Hong Kong legend John Woo has been shooting people since the late 60s. His stylised, hyper-kinetic movies are renowned for their 'balletic violence', Mexican stand-offs, and doves. Lots of doves. Actioners such as A Better Tomorrow, Hard Boiled, and The Killer eventually became a unique, blood-soaked calling card for Hollywood. His English-language movies include Hard Target, Broken Arrow, Face/Off, Mission: Impossible 2, and WWII pic Windtalkers. Now he's directing Ben Affleck in the sci-fier Paycheck...
Why did you become a director?
[Laughs] Because I love movies. When I was young, I loved movies so much I wanted to make one. My first dream was I wanted to be a Christian minister. Later I find I have a big passion about movies, so I give that up. When I was young, I have seen so many great European film, especially the French New Wave, and I also have so much influence from Jean-Pierre Melville. I just feel if I could make a movie like them, it would be wonderful. When I was a kid I try to learn so many things. I try to learn music or paintings, writing or any artform, but none of them were working. Meantimes I was very shy and I also have difficulty speak, so I didn't know how to express myself. I just wanted to do something to explore my feeling, my thinking, but I didn't know how. After, I find only a movie could do that. I can use movie as a language. Not only could it send a good message, I could let people know about my thinking and how I see the world, how I see the colour, how I see the music, how I see everything.
Meantime, I love performers. When I was in high school I started as an actor. With a movie you can enjoy great performances from the actors. And I like to work with people. When I was a kid I feel lonely, I have not many friends. If you make a movie, then you can work with different kinds of people and make different kinds of friend. That's very important to me.
If you weren't a filmmaker, what would you be?
I think maybe a school teacher or a minister. I love helping people. When I was a kid I got so much help from the Church. When I was a kid, our family was so poor they couldn't afford me to go to school, so there was an American family that send the money to the church to support my school fees. That how I got education. So I was so grateful to the church, I just wanted to pay back to society, I just wanted to help other people. If not become a minister, I think I could be a volunteer.
What other director would you like to see at work?
David Lean. Akira Kurosawa. And Alfred Hitchcock and Martin Scorsese. A lot of them. And the other one was François Truffaut. When I was about 18-years-old I was so crazy about his movies. And at that time I even wanted to fly to Paris, wanted to meet him and wanted to be his assistant - work for him as an intern. I really love his work. I really wanted to learn from him. But it didn't work out because I have no money and I had nothing. But I really love his work. The other one, who is still making movies, is Martin Scorsese. I had a lot of great influences from his films. In the meantime, if I could I would work with Sam Peckinpah. I really love his movies.
What was the last movie you paid to see?
[Laughs] Oh gosh. I haven't seen a movie for a long time. Usually when I'm working on a film I never like to see any movies. I just want to concentrate on my work. I never want to get any influence from other films. So I only pay for the DVD. I will see all those movies on DVD or tape afterwards... Oh, the last movie I paid to watch was Kill Bill. I enjoyed that, I really loved it. I think Quentin Tarantino, he did a very good job. It look like a black comedy to me.
Do you believe in God?
Yes, I believe in God. And I have so admiration for Jesus Christ and I always think he's a great philosopher. It always make me feel good, as a Christian.
Who's the most famous person in your contacts book?
[Laughs] Ben Affleck, Tom Cruise, Nic Cage, Chow Yun-Fat.
Which filmmaker do you consider the most underrated?
Nicolas Cage. He made a movie called Sonny. I think you will like it. The movie didn't work everywhere, but I say to Nicolas Cage he did a really great job. Of course it was his first movie, it still have some little problems, but the way he directed the actors was brilliant. And I like his directing and editing. In the opening of the movie it's unlike the others. Even the movies I make, at the beginning I like to introduce the characters or the background, but in this movie he start right away, tell you who the guy is and what kind of style this movie is... so strong, you know? And I also like the way he using the music. Maybe you feel not that happy at the ending, but in general he really did know how to make all the actors deliver their best performances.
How seriously do you take reviews?
Oh, first of all I see all the critics, people who wrote the reviews, they are all my friends. Of course I always care. I always care about their thought, always care about how they feel about my work. It also is a learning process for me. I could learn from the review, whether good or bad, I always accept it. I respect their opinion. I always feel as a filmmaker just like a painter. After I'm done with the painting I just feel it not belong to me anymore, it always belong to the viewer. They see what they see, they feel what they feel. I don't really take it too seriously. Meantimes, I also feel so much grateful. I am grateful for the people who really care about my work.
There are five minutes left till the world ends. What do you do?
To kiss everyone as much as I can. I just love people.
What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
It was from my mentor, Chun Chit. He just passed away. He was one of the great martial art film directors in Hong Kong in the 1960s and 70s. He made a lot of great martial arts movies. I work for him for so long time and he taught me... er, how to say it in English... he always taught me to use the western technique, and put the spirit from the East into it. I don't know how to describe it. So that's why when I'm making a film, I'm using the western technique to tell the story from our own culture.
And the worst?
I have to say the worst advice I've been given was from my father [laughs]. My father was a traditional scholar, he never like movies, and he never believe in movies. He has said to me, "The movie is fake. Just don't believe it." He always wanted me to learn something from life, I think. But after I work on the movies, I find the movies not that bad. The movies also could send some good message, you know, and also could give some good influence for the other people.
What performer would you love to work with?
Oh, there's so many. Jude Law, Jodie Foster, Brad Pitt, Robert De Niro. So many of them. If I could work with Peter O'Toole that would be nice. I really admire him.
What are your three favourite films and why?
Lawrence Of Arabia. It has a great humanity. And also visually it was so stunning. Also the editing was so brilliant, the montage. David Lean, he not only had a great mind, he also had a great heart. He really care about people. That make him a great master. The other one is Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. He also had a lot of humanity in the film. And the last action sequence is a classic. You know what, I'll tell you a little secret. When I choreograph the action sequences in most of my movies, I always like to take his films as a reference. Especially Seven Samurai. The other one was Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samuraï. It's a lovely film. I think he was the coolest - a very stylish filmmaker - and he made Alain Delon so cool. And soulful. Before him, all the movies about a killer didn't see much of a human. But in his films he made Alain Delon cool and emotional, so that's why I learn so much from him.
Paycheck is released in UK cinemas on Friday 16th January 2004.