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.


Year Film Chinese title Director(s) Notes
1996 Beyond Hypothermia 攝氏32度 Patrick Leung
1997 Intruder 恐怖雞 Tsang Kan-Cheung
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
2000 Help!!! 辣手回春 Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
Needing You... 孤男寡女 Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
Comeuppance 天有眼 Derek Chiu
Spacked Out 無人駕駛 Lawrence Ah Mon
2001 Fulltime Killer 全職殺手 Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
Love on a Diet 瘦身男女 Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
Running Out of Time 2 暗戰2 Johnnie To
Law Wing-Cheong
Gimme Gimme 愛上我吧 Lawrence Ah Mon
Wu yen 鍾無艷 Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
Let's Sing Along 男歌女唱 Matt Chow
2002 My Left Eye Sees Ghosts 我左眼見到鬼 Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
Fat Choi Spirit 嚦咕嚦咕新年財 Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
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
Wai Ka-Fai
Running on Karma 大隻佬 Johnnie To
Wai Ka-Fai
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
Wai Ka-Fai
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
2005 Election 黑社會 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
Exiled 放‧逐 Johnnie To
2007 Triangle 鐵三角 Johnnie To
Tsui Hark
Ringo Lam
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
Wai Ka-Fai
2008 Linger 蝴蝶飛 Johnnie To
Sparrow 文雀 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 Cheang Pou-Soi 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
Wai Ka-Fai
Punished 報應 Law Wing-cheong
Life Without Principle 奪命金 Johnnie To


  1. ^ To departing Milky Way
  2. ^ Teo, Stephen (2007). Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film. Hong Kong University Press. p. 230. ISBN 9789622098404. 
  3. ^ Teo, Stephen (2007). Director in Action: Johnnie To and the Hong Kong Action Film. Hong Kong University Press. p. 228. ISBN 9789622098404. 

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