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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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Avatar From Now On

May 7, 2012

Avatar Fans Cameron Worthington
Even Worthington has had enough Avatar

Oh Mr.Cameron, what have you done to me? You take a ten year break after Titanic to live the Troy McClure dream making and directing some forgettable documentaries along the way. And then I finally hear you are coming back to what you should be doing: science fiction action films. Avatar was in the correct genre for Cameron and the long wait led up to…a decent film that is weighed down by hippie smurfs.

This frustrated me a bit as for myself, James Cameron is probably the strongest and most consistent American action film director (possibly only rivaled by Walter Hill). Cameron is best when he’s working on large science fiction action pieces like The Terminator films or Aliens. I have to admit I’ve never gotten around to seeing True Lies so I’ll hold my judgement on how he fares when he’s stepping outside science fiction. Is it better than Avatar?

Avatar for me worked as theatrical experience but predominantly as an action film. When the characters were doing things that weren’t fighting such as hugging or singing to trees I felt my dollar was well spent. I wasn’t too worried about it’s great success at the time as projects outside the Avatar universe were still in pre-pre-pre-production such as Battle Angel Alita . Just from a glance on the wikipedia article on the comic, Battle Angel looks like something that may have worked better in the late 1990s then it would in this era, but what do I know about anime? Just take a break from Avatar!

Sadly, I think is James Cameron is moving in the opposite direction that I am taste wise. In an interview with the New York Times, Cameron states that he’ll be strictly working on Avatar films from now on. Bad idea! He also goes on to mention that he was in awe of Zack Snyder’s 300 which puts me into deeper confusion on where his tastes really lie.

So…where does this leave American action films? Cameron will continue to do Avatar which makes financial sense, but it’s a bit upsetting seeing a master of action as himself will be cutting out the action in the sequels as they will have less action than the original film.

So who’s next to take the throne of the top American action film director? Walter Hill has been out of the loop for years and i’m only mildly excited that he’s making a new film with Sylvester Stallone. He feels more like just a hired gun to me and it wouldn’t really be as good as his earlier works. Is it bad that the only American production I’m looking forward to this year is Nolan’s new Batman film? I’m worried guys!

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Vote in the Lovehkfilm.com best films of the 1980s!

February 25, 2012

Flag of Hong Kong pre-1997
1980s Hong Kong Flag

Greetings and Salutations to all who read this still. Just a quick post before I get into lengthy discussions on the merits of the films of Rudy Ray Moore. If you like action films, you are bound to like Asian cinema. If you like Asian cinema, you know it goes beyond action films. To help expand the word on Hong Kong cinema, I am promoting one of my favourite film sites,Lovehkfilm.com. The reviews are humorous, self-aware and escape all types of fan-boy knee-jerk reactions that sometimes occur with such country or genre specific film sites.

One of the features on the Lovehkfilm.com I frequently return to is their Best of the Decades polls which readers nominate their best films of the decade. It’s a good reference for those taking their first baby-steps into Hong Kong cinema and for seasoned vets who need to seek out the more forgotten titles. The site has already done lists for the the top 100 of the 1990s and the top 50 of the 2000s and are currently doing one for the 1980s. If you have an e-mail, you can vote so it’s easy as just following the instructions here. Be sure to take time and think of not just films you think are obviously the best but films you think that deserve more respect or support. I’m looking forward to the results and hearing about what your votes are. Be quick though as the poll closes on February 29th. Get out and vote!!

That’s all for now, I’ll try to get back to real posts on my own content sometime in the near future. Get out and vote!

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Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai DVD cover is crap

December 24, 2011

So I’m back. School is done for another semester and I can actually get down to some reviews. Despite not blogging, I did manage to catch several action films theatrically during my school time, namely Die Hard, Eastern Condors, and Attack the Block!.

But holidays are still busy times, so let’s focus on something that caught my attention. the horrible cover of Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai by Mike Taxi Takashi Miike. Let’s take a peek.

UK Hara-Kiri DVD cover

At first glance, it’s a bit generic but I’m not expecting a Criterion or Masters of Cinema cover here. The lame age warnings on the cover are typical Region 2 DVD stuff that appears on everything from Goodfellas (Gangster violence!) to My Neighbor Totoro (Gangster catbus!). There’s some just some really odd decisions on this cover. Let’s examine the most obvious glaring problems.

Bad Compression DVD Hara-Kiri

Well, this is difficult. For those who have been collecting Asian films on DVD for a while this kind of bad quality is sometimes expected, but why is the sword such nice quality? Is it that hard to find a decent resolution screen capture from this film? or a promo photo? Let alone one that doesn’t have some splatter brush on the sword. Eau de photoshop is what I’d refer to this if I was critiquing work at school.

Photoshop dorkery aside, let’s get what’s wrong with this filmwise. Take a closer look to the bottom of the cover of this package.

Ken Watanabe Harakiri

That’s odd. I don’t recall Ken Watanabe being in this film. In fact, he seems to have kept his clothes from The Last Samurai.

Yep. Surprisingly, this isn’t even the worst offender on the cover. Look who we have in the left corner.

Toshiro Mifune Harakiri 2011

Now we have some serious problems. That’s Toshiro Mifune who starred in several of Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films. He’s dead. Did Takashi Miike use some stock footage of Toshiro and shove him into this film?

Regardless of these problems, I took two seconds and fixed this cover from total humiliation in just two seconds.

Fixed DVD Cover
Eh, no one cares about that Empire quote anyways

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Wong Fei Hung’s Whip that Smacks the Candle

October 13, 2011

Carleton University Logo

School is hard. Going to school while doing part-time work at the school is harder. Living far away from the school to complete all these things is the hardest of them all. Not only did I miss screenings of Missing in Action 1 + 2 at the Mayfair this month due to education interfering, I’ve found myself unable to even find time to blog. How horrid!

I refuse to put a blog on hiatus, so I’m going to try and provide bite-size posts inbetween the longer more visual ones (i.e:good posts). I was previously working on a post involving a good overview of the action films selected by the Hong Kong Film Archive for their list of “100 Must-See Hong Kong Movies”. That list had some strange choices (Dirty Ho over The 36th Chamber of Shaolin) and several Wong-Kar Wai films, but no Chungking Express. It’s an interesting overview at least to see how Hong Kong film experts feel are the classics compared to us Western fans.

Back to the point, I worked on a blog post that began to become a pain as I continued to try and write it. To cut it short, I’ll write about the one interesting looking film that I’ve never heard of before. Let’s watch martial arts films from the 1940s with Wong Fei Hung’s Whip that Smacks the Candle (1949).

Don’t believe me? This film is actually making rounds theatrically at festivals:


No actual candle smacking in this clip

Compare the pacing in this film to this film to anything else from the 1940s, and this is lightning fast with surprisingly competent choreography. The film was directed by Wu Pang who was previously known for making melodramas. His Wong Fei Hung’s Whip that Smacks the Candle was a big hit in Hong Kong and received a followup with an equally boss title: Wong Fei Hung Burns the Tyrant’s Lair which was also a hit.

My own reseach doesn’t tell me what Wu Pang followed these up with, but I personally like to assume his later films still involved Wong Fei Hung doing more things: Wong Fei Hung goes to Shanghai or Wong Fei Hung builds his Dream Home. Probably not the case, but someone with a better knowledge of Hong Kong films before the 1960s can help you out with that.

This film does not seem to be available on YesAsia or Amazon, but the internet savy among you will find ways to watch this. I know I will.

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