Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Johnnie Got His Gun : Johnnie To Documentary


Johnnie got his gun is the latest film from France's Yves Montmayeur, a filmmaker who has made a number of Asian film based documentaries. This latest film concentrates on Johnnie To, fairly familiar territory for him as he previously made a short film on Milkyway image,which is included on the French dvd release of Breaking news.Update: reviewed here

Is this proof of a subbed good quality Mission?
Johnnie got his gun is a mix of interview snippets with To, these are taken from various sources and are cobbled together with clips from including Breaking news, P.T.U and The Mission amongst others. It seems Montmayeur did do an interview but it's so chopped up and mixed in it feels insignificant. Prominent members of casts and crew also feature in interview form but again from many different times and sources. Interestingly Wai Ka Fai hardly warrants a mention and is not interviewed at all. The major flaw with the film is this cobbled together aspect, it's fine for the cast and crew parts but the clips of Johnnie To feel particularly disjointed and undermine anything Montmayeur was trying to say. For anyone familiar with To's work, Johnnie got his gun provides little in terms of insight into either the films or the man and for anyone who doesn't like To, then nothing here will sway that opinion.
Another flaw with the film is despite a short running time of only 59 minutes, it feels quite padded with a few too many artily shot on video establishing shots of Hong Kong, set to moody music.


For fans of To and his films however, the film has plenty to offer. Perhaps the most interesting elements to come from To himself are focused on how his filmmaking style evolved and how that style affects the narratives the Milkyway team come up with. Also interesting is the collaboration with the Hong Kong police to make sure the cop characters are following the correct procedures in the films. The cast and crew interviews feature some nice moments including Anthony Wong (in English) confirming that To can be somewhat of a tyrant if the actors don't give him what he requires!


A few clips of behind the scenes footage from various films are featured including a kind of guided tour of the Milkyway building with Simon Yam (again in English) culminating with the roof top set used for the final shoot out in Exiled, this was great to see and provided a real insight into the movie making process. We also get to see a few moments of Life without principle being shot with Lau Ching Wan and a trip to Cannes to promote Election.


I didn't find Johnnie got his gun particularly successful as a documentary, it's too superficial for that. It needed a more in depth specific interview rather than snippets from all over. What it does do well though is provide fans with some cool moments that given the lack of special features usually included on Milkyway dvds, they would otherwise never get to see. You can take that as a measure of if you need to see it or not!

13 comments:

Amber said...

I've been wanting to watch this pretty badly, but after reading this, I'm not in such a hurry.s

A said...

Shame that it's a bit of a fluff piece. But if it spreads the word of To, I'm still for it.

Wes M said...

Good honest review M. I think what I hate most in these kind of director biopics are the endless padding of clips from the director's films. These kind of things done well are usually my favourite extras on DVDs - two that come to mind - the Takashi Kitano doc on the UK disc of Brother, and the excellent I Lived, But . . . a two-hour documentary about the life and career of Yasujiro Ozu on Criterion's Tokyo Story.

A hero never dies said...

Amber, Yeah I couldn't wait to see it and I was a little disappointed but if you're a fan I'd still recommend it.

A. It's really about a 40 minute piece stretched out, I just can't see many people ever seeing it who aren't already fans to be honest.

Wes, Agreed, this one is guilty of the clip thing, although if the intention is purely to introduce the director to a new audience it makes some sense, it's frustrating though when you are looking for more insight. I'll have a look for the Kitano one as I only have the HK dvd of Brother and I must try some Ozu one of these days!

Phantom of Pulp said...

Looking very forward to seeing this. Recently, there was a very good interview/profile on To on CNN International.

Like the name of your blog, by the way, because A HERO NEVER DIES is one of my favorite films of all time. And that score!!! Amazing. Unfortunately, only three tracks from it on the Milky Way CD.

A hero never dies said...

Phantom, I saw that CNN piece online. Look out for coverage of A Hero never dies soon, like you it's one of my favourites and they are the hardest to write about. Again, the score is amazing and desperately needs to be released. I tried to contact the composer through his website but didn't receive a reply unfortunately!

Phantom of Pulp said...

I, too, tried to contact HERO's composer almost two years ago and received no reply. I'd pay naything for the complete scores of RUNNING OUT OF TIME and A HERO NEVER DIES. As with Woo flicks like JUST HEROES and BULLET (Diaz/Wong), I make do with personal rips of the scores and listen to them constantly in my car. That recent Milky War CD was welcome, but why devote the 2nd disk to non-original pieces when they could have at least included HERO's best pieces. At least the title track of RUNNING was there. Another terrific HK score is A HOME TOO FAR. Very good, slightly uneven film.

A hero never dies said...

Phantom, I wondered if it was just that Wong's website was out of date but that you tried so long ago suggests otherwise. It's a shame, as I said in an earlier post about HK soundtracks, how much would it really cost to downloads available of them? Sure, it's a limited market but I'm sure they could make money from it.

Phantom of Pulp said...

I hate to say it, but the HK filmmakers are notoriously clueless about exploiting their films and elements properly. When I started going to the Chinatown Cinema in Melbourne in 1983, they were mystified by my presence and told me their films were "terrible". I once suggested they put a small ad in the local paper and they looked at me like I had five eyes. I was always able to get the posters when the seasons ended because they attached no value to them. Get this: I once asked them to put a FULL CONTACT poster aside on the night the film opened and... you wouldn't believe it, they gave me the poster right then. Didn't they need it to advertise? This is why I'm not surprised at all that folks like us can't get scores. Beyond frustrating. Seriously, I'd pay $100 for these scores. Whatever it costs.

A hero never dies said...

Phantom, of all people you would think the Hong Kongers would realise the potential for making money here, and I mean this in a good way. As you say beyond frustrating, that must have been cool though scoring those posters, do you still have them all?

Phantom of Pulp said...

Yes, I have them all in tubes approximately 12,000 km's away

My favorites are SENTENCED TO HANG (lousy movie but amazing poster), FULL CONTACT, SONG OF THE EXILE, THE BEASTS, A FISHY STORY, HARD-BOILED, OPERATION SCORPIO, DR. LAMB, MAN BEHIND THE SUN, JUST HEROES, PEEPING TOM, BULLET IN THE HEAD, THE KILLER, THE LAST PRINCESS OF MANCHURIA, WILD SEARCH, PRODIGAL SON, PEDICAB DRIVER, CASINO RAIDERS, THE QUEEN OF TEMPLE STREET, A HERO NEVER DIES (of course!), A MOMENT OF ROMANCE (I also have the soundtrack of this), ASHES OF TIME, A HOME TOO FAR, HER FATAL WAYS, GREEN SNAKE, ONCE A THIEF, MR, CANTON AND LADY ROSE, DRUNKENMASTER 2, and A BETTER TOMORROW III.

The Chinese are usually experts at making a buck, but they certainly didn't capitalize on what they had back in the 80's and 90's.

A hero never dies said...

That is a serious list of gorgeous and super rare HK goodness phantom, I have a few of those myself! I think the making a buck thing kicked in a little late in most areas in the wake of the HK cinema popularity explosion.

achillesgirl said...

Thank you, Hero. I can always count on you for the skinny.

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