The Best Johnnie To Movies, Ranked

World-renowned film director and producer Johnnie To has produced a number of international box office successes. Most known for his crime and action movies, To often explores themes related to friendship, destiny, and the varying components tied to society in Hong Kong. To’s films have spanned decades, producing several franchises of Hong Kong action masterpieces like Election and Tactical Unit; his have all made appearances in key international film festivalsfrom France to the United States.

With regard to To’s distinct style of filming, he’s mostly known for possessing a consistent style that includes combining layers of social observation with dejected realism. His additions of non-realistic visuals can be interpreted as an ode to European art cinema with classical Hollywood formatting. Even modern day American filmmaker, Quentin Tarantino has publicly said that he is a fan of To’s gangster-inspired projects, and To’s influence on modern action (such as The Raid) can not be understated.

Crediting Chinese film director King Hu as an influence, To’s method of experimenting with new technical and visual ways of producing art has since brought an advanced structuring to Hong Kong cinema. Take a look at Johnnie To’s most notable feature films.


The 2003 Hong Kong crime thriller details the experience of a local sergeant (a part of the Police Tactical Unit, PTU), a part of the Hong Kong Police Force, and after being assaulted by a group of triad members, his weapon becomes lost and the police force quickly goes on a mission to retrieve it. The man interacts with numerous gangs in the community, in addition to bickering colleagues, all in a pursuit to search for his missing gun in this stylized, modern adaptation of the great Akira Kurosawa film Stray Dog. Overall, the film is a freefall that consists of nonstop action.

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5 Exiled

After a former street gangster, Johnnie Wo (Nick Cheung), returns to the area he used to run, currently on his old boss’ territory, the boss sends four assassins to murder him in the visually stunning Exiled. The four assassins however are all childhood friends of Wo. While their loyalty to him is solid, it becomes tested severely under the circumstances. If the group of friends were to obviously side with Wo, all five of the guys would be in danger, so instead each of them must toe the line between the business and personal.

4 Vengeance

In VengeanceAfter a vicious attack on his daughter’s family in Macau (where her husband and her two children are murdered), a French chef, Francis Costello (the great ’60s crooner Johnny Hallyday) goes on a classic movie revenge quest. While at his hotel, Costello comes across three independent hit-men, Kwai (Anthony Wong), Chu (Lam Ka-Tung), and Fat Lok (Lam Suet), who have been hired to murder the wife of a Triad crime boss, George Fung (Simon Yam). He hires the three to hunt down the killer of his daughter’s family, but once the group are able to locate the murderers, while in Hong Kong, they are in store for a huge surprise when it is reveled who ordered the kill.

3 Breaking News

After failing terribly to stop a robber gang, the police try to redeem themselves through engaging in a series of shootouts and publicity stunts. The active gun fire between the bank robbery suspects and police is caught on video, humiliating all the cops involved. Once a thief and his gang are tracked to a dilapidated apartment building, Commissioner Rebecca Fong (Kelly Chen) decides to implement the element of media as a new approach to fighting crime. As opposed to initiating a siege, Fong begins packaging the upcoming arrest into a reality show. However, Yuen has not been caught up to speed just yet. Breaking News is an action masterpiece, famous for its one single take opening which careens through buildings and streets.

Related: Arthur Sarkissian to Remake Johnnie To’s Mad Detective

2 Throw Down

The 2004 Hong Kong martial arts film Take Doen is a project that To had dedicated to the late Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Combining aspects from Kurosawa’s feature debut Sanshiro Sugata, tells the story of a Karaoke manager and band leader Sze-to Bo (Louis Koo), who used to be a judo expert and former champion. Bo, who gave up judo a few years ago, struggles to find a path of self-improvement. The unconventional pacing mirrors Kurosawa’s stylistic method of filmmaking.

1 Mad Detective

Possessing the power to see the inner personality of others, Chan Kwai Bun (Lau Ching Wan) is labeled as a police officer who practices unconventional tactics, yet has the capability to successfully do his job in Mad Detective. Bun is invited to active duty by Ho Ka On (Andy On), a fellow cop who is investigating the disappearance of a fellow officer, whose weapons have also been used in multiple robberies. Ho and the missing cop’s partner Ko Chi Wai (Lam Ka Tung), pursue an Indian suspect, but Bun can distinctly notice something greater is at play.

Two characters in The Killer pointing guns at each other's heads.

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