The Best Film Needs to be Created in Professional Environment
- Interview with John Woo, Director of Manhunt

The 74th Venice International Film Festival will kick off on August 30th, 2017 local time. As the films in competition and other programs are announced, the highly anticipated Manhunt, a new film by the veteran filmmaker John Woo, is selected as Out of Competition, and will make its world premiere in Venice. The film was both an adaptation from Nishimura Juko’s novel You Must Cross the River of Wrath, which was published by Tokuma Shoten Publishing Co., Ltd., and a remake of the Japanese film Manhunt produced by K.K. KADOKAWA. In 1978, the Japanese Manhunt, starring Ken Takakura, had generated an enormous impact after being released in Mainland China, becoming the collective memory of a whole generation. Invested and distributed by Media Asia, John Woo’s latest has pooled an all-star cast of Fukuyama Masaharu, Zhang Hanyu, Qi Wei, Ha Ji Won and Wu Feixia, and a multi-award winning Chinese, Japanese and Korean crew, with Gordon Chan and Hing-Ka Chan as executive producers, Yohei Taneda as art director, Takuro Ishizaka as director of photography, and Taro Iwashiro as music director. The film was mainly shot in Osaka Japan.
The man behind many action classics, John Woo has secured his spot at home and abroad with his signature action scenes and stylized camera work. In 1968, he started his film career with the feature film Dead Knot as its screenwriter. In 1973, he made his directorial debut The Young Dragons. In 1986, John Woo directed what had later become his defining achievement A Better Tomorrow, which featured his