John Woo may well have redeemed himself after critically maligned flop Windtalkers, as he takes on the futuristic thriller Paycheck. Yet it’s hard to believe that Woo is desperate to make a musical – Woo style. Paul Fischer reports.
Question: Were you a fan of the Dick story?
Answer: Yeah, even though I haven’t read much of his books, I’ve seen quite a few movies made from his books. Like Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report. I thought they’re all amazing. They’re all great movies, great books. There’s always a lot of very interesting characters and new ideas, even have so much of a philosophy in his book. And it seems to me that his books were written for the movies. They’re very cinematic and could give us a lot of inspiration to do a lot of things.
Question: Have you changed or compromised your style?
Answer: Actually, let me put it this way. I try to add my style into American films. Like in Paycheck or even in Face/Off, I just want to maintain something I’m interested in. Like the theme of friendship or honor, or even using the two guns. So after I read the script, originally it was pretty interesting. And then I realized that I’m not a good sci-fi movie director because I know not much about special effects. I don’t even know how to make it good. So I toned down the visualistic stuff, just give it a little bit of a visualistic element. I’d rather focus on the love story and the characters, and also change the time.
Question: Is the book a lot different?
Answer: I think so.
Question: Did you read it?
Answer: Yeah, yeah. I read the short story.
Question: Was that a launching pad?
Answer: First of all, I didn’t handle the [script]. Of course the theme and the concept is based on the original story. But for the cinema, for the movies, I wanted to do a little more.
Question: Is it more complicated to work with big American actors?
Answer: I think it’s pretty easy because I have no problems working with Ben, Travolta and even Tom Cruise. They’re really nice. They are very easy to work with. It’s just the same as though I’m working with Chow Yun-Fat. We worked together as friends. I didn’t see any problem.
Question: Do you miss working in China?
Answer: I don’t wish to make a movie in China, not in Hong Kong because I think I have done enough in Hong Kong. I like to move on. My dream is to work in a different place, a different country. I just want to try something new, new things.
Question: Will you work with Chow again?
Answer: Yeah, I have a project working for a long time, The Divide. The story is of a Chinese and Irish immigrant. They’re building a railroad in America in the 19th century. That movie is for Chow Yun-Fat.
Question: Is that next?
Answer: I hope so. We are hiring another writer to work on the script.
Question: Is there such a thing as a “John Woo film” and has that changed?
Answer: Yeah, I think it’s changed a little bit. Maybe I’m getting older. Before, I made so many tragic movies. My movies are very dark movies. Now I think I should try something happier, like in Paycheck. I did intend to try to make the audience feel happy. I wanted them to feel happy to have seen the movie. I also wanted them to feel happy about the future. Even though there’s so much going on, so many bad things happening, I still wish that people know the future is not that horrible. There’s always hope, there’s always a lot of good people around. Before I made this movie, I find there are so many depressions in this world. Especially in Asia, I’ve heard a lot of the young people, they didn’t see much of a future and didn’t feel much hope. And even some young kids, very young kids, they gave up their life. It happened in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan. I feel very sad. Sometimes I’m asked to say something to those young people, but I don’t know how. So I just want to make a movie to let them know there’s always hope and just don’t give up. Just try to find a way to work it out. Just like Michael Jennings.
Question: Ever had a bad accident on a set?
Answer: No. Just some stunt guy got some minor injuries. We have so much concern about safety.
Question: How much leeway is there to put the actors in stunt scenes?
Answer: Half of the action sequence was done by the stunt [team] and actors did half of the action. For some really dangerous action, I want to use the stunt doubles to do it. But for Ben and Uma, they really wanted to do it by themselves.
Question: Do you keep putting your trademarks in?
Answer: Because I like those moments. And I think sometimes I just try to create some fun moments and interesting moments. Like the Mexican standoff. It’s for fun and they never fire. And for the doves, I always like it. It became one of the major symbols in my movies. The dove represents peace and love and spiritual purity.
Question: Who are your favorite directors?
Answer: There are so many of them. Quentin Tarantino. There are so many. Ang Lee. Of course I like Spielberg and also like Scorsese.
Question: Who did you admire growing up?
Answer: A lot of them. Howard Hawkes. John Huston. John Ford.
Question: Hitchcock references?
Answer: And I so much love West Side Story. Actually in this film, it’s very suspenseful, so I used Hitchcock ways to show some of the scenes.
