Bullet in the Head

I don’t think I’ve seen John Woo’s BULLET IN THE HEAD since the early ’90s. It was a double feature with HARD BOILED, and I remember seeing a guy walk out during a scene involving American P.O.W.s. I thought it was crazy that after the unparalleled gun violence of HARD BOILED there would be violence in the next movie that somebody couldn’t take. But obviously with the historical context it cuts a little closer to the bone, especially if that guy was a vet. That’s what’s amazing about this movie: made after THE KILLER but before HARD BOILED, it has the fun, brotherhood and crazy action of the best Woo while feeling more personal, more emotional than any of them.

It starts out like one of these nostalgic period pieces directors always make about the era they grew up in, like an AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai giving dance lessons in a church. Slicking his hair back, photo of Elvis (and JFK?) on his wall. Big smiles and bicycle races. All this intercut with a knife fight, a gang rumble. It’s full of energy, almost like a dance number, but people are getting their heads through glass and shit.

This is the story of three life-long friends (Leung, Jacky Cheung, Waise Lee) reaching adulthood. Tony marries his girlfriend (Fennie Yuen) and there’s a beautiful night time reception with family and friends at an outdoor market. But these are not rich people, so Jacky has to borrow a stack of cash from a loan shark to pay for the reception, and on the way there he gets jumped by some asshole named Ringo. (This movie is an Elvis man, not a Beatles man.)

Well, Jacky’s not about to let his friend down so he makes it to the wedding with the money and tries to act like everything’s fine even though he’s extremely late and is bleeding from a head wound.

You talk about a bros before hoes policy, well when Tony figures out what happened he takes Jacky to go get payback on Ringo. Remember, this is on his wedding night. There are other things he could be doing, in my opinion. They go to find Ringo not with anger, but with a mischievous smile, and this neighborhood violence suddenly escalates to awesome martial arts movie with people fighting and swinging around on chains and shit and next thing you know Ringo is dead.

Whoops. Maybe ditch the new marriage, head to Vietnam and become smugglers? Why not?

So at an age when some people are going to college or entering the job market these three friends become criminals in a dangerous war zone. Back at home there were the rumbles and the riots against British rule of Hong Kong, but as soon as they hit ‘Nam they get their car and their goods blown up by a suicide bomber, they see riots, they get lined up with a bunch of other guys, cops holding guns to their heads threatening to execute them. (A nun with a bunch of orphans who have witnessed all of this chooses then to say, “Inside, children.” What, you waited until now?)

This is like a way better version of Tsui Hark’s A BETTER TOMORROW III, and for good reason: when the two disagreed about how to do that prequel Woo went off and made this instead. But in a way this is like a prequel to all of Woo’s movies. Okay, so it doesn’t show the doves being hatched or learning to fly real slow, but it does show the moment when the characters realize that they need guns. “As long as we have guns, the world is ours,” Waise decides.

It’s not until 37 minutes in that they finally get guns and go rob a store – it’s a big deal, like in JUICE. But as dangerous as New York of the ’90s was it’s nothing compared to Vietnam of the ’60s. The military shows up and our boys surrender before realizing that those guys don’t care about them at all, they came to steal not just the till money but all the jewelry. As the friends lay on the ground in surrender the bullet casings fall all over them. Bigger guns mean bigger loot.

They eventually make it to the night club where they were supposed to deliver the goods to a gangster named Leong (Chung Lin), and they’re shocked to see Sally Yen (Yolinda Yam), a famous singer from Hong Kong, in the house. Tony especially is outraged that this gangster they’re supposed to work for is obviously turning her out and won’t let her leave. They also meet Ah Lok, the Chinese Tone Loc, played by Simon Yam. As handsome and suave as Tony Leung is, Ah Lok is clearly the coolest guy in the movie. As they’re introducing themselves to him he excuses himself to go hand the piano player a cigar in exchange for a gun.

Well, you know how it is, before you know it our three friends plus Ah Lok decide to declare war on Leong and his gang, rescue Sally, shoot hundreds of people, blow shit up and steal a crate full of gold. Waise in particular is really into this box of gold, the other guys quickly sense that it’s threatening their friendship, but the motherfucker is lugging it around like Chow Yun Fat lugs a baby. And he would definitely change its diapers if he had to.

I’m a little confused because I read that Leong forces them to drink piss, like the story that was told in A BETTER TOMORROW. There’s a scene where one of them has to drink from a bottle, so I thought the subtitles didn’t make it clear that it was piss. That makes it alot more of a feat that he chugged the entire bottle, and understandable that he’s upset that his buddies didn’t drink any in solidarity. They could’ve been piss brothers. But then on Youtube I saw a deleted scene which is from the same part of the movie but has them having to drink piss from glasses. Not the same thing I saw.

In more happy news, we find out something interesting about Ah Lok’s cigars. See, at one point he pulled open his jacket to reveal he had a whole bunch of them, like one of those sleazy watch-dealers you see in the cartoons. I thought this was telling us that he was gonna be getting alot of guns from the piano player. No, even better: they’re actually dynamite that ignites when you split them apart. And he gets to use them.

The battles are long and varied and always uphill, sometimes even literally. It seems impossible that they could fight their way out of that mansion, but they make it by the skin of their teeth. Then they’re gonna catch a boat but the military shows up, and how are they gonna get out of that? Can they really fight all those guys and get away with both the gold and the singer? (Hint: they lose one of them, and it floats away like a beautiful flower petal.)

There’s alot of blood. It gets on Sally’s poster of Catherine Deneuve in BELLE DE JOUR – not a good omen. It gets on the camera lens – probly not even on purpose.

The title brings to mind any one of the many, many, many people that get shot the fuck up in this movie. Or maybe it brings to mind the soldiers holding guns to people’s heads, in the movie or in history, or in that infamous photo. But the titleistical bullet in the titleistical head is not a fatal one. It’s one that turns the poor motherfucker into an invalid, a deranged junkie. He makes it back home to Hong Kong and alternates between shooting up junk and shooting up the neighborhood. The bullet in the head is not just a slug. It’s the violence that stays inside them, damages their brains, makes them hate themselves, makes them rage against others. As long as they have guns the world is theirs, as long as they have a bullet the world is shit. Try hanging onto your box of gold, try forgetting that they shot your favorite singer, none of it matters.

BULLET IN THE HEAD may or may not be Woo’s best movie – I’m a HARD BOILED man, as I’m sure many of us are – but it’s for sure his definitive statement on violence. He makes it beautiful and fun and then he proves to you that it’s the opposite.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 30th, 2012 at 2:10 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

58 Responses to “Bullet in the Head”

  1. Sounds awesome, both titleistically (obviously) and reviewically. Somehow I’ve managed to not yet visit this corner of THE WOO ZONE, due to no video store I’ve been to has it and due to I’m too cheap to spring for the disc online.

    $30+ for a blu-ray for a movie I’ve never seen? I dunno, I’m like George Costanza and paid parking in the city on this issue. Even though I got the dough, even though that’s only about the cost of 2 tickets to a 3D movie that surely isn’t as good as a Woo classic, the idea of spending it in this fashion is anathema to me.

    That silly quote, though, “As long as we have guns, the world is ours,” for some reason reminds me of a time a few years ago in OIF my team responded to an adjacent unit’s report of a nearby explosion in our AO. Found a friendly behind some cover, nearly surrounded by flames — little flames, not raging smoke-inhalation dangerous flames. After the initial VBIED struck his truck he’d stumbled out and had shed his outer vest and lost it by the wreckage in the kill zone in the middle of the road, and he’d apparently used all of the ammo in the one mag he’d retained when he ran, understandably & correctly, from what he thought was an ambush.

    So I get on site, get close to him, announce myself, ask for a sit rep, and he says, in a scared but badass tone, “I need a glass of water and some bullets.”

    I wanted to respond, “Come with me if you want to live,” cuz that would’ve been funny & awesome, but instead I said, “Where the fuck’s your vest? Radio?” He had a scattered, stunned look. “Whatever,” I said.

    Then I tossed him one of my mags (I carried 11 of them on missions.) and said, “Well, hero, as long as you still have your gun, you might as well not be completely useless.”

