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Romancing in Milkyway Image

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Johnnie To and Milkyway Image may be best known to overseas film buffs for their action films. However, the prolific production company has also produced some of the most popular Hong Kong romance films of the past two decades. With the release of To and frequent collaborator Wai Ka Fai's latest romantic comedy blockbuster Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2, we take a look back at the Milkyway Image films that have moved the hearts of audiences everywhere.

1. Needing You (2000)
Now fully ensconced as one of Hong Kong's all-time greatest on-screen couples, Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng began their partnership with 2000's Needing You, the highest-grossing Hong Kong film that year. The quintessential urban romance, the film touchingly documents the slow-burning love that blossoms between two flawed, highly relatable individuals, one a neurotic basket case in need of a backbone, and the other a rampant womanizer who values work above all else. With its rich romance, meta jokes and fantastic performances, it's no wonder that Needing You is regarded as one of the best romantic comedies Hong Kong has ever produced.

2. Love on a Diet (2001)
Just a year after their highly successful first outing as an on-screen couple, Andy Lau and Sammi Cheng reunited in this hilarious and adorable tale of two overweight Hong Kongers, Mini Mo and Fatso, who meet in Japan. Originally slim, Mini has ballooned to her current size over the past decade, rendering her unable to approach her first love, now a famous pianist. Initially forced into helping, Fatso becomes increasingly sympathetic to her plight, to the point that his "sympathy" starts to resemble "love." A great script, fantastic supporting cast and admirably game, highly entertaining performances by the two leads make this a Hong Kong romcom for the ages.

3. Yesterday Once More (2004)
From the moment the audience is greeted with a shot of the two leads, all urbane-like, sprawled on a yacht, with the playful percussion-heavy soundtrack kicking in, it's obvious that 2004's Yesterday Once More would be a departure from the Andy Lau-Sammi Cheng team-ups we've seen in the past. This time around, the two plays divorced spouses who are madly in love with one another but have a unique way of showing it. Playing professional thieves, the twosome spends most of the film's running time playing game after game of cat and mouse. Bolstered by a strong supporting cast, the playful and stylish film sees Andy and Sammi engage in a more mature love story than their previous two offerings. The two would not be in another Milkyway Image film until nine years later with Blind Detective.

4. Turn Left Turn Right (2003)
Based on a book by Taiwan illustrator Jimmy Liao, Turn Left Turn Right tells a wistful urban fairytale about two lonely urban souls who complete each other - if only they could meet. Living in adjacent buildings, the two are separated only by a wall, but every day they walk in opposite directions when they leave their homes. Though the addition of supporting characters to pad the story detract from the book's original charm, Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai's live-action take is easy on the eyes with its picturesque art direction and photogenic pairing of Kaneshiro Takeshi and Gigi Leung. The film also spawned a very memorable theme song performed by Stefanie Sun.

5. Linger (2008)
Something of a forgotten anomaly in Johnnie To's filmography, this curious genre-blending melodrama about love and loss follows a troubled woman struggling to get over the death of her boyfriend. When she stops taking medication, her late boyfriend suddenly reappears in her life to keep asking the same all-important question: Did you ever love me? Besides featuring a screenplay by Ivy Ho (Comrades, Almost a Love Story), Linger also ventured outside of Milkyway's usual roster for the leading roles, played by Li Bingbing and Taiwan idol Vic Chou, then making his feature film debut.

6. Love for All Seasons (2003)
In 2003, Milkyway created a new hit screen couple by pairing Louis Koo and Sammi Cheng for the first time in this uproarious Lunar New Year comedy. Koo stars as Tiger, a notorious millionaire playboy who travels all the way to Emei Mountain in search of a cure for his illness from clan leader May (Cheng). After curing him, May asks Tiger to use all his might to break her heart so that she can attain a martial arts move that will save the Emei Clan. Like a traditional Lunar New Year comedy, Love for All Seasons is manic and energetic, but it also has its share of touching romantic moments. In the first of their three screen pairings, Koo and Cheng show great chemistry in this eccentric story of two people who must learn about heartbreak in order to fall in love.

7. Romancing in Thin Air (2012)
Sammi Cheng and Louis Koo reunite in Shangri-La for a high-altitude romance that embodies, for better or worse, Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai's readiness to defy storytelling convention. At times a romcom, at times a tearjerker and at times a movie-within-a-movie, Romancing in Thin Air patiently unfolds the burgeoning relationship between a woman still reeling from the loss of her husband, who disappeared in the forest years ago, and the drunken heartbroken celebrity who crashes at her mountain guesthouse. Sammi is lovely in the everywoman role she does best, while Louis strikes a sincere chord even while amusingly lampooning himself as a Pepsi-endorsing movie star.

8. Don't Go Breaking My Heart (2011)
In 2011, Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai challenged Louis Koo's supremacy as one of Hong Kong's top romantic leading men with this hit romantic comedy. In her first Milkyway film, Gao Yuan Yuan stars as a financial analyst who faces one of modern Hong Kong cinema's greatest dilemmas when two eligible bachelors fight for her affection. In one corner, Koo plays an unrepentant philanderer who showers our heroine with expensive gifts and extravagant romantic gestures. In the other corner, Daniel Wu plays a successful, kindhearted architect with plenty of charm, a love for turtles and a real talent at making mussels. Like a modern thriller, Don't Go Breaking My Heart indulges in keeping audiences at the edge of their seats, not revealing the heroine's final choice until the very last minute.

9. Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 (2014)
Proving there's no such thing as happily ever after, Johnnie To and Wai Ka Fai put their Don't Go Breaking My Heart heroine on the spot once more as she's given a second chance to choose between a hotshot finance playboy (Louis Koo) and a devoted architect (Daniel Wu). Fans of the first film will know that the filmmakers aren't making things any easier this time around, throwing in Miriam Yeung as Louis's new love interest and Vic Chou as another ideal man who pulls out all the stops for her affection. A uniquely energetic romantic comedy that only Milkyway Image can make, Don't Go Breaking My Heart 2 shows that love is never as simple as it seems.

+1. My Left Eye Sees Ghosts (2002)
As the film's title implies, My Left Eye Sees Ghosts is about a rich hostile widow (Sammi Cheng) who gains the gift of seeing ghosts in her left eye after a car accident. Most of the film is a supernatural comedy about the odd bond that develops between the widow and an immature ghost who won't leave her side (played by Lau Ching Wan). However, the manic comedic style of the first two acts turn out to be a masterful display of misdirection by the filmmakers as they throw in a moving romantic twist that left audiences in tears. If you're looking for an offbeat romance to watch this Valentine's Day, consider spending it with one of the Milkyway Image's most unique and beloved films.

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Published February 12, 2015

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