BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., May 4, 2000 — Hollywood already owes much to director John Woo.
For Chow Yun-Fat, star of Woo’s greatest Hong Kong fare (“The Killer, “Hard-Boiled” and “A Better Tomorrow”), it’s the springboard for crossover appeal in the United States, where he’s already starred in three mainstream movies. For directors such as Robert Rodriguez, Oliver Stone and the Wachowski brothers, it’s a new style of action; the ballet-like technique, slow-motion dives and the all-famous shooting-with-two-guns feature. Quentin Tarantino, an avid fan, even inserts references to Woo’s movies in his own pictures.
And for stars such as John Travolta, Nicolas Cage and Christian Slater, it’s success in a genre they’d never explored before, showing off their mano-a-mano fighting skills and opening up new doors as unlikely action heroes.
You can now add Tom Cruise to that list. Helming the highly anticipated “Mission: Impossible 2,” starring one of the world’s biggest stars, will certainly cement the name the 54-year-old director began making for himself in 1993’s “Hard Target” and 1996’s “Broken Arrow.” When the smash hit “Face/Off” premiered in 1997, Hollywood began to discover what die-hard action fans already knew: that John Woo (born Yusen Wu in Canton, China) was a force to be reckoned with.
Hollywood.com recently sat down with the soft-spoken director, who answered questions about the movie, the secrets behind his trademarks and his dream of directing — of all things — a musical.
What did you think of the first “Mission: Impossible”?
John Woo: The first one for me was a little too cold and had a lack of character . … I didn’t get much from that movie, no message or story. It’s a little confusing. It was still a good movie, but for myself I wanted to see something warm, something really passionate.
So how did you end up doing the sequel, and what was your vision?
Woo: Two and a half years ago when Tom offered this project to me, I was really surprised because I never dreamed of making a spy movie. And he loved “Face/Off,” he loved all my Hong Kong movies and he wanted this one a John Woo-style “Mission: Impossible.” And I suggest to him that I never like to make a sci-fi or high-tech movie. I want new things, I don’t want to do anything with CGI or blue screen. I’m not good at it because I’m computer-blind.
So [I told him] if they can come up with story [that] really can move me, then I’ll take it. The writer came up with story about love, put evil in love with same woman. And it worked really well, and then when I talked to Tom and found he was so charming, I told him, “Why don’t you show your real character on the screen?” And he did try very hard to make it different from the first one. So he went with long hair, everything.
Was it really an impossible mission to film?
Woo: We had tough time to shoot it, all kinds of problems. The weather [in Australia] … it kept raining every day, so frustrating. When we did the final scenes all on location, we went out, set up the cameras, all of a sudden the rain poured. So sometimes we only got one shot a day, sometimes we got nothing, just waiting. … We just spent more time till we got all the shots, so it went over 40 days to get all the scenes.
Do you miss anything about your days in Hong Kong?
Woo: From Hong Kong I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss the time we worked together. But everything’s so limited in Hong Kong. The only mainstream film is action and comedy, and I cannot make action movies my entire life; the market there is so small, all we can sell is the action. But here, at least I can try a World War II movie [“Windtalkers,” starring Nicolas Cage] which is gonna be my next movie. … I can try “Mission: Impossible,” and I can try one of my dreams, [which] is to make a musical. You can never make a musical in Hong Kong.
Do you use your background in dance to choreograph your action scenes?
Woo: A little bit, I just feel like I’m making a musical. Most all of action is based on real things, real life like the motorcycle chase in this movie. The motorcycle guy could actually do it: rearing up, 360 degree turning, and then Tom spinning, giving him the gun to fire, and the burning tires, the smoke, it’s all real. After I saw the demonstration, we just put it in. And Tom learned really fast, all of the action. I’m so surprised he had never trained in martial arts … he did the flip in the air and kicked the guy. He watched the stuntman demonstrate once, and then he did it himself, all in one shot, no cheating, no cable.
There are some very John Woo trademarks people see in your films, particularly shooting with two guns. But is there a reason you like using birds?
Woo: I’m a Christian, and when I was a kid I drew pictures, I usually draw the poster for church. Every week they have a topic, and I draw something for them. I sometimes draw pigeons. For the question, the dove represents spirit and also is the messenger for me, he sends a message from God out to anyone. The white dove also represents the purity and love, just like our character. So it depends in which situation you use. Like in “Mission: Impossible,” you see the dove leading Tom coming out of the fire door … [it’s] trying to get the idea that the good is challenging evil. So the bird represents Tom challenging the evil, this idea. And the idea it came on the set, “OK, we’ll release the pigeons.” Another trademark, the two guns, Tom loves it ’cause he has never fired a gun in all his movies.
Have you seen any of Jackie Chan’s movies since he broke out in the U.S.?
Woo: [Shakes head] Honestly, I like him, we worked together long time ago. I just didn’t want to see something repeating. The action is the same, gimmick same, fighting is same. I just want to see something else. We are good friends though.
And we’re dying to know: Are you gonna be teaming up with Chow Yun-Fat again?
Woo: Oh yes, we will.