  2. Like you Vern, I haven’t seen this in a while, but I can’t hear “I’m A Believer” without picturing some scumbag getting shot in the back while taking a piss…

  3. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    May 30th, 2012 at 4:43 am

    Holy crap that was an awesome review. Best one in ages Vern. My knowledge of early Woo is sadly lacking (I’ve seen “Hard Boiled” and not much else) but I’m seeing this movie as soon as I can get my hands on a copy of it.

  4. I’d seen roughly a million people get murdered onscreen by the time I saw BULLET IN THE HEAD back in ’99 or so, but the execution scene is where it first hit me that, hey, that could be me. Death wasn’t just something that happened to everybody else. There would come a time when I’d face my own bullet in the head, the kind that kills you, not the kind that makes you metaphorical. Then that’s it. Boom. The movie continues, but you’re not in it anymore. Heavy.

    So this movie made me come to terms with my own mortality. Until other action movies can do that they’re all basically pussies.

  5. So happy to have a Vern review of this. I think this was the film where the Emotion of Woo clicked for me. The sincerity behind all the over the top violence really comes through in this one. It’s got an interesting sense of pace too, how the goals of the central characters shift from one thing to another. Like the money for the wedding at the beginning is a mini-mcguffin that is later replaced by the full size-mcguffin of the box of gold. In the WINDTALKERS commentary, Woo refers to this movie as his first “war film”, which I guess usually to me means big ole battle scenes and from the point of view of men in uniform. But you get a lot more about the spirit of war here than you do in some other movies with lots more tanks and planes.

  6. Such a great film, from when Woo seemed to be able to knock out this, ‘Hardboiled’ and ‘The Killer’ type movies every other week.

    Sadly the John Woo of then is very much missed from now. Still hopeful he still has the ‘touch’ and will one day remind the world of what a John Woo movie is really all about.

  7. One of my all time favourite movies. Pretty heavyhanded melodrama perhaps, but it grips me by the balls and never let up. I don´t think I´ve seen Simon Yam more bad ass as in this one.

    Jot – don´t forget the BATTLE OF RED CLIFF 5 hour epic. One of the greatest epics ever made in my book. just beautiful. As stark contrast to PAYCHECK or WINDTALKERS it´s a helluva movie. So don´t count out the Woomeister yet…

  8. The ending to this movie was fucked up. I like how John Woo was all “hey let me try to make a version of THE DEER HUNTER” then goes “fuck it” and ends up going all crazy and early John Woo like but still keeps the pathos flowing by the end. How war breds animals a lot of time. Especially THAT war. The movie’s title also influenced the naming of one of the most kick ass songs of the past 25 yrs.

  9. Great review. The action’s not as accomplished as Hardboiled’s (what is?), but I love this movie a lot more. It’s got more heft, and has an air of nostalgia – for both the good and the awful – that makes the movie feel desperately important and individual rather than just exciting or cool. Deeply felt Woo rules all. (I even love Jacky Cheung’s performance and have affection for Waise Lee’s – not popular stances … curious how others here feel about them.)

    Favorite trivia on the movie: I believe when the film first played in theatres it ended with a variant of what’s currently the next-to-last scene; the new finale was shot something like opening weekend, and hurried to the ongoing engagements still wet. One of the film’s several awkward cuts is there – the sudden sound-hit and abrupt transition.

    And special mention to that earworm of a music cue. Unsubtle and highly affecting! Like the movie.

  10. Great review & a great film. HARD BOILD may be Woo’s action masterpiece, but this is his most personal film. BULLET IN THE HEAD is Woo’s most “Woo” film, it is Woo’s ON DEADLY GROUND. It features all the themes and motifs Woo is known for brotherhood, loyalty, balletic violence, the corruptive nature of power and turns them all up to eleven. Woo made this film at a crossroads in his career. As a film maker Woo was on top of his craft, but he had just been through a falling out with Tsui Hark over A BETTER TOMORROW II, and China was due to take control of Hong Kong. Woo had been betrayed by his friend and he was a man without a country, and afraid of the oppressive regime that would take over HK before the end of the decade. I am not saying the Brits weren’t oppressive, but at the time HK had more of a free market than Mainland China and Woo knew that he would no longer be able to make the films he wanted once Mainland China took control. You could argue that HARD BOILD is a more enjoyable movie, but that is by design. HARD BOILD is a crowd pleaser, it is Woo auditioning for work in Hollywood. BULLET IN THE HEAD is Woo speaking from the heart.

