John Woo SBS (Ng Yu-Sum; born 1 May 1946) is a Chinese-born Hong Kong film director, writer, and producer.
John Woo grew up in Hong Kong, where he began his film career as an assistant director in 1969, working for Shaw Brothers Studios. He directed his first feature in 1973 and has been a prolific director ever since, working in a wide variety of genres before A Better Tomorrow (1986) established his reputation as a master stylist specializing in ultra-violent gangster films and thrillers, with hugely elaborate action scenes shot with breathtaking panache. After gaining a cult reputation in the US with The Killer (1989), Woo was offered a Hollywood contract. He now works in the US.
He is the owner of Lion Rock Productions. 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. Woo has directed several notable Hong Kong action films, among them, A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989), Hard Boiled (1992), and Red Cliff (2008/2009).
His Hollywood films include the action films Hard Target (1993) and Broken Arrow (1996), the sci-fi action thriller Face/Off (1997) and the action spy film Mission: Impossible 2 (2000). He also created the comic series Seven Brothers, published by Virgin Comics. 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.
Trademark: Birds: Many Woo films include slow-motion sequences of birds (usually doves)
Woo’s many American admirers include the likes of Martin Scorsese
, Sam Raimi
(who compared his mastery of action to Alfred Hitchcock
‘s mastery of suspense) and Quentin Tarantino
(who, replying to a studio executive saying “I suppose Woo can direct action scenes” said “Sure, and Michelangelo can paint ceilings!”).
He is the first Asian director ever to make a mainstream Hollywood film (Hard Target
His film The Killer
(1989) (“The Killer”) (alongside City on Fire
(1987) (City on Fire) by Ringo Lam
) was one of the inspirations for Quentin Tarantino
‘s Reservoir Dogs
(1992). Although the plot came from “City on Fire”, a lot of the style of “Reservoir Dogs” (e.g., the suits, the Mexican standoffs, the double guns) came from “The Killer” as well as Woo’s work in general.
Two of his films are listed in the Hong Kong Film Awards’ List of The Best 100 Chinese Motion Pictures on March 2005. They are The Killer
(1989) and A Better Tomorrow
(1986) (ranking 42 and 2, respectively).
He is the fifth Chinese director after Hark Tsui
to join the board of judges for Cannes Film Festival (the 58th, in 2005).
He uses doves as a symbolic device. They represent the character’s soul as being saved.
Lives in Pacific Palisades, California.
His family’s roots are in Guangxi in southern China.
He has never owned a car.
wanted him to direct Rapid Fire
(1992) but the producers were strongly against it, as they wanted a martial arts film and not the stylized films that Woo made.
Despite the intense gunfighting in his films, he claims that in real-life he has a pacifist temperament and does not even own a gun.
He was asked to direct GoldenEye
(1995). He turned it down, but was honored to be asked.
I’m not a master; I’m just a hard-working filmmaker. I would like everyone to see me as a friend rather than a master.
I like doves. They look so beautiful, like a woman. For me they represent peace and love and purity. And sometimes they’re seen as the messengers of God, so they’re important to me because I’m a Christian.
[on Tom Cruise
] When he talks, he has so much energy it’s almost like he’s dancing. So I used that to choreograph his action scenes.
[on working in Hollywood] Even though I enjoyed the opportunity to work in Hollywood, I never got used to their system. I didn’t like much of the studio people. Well, there are too much politics and so much going on, and a lot of them have nothing to do with the movie. It’s all about power, it’s all about egos.
[on his childhood living in a Hong Kong slum] I had to fight to survive. Whenever I got beat up, I got upset, I also ran into the theater to watch a movie. But I have a very strong character, I never surrender, I [am] never afraid, no matter how big they are, how cruel they are, they never beat me down. I didn’t have money. I just sneaked in or watched the movie from the peephole. I have found my heaven in musicals. When I watch a musical, it makes me believe life is still beautiful. There are still a lot of beautiful people in the world. So I like the costumes, I love the song, I love all those smiles, I love those dance. In theater I found my heaven.
[on Akira Kurosawa
] I love Kurosawa’s movies, and I got so much inspiration from him. He is one of my idols and one of the great masters.
[on Mean Streets
(1973)] I saw this film before I directed my first movie. Even after I directed my first movie, I didn’t have much confidence. I must confess, I think I started a little too young. I should have learned more. I started with some kung-fu movies and comedies. After I watched “Mean Streets”, it made me feel ashamed–“Why don’t I make a movie like that? Tell a true story?”
[on Dolph Lundgren
] Directors have generally overlooked Dolph’s great sense of humor. He’s very funny.
[on working with Jean-Claude Van Damme
] That’s a long story. About five or six years ago, I got many offers from Hollywood studios. The producer and script writers [for Hard Target
(1993)] flew to Hong Kong to see me and they asked me to do the picture. [Van Damme was being considered to star.] Van Damme wanted a change, he wanted to prove himself as an actor. And he asked me to do the film. I thought I could do some magic. I know myself; I’m pretty sure of my abilities of how to make an actor look great on the screen, make him look like a hero. I thought I could do the same thing with Van Damme, like how I used to do with Yun-Fat Chow
. So I wanted to help him. At the same time, I wanted a new experience, of working in Hollywood, so I took the chance and chose to do Hard Target
(1993). The original script was pretty good. And I did try to do the things that I did with Yun-Fat Chow
and tried to make Van Damme look different.