John Woo eschews technology for 'simple' life

Filmmaker receiving Venice's Golden Lion award

John Woo doesn't wear a watch.

Sitting at his desk in shortsleeves, the 64-year-old filmmaker is working on a script by hand. An offer to send him an e-mail elicits a growling but lighthearted smoker's chuckle.

"Please send it to my assistant -- I've never used a computer," he says as he pushes ink-spotted pages across the table. Switching back and forth between English and Mandarin, he adds: "My assistant translates these. I don't have a cell phone. My life is very simple. I try to keep it easy."

This from a man whose life has been anything but. His first language was neither English nor Mandarin but the Cantonese spoken in his South China birthplace and the Hong Kong of his youth. From dirt-poor beginnings -- he compares his childhood to a Chinese version of "Slumdog Millionaire" -- Woo is now a superstar throughout Asia, but has also managed to conquer Hollywood with his trademark blend of balletic action and over-the-top melodrama in crowd pleasers like "Face/Off" and "Mission: Impossible II."

Which begs the question, why is this diminutive father of three -- who can't go to the movies in China for fear of being mobbed by a whole new generation of fans -- getting an old-timer's award like the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement?

In announcing the honor, Venice organizers described Woo as an "innovator of the contemporary language of cinema."

"I am grateful and feel like I am the lucky one," Woo says. "When I was young, studying film, I had so many good opportunities to watch a lot of great movies from all over the world and to learn from many masters, like Visconti, Bertolucci, Antonioni."

He trails off, but then goes on to name at least a dozen more directors whose work he also loves: David Lynch, Francois Truffaut and the "genius" Tsui Hark.

"This is a great moment in my life, to receive this award," he adds. "I am so lucky and grateful. I can't make it without the help of my friends. So I really don't know what to say except that I am so glad I am a filmmaker and that I made the right decision to choose movies as my lifetime career. I see (this award) as an encouragement to continue making movies."

After the lights dim at Venice, Woo will return to Beijing to light up production on the planned big-budget Sino-U.S. co-production "Flying Tigers," the story of the volunteer American squadron that trained the first generation of Chinese fighter pilots taking on Japan during World War II.

"It's going to be pretty big," Woo says, keeping it simple.
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