Question: The shower curtain thing?
Answer: There’s a lot of moments attributed to Hitchcock. Like the train sequence, Ben in the tunnel chased by the train, is inspired by North by Northwest.: I just told the guys that I want a scene like North by Northwest. Everybody watch the movie, just that scene,] Cary Grant being chased by a plane. A similar thing. So we came up with the idea of how to do it in a tunnel. Even the camera angle and the long lens, he’s running and the train’s behind him. It’s pretty much like the other movie. And then I was using the two love birds. Two love birds in the house came from The Birds. You remember the scene where the leading lady delivered the love birds for Rod Taylor. And also Ben, when he finds out that he’s been cheated, he’s so angry and he came home, slammed closed the door, made phone calls and then he realizes the door is open. He closes it and all in one shot, the camera follows him. Those are suspense movements started by Psycho. And the whole story surrounding this character trying to find out himself and find out the truth and he’s in danger, the pace and the tone are pretty much The 39 Steps. That’s one of my favorite movies. I’ll never forget it.
Question: Did you want the audience to know more, less or the same as Jennings?
Answer: I want them to know more.
Question: How important was that for his arc?
Answer: I think it would draw the audience in more going with him and also trying- – and then find out the truth from every clues.
Question: How did you feel about using remote controlled cameras?
Answer: Giving up the control? Well, actually, all those ideas came from the second unit director and the DP. When we shot all those sequences, I just let him know, “Okay, I want the shot to start from very high. Then I want to see the motorcycle come around the corner and all of a sudden come down to meet the motorcycle and then drive by.” I just want to let them know I don’t like cheating. I want to do some crazy shot we’ve never done before, so they came up with the idea of building that kind of camera rig. And also, in the construction site, the major gag was using the motorcycle to do something impossible. Like if you could follow the motorcycle going into the whole or something and go through something, and how to work it out, so we came up with the idea of using the cable, hanging a camera, slide the camera to follow them.
Question: Were you happy with it?
Answer: Yeah, I’m very happy with it. It got a very strong impact and my whole idea was trying to make the motorcycle- – use the motorcycle in a very smart way. And also maybe a little bit western. I never have tried to make a western. I love horses. I just wanted to give the motorcycle a look like a horse.
Question: Do you want to make a western?
Answer: Of course, I’ve dreamed to make a western for 10 years. And also trying to make a musical for 10 years.
Question: What musical?
Answer: There’s actually a project I’m working on now. We almost have a script now. It’s an action musical but without singing. So I have a story in my mind. It’s a gangster movie set in 1930. It’s a tough guy who also was a great dancer. I also wanted to make a movie with the mixture, the beauty of dancing and action.
Question: But no singing?
Answer: Just a couple singing, but not like the traditional musical singing dialogue. It’s kind of like the mixture of The Killer and Cabaret. We’ll get a draft pretty soon, in a few days and I wish it could be my next project.
Question: How satisfied are you that the films you’re making are John Woo films?
Answer: I wish I could have had full control. A real John Woo film, you know, the cost- – besides trying to keep my own style, I really wish I could make something really meaningful. I love drama. I love characters. Great characters. I’d like to go back to make some tragic movies.
Question: Did you try with Windtalkers?
Answer: Yeah, I did try to do it with Windtalkers. I’m disappointed that it didn’t work, but I’m still proud of the movie. So the reason I wanted to make that film was because it had so much great meaning and also the same thing, feelings about honor and friendship and loyalty. I thought that it was a relevant, good movie I ever made.
Question: Why didn’t it work?
Answer: I still need to find out because I just heard maybe somebody said some of the characters in the movie were too cliched and so that’s why it didn’t work. Like the racist problem in the film is something which you’ve seen in so many movies. Then some action was a little too much. But I still need to find out. I think there are a lot of good things in the movie like the performance, all the actors, they’re so great. And the war scenes look really nice to me.
Question: Which of your movies are you most satisfied with?
Answer: Quite a few. The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, Face/Off. Face/Off, I really love it. Hard Boiled. I had so much fun making that. And Bullet in the Head is really my favorite. Paycheck. I think in Paycheck, I kept a pretty good balance of the action and the love story and the suspense. I think I maintained a pretty good balance.
Question: How futuristic did you want it to be?
Answer: I never think of the future. I don’t think of that. Of course when I like to see the future, I like to see the world in peace. And then I always feel like the future won’t be that bad.