  11. THE KILLER still is my favourite Woo. The first HK-Woo flick I saw was A BETTER TOMORROW 1 and frankly I did not really get all the hype Woo received at the time. The action setpieces were quite uneven. Only the restaurant shoot out has the stylistic approach in terms of editing and use of slo-mo we all know and love. Technically its one of Woo´s weakest. Its strong on emotions and over the years I´ve learned to love it. But THE KILLER was the second Woo I witnessed and boy is it a different beast.
    I love how visual the movie is. You could switch off the subtitles and still understand the story.
    BULLET IN THE HEAD is just as good but has even more emotion behind it.However, THE KILLER remains as the movie that singlehanded changed the way I looked at actionfilms and therefor my absolute favourite.

  12. I agree with Shoot. I’ve claimed almost every movie Woo has made to be his masterpiece at one time or another (relax, just the ones he’s made in Hong Kong), even Last Hurrah for Chivalry, but over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that The Killer really is his best film.

  13. Inspector Li, the first time I saw BITH I was really turned off by Jacky Chueng’s MEGA acting (yes I spelled mega in all caps , that is just how mega his performance is). It is so over the top. However, over time with repeat viewings I have come to enjoy Chueng’s histrionics, and I think they fit perfectly with the over the top raw intensity of the film.

  14. Personally I think its Waise Lee who almost ruins the movie with his cartoonish turn to “Evil”.He just becomes a greedy fuck all of a sudden.

  15. ShootMcKay, I agree with you about how cartoonish Waise Lee is. However, since BITH is so intentionally over the top I consider it to be Woo’s most cartoonish work, and Waise Lee’s charter fits with the tone of the film. I do think that the exaggerated tone and performance in BITH make it one of Woo’s least accessible films, especially for western audiences.

    Also to your point about A BETTER TOMORROW, it may not be Woo’s best action show case, but what about the shot where Mark gets punched in the face and blood squirts out his nose in slow mo? It is amazing film making. I just think that by the time Woo made THE KILLER he had even further refined his craft and it shows in the product.

  16. Li – yeah, I heard rumors of an alternate ending as well. I always felt the demolition derby ending was out of place, even more so than the protracted boat chase at the end of Face/Off.

    I was obsessed with Woo in high school, but yeah, there’s definitely some Tyler Perry-esque tonal issues going on (ok, nowhere near that bad, but evidenced by what was said above about BITH being his most serious/dramatic but also most cartoony work).

    By the way, something might be wrong with me, but I like Paycheck and Windtalkers better than Face/Off or Broken Arrow.

  17. There is an alternate ending on the double disc dvd I own. Don´t remember what it was though. Should check it out.

  18. Knox Harrington

    May 30th, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    Watching The Mission and Mad Detective again recently helped me make up my mind that Johnnie To is a better filmmaker than John Woo.

    I know that’s a bold statement considering how legendary and groundbreaking Woo’s career is, but what can I say? To just does it for me in a way that Woo never could.

    I loved Election 1 and 2, as well as Exiled, but that beautiful methodical shootout in The Mission just blew my mind. To has action cinema in his blood.

    Shit, and I haven’t even seen Vengeance yet.

  19. Knox Harrington

    May 30th, 2012 at 3:45 pm

    Hey, my gravatron worked!

  20. The alternativ ening basically takes place in the board room before the ending and it ends ambiguously with Tony Leungs character pulling a gun in a similar way as Waise Lee did to Jackie Cheungs character.There are shots intercut to show the similarities.It ends in black with a bang.

