John Woo SBS (Wu Yu-Sheng; Ng Yu-Sum; b. October 1946) is a Hong Kong film director, writer, and producer. He is considered a major influence on the action genre, known for his highly chaotic action sequences, Mexican standoffs, and frequent use of slow-motion. Woo has directed several notable Hong Kong action films, among them, A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Hard Boiled and Red Cliff. His Hollywood films include Hard Target, Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II. He also created the comic series Seven Brothers, published by Virgin Comics. Woo was described by Dave Kehr in The Observer in 2002 as "arguably the most influential director making movies today". Woo cites his three favorite films asDavid Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï.
- 2 Hong Kong career
- 3 American career
- 4 Return to Hong Kong
- 5 Future film projects
- 6 In popular culture
- 7 Filmography
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Woo was born Wu Yu-Seng (Ng Yu-Sum in Cantonese) in Guangzhou, China, amidst the chaos of the Chinese Civil War at the end of October, 1946. Because of school age restrictions, his mother changed his birth date to 22 September 1948, which is what is what remains on his passport. The Christian Woo family, faced with persecution during Mao Zedong's early anti-bourgeois purges after the communist revolution in China, fled to Hong Kong when he was five.:xv, 3
Impoverished, the Woo family lived in the slums at Shek Kip Mei. His father was a teacher, though rendered unable to work by tuberculosis, and his mother was a manual laborer on construction sites. The family was rendered homeless by the big Shek Kip Mei fire of 1953. Charitable donations from disaster relief efforts enabled the family to relocate; however, violent crime had by then become commonplace in Hong Kong housing projects.
At age three he was diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Following surgery on his spine, he was unable to walk correctly until eight years old, and as a result his right leg is shorter than his left leg. Woo went to Concordia Lutheran School and received a Christian education (his Christian background shows influences in his films). As a young boy, Woo had wanted to be a Christian minister. He later found a passion for movies influenced by the French New Wave especially Jean-Pierre Melville. Woo has said he was shy and had difficulty speaking, but found making movies a way to explore his feelings and thinking and would "use movies as a language".
The local cinema would prove a haven of retreat. Woo found respite in musical films, such as The Wizard of Oz and in American Westerns. He has stated the final scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid made a particular impression on him in his youth: the device of two comrades, each of whom fire pistols from each hand, is a recurrent spectacle later found in his own work.
Woo married Annie Woo Ngau Chun-lung in 1976 and has three children. He has lived in the United States since 1993.
In 1969, Woo was hired as a script supervisor at Cathay Studios. In 1971, he became an assistant director at Shaw Studios, where he was mentored by the noted director Chang Cheh. His directorial debut in 1974 was the feature film The Young Dragons (鐵漢柔情, Tiě hàn róu qíng). In the Kung fu action genre, it was choreographed by Jackie Chan and featured dynamic camera-work and elaborate action scenes. The film was picked up by Golden Harvest Studio where he went on to direct more martial arts films. He later had success as a comedy director with Money Crazy (發錢寒, Fā qián hàn) (1977), starring Hong Kong comedian Ricky Hui.
By the mid-1980s, Woo was experiencing professional burnout. Several of his films were commercial disappointments, and he felt a distinct lack of creative control. In response, he took residence in Taiwan. It was during this period of self-imposed exile that director/producer Tsui Hark provided the funding for Woo to film a longtime pet project, A Better Tomorrow (1986).
The story of two brothers—one a law enforcement officer, the other a criminal—the film was a financial blockbuster. A Better Tomorrow became a defining achievement in Hong Kong action cinema for its combination of emotional drama, slow-motion gunplay, gritty atmospherics, and trenchcoat-and-sunglasses fashion appeal. Its signature narrative device of two-handed, two-gunned fire fight within confined quarters—often referred to as "gun fu"—would later inspire American filmmakers such as Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino and the Wachowskis.
Woo would make several more Heroic Bloodshed films in the late 1980s and early 1990s, nearly all starring Chow Yun-Fat. These violent gangster thrillers typically focus on men bound by honor and loyalty, at odds with contemporary values of impermanence and expediency. The protagonists of these films, therefore, may be said to present a common lineage with the Chinese literary tradition of loyalty among generals depicted in classics such as "Romance of the Three Kingdoms".
Woo gained international recognition with the release of The Killer (1989). Widely praised by critics and audiences for its action sequences, acting and cinematography, The Killer became the most successful Hong Kong film in American release since Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon (1973) and garnered Woo an American cult following. Bullet in the Head followed a year later, which Mr. Woo has stated he still considers his most personal work. However, Bullet in the Head failed to find an audience that accepted its political undertones, and failed to recoup its massive budget.
