John Woo

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For other uses, see John Woo (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with John Wu or John Yoo.
John Woo
John-Woo-Cannes.jpg
John Woo attending the 2005 Cannes Film Festival
Chinese name 吳宇森 (traditional)
Jyutping Ng4 Jyu5 Sam1 (Cantonese)
Origin Hong Kong
Born 1 May 1946 (age 68)
Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, China
Occupation Director, Producer, Screenwriter, Editor
Spouse(s) Annie Woo
John Woo
Traditional Chinese 吳宇森
Simplified Chinese 吴宇森

John Woo SBS (Wu Yu-Sheng; Ng Yu-Sum; born 1 May 1946) is a Hong Kong film director, writer, and producer.[1] 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.[2] Woo has directed several notable Hong Kong action films, among them, A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Hard Boiled, and Red Cliff.[2] His Hollywood films include Hard Target, Broken Arrow, Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II.[2] 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".[3] Woo cites his three favorite films as David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai and Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samouraï.[2]

Early life[edit]

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 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.[4][5]: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.[6] The family was rendered homeless by the big Shek Kip Mei fire of 1953.[5] 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.[7] His Christian background shows influences in his films[8]). 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.[2] 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".[2]

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.[5] He has lived in the United States since 1993.

Hong Kong career[edit]

In 1969, Woo was hired as a script supervisor at Cathay Studios. In 1971, he became an assistant director at Shaw Studios. 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. 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[9] for its combination of emotional drama, slow-motion gunplay, and gritty atmospherics. Its signature visual device of two-handed, two-gunned shootouts within confined quarters—often referred to as "gun fu" was novel, and its diametrical inversion of the "good-guys-bad guys" formula in its characterization would influence later American films like The Departed.

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, which 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 failed to find an audience that accepted its political undertones, and failed to recoup its massive budget.

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) 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.

American career[edit]

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, 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 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. 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.[10] Windtalkers and Paycheck 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.

Return to Hong Kong[edit]

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.

John Woo was presented with a Golden Lion award for Lifetime Achievement at the Venice Film Festival in 2010.[11]

Future film projects[edit]

A CGI, possibly 3D, Mighty Mouse film was announced in 2003 although, as of October 2012, nothing has yet been produced.[12][13] There have been rumours that Woo will direct a film version of the videogame Metroid, however the rights he optioned have since expired.[14][15]

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, and a remake of Blind Spot.

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 was 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, is not clear. 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."[16] 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.”[17]

Filmography[edit]

Directed[edit]

Year Film Notes
1968 Dead Knot Also Writer
Ouran
1974 The Young Dragons Also Writer
1975 The Dragon Tamers Also Writer
1976 Princess Chang Ping Also Writer
Hand of Death Also Writer
1977 Money Crazy Also Writer
1978 Hello, Late Homecomers Also Writer
Follow the Star
1979 Last Hurrah for Chivalry Also Writer
1980 From Riches to Rags
1981 To Hell with the Devil Also Writer
Laughing Times Also Writer
1982 Plain Jane to the Rescue
1984 The Time You Need a Friend Also Writer/Producer
1985 Run, Tiger, Run Also Producer
1986 Heroes Shed No Tears Also Writer/Producer
A Better Tomorrow Also Writer/Producer
Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film
Nominated - Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director
Nominated - Hong Kong Film Award for Best Screenplay
1987 A Better Tomorrow II Also Writer/Producer
1989 Just Heroes
The Killer Also Writer
Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director
Nominated - Hong Kong Film Award for Best Screenplay
1990 Bullet in the Head Also Writer/Producer
Nominated - Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director
1991 Once a Thief Also Writer
Nominated - Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director
1992 Hard Boiled Also Writer
1993 Hard Target Nominated - Saturn Award for Best Direction
1996 Broken Arrow
Once a Thief TV
Also Executive Producer
1997 Face/Off Saturn Award for Best Direction
1998 Blackjack TV
Also Executive Producer
2000 Mission: Impossible II
2002 Windtalkers Also Producer
2003 Paycheck Also Producer
2008 Red Cliff: Part I Also Writer/Producer
Nominated - Asian Film Award for Best Director
2009 Red Cliff: Part II Also Writer/Producer
Nominated - Hong Kong Film Award for Best Film
Nominated - Hong Kong Film Award for Best Director
2010 Reign of Assassins Also Producer
2014 The Crossing Also producer
in post-production[18]

Producer[edit]

Writer[edit]

Television work[edit]

Other works[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ John Woo. Festival de Cannes fiche artiste (artist profile)
  2. ^ a b c d e f Pierce, Nev (2004). "Getting Direct With Directors: John Woo". BBC. Retrieved 17 May 2007. 
  3. ^ Kehr, Dave (14 July 2002). "Ballets full of bullets". The Observer (London). Retrieved 17 May 2007. 
  4. ^ Rawnsley, Gary D. Rawnsley, Ming-Yeh T. (2003). Political Communications in Greater China: the construction and reflection of identity. Routledge publishing. ISBN 0-7007-1734-X.[page needed]
  5. ^ a b c Woo, John (2005). Elder, Robert K., ed. John Woo:Interviews;Conversations with Filmmakers Series. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781578067763. 
  6. ^ Leydon, Joe (3 January 1993). "COVER STORY New Gun in Town John Woo, Hong Kong's legendary action director, teams with Jean-Claude Van Damme for his first American thriller, 'Hard Target'". 
  7. ^ "Famous Persons with Disabilities". Tampagov.net. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  8. ^ June 2000 edition of Premiere magazine
  9. ^ Biography for John Woo at the Internet Movie Database
  10. ^ "2000 Yearly Box Office Results". Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  11. ^ Woo awarded Golden Lion for lifetime achievement[dead link]
  12. ^ Verrier, Richard; Eller, Claudia (3 October 2003). The Post and Courier (Google News). p. 8B http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=pphIAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qQoNAAAAIBAJ&pg=1247,833429&dq=john-woo+mighty-mouse&hl=en |url= missing title (help). Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  13. ^ "Saving The Day | Movie News | Empire". Empireonline.com. 5 December 2006. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  14. ^ "Woo to bring Metroid to big screen - RTÉ Ten". Rte.ie. Retrieved 19 October 2012. [dead link]
  15. ^ "Metroid Movie Rumours Resurface | Kotaku Australia". Kotaku.com.au. Retrieved 19 October 2012. 
  16. ^ Foreman, Liza (21 May 2008). "Woo sets prod'n clock for '1949'". The Hollywood Reporter, the Daily from Cannes (Cannes) (8): p.22. 
  17. ^ "Woo’s Flying Tigers to be shot in IMAX format". ScreenDaily. 30 October 2010. Retrieved 11 March 2010. 
  18. ^ Stephen Cremin (April 18, 2014). "John Woo's Crossing joins 3-D December". Film Business Asia. Retrieved May 7, 2014. 
  19. ^ Woh ping faan dim at the Internet Movie Database
  20. ^ Lang, Mark (11 May 1998). "Creative: Best Spots - April". Adweek. 

Further reading[edit]

In English[edit]

  • Bliss, Michael. Between the Bullets: The Spiritual Cinema of John Woo. Filmmakers series, no. 92. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 2002. ISBN 0-8108-4110-X.
  • Brown, Andrew M. J. Directing Hong Kong: The Political Cinema of John Woo and Wong Kar-Wai. Political Communications in Greater China: the Construction and Reflection of Identity. London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2001. ISBN 0-7007-1734-X.
  • Crawford, Kevin R. "Mixing violence and religion in 'The Reckoning' : The Scripting of a Postmodern Action Thriller inside the John Woo-film noir Paradigm". Digital Dissertation/Theses, 2007. [1].
  • Fang, Karen Y. John Woo's A Better Tomorrow. The New Hong Kong Cinema. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2004. ISBN 962-209-652-2.
  • Hall, Kenneth E. John Woo: The Films. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 1999. ISBN 0-7864-0619-4.
  • Heard, Christopher. Ten Thousand Bullets: The Cinematic Journey of John Woo. Los Angeles: Lone Eagle Publishing Co., 2000. ISBN 1-58065-021-X.
  • Woo, John (2005). Elder, Robert K., ed. John Woo:Interviews;Conversations with Filmmakers Series. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781578067763. 

In other languages[edit]

  • Berruezo, Pedro J. John Woo y el cine de acción de Hong Kong. Biblioteca Dr. Vértigo, 23. [Barcelona]: Ediciones Glénat, 2000. ISBN 84-8449-043-2. (Spanish)
  • Bertolino, Marco, and Ettore Ridola. John Woo: la violenza come redenzione. Recco, Genova: Le mani, 1998. ISBN 88-8012-098-0. (Italian)
  • Gaschler, Thomas, and Ralph Umard. Woo Leben und Werk. München: Belleville, 2005. ISBN 3-933510-48-1. (German)
  • Nazzaro, Giona A., and Andrea Tagliacozzo. John Woo: la nuova leggenda del cinema d'azione. Contatti, 199. Roma: Castelvecchi, 2000. ISBN 88-8210-203-3. (Italian)
  • Spanu, Massimiliano. John Woo. Il castoro cinema, 203. Milano: Castoro, 2001. ISBN 88-8033-192-2. (Italian)
  • Vié-Toussaint, Caroline. John Woo. Paris: Dark star, 2001. ISBN 2-914680-01-5. (French)

External links[edit]