Legendary filmmaker John Woo has long been known for his signature hard-boiled crime dramas and for pioneering a cinematic style known as ‘bullet ballet’.
Having branched out into period drama with 2008’s epic war film Red Cliff, he has now produced and co-directed his first wuxiapian, or martial arts swordfighting film, Reign of Assassins.
Still, he thinks he hasn’t hit his peak or directed his magnum opus yet.
“I have always wanted to produce the films of up-and-coming directors,” the highly influential director said during a press session here to promote the film, which was written and directed by Su Chao-Pin and opened October 7.
“Although Chinese movies have developed well, many just follow the trend of what’s in the vogue at the moment. There are very few multicultural films like this, with a special quality, an independent spirit and genuine character.”
Reign of Assassins, which stars Michelle Yeoh, Shawn Yue, Barbie Hsu, Wang Xueqi, Kelly Lin and Korean heartthrob Jung Woo-Sung, tells the tale of an assassin (Yeoh) who changes her identity and tries to lead a normal life before her past catches up with her.
Woo stressed that the film truly belonged to director Su. He initially did not intend to get involved with directing, but later contributed enough input to garner a co-director credit.
“My very own wuxiapian, I have not done it yet! I want to do it in my style, with (Woo’s trademark) doves flying, in that sort of grand heroic-romantic style – a more macho wuxiapian,” he said.
“It will be a different kind of wuxiapian; I believe I can bring my own style into the picture. I’m currently writing the script so, really, I’ve saved the best for myself!”
Asked about the lifetime achievement award he received in September at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, the 64-year-old Woo said he was “very grateful and moved” as well as “very lucky”.
“This prize has come a little early for me. I still have a little bit of hair on my head! I established some innovative techniques and I think I’ve inspired some directors – I hope I’ve made some small contribution to cinema after all.
“But it’s still not enough for me; I have not yet directed my perfect film. All the films I’ve done before, I never watch them – I feel they all have flaws. So I’m going to keep making movies to find my dream movie.”
While he pursues perfection, his daughter Angeles is seeking her own path in showbiz, snagging a small part as an assassin in her father’s latest film.
Director Su agreed with Woo that Angeles surprised and impressed. If one didn’t know better, one would have assumed she was an old pro at this, he said.
“She really opened our eyes. She’s really skilled and has black belts in judo and taekwondo. I was worried at first that she would not have the strength, but she was able to do many of the action scenes without a stand-in.”
Lead actress Yeoh cheekily revealed that Woo was a nervous wreck when his daughter was filming.
“The only person I saw who was very excited on set (during action scenes) was a father. When we’re doing the wirework, it’s very scary because you’re not in control. If you’re in mid-air there are no brakes.
“We had such an experienced stunt team. But of course when Angeles was on the wire, we saw this daddy who was walking up and walking down, asking ‘Are you sure it’s safe? Did you test it first? How many times did you try it?’ It was really cute.
“One time we heard a crash, and John’s reaction was, ‘Ok, it’s not Angeles!’” Yeoh said laughing. “Fortunately, nobody was injured – it was just some equipment. In the end, I think Angeles did have to say, ‘Daddy, can you please go home?’”
Now, apart from perfectionist filmmaker and action pioneer, we can add the title of ‘doting father’ to the legend of John Woo.