- Associated Press - Thursday, August 5, 2010

HONG KONG (AP) - With Hong Kong directors and actors flocking to make kung fu and historical epics proliferating in mainland China, Johnnie To’s edgy Cantonese action thrillers have long been regarded as the last bastion of local cinema.

But even he must tap the vast potential of the mainland movie market to survive, the veteran filmmaker acknowledged Thursday.

To told mainland reporters on a Hong Kong set of the new romance he is directing, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” that it is an attempt to pioneer a new genre in China.

“We want to make a love story that young people will watch,” To said in a rare interview in the national dialect Mandarin _ instead of the southern Cantonese dialect he is more comfortable with.

“This might be a new route. Not every movie has to be a period kung fu production. There are too many of these films recently. I think it’s time for a change. Not all movies have to be big productions,” said To.

Asked why he cast China’s Gao Yuanyuan _ and not a Hong Kong actress _ alongside Hong Kong industry heartthrobs Daniel Wu and Louis Koo, To responded with a laugh, “You should know why. And you still ask me?

“You can’t talk about a distinction between Hong Kong and the mainland these days. Given the way things are evolving now _ we are all part of China,” he said.

While Hong Kong was once the center of the Chinese-language industry _ producing stars like Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun-fat _ the balance of power has shifted to the mainland in recent years as its rapid growth unleashed new capital and fresh audiences.

While his peers gravitated to China, To has long insisted on shooting in Hong Kong. He has won international acclaim by crafting poetic action sequences against the urban landscape of this former British colony that’s now a semiautonomous Chinese territory.

However, To, whose recent credits include “PTU,” “Election,” “Sparrow” and “Vengeance,” said he still wanted to stay true to his artistic vision despite the fast-changing economic landscape.

“To survive, you need to make movies that express your ideas and preserve your style,” he said.