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.


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
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little