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.


Red Sun Review

July 15, 2011

Think fast! What’s a film that has Charles Bronson, Toshiro Mifune and Alain Delon together duking it out? Doesn’t exit right? Incorrect foo’!

Le Samourai vs. Death Wish vs. Yojimbo

Believe it or not, this film exists! The French call it, Soleil rouge but I know it best as Red Sun which I was lucky enough to catch at 16 mm print. Did I mention it’s a Euro western with Samurais? Why isn’t this film more of a cult item?

The samurais and cowboys plot isn’t as wacky as you’d initially think. It involves Link (Charles Bronson) and Gauche (Alain Delon) are robbers that attack a train which happens to be taking the ambassador of Japan over to Washington. During the robbery, Gauche steals a gold sword which was intended as a gift from the emperor to the president. Gauche even crosses Link by trying to kill him in order to take the money all for himself. The only survivor of the sword theft is the samurai Kuroda (Toshirô Mifune) who teams up with Link to find Gauche. Gauche isn’t keen on the idea (classic moment where Bronson states that Mifune looks like he’s wearing a dress) but the two travel together so that Kuroda can take back the sword while Link just wants his share of the money.

Red Sun was directed by Terence Young who I brought up in my Thunderball review. From what I’ve seen of Young I find him to be a decent director who can give a film good pacing, even if its lacking in emitting any really exciting or memorable moments. With that, Young makes Red Sun, enjoyable but a bit muffled. Problems arise with the villain, as Bronson and Mifune team up to chase down Delon, I found it hard to get really into their crusade as Delon’s character Gauche is not a villain who I felt strongly against enough. Sure he took the gold and ran off but so what? He takes off midway through the picture so your blood never really boils over his villainous deeds. Towards the end of the film, Delon even stops becoming the main villain as some very cliche Indians storm the fields and begin attacking the four (did I forget to mention that Ursula Andress is in this?). This attack does lead to the most exciting scene in the film however, involving a fire in a tall grass where Delon, Mifune, Bronson (and even Andress with a shotgun!) begin to take out Indians as flames begin to surround them. Good stuff!

As Andress and Delon vanish for a large chunk of the film, the rest mostly involves Mifune and and Bronson. If you autmatically like these guys like me then you’ll enjoy seeing them on screen side-by-side. Most of their interactions are mildly amusing despite it being the typical “we-are-different-but-I-am-slowly-learning-to-understand-you” plot that we’ve all seen a dozen times. It seems to remind me of another East meets West films from years back…

Rush Hour Red Sun poster
Without the Gauche plot, it’s just Rush Hour!

I’ll stick with Red Sun over this though! There’s not a whole lot of background on the films of Terrence Young outside of the Bond series, let alone Red Sun in particular. It received generally negative reviews on it’s release with critics saying that Mifune and Bronson were too old to be playing these kind of roles (Alain Delon is quite a bit younger than both of them) and that the film was just stupid. I disagree with these blanket statements as nowadays, it’s a trip to see these actors and will definitely satisfy your Cowboys and Samurais fix. I wonder how Mifune felt about the film, as after it’s completion he took four year break from acting. What was he up doing?

Red Sun is not an overlty great film but despite it’s cast, I don’t think it has a big enough cult following. If the cast alone peaks your interest then this is worth seeking out. If not, there’s still worse Terrence Young films out there. Ever tried watching Inchon?