Woo, John


Woo, John
(né Ng Yu-sum/Wu Yusen)
b. 1946, Guangzhou
Director, producer, screenwriter
Worshipped by international movie fans since The Killer (Diexue shuangxiong, 1989), John Woo brilliantly succeeded in relocating to Hollywood—with the collaboration of Terence Chang (Chang Jia Tsun/ Zhang Jiazhen), his producer since the late 1980s. A complex auteur with an uncanny sense of style and a seductive romanticism, he often wrote and edited his own films while in the Hong Kong film industry.
Woo’s family fled China for the slums of Hong Kong in 1951. In the 1960s, he wrote film criticism, founded a cine-club and directed experimental films. In 1969, he became a production assistant at the Cathay Film Company, then assistant to martial arts films director Zhang Che at the Shaw Brothers Studio, before directing his first feature, The Young Dragons (Tiehan rouqing, 1975). He worked in a variety of genres, from kung fu (Countdown in Kung-Fu/Shaolinmen, 1976, which launched the careers of Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung Kam-bo) to opera (Princess Chang-Ping/Dinü Hua, 1976) to action films (Heroes Shed No Tears/ Yingxiong wulei, 1986) to comedies (Plain Jane to the Rescue/Bacai Lin Azhen, 1982) and even ‘sexy’ flicks.
In 1986, Tsui Hark’s Film Workshop produced A Better Tomorrow (Yingxiong bense) which changed his career and triggered a series of highly successful action films starring Chow Yun-fat, some produced by Woo’s and Chang’s independent company. His most ambitious film at the time was the hyper-violent Bullet in the Head (Diexue jietou, 1990), about young Chinese men tragically caught in the Vietnam War. After Hard-Boiled (Lashou shentan, 1992), Woo and Chang moved to Hollywood, where Woo directed Hard Target (1993), Broken Arrow (1996), Face/Off (1997), Mission Impossible 2 (2000) and Windtalkers (2001).
An, Jinsoo (2001). ‘The Killer: Cult Film and Transcultural (Mis)reading’. In Esther Yau (ed.), At Full Speed: Hong Kong Cinema in a Borderless World. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 95–114.
Ciecko, Anne (2001). ‘Transnational Action: John Woo, Hong Kong, and Hollywood’. In Lu Sheldon (ed.), Transnational Chinese Cinema: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Williams, Tony (2000). ‘Space, Place, and Spectacle: The Crisis Cinema of John Woo’. In Poshek Fu and David Dresser (eds), The Cinema of Hong Kong: History, Arts, Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Steintrager, James (2003). ‘Bullet in the Head: Trauma, Identity, and Violent Spectacle’. In Chris Berry (ed.), Chinese Films in Focus: 25 New Takes. London: BFI, 21–30.
BÉRÉNICE REYNAUD

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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