Among the director's American admirers are Martin Scorsese and Sam Raimi (who has compared Woo's mastery of action to Hitchcock's mastery of suspense). Woo accepted a contract to work in America at a time when the 1997 handover of Hong Kong was imminent.
His last Hong Kong film before emigrating to the United States was Hard Boiled (1992), a police thriller that served as the antithesis of his previous glorification of gangsters. Most notable of its numerous action scenes is a 30 minute climax set within a hospital. One particular long take follows two characters for exactly 2 minutes and 42 seconds as they fight their way between hospital floors. On the Criterion DVD and laserdisc, this chapter is referenced as "2 minutes, 42 seconds." The film was considerably darker than most of Woo's previous films, depicting a police force nearly helpless to stop the influx of gangsters in the city, and the senseless slaughter of innocents. As a result, it did not match the success of his other films.
John Woo: Interviews (ISBN 9781578067763) is the first authoritative English-language chronicle of Woo’s career. The volume includes a new 36-page interview with Woo by editor Robert K. Elder, which documents the years 1968 to 1990, from Woo’s early career in working on comedies and kung fu films (in which he gave Jackie Chan one of his first major film roles), to his gunpowder morality plays in Hong Kong.
An émigré in 1993, the director experienced difficulty in cultural adjustment while contracted with Universal Studios to direct Jean-Claude Van Damme in Hard Target. As characteristics of other foreign national film directors confronted the Hollywood environment, Mr. Woo was unaccustomed to pervasive management concerns, such as limitations on violence and completion schedules. When initial cuts failed to yield an "R" rated film, the studio assumed control of the project and edited footage to produce a cut "suitable for American audiences". A "rough cut" of the film, supposedly the original unrated version, is still circulated among his admirers.
A three-year hiatus saw Mr. Woo next direct John Travolta and Christian Slater in Broken Arrow. A frenetic chase-themed film, the director once again found himself hampered by studio management and editorial concerns. Despite a larger budget than his previous Hard Target, the final feature lacked the trademark Woo style. Public reception saw modest financial success.
Reluctant to pursue projects which would necessarily entail front-office controls, the director cautiously rejected the script for Face/Off several times until it was rewritten to suit him. (The futuristic setting was changed to a contemporary one.) Paramount Pictures also offered the director significantly more freedom to exercise his speciality: emotional characterisation and elaborate action. A complex story of adversaries—each of whom surgically alters their identity—law enforcement agent John Travolta and terrorist Nicolas Cage play a cat-and-mouse game, trapped in each other's outward appearance.
Face/Off opened in 1997 to critical acclaim and strong attendance. Grosses in the United States exceeded $100 million. As a result, John Woo is generally regarded as the first Asian director to find a mainstream commercial base. In 2003, Mr. Woo directed a television pilot entitled The Robinsons: Lost in Space for The WB Television Network, based on the 1960s television series Lost in Space. The pilot was not purchased, although bootleg copies have been made available by fans.
John Woo has made three additional films in Hollywood: Mission: Impossible II, Windtalkers and Paycheck. Mission: Impossible II was the third highest-grossing film in America in 2000, but received mixed reviews. Windtalkers andPaycheck fared poorly at the box office and were summarily dismissed by critics.
Recently, John Woo directed and produced a videogame called Stranglehold for games consoles and PC. It is a sequel to his 1992 film, Hard Boiled. He also produced the 2007 anime movie, Appleseed: Ex Machina, the sequel to Shinji Aramaki's 2004 film Appleseed.
In 2008, Woo returned to Asian cinema with the completion of the epic war film Red Cliff, based on an historical battle from Records of the Three Kingdoms. Produced on a grand scale, it is his first film in China since he emigrated from Hong Kong to the United States in 1993. Part 1 of the film was released throughout Asia in July, 2008, to generally favourable reviews and strong attendance. Part 2 was released in China in January, 2009.
A CGI, possibly 3D, Mighty Mouse film was announced in 2003 although, as of October 2012, nothing has yet been produced. He will also direct a remake of Papillon. There have been rumours that Woo will direct a film version of the videogame Metroid, however the rights he optioned have since expired.
Woo's next projects are The Divide, a western concerning the friendship between two workers, one Chinese, the other Irish, on the transcontinental rail-road, while The Devil's Soldier is a biopic on Frederick Townsend Ward, an American brought to China in the mid 19th century by the Emperor to suppress rebellion. Rendezvous in Black will be an adaptation of the drama/thriller novel of the same name, and Psi-Ops is a science fiction thriller about a telepathic agent, a remake of Blind Spotdisambiguation needed].
