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John Woo’s Unfinished Projects

May 30, 2012

Woo Van Damme New Film
John Woo with Jean-Claude Van Damme. Picture from at least 100 years ago.

It’s been at least two posts since I’ve written about John Woo. He’s been pretty quiet since the release of Red Cliff which still demands a larger fanbase. I think hardcore fans skipped out on it theatrically knowing it wasn’t the full cut and the interest in Chinese epics has dwindled since we are long out of the era of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero. Woo’s slow down in production had me a bit worried, especially after hearing him deny having throat cancer doesn’t help much. He had a tonsil tumor removed before February this year as well and is not getting much progress done on his romance film Love and Let Love. Whether this film gets off the ground or not, it can be placed in the large pile of projects that Woo had put on hold. I’ve tried to make a complete list compiling what is currently in the works and films that are no longer in play.

Kickin’ off with the films that are currently in the lengthy period known as “pre-production”:

John Woo’s Le Samourai

Nearly any article that mentions a mild history of Woo always brings up either Le Samourai or Jean Pierre Melville’s influence on him. It’s hard to overstate, and would make me wonder how Melville would react to such love from directors like Woo or Johnnie To. According to French director Jacques Rivette (who hated Woo’s Face/Off but loves Luc Besson), Melville apparently always wanted to have disciples so I’d suppose he would be proud to have such followers. I don’t think there’s any real reason for Woo to remake Le Samourai as he’s already nipped the best bits of it for The Killer ages back. It would also be an American film which only makes me imagine Nicolas Cage in the Alain Delon role and Rihanna as the nightclub singer. It’d be a big step up from her work in Battleship probably, but we’ll have to wait and see if anything new comes from this project.

John Woo’s Marco Polo

There’s very little information about this one, but Woo is interested in another historical film about Marco Polo, specifically his relationship with Kublai Khan. I’m not Chinese history expert (and neither is Woo from his story in Red Cliff) but from drawings of Kublai, I think Lam Suet should co-star. If he’s working his historical romance now, I think three in a row would be a bit much to ask of Woo. Cut it out with the historical films already.

John Woo’s Flying Tigers

Here’s Woo being slow to the punch again. Zhang Yimou’s Flowers of War was first to be the big popular film that was a Chinese production with an English-language actor (Christian Bale). This could be why it’s been at least a year since we’ve heard anything about Flying Tigers which was about an American Volunteer Group and the 14th Air Force during World War II. This would have been a film starring Tom Cruise which Woo hasn’t worked with since, well, the worst film in the Mission Impossible series. As no one has spoken about this film in quite a while, I can only assume it’s been shoved back. Tom’s very busy doing his hair metal movie anyways.

John Woo’s Youth of the Beast

This one I was the most excited for a number of reasons. First, it’s Woo’s return to the gangster genre, his first since…well, I suppose either Hard Boiled or A Bullet in the Head. Has it been that long? Second, it’s a film that Woo hasn’t already basically done unlike Le Samourai Woo has stated that he is a fan of the Japanese yakuza genre, but hasn’t explicitly noted how Youth of the Beast or any of Seijun Suzuki’s films have influenced him. Lastly, it’s a film that not everyone knows. Youth of the Beast is generally considered higher-tier Suzuki from his fan-base but it’s not quite as popular as Branded to Kill or Tokyo Drifter. The only problem? The film will probably be American as it’s plot now involves a “western outsider” and a two groups of gangsters: Russian and Japanese. Woo’s American films’ aren’t my favourite’s, but I’m still quite curious.

That’s a lot on Woo’s plate so that bastard better get well and get filming as soon as possible. He has left projects off long enough or has turned down films which would’ve have interesting results. Let’s quickly dash through the list of films that Woo has passed up.

John Woo’s King’s Ransom

Anticipating King’s Ransom is nostalgia from the 90s. In a perfect world, this should have been Woo’s first project in the United States as it was reportedly going to star Chow-Yun Fat and be written by the Face/Off writers Michael Colleary and Mike Web. This film has been in talks since the 1990s and Woo has finally given up the idea of directing it. The latest news on King’s Ransom is that it will be directed by Milky Way alumni Patrick Leung who also worked with Woo as a second unit director on The Killer and Red Cliff. In the book John Woo: The Interviews, Woo states the script has changed on King’s Ransom, so I don’t think we’ll be seeing any Face/Off-esque dialouge directly translated to Mandarin anytime soon.

John Woo’s Metroid

Video games aren’t movies. Movies based on things where a protagonist who is generally mute sound like bad things to base your film about. Either way, Woo has purchased the rights to a film version of the Metroid series around 2006. This was pretty shocking for me to hear about at the time as Woo seems to dislike science fiction. He even turned down the original script to Face/Off which he found to be too science fiction oriented in 1993. His only real step into the science fiction arena was in Pay Check which isn’t anyone’s favourite Woo film. No one has really discussed anything about Metroid relating to John Woo since the announcement of him buying the rights to it in the mid-2000s, but I have a hunch that any paper Woo signed relating to this project is gathering dust in a closet.

John Woo’s Goldeneye

I don’t even no the accuracy of this one as the only mention of it I can find is in Christopher Heard’s book Ten Thousand Bullets which has a lot inaccurate information. According to the book, MGM offered Woo a chance to direct GoldenEye in the 1990s even before he signed on to make Broken Arrow which is a nearly forgotten film. Woo apparently took on Broken Arrow as a way to try to learn how to use special effects…so if you’re a fan of pre-Matrix post-Terminator 2 special effects, there’s a copy in a bargain bin somewhere with your name on it. GoldenEye, and the James Bond universe is probably something Woo shouldn’t have tackled in the long run. James Bond is an institution and you can’t really change those films too much and get away with it. Neither the producers nor the James Bond fans would really be happy with that. Woo would’ve been held down by the restraints of what requires a Bond film to be a Bond film at that time and not really get any of his own ideas really placed within it. But it’s still not as strange as the next film Woo had been considering.

John Woo’s Phantom of the Opera

I have just stared at the heading of this section for a minute trying to even think about what to write here. Woo has long pined for the chance to direct a musical film or as he describes it as “his action musical”. There’s little information in this one within the Ten Thousand Bullets book and the John Woo: The Interviews books stating that John Travolta suggested the idea to him. Woo reported that “it somehow didn’t work out”. Even more nuts is Woo was also in the running to direct Chicago, remember that film? No one cares about Chicago anymore. Woo had already signed on to direct Mission Impossible 2 at that time, so there was no chance of going through with it.

Woo’s a director with a long history mixed with rumors, classics and films ideas that need to be done as soon as possible. I don’t know how ill Woo may really be, but I’m hoping for good news and good films in the future. In the meantime, I’m going to see if Paul Verhoeven is planning to make another film before he turns 100.

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Drive Angry Review

March 14, 2011

Nicolas Cage is Milton, an escapee from Hell who’s on a mission to find his child in the dirty south. Along with a waitress named Piper (Amber Heard), Milton seeks out a Satanic cult who will perform a child sacrificing ritual in three days. Three groups are trying to stop Milton: the police, the cult itself, and a mysterious man known as The Accountant who is attempting to get Milton to return to the firey depths. Sounds like a deliriously fun mess but a quick look at director Patrick Lussier’s resume sums up what got my goat in Drive Angry.

Film posters of Patrick Lussier's films

Doing mostly sequels and remakes isn’t going to put you on my “Directors To Watch” list unfortunately. All the problems I associate with his filmography come to fruition in Drive Angry: it feels derivative of films with similar themes that were more fresh the first time around. It’s a schlocky story no doubt, but I’m a firm believer that even a simple story can be made interesting if the right talent are involved to inject it with excitement. In Drive Angry, we have the schlock set-up but none of the right ingredients that make this rocket take off.

Nicolas Cage as the lead of Milton doesn’t work. Cage must be a bit embarrassed from the wave of parodies of his over-the-top antics in films like The Wicker Man as he is totally sleep walking through his role of Milton and comes off as bored. Milton isn’t very interesting to begin with. Being undead, Milton is invincible against gunfire and other such punishment. That’s exciting when the character is a villain like The Terminator or Michael Myers, but as a hero, you never feel like Milton’s in any great danger. Perhaps if his main rival played by Billy Burke didn’t resemble a youthful Neil Young, he’d have a foe worthy to come back from the dead to fight with.

On a trivial note, Cage’s haircut is hidden on the poster. I think it’s because he’s beginning to resemble Chad Kroeger from Nickelback. They used to really look like each other in Con Air in the early 2000s, but I’m guessing that things have come full circle for 2011.

Nicolas Cage Drive Angry Chad Kroeger

The action scenes are nothing to write home about. One scene involving Piper jumping between two speedy vehicles begins to build some excitement, but the chase ends as soon as that jump happens. Another scene involving a tanker truck crash is ruined by having the tanker become a blob of ugly CG as soon as it takes flight. I’m not anti-CG, but I prefer it when directors use it creatively to make the impossible happen. Good examples include the gonzo car chase in Wanted or the liquid metal T-1000 in Terminator 2. In Drive Angry, you just feel cheated seeing this blog of computer graphics leaping into the air. The last scene worth noting involves a gun fight between Milton and a host of baddies. While the shootout happens, Milton is having sex (fully clothed) with an anonymous woman who is stark naked! This might work if this film were more like Crank, but it does not fit the context of Cage’s brooding character as I have no idea why these two decide to fool around in bed. I can’t shake the feeling of theft either, as a similar sex-n’-shootin’ scene already happened a few years ago in Shoot ‘Em Up. Were you hoping to make Shoot ‘Em Up 2 at one point Lussier?

Despite a lack of storytelling skill or quality action, Drive Angry does boast some actors trying who try to resurrect a dead script. Amber Heard does tries very hard to give her character a bit of grit and William Fichtner’s role of the Accountant also manages to give the film a bit of a punch that it desperately needs. Fichtner chews on the scenery every time he appears. If these two were given a script worthy of their effort they put forth, I’d be able to give Drive Angry a recommendation. Otherwise, I’d suggest Drag Me to Hell and Grindhouse for a better slice of supernatural-tinged schlock.

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