Hollywood woos away Hong Kong's best

As the colony reverts to Chinese rule, its movie talent is making a splash in the US, reports Tim Cornwell

Apart from the fact that it is directed by John Woo, Hong Kong's best-known export to Hollywood, there seems at first nothing particularly non-American about his latest movie, Face/Off, which had its premiere in Los Angeles last week.

The plot features an FBI agent (John Travolta) who switches identities with a terrorist (Nicholas Cage) by shearing the man's face off and transplanting it onto his own. The style in which it shot, however, is one that transformed the Hong Kong movie industry and first turned Woo into a cult director in the West.

After the relative disappointment of his previous efforts in the US, most notably Broken Arrow, which succeeded at the box office but left his fans much dissatisfied. Face/Off returns to the form he showed in Hong Kong in the mid-Eighties. Taking the director's old interplay of hunter and hunted to its logical end, Face/Off "seems much more like a John Woo-esque movie", according to Roger Garcia, a film producer and former director of the Hong Kong Film Festival. It has the stylised violence that has influenced other Hollywood directors: in one scene, a four- year-old child watches a shoot-out to the tune of "Somewhere over the Rainbow".

Woo has paved the way for other Chinese directors and stars. Five years after he went to the US, and days before Hong Kong reverts to Chinese rule, the sons and daughters of the colony are making themselves felt in Hollywood and in Canada. In Hong Kong, the industry that was so alive in the Eighties and early Nineties is at a crossroads. Tales of Triad influence, foreign competition and fear of censorship, state or self-imposed, have seen revenue slump. And some of the best talent has gone overseas.

Hollywood's new poster child is English-educated Bond girl Michelle Yeoh, fresh from her role as a Chinese security chief opposite Jackie Chan, the 40-something veteran of Hong Kong action movies, in Supercop.United Artists is so pleased with her work in the Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies, that it has already offered her another picture, and two other studios have come courting.

The hallmarks of Hong Kong's film industry - slick but troubled hitmen, crazy antics with guns, and male bonding amid fusillades of bullets - now crop up repeatedly in American films. Quentin Tarantino unabashedly borrowed from Woo. The difference now is that most of Hong Kong's big names have crossed the Pacific.

Chow Yun-Fat, Woo's long-time leading man and one of Asia's biggest box-office draws, has just finished The Replacement Killers, his Hollywood debut. Opposite the Oscar-winning Mira Sorvino, he plays, predictably enough, a hitman, and will undoubtedly help Columbia Studios reach the vast Asian market.

Peter Chen, who at 34 has seven films behind him and whose speciality is romance and drama rather than action, moved to Los Angeles early this year. He is developing a remake of a gender-bending comedy he made in Hong Kong, He's a Woman, She's a Man, reading scripts and meeting studio executives.He sees his options limited in a shrinking Hong Kong industry, and is concerned at the impact of the handover.

"Directors in Hong Kong and China have had a tough time dealing with Chinese censorship," said Terence Chang, Woo's producer and partner, who moved with him. He cites a mainland Chinese director whose film about a psychopathic teacher was approved in script form by Peking censors, but banned when it came to the screen, because no teacher could be a psychopath.

"It's tough to make films in Hong Kong now; the film market has hit a real low - I think the Triads moved off because there is no money in it," he said jokingly. "Most of the Hong Kong films can't even sell to Taiwan. In Taiwan and Hong Kong, they are watching American films."

News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
peopleReports that Brand could stand for Mayor on an 'anti-politics' ticket
News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
News
Voluminous silk drawers were worn by Queen Victoria
newsThe silk underwear is part of a growing trade in celebrity smalls
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Candidates with surnames that start with an A have an electoral advantage
newsVoters are biased towards names with letters near start of alphabet
Arts and Entertainment
Isis with Lord Grantham (Hugh Bonneville)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jay James
TVReview: Performances were stale and cheesier than a chunk of Blue Stilton left out for a month
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?