In May 2008, Woo announced in Cannes that his next movie would be 1949, an epic love story set between the end of World War II and Chinese Civil War to the founding of the People's Republic of China, the shooting of which would take place in China and Taiwan. Its production was due to begin by the end of 2008, theatrical release planned in December 2009. However, in early April 2009, John Woo's 1949 is cancelled due to script right issues. Also reports indicate that Woo may be working on another World War II film, this time about the American Volunteer Group, or the Flying Tigers. The movie is tentatively titled "Flying Tiger Heroes" and Woo is reported as saying it will feature "The most spectacular aerial battle scenes ever seen in Chinese cinema." Whether this means that John Woo will not be directing the rumoured Romeo and Juliet war film, or it has been put on the back burner. Woo has stated that Flying Tiger Heroes would be an "extremely important production" and will "emphasise US-Chinese friendship and the contributions of the Flying Tigers and the Yunnan people during the war of resistance." Woo has announced he will be using IMAX cameras to film the Flying Tigers project. “It has always been a dream of mine to explore shooting with IMAX cameras and to work in the IMAX format, and the strong visual element of this film is incredibly well-suited to the tastes of cinemagoers today [...] Using IMAX for Flying Tigers would create a new experience for the audience, and I think it would be another breakthrough for Chinese movies.”
- In the video game Rise of the Triad Typing the in-game cheat code 'JohnWoo' gives you a second pistol.
- In the video game Max Payne there are many homages and references to John Woo.
- In the video game Shadow Warrior after picking up a second Uzi, the main character says, "Be proud, Mr. Woo."
- In the PC game F.E.A.R., the developers admitted that they been inspired by John Woo action movies, in that they wanted the game's action sequences to play out as dramatic and elegant gunfights.
- The Christian rock band Newsboys has a song "John Woo" which makes reference to the religious symbolism he often employs in his films.
- In the 2010 film Kick Ass, Nicolas Cage plays a ruthless vigilante who's trained his young daughter to fight and kill. In one scene, he tests her knowledge with trivia questions about various weapons. After answering each question correctly, she says, "Give me a hard one!" to which her father asks, "The name of John Woo's first full-length feature?" She answers that question correctly as well.
- During the Season 1 finale of the animated television series The Venture Bros., there is an entire scene devoted to smashing as many John Woo references as humanly possible into 30 seconds.
- The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic story arc "Bodycount" is a tribute to John Woo's films.
- In The Simpsons episode Half-Decent Proposal, Homer tells Artie Ziff that that he can spend a weekend with Marge, "but no funny stuff. And by "funny stuff" I mean hand-holding, goo-goo eyes, misdirected woo - which is pretty much any John Woo film... "
- The 2004 Super Sentai film Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger The Movie: Full Blast Action has many homages to John Woo's works:
- The subplot of an artificial virus and antidote being used for extortion is borrowed from Mission: Impossible II. Hoji's bike chase scene is loosely based on that film as well.
- The nightclub where Ban meets Marie Gold is called "Better Tomorrow".
- Many of Deka Red's gunfights are inspired by Woo's action-packed films such as Hard Boiled.
- In the Avatar: the Last Airbender episode "The Beach," there is a tribute to Woo's signature dove shot when the character Zuko throws his outer shirt to the ground before beginning to play volleyball.
- The Cowboy Bebop episode "Ballad of Fallen Angels" pays homage to Woo including a stand-off, the use of two guns and a battle in a church complete with doves.
- The "Always" episode of "Castle" pays homage to Woo in Castle revealing that he will drown the sorrows of his daughter's graduation from High School by distracting himself with a John Woo double feature of "The Killer" and "Hard Boiled". Beckett responds "Wow that is a double feature!". Castle then asks if she likes John Woo and Beckett answers "The bloodier the better". Castle invites her to join him and she says "I'd love to".
- During his Comedy Central special Completely Serious Daniel Tosh makes a reference to Woo.
- A Better Tomorrow (1986)
- Peace Hotel (1995)
- Somebody Up There Likes Me (1996)
- The Replacement Killers (1998)
- The Big Hit (1998)
- Red Skies (2002)
- Bulletproof Monk (2003)
- The Glass Beads (2005)
- Blood Brothers (2007)
- Appleseed Saga: Ex Machina (2007)
- My Fair Gentleman (2009)
- Reign of Assassins (2010)
- Seediq Bale (2011)
- Second Sight (2011)
- The Killer (2012)
- Airport '98 (Nike commercial) (1998)
- Hostage (branded content short film for BMW) (2002)
- 7 Brothers (graphic novel) (2006–2007)
- Stranglehold (video game) (2007)
- Power Up Hong Kong (TVB promotion clip/station campaign) (2009)
- Asahi Super Dry (ja) (Asahi Breweries commercial) (2013)