HAPPENING!: You've said that you were probably too ambitious with Hard Target.
How much of a movie did Broken Arrow turn out to be, in terms of the kind
of movie you wanted to make?
JOHN WOO: Hard Target was my first movie in Hollywood and I never knew there were so many problems to making films in Hollywood. A lot of things were so frustrating. Like the politics, the games, the meetings, and everything. It was quite an experience. After Hard Target, I stopped making movies for almost two years, and tried to find the right material, tried to find something really close to my style. But it was hard. Even though there are a lot of great writers in Hollywood and lot of writers who wanted to work with me, it was still hard to find the right thing that could fit with my style. All my Hong Kong films, I wrote all the scripts, you know. I took a lesson from Hard Target, and so when it came to Broken Arrow I didn't want to let it happen again.
So that's why in Broken Arrow, I adopted a Hitchcock thriller style. I got the inspiration from Hitchcock's North By Northwest. I tried to make this movie all in one tone and keep the excitement from the beginning till the end. I tried to make everything even, especially the action. I still kept a little of my style while keeping the excitement of the action. And the violence, you feel the violence, but it's not exaggerated. And there's charming characters, there's charm and humour, and it seemed to end just right.
After finishing the movie, I screened it for different kinds of people, including American, European and Asian journalists, and all I heard was positive feedback. They all loved it and it was very well received. So that means I really did find a right way to make the movie and I proved that this movie is very much international.
HAPPENING!: Do you miss working in Hong Kong?
JOHN WOO: I miss it a little bit. But in general, I do enjoy the situation now, I enjoy working in the States. You know, in Hong Kong everything's much simpler. No politics, not many meetings. One meeting and you can make a movie. In Hong Kong, no matter whether it's an action scene or a drama scene, it's all done in an instant. So it's more carefree. That's the only thing I miss.
HAPPENING!: Would you ever rule out the possibility of doing a film in Hong Kong again?
JOHN WOO: No, but I won't do it, not for the moment. In the coming years, I have so many projects. I'll be busy for the next five or six years. It's the transition, you know. After I moved to the States, when I started to make American films, I felt I had to forget about some things. I had to put down some of the baggage of my culture a little bit and try to understand more about the American culture, the thinking, the people, the society, the country, everything. And then combine my own culture, my own character, together and make some new things. It takes a lot of time to make the adjustment, the transition, to fit in with a new system and a new life. If I go back to Hong Kong, I need to start from the beginning again. I'd need to get rid of things from the West and live in Hong Kong for a while to observe more of Hong Kong things. I would need to overhaul everything and start from the beginning.
HAPPENING!: There's been a lot of interest lately in not only your work but that of Hong Kong directors like Wong Kar-wai and Ringo Lam, both of whom have been key influences on Quentin Tarantino. Do you see this as a good thing or merely a fashionable trend?
JOHN WOO: I think it's a good thing. I think we have been influenced enough by the West. (laughs) In earlier times, I had gotten so much influence from the West, from Sam Peckinpah, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Pierre Melville, and John Ford. I got so much inspiration from them and I learned from them. I combined this with my culture and built my own style. And now, the young filmmakers, they've gotten some things from me. It seems to be like a full circle. We're all in a big movie family. I think it's good. It's always nice to share our experiences with each other and learn from each other and make movies look better and better.
HAPPENING!: Your films always contain recurring themes based on friendship -- loyalty, trust, betrayal. Is that the most important thing to you?
JOHN WOO: Yes, it's the most important thing. Much of it comes from what I call the spirit of the Chinese knight. The spirit of chivalry. When I was young, I always admired revolutionaries. They sacrificed themselves to save the country and change the country, like Dr. Sun Yat-sen. Those kinds of high qualities, dignified spirits, always amazed me.
When I was a child, after we moved from China to Hong Kong, we were very poor. I grew up in a slum. My parents couldn't afford to send me to school till I was nine years old. We were very fortunate to get support from an American family. They sent money through a church to support my school fees. That's how I got my education. So, I always have appreciation for anyone who gave us help. And I was also very grateful to my parents. My parents were very old-fashioned, traditional, intellectual people. And my father, even though he hated movies (laughs) he always taught me not to go astray and to be a decent person with high dignity.
After high school, I had a group of friends, a group that was really crazy about movies. They knew more than me about filmmaking and about the New Wave of films, and we used to get together to exchange knowledge. Whoever had seen a great movie would explain it and we would talk about it. We made experimental films together. And we used to watch a lot of artistic films in the theatres and after that we would get together and talk about the movie and some of them would translate articles from magazines to let us know what a real movie is. Because, at that time, we didn't have film school in Hong Kong. All we could do was learn from the movies, from the great masterpieces, and also learn from friends. And I'm still very grateful for that.
So I want to help other people, just like somebody else had helped me. This was, to me, like the behaviour of the Chinese knight, the modern knight. The real modern knight doesn't come from the Triad world. He comes from the real world, where people are helping each other. Not the Triad thing. Actually, I know nothing about Triad wars. That's just my imagination. I use that as background. But the feelings, the emotions, they come from real life.