Cannes: John Woo on Returning to His Roots With 'Manhunt' Reboot (Q&A)

John Woo

After years of romantic epics and historical dramas, the man who influenced a generation of filmmakers with bloody, over-the-top genre mashups like 'Hard Boiled' and 'Face/Off' discusses going back to basics.

For John Woo, remaking Manhunt, the famed 1976 Japanese thriller from director Junya Sato, is a dream come true. Finally, Woo could pay tribute to the film’s star, Ken Takakura, the actor who was a huge inspiration to the director of such action classics as The Killer and Hard Boiled. As the first foreign film released in China following the end of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution, the original Manhunt, featuring Takakura as a tough cop accused of corruption, had a great influence on filmmakers there.

The Manhunt reboot, which starts shooting in the fall, is billed as Woo’s return to the straight-up action thrillers that made his name. Media Asia is producing and will be doing presales on the movie at Cannes.

Woo, 69, who grew up in Hong Kong and whose Hollywood output includes Face/Off and Mission: Impossible II, will be shifting the action to South Korea for Manhunt and working with a Korean and Chinese cast.

In an interview with THR at Media Asia’s Beijing studio, the married father of three spoke about finishing his two-part romantic war epic The Crossing and the differences between the Chinese and U.S. film industries, and discussed his only collaboration with Takakura, which occurred at the funeral of Kinji Fukasaku (Tora! Tora! Tora!), when Takakura read aloud, in Japanese, a eulogy Woo wrote for the legendary director.

Read More John Woo Discusses Upcoming Epic 'The Crossing'

Why did you want to remake Manhunt?

Ken Takakura is one of my favorite actors in the world. He was my idol, and he has influenced a lot of my films. [Hong Kong actor] Chow Yun-Fat’s image in A Better Tomorrow was inspired by Takakura’s image and style. I wanted to make a movie dedicated to Ken Takakura. I like him so much. He is such an influential actor. During the funeral of [Japanese director] Kinji Fukasaku, Takakura read out a eulogy I sent. A few months ago, I was looking for material to make a film to commemorate Takakura, and [Media Asia chief] Peter Lam called me and asked me to remake Manhunt. I was very excited.

In the past couple of years, you’ve done films in very different styles: 2008’s historical epic Red Cliff, last year’s romantic drama The Crossing. This film seems closer to your earlier work.

Yeah, I must say that the style is pretty close to The Killer. But a little more Hitchcockian, so there’s a little more suspense. Of course, it’s also a love story.

Would you return to Hollywood?

Any time, any day! I’ve been turning down so many good projects, all because of working on The Crossing. So they still want me, they still like to work with me, and my agent keeps looking for a good script for me. I like Hollywood.

What is the biggest contrast between working in Asia and working in Hollywood?

I think in Hollywood they’re more professional, and everyone is so dedicated and focused. But in China, the film industry has only started. There is still a lot of confusion. There are all these movies, and they just grab people from everywhere. Sometimes we find good people, but sometimes people are not that experienced. It’s very uneven. It makes everything harder and costs more money. Plus, there’s too much gossip!

Is Manhunt the start of a new creative direction for you?

I think Manhunt goes back to my old style. It’s exciting because it’s nice to get back to the action! Actually, there’s a lot more besides the action; it’s a very romantic, human story. But I get tired of making big-budget movies. I think about going back to the old times, when it wasn’t so much about money but about working with a wonderful, smaller crew to make a real movie. The more money we have, the more we lose creative freedom. There’s always so much pressure. It’s too much for me.

When you’re shooting, what are the common languages?

The Chinese can speak a little Korean, and the Koreans can speak a little bit of Chinese. It’s fun. Also a little English in between.

You’re in postproduction on the second part of The Crossing. The first section didn’t do as well as expected, largely because of troubles at one of the production companies, Beijing Galloping Horse. Will you be using the same distributors for the second installment?

Yeah, same distributors. There was a little confusion. I think for the second part they will do a much better job. This time, I think they will have enough time to promote the film and do a much better release.

The other project you’ve been linked to in recent years is about the Flying Tigers, the U.S. airmen in China during World War II.

That is still ongoing. We’ve got a new partner. So we’re looking for a new writer to rewrite the whole script.

There’s a lot of talk about co-production with Asia these days. Is that something you’re interested in?

I’m interested. I think it’s a good thing. This can help the business, help our movies sell. But it’s not easy to find the right topic, the right script, for both sides. If you cater for the Western audience, then there will be a lot of actors from the West, and China’s role is smaller, and China will have some problems with that.