FILM / The drop-dead director: John Woo makes movies with guts, and buckets of blood. Kevin Jackson talks to him. Plus Jeremy Clarke on Chow Yun-Fat, Woo's favourite leading hard-man

FOR THE past couple of weeks, fly-posters across the capital have been carrying the blasphemous assertion 'John Woo is God'. The pious were affronted, the secular public merely baffled. John Who? Enlightenment is at hand: Mr Woo is not the hero of a George Formby song, but the author of a stream of quirky, dementedly violent cops-and-robbers movies that have won the adulation of buffs and film- makers around the globe, and recently made him the first graduate of Hong Kong's lively film industry to be given the director's chair on a big-budget Hollywood production - Hard Target, starring Jean-Claude van Damme and coming soon to a multiplex near you.

Orthodox believers, however, say that Hollywood Woo is diluted Woo, and the true revelation is to be found in his Hong Kong titles, such as The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1989), both of which star the charismatic, baby-faced, heavy Chow Yun-Fat, and both of which are re-released here on Friday. It was the likes of The Killer that made Quentin Tarantino - the director of Reservoir Dogs, which borrowed heavily from Woo's films - describe him as 'the most exciting director to emerge in action cinema since Sergio Leone', and which prompted Sam Raimi (Darkman) to declare that 'John Woo is to action what Hitchcock is to suspense'.

After such hype, and particularly after boggling at Hard Boiled's gory, incendiary set pieces, you might well expect the man himself to storm into the interview room screaming and drooling, with guns blazing from each hand (a Woo trademark) and a trail of shattered corpses in his wake. Instead, Woo proves to be a slight, neatly dressed and quietly spoken gentleman, embarrassed by all the adulation, and keen to deny rumours of his divinity. 'I think it's frightening. I don't want to be God because it's too lonely up there. I just feel like I'm a simple, hard- working . . . crazy film director.'

Crazy is his little joke, but it's not without foundation. This, after all, is the director who is so obsessive that he once reprimanded an actor who was reluctant to fall forward on his face by first executing the stunt himself and then head-butting the ground until the terrified actor gave in; so driven that one day during the making of Hard Target he forgot to visit the men's room and had a little accident. And even if he were as self-effacing on set as he is in person, the content of the films is quite enough to suggest that a cautious approach is in order.

Yet Woo insists that he disapproves of violence in real life, and denies that his prodigious body-counts are in any way gratuitous: 'It's not violence for its own sake. I don't want to give the audience a bad influence. My kind of violence is so much like cartoons, artistic, romantic . . .' (Woo's English is competent but not nimble, which tends to thwart pursuit of his more abstract points. Fortunately, his producer, Terence Chang, speaks impeccable American English, and is on hand to supply glosses.)

Cartoon-like it may be, but Woo's brand of apocalyptic shoot-up proved too meaty for the American ratings board, which repeatedly bounced Hard Target back to him for trims before it would pass it for the youth market. 'In Hong Kong they understand, they all know my kind of action is very artistic, very special style, so whenever I get any problems for the rating, they will usually give you some suggestion for cuts that can be made without hurting the movie. So if I have a hero shooting a guy with 15 bullets, they will suggest to cut out three or four bullets, and I still can keep 11 bullets. . . and have a good impact. But in the States it was a little frustrating, they never let me know what the real problem was, and also they never told me the specific points of what I needed to cut to get a rating. So we did our first cut by guessing, cutting a little bit here, a little bit here . . .

Chang interjects: 'Like the sequence where the guy has his ear sliced off. We decided to cut that out ourselves.'

'. . . and we had to go back to them seven times before they passed our cut]'

Toning down the carnage was not the only compromise Woo had to make. Working for almost the first time in his career with someone else's script, he had little opportunity to develop the themes (male bonding, the identity of cop and gangster, the fragility of innocence and suchlike) that pound out of his Chinese- language films with the insistent regularity of slugs from a machine gun. The Woo touch is visible chiefly in the rapid-fire fluency of its editing - yes, he really does direct action outstandingly well - and in the comic spin he puts on one or two scenes. ('Like the scene where the lonely cop sings Happy Birthday to herself.')

Despite the frustrations, he intends to stay in America. With one eye cocked to Hong Kong's uncertain future after 1997, he has already moved his family to Los Angeles, and is developing several projects - a script by his fan Quentin Tarantino, a thriller about terrorism and even an epic, 'like Kurosawa's Ran' about an ancient Chinese war. And does the director described by BBC 2's Moving Pictures as 'the Mozart of mayhem' have a long-term artistic ambition? 'Oh yes,' Woo smiles shyly. 'I would like to make a romantic love story.'

'Hard Target' opens in November.

MAKING A KILLING

CHOW YUN-FAT has become a superstar in south-east Asia thanks to his tough guy roles for John Woo in films like Hard Boiled and The Killer (both opening tomorrow), but he's not what you'd expect from a typical action hero. He may be able to fire guns simultaneously with both hands (an indispensible talent in a Woo picture), but he can also, more unusually, do it with Cary Grant's charm.

'No actor wants to stick with one role,' he says. 'Yet the US audience considers Mr Chow an action or martial arts actor. Actually I do an awful lot of comedy in Hong Kong, which the audience likes very much.' His great ambition is to play the Bogart role in a remake of Casablanca.

He was working in a factory in 1973 when a newspaper ad for the newly formed training school at TVP (one of Hong Kong's biggest television stations) caught his eye. He went for an audition, and ended up under contract there for the next 13 years, becoming a household name for his role in the long- running TV series Shanghai Town.

Gradually, he began to land roles in movies, but his big break did not come until Woo's A Better Tomorrow (1986). The film's producer had been pressured not to cast Chow, but he proved so popular that his character, Mark Gor, a Triad assassin killed in one of Woo's trademark bullet-strewn finales, was resurrected for the sequel as Mark's brother. And A Better Tomorrow III was even written as a prequel in order to include him.

He is not worried by the high level of violence in Hong Kong action cinema, claiming it to be 'just one of our techniques of expression. No matter how the set is falling, I'm still acting and following what I'm doing in a shot.'

Still, there are occupational hazards, like having to act opposite a baby, in Hard Boiled. And, at the end of The Killer, Chow recalls, 'One of the plastic incendiaries packed on the floor hit me right here' (he touches his forehead). 'My eyes were covered in blood. They called the ambulance for me - I said no. I'll stay until this movie is finished.'

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat

Arts and Entertainment
A sketch of Van Gogh has been discovered in the archives of Kunsthalle Bremen in Germany
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Eleanor Catton has hit back after being accused of 'treachery' for criticising the government.
books
Arts and Entertainment
Fake Banksy stencil given to artist Alex Jakob-Whitworth

art

Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee