Tokyo International Film Festival’s (TIFF) SAMURAI Award is given to filmmakers “who continue to create groundbreaking films that carve a path to a new era.” Last year, Tim Burton and Takesi Kitano were receiving the award.
For the 28th TIFF, John Woo along with Yoji Yamada are the receiver of SAMURAI Award. Woo is certainly one of the most innovative filmmakers in the history of world cinema. He invented most of the key elements of the modern action movie that we now take for granted.
After successfully making movies in Hong Kong (A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Bullet in the Head, Hard Boiled),Woo is making his way in Hollywood with mega budget movies such as Broken Arrow, Face/Off, and Mission: Impossible II.
He eventually returned to Asia and has since adapted his unique style to historical epics like Red Cliff. Jakartanistic has a chance to interview Woo during the 28th TIFF.
Hallo how are you?
I’m good though so many events should be attended
Can you tell me, how was it like making your first movie?
When I entered Hong Kong film industry in the 1960s there was no film school. I liked movies as a child and I would read all about movies at the library. I learned how to make movies – writing, directing, and producing – through the Hong Kong film industry’s apprenticeship system. It was difficult, since I had to do what others wanted to do and often had to put aside my own ideas. A Better Tomorrow was my “turning point.”
Until then, crime movies were very clear cut as you knew who was good and who was bad. But the characters in A Better Tomorrow had shadings of both good and bad, regardless of whether they were cops or gangsters.
Thanks to producer Tsui Hark, I was able to make the kind of movie I always envisioned but couldn’t make because of the way the production system worked. The film’s success allowed me greater freedom within that system, and after The Killer (1989) – an homage to Japanese director Teruo Ishii – became an international sensation, I was invited to work in Hollywood, though it would be another four years before I took up the offer with the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle, Hard Target.
How was working in Hollywood?
At first, I was impressed with the American system. It’s very professional, and everybody is very good at their job. They also treat you well. But, I eventually found that my ideas didn’t always please producers, and often I would clash with the people paying for the movie I was making. In Hong Kong, the director has total power over the script, but in Hollywood my requests for script changes were often refused. I became very angry a few times.
When making Face/Off, starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage, there was some disagreement about the ending. The first edit of Face/Off did not contain a key element that I wanted. I wanted the character John Travolta played to adopt the son of his slain enemy in the end, since such a plot development would provide the sense of justice he felt was necessary, but the producers thought American viewers wouldn’t get it.
However, when they tested the movie with average people, the response was negative, so they recut the film with my ending. The studio apologize and I even had the final word on editing, which is very unusual for a Hollywood blockbuster. Maybe only five directors have that kind of power.
In your film, a lot of characters have to kick so much ass and how do you determine how much ass kicking is appropriate for actor?
As long as I feel happy. I love action movies but my kind of action movies pretty much is like musical. I never learn any kungfu or any kind of martial arts. I also never fire a real gun in my life. I decided the action scene based on my imagination.
I also using musical theories to create scene that I wanted. So when you see people shooting each other or fighting in my film, I just feel like they are dancing. I get so much influence from the music in my film. I grow up with music so I always listen to the music when I’m directing the action scene. The tempo or the body movement in my film is like a jazz music.
Can you mention the name of the musician that influence you?
Oh, there a lot that influence me but I found that jazz and classic to be my favorite. There are two things I do before deciding an action scene, I always listening to music to music to get the idea. Bob Fosse is great, a good director, a good dancer, a good singer, and whatever. He died many years ago. You should see his film.
How would you describe your style, methodology, and general philosophy when directing a movie?
Emotions are the most important things. A movie has to convey a sense of justice, too. That’s why when I shoot a film, I don’t think of it as appealing to a Western audience or to an Asian audience. They should have universal themes that appeal to all humanity. Even nominally “bad” people can do good things as long as they adhere to a sense of justice.
For more insight about the interview, you could go to jax.co.id