Helmer To ankles as China Star chief

Director to return to filmmaking

HONG KONG — After two whirlwind years as the chief operating officer of local production house China Star Entertainment, Johnnie To has resigned to focus on what he does best: make films.

Speaking Tuesday, on the eve of the release of his latest directorial effort, “Fulltime Killer,” To confirmed rumors about his departure that had been building for the last few days.

“I want a change,” To said. “Doing an administrative job just wastes my time.”

Unsatisfied

To also was unhappy with the kind of commercial films he’s had to make while at China Star. He made no secret he’s had a hard time stomaching his successful romantic comedies like “Love on a Diet” — which is locked in a battle for second place at the Hong Kong box office with “The Mummy Returns.”

“Those films belong to the audience. Now I want to make films that belong to me,” To said.

To deserves much of the credit for the renaissance at China Star and, by extension, the success of the Hong Kong industry as a whole.

The 46-year-old director of almost 40 films, including classics such as “A Hero Never Dies,” To took the helm at China Star — an entertainment conglomerate that also has theater and Internet interests — in late 1999 and transformed it from a company lost in the territories’ doldrums at that time into a formidable force in local film.

To’s directing projects have included 2001 Chinese New Year hit “Wu Yen” and last year’s surprise romantic comedy smash “Needing You.” He also has helped kickstart a host of other films, including director Tsui Hark’s “The Legend of Zu,” which opens later this month.

To — who doesn’t own any shares in China Star and says he is leaving the company on good terms — is determined to nurture new talent through his own production house, Milkyway Image Prods., formed in 1996 with screenwriting and directing partner Wai Ka-fai.

And though it isn’t clear what his departure means for China Star, To said he’ll still direct films for the key summer and Chinese New Year holidays under the company’s banner — just as long as China Star doesn’t try and make him come back to the office.

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