Award-winning director John Woo (吳宇森) first began directing films in 1974, though fame eluded him until 1986, when A Better Tomorrow <英雄本色> broke the Hong Kong box office record and became one of the most well-known movies in Chinese cinema.
Since then, Woo has enjoyed both critical and commercial success, helming well-known movies such as Once a Thief <縱橫四海> and The Killer <喋血雙雄>, as well as Hollywood films like Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II. As a respected director, he is always looking for ways to improve the Chinese film industry and occasionally serves as a guest lecturer at Hong Kong Baptist University’s Academy of Film.
One of Woo’s most anticipated films this year is The Crossing <太平輪>, a romantic epic that tells the story of three couples who set sail on the doomed Taiping steamer in 1949. The Crossing features a star-studded, pan-Asian cast, including Zhang Ziyi (章子怡), Takeshi Kaneshiro (金城武), Huang Xiaoming (黃曉明), Korean actress Song Hye Kyo (宋慧喬), and Japanese actress Masami Nagasawa (長澤雅美).
Production of The Crossing, which is Woo’s first movie in four years, was originally scheduled to begin in late 2008, but preparations were brought to a halt due to screenplay issues. In 2012, Woo was diagnosed with a tonsillar tumor, forcing him to take some time off to undergo surgery and recuperate. The Crossing finally began filming in July 2013.
Like Woo’s 2008 war epic Red Cliff <赤壁>, The Crossing will have a two-part release and is expected to open in theaters at the end of the year. In the meantime, JayneStars caught up with director John Woo to discuss some of The Crossing’s behind-the-scenes action, as well as his future film projects.
JayneStars: The Crossing has sometimes been called “the Chinese Titanic.” Do you agree with this comparison?
John Woo: I do not agree with this comparison. Although I enjoyed James Cameron’s film tremendously, the sinking ship is only one part of The Crossing. My film spans over sixty years, and covers two wars! It is a sweeping epic about the lives of three couples who are caught up in the wars and revolutions of 20th century Chinese history. A better comparison would be Doctor Zhivago or Gone With The Wind.
JayneStars: You described The Crossing as a testament to love and loyalty amidst turbulent times. Which love story in the film do you find to be the most inspirational?
John Woo: They are all inspirational in different ways. The general and the banker’s daughter is about a woman whose husband goes to war and never returns. The soldier and the prostitute is about a couple who are brought together by fate. And the doctor and the Japanese girl are lovers who are torn apart by politics and war. I think the first two stories are inspiring because they are about people who never give up hope, faith, or the desire to keep on living, despite all the odds against them. Ultimately, they find happiness, or a way to move on.
JayneStars: What was it like working with a pan-Asian cast?
John Woo: It was great. Our cast is very talented and everyone brought something special and unique to the set. Their different perspectives and opinions all helped to make the movie better.
JayneStars: The making of The Crossing was delayed due to script revisions and your health condition. Did your directorial vision for the film change in any way due to the delay?
John Woo: Not really. While I was recuperating, I had more time to think about the story and what I wanted to say.
JayneStars: What were the most challenging aspects in filming The Crossing? How were the shipwreck scenes filmed?
John Woo: The Crossing was challenging in many respects. We had to shoot two different kinds of wars, one in summer and one in winter, which required traveling to remote locations and shooting in extreme heat and cold. This is even before coordinating the hundreds of extras with multiple moving cameras!
We filmed the shipwreck scenes by combining a live set built on a moving gimbal with intensive CG work. It was probably the most complex CG shoot in China today.
JayneStars: How has your work in Hollywood influenced your work in Chinese cinema?
John Woo: Film crews in Hollywood are very professional and disciplined, which increases the pressure on being a director because you have to live up to their expectations of being a good leader. I try to maintain that professional standard here, so that our local film crews can improve and develop their talents.
JayneStars: Tell us about your upcoming projects, Flying Tigers and Day of the Beast.
John Woo: Flying Tigers is about how the mercenary pilots of the American Volunteer Group, and later on, the 14th Air Force, consisting of both American and Chinese pilots, take on the Empire of Japan. It is about my favorite themes of friendship, loyalty, and overcoming differences to achieve a greater goal.
Day of the Beast will be a remake of Seijun Suzuki’s 1963 gangster film Youth of the Beast.
JayneStars: You mentioned that you intend to collaborate with director Tsui Hark on two films similar to A Better Tomorrow. Can you tell us more about the vision for these films? When will production start?
John Woo: Tsui Hark and I both cherish the times when we used to work together and would like to rekindle our working relationship. We’d like to make two films together, in the spirit of A Better Tomorrow. At this point, we’re just thinking about the script and have no concrete dates for shooting. But this is something we’re both looking forward to.
JayneStars: In an earlier interview, you mentioned that although the Chinese film industry is developing quickly, there are few genuinely good films made today. Why do you think there is such a lack in the Chinese film industry? What are areas of improvement that you think are necessary?
John Woo: Filmmaking is the art of storytelling. There are few good films because there are few good scripts and even fewer good writers. I think there needs to be more film education, to teach screenwriters about story structure and directors about film grammar. Hollywood has over a hundred years of film history, whereas the Chinese film market has only taken off in the past few years, so if you put things in context, it’s not a bad start.
JayneStars would like to thank Ray Chin at Flaskingtree.com for setting up our exclusive interview with director John Woo.
John Woo’s Message to JayneStars.com
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This article is written by Joanna for JayneStars.com.