  21. Knox, have you seen To’s A HERO NEVER DIES. It is To’s Fuck you to John Woo and his “heroic bloodshed” films. It features all the themes and elements you expect from a Woo film, but it is so hardboiled it borders on parody. It is a great film. It works as a spoof of Woo’s HK films, but it also may be the best John Woo film he never made. You can enjoy it either way.

  22. For me The Killer is the best John Woo film but Bullet in the Head is my favorite. Its just so excessive: he poured his soul into it and it overflows pretty regularly but its such an experience to watch.
    I second Knox in preferring Johnnie To to John Woo. A top 10 Johnnie To movies is tough, you have to leave out some really good films, whereas top 10 John Woo has an amazing top 5 but also includes Hard Target (maybe Blackjack).

  23. I was always a bigger fan of yun-fat Chow than of Woo, but the “problem” with both of them were that their hearts didn’t lie specifically in action. Woo would rather have made musicals and I suspect yun-fat would rather have been a stage actor. Sure, they made some killer movies over a short period, but a guy like To’s in it for the long haul and will perhaps be remembered longer (by us anyway). And let’s not forget Ringo Lam in all of this.

  24. great review. the last two paragraphs are especially poignant considering what happened today, and the last few months, in seattle.

  25. This the Woo film I’ve probably watched the least, just because of the emotional intensity of it. I feel like I need to be in a serious place to watch it again, whereas his other films I can just throw on and enjoy the filmatism without the weight. I showed my friends all his other HK classics, but just wasn’t sure they were ready for the melodrama of this. It’s probably time for a revisit though.
    Great review, Vern. Made me think about it again with a new light.

  26. All this talk of Johnny To has reminded me that I have an unwatched copy of Sparrow sitting on my dvd shelves…really need to get round to watching it.
    Dante Lam is another HK favourite, although he tends to go overboard on the melodrama, he creates some amazing action scenes.

  27. Somewhat related observation; Hark Tsui, John Woo and Ringo Lam were all brought to Hollywood by Van Damme, and more or less ruined their careers in the process. Coincidence or..?

  28. Woo has made some excellent movies since HARD TARGET. FACE/OFF and RED CLIFF are both masterpieces in my eyes so I don´t wholeheartedly agree with that observation.

  29. What about the 12 years between Face/Off and Red Cliff, Shoot? I’m not seriously saying that Van Damme’s too blame, but Woo’s career might have taken another direction if he had made Face/Off first, don’t you think? And just to be a little bit dickish, Red Cliff is a Chinese production.

  30. So what if RED CLIFF was a chinese production? I thought we were talking about Woo´s career, not his workplace.

  31. I never got around to watching this piece of Woo cinema, but when I tried to put it on my Netflix queue I discovered that it’s unavailable. I’m starting to understand Vern’s, at times, technophobic attitude.

    Shoot — It looks like Woo is having a resurgence, but you can’t argue that shortly after he went to Hollywood he was lost in the desert for a number of years. I don’t know why moving to Hollywood seems to hurt so many East Asian actors and directors.

  32. It’s because of the language barrier and the completely different style of working. All those years spent refining his technique and developing a shorthand with his crew probably went right out the window once he hit the compressed shooting schedules, union rules, and bloated production practices of Hollywood filmmaking. You can’t just change an artist’s entire method and expect to get the same results.

  33. I was in fact talking about his workplace and it’s impact on his work. In my book those 12 years could have been spent on something better. Especially since China didn’t mess with Hong Kong’s movie industry in a significant way.

  34. Didn’t they? I haven’t seen a good, crazy, nihilistic action mindfuck from Hong Kong in decades. It’s all nationalism and sacrifice and the greater glory of China now. Don’t get me wrong, I like those movies. They’re slick and well-produced and have way better action than their American counterparts. But does Hong Kong even have a Category III anymore? Would something like RUN & KILL even get made today?

  35. pegsman, It is not Van Damme’s fault that all the talented HK directors that worked with him struggled when they transitioned to Hollywood. I think those HK directors didn’t have any clout with the studios when they came over here so I doubt they had much creative control, and part of what made them special as directors was lost in translation or doesn’t mesh with western sensibilities.

    I would also argue that MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II is a really good action film. It lacks the soul of Woo’s HK work, but it is a well made big budget Hollywood action popcorn film with clear well staged action.

    Regarding the Woo vs To debate. To your point I think it would be a tough call if you compared both directors top 5 films, but if you take into consideration how prolific To’s body of work is it hard to argue against him. At the same time I don’t think you can hold Woo’s misses against him unless you are also willing to take into consideration the number of generic & mediocre crowd pleaser To has turned out and continues to direct. For example:


  36. Shit, I had not refreshed my page before I started writing, and I missed Majestyk’s response that was the same thing I was trying to say just better stated.

  37. pegsman, the HK film industry in not the same anymore. The number of films produced a year is way down, and like Majestyk said there has been a shift in the type of films being made.

  38. Sure, but almost all the HK actors/directors who went to the US in the early 90’s have moved back, and quite a few of them have made good movies again. There’s a shift in tone, yes, but I think Beast Cops, Breaking News and Kill Zone, to name just a few, show that they’re still way ahead of us.

  39. Mr Majestyk, of course they still have a category III. Exiled, Election, Election 2 and Mad Detective are all category III.

  40. Okay. I didn’t know. Those seem a little, I don’t know, civilized for Category III. I associate Category III with NC-17-level material, while those movies just feel plain old R-rated to me.

  41. I know what you mean. The old ultra violence ain’t what it used to be.

  42. Charles, I know it’s not Van Damme’s fault. I was just wondering what they saw in him that convinced them he was the ticket to a career in Hollywood.

  43. When I think Category III I think NAKED KILLER, and it is trashy fun. I swear one of the main reasons ELECTION & ELECTION 2 got a Cat III rating is because of its depiction of Triad rituals, which is a big no-no and will get you a Cat III rating by default.

    I think Van Damme was one of the few guys that wanted to work with them and would give them a chance, so he opened the door for them to make Hollywood films. As talented as all the HK directors are that came over to work with JCVD, they were not going to get a chance at a larger budget film until the proved themselves on smaller pictures first. For example John Woo would have never got the chance to do FACE OFF & MISSION IMPOSSIBLE II if he had not first done HARD TARGET.

  44. And Woo did at least go on to greater things. Not that there’s anything wrong with Hard Target. Hark Tsui and Ringo Lam just made a lot of Van Damme movies and then went back to HK.

  45. Sometimes I think that watching Van Damme punch a snake was absolutely worth Woo’s time in exile. Besides, Broken Arrow and Face Off were both good to great movies.

  46. People tend to shit at BROKEN ARROW, but I think its pretty great. Simplistic story, yes. But it moves at great pace,some wonderfully crafted actionsequences, has fantastic locations and Travolta is hamming it up with his Evil Character that makes it so much fun to watch. Plus Hans Zimmers score is fuckin fantastic!

  47. How about the scene where Van Damme is pulling a rickshaw constantly being whipped with an eal by Rob Schneider? No American director could have made that work! But Hark Tsui did.

  48. I agree, Shoot (re Broken Arrow). Plus, BA felt like a change of pace for Woo. There was something anticlimactic about coming to the States for Hard Target, which had the air of stuff you’ve seen before, only now in English with money and less freshness.

  49. The Original... Paul

    June 3rd, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    I quite liked “Broken Arrow” at the time, but having seen it recently, it hasn’t aged well. There are still definitely parts I like, and I have to give a LOT of credit to the score (which was so good, they re-used it as Dewey’s theme in “Scream 2”).

    Haven’t got a copy of “Bullet in the head” yet. Still looking for one.

  50. Vern, thank you for coining the word TITLEISTIC. This should put all that “titular” nonsense to bed. I’m totally fine with making up new words that clearly mean what you’re saying, but I have an issue with using a real word to mean something it doesn’t just because it sounds like it should. I wish titular meant the title character, it sounds like it should and it’s such an awesome word, but it just doesn’t. Dictionaries are even accepting that definition just because it’s been used so much they’re tired of fighting it. But I ask you this. Why would the word titular mean title character, when you can just say title character? Also eponymous.

    When I saw BITH I considered it Woo’s best film. I may enjoy THE KILLER and FACE/OFF more, but this was clearly all his heart and soul. In fact, when I first interviewed Woo I asked him to sign my DVD and HE thanked ME for it because the movie was so important to him,

    Actually these days I think FACE/OFF is far more important for showing you could take a ridiculous premise and make it profoundly powerful. I took it for granted that all movies could do that but now we are sorely lacking that kind of imagination. But this is the movie I can always introduce people to if they think Woo is a joke who made WINDTALKERS and MI2.

  51. The Original... Paul

    June 4th, 2012 at 11:01 am

    May I just say – I am ecstatic that we have a community here that can recognise the genius of both “Face / Off” and “Jason X”. That makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

    Ok, I’m done.

  52. And BLACK DYNAMITE, Paul.

  53. Knox Harrington

    June 16th, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    I don’t agree with this idea that Woo’s career went to shit the moment he went to the States.

    Hard Target is good, man. So is Broken Arrow, and Face/Off is great. Mission Impossible 2 may not be a very good Mission Impossible movie, but I really enjoy it as the ridiculous action frenzy that it is (have probably watched it more times than I should have).

    It’s only with Windtalkers and Paycheck that Woo dropped the ball, and then he left. I think he had a pretty decent batting average over in the US.

    Plus, he gave us Blackjack and that Once A Thief TV series when he was there. I liked those.

  54. Knox, I agree with you. I don’t think Woo’s career went to shit the moment he came to the states. However, despite being very skillfully made most of his Hollywood films are missing the personality, soul, and energy of his HK films. Woo might have elevated the material, but any descent director for hire could have directed HARD TARGET, BROKEN ARROW, or MI2. For example, I bet if Renny Harlin was given the chance he could have directed a comparable to better version of all 3 of those films , but only Woo could have directed a film like BITH.

  55. Knox Harrington

    June 16th, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Sure, but also take into account that we westerners look at Asian cinema differently, and probably read a lot more into some of the “Asian quirkiness” than there really is at times.

    That may account for some of that personality, soul and energy you’re referring to.

  56. No Knox, it is not “Asian quirkiness”, it is that the Hong Kong film industry allowed Woo the freedom for him to make more personal pictures, and his Hollywood films are all director for hire jobs in a studio system that gave him much less control & freedom. Also, from an action stand point Woo could stage and execute much more impressive/dangerous action sequences while working in HK than he could in the states, and you can see that reflected in the product. That is why even though I really like HARD TARGET & BROKEN ARROW they feel muted to me. It is like Woo was turned up to 11 while working in HK, but had to turn it down to like 8 when he transitioned to the states.

  57. Knox Harrington

    June 17th, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Yeah, Woo definitely had more freedom in Hong Kong. He’s repeatedly said so in interviews.

    I guess his HK films are more personal, obviously because they’re closer to home, but it’s not like he wasn’t allowed his creative indulgences during his years in the States. If anything, they seem even more exaggerated in his American films (maybe because Hollywood studios encouraged it. Slow-mo shootouts and doves are, after all, what makes him recognizable to mainstream audiences).

    I mentioned the “Asian quirkiness”thing (or rather, what we as westerners see as Asian quirkiness) because I think it plays a part in how we view his HK films.

    Not that his American movies don’t have their own eccentricities (rattlesnake punching, etc.)

  58. Knox, I got what you meant about “Asian quirkiness”. I think Woo was allowed more creative indulgences after the financial success of FACE OFF, but he still couldn’t do the same type of action he could in HK. Even if he was indulging in familiar Wooisims like Slow-mo shoot outs and doves he is applying them to a standard Hollywood film. In his HK films those same Wooisims were executed/presented more organically because Woo was more involved in the story & conception of the films instead of being a hired gun brought on to direct. For example if you look at MI2, Woo probably had a decent amount of input coming off of the success of FACE OFF, but he was not running the show. Tom Cruise was running the show, and he hired Woo, not the other way around. MI2 is Woo doing a Tom Cruise film, it is not a Woo film starring Tom Cruise. Since there was a template in place Woo had to follow there is not a lot of room for him to add personal touches so the best he could do was doodle in the margins.

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