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I believe in the power of visuals: Johnny To

Johnny To Kei-Fung, the maverick Hong Kong filmmaker prefers visuals to dialogues as it surpasses the barriers of language and borders. Parmita Uniyal catches up with the director.
By Parmita Uniyal | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 26, 2008 04:36 PM IST

He doesn't like to prepare his script beforehand and would rather have his camera do all the talking. Johnny To Kei-Fung, the maverick Hong Kong filmmaker believes in the power of visuals as it surpasses the barriers of language and borders.

His film Sparrow that was screened on the opening day of the10th Osian's Cinemaya film festival at Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi is all about the magnificence of the visuals and the creative interpretation to the same. His quotes are laced with humour and so are the occasional moments in his film. He admits dialogues are less important for him than the visuals.

"I'm first a director, then a writer. Actually, I don't know how to write dialogues", he adds laughingly. "The real definition of cinema according to me is presenting everything visually. When I started watching cinema, it was really frustrating to move my eyes up and down to read the sub-titles. My focus has always been visuals," he says.

Johnny To's film Sparrow focuses on the lives of four pickpockets and a mysterious girl. He wants his camera to move exactly the way he plans and thus it took him 10 days of rehearsal to shoot the first scene of Sparrow where the four pickpockets walk together. "I wanted to do it the right way. The camera allows you to see how everything is put together."

The director doesn't like to write scripts and that makes it difficult for his films to pass through China's censorship board which is very strict in this matter. "China has strict censorship rules. You have to complete the script and submit it. I personally don't like to write scripts."

It's probably because To's films primarily focus on the message they convey and the symbols they depict. The symbol sparrow in the film here depicts two meanings. "The sparrow represents a woman who is seeking freedom. And also it is an art of pickpocketing that is disappearing in Hong Kong," says the director.

The director says that the film Sparrow has imprints of his growing years in Hong Kong. "The Hong Kong that I have shown in the film can be seen through my eyes. It is the Hong Kong of my growing years."

The filmmaker who has made films like The Enigmatic Case, All About Ah-Long, Justice, My Foot!, and more recently, Election, Mad detective and Eye in the Sky, formed a production house called Milkyway Image in 1996. His production house focuses on low-cost independent films.

That's because Johnny To believes in making small budget movies that are creative. "When one makes a movie with big budget, it must have big stars. I have made several films in the past with big stars. But now I prefer my kind of movies to big-budget movies."

"Audiences in Hong Kong are getting used to my kind of cinema. There is a gradual growth in the number of audience who watch my movies," he adds.

Johnny To is excited about visiting India to attend Osian's film festival and wants more Indian films to travel to Hong Kong. "The festival has become an excuse to visit India. I feel Indian cinema is one of the most productive industries in the world. I hope the people of Hong Kong see more of Indian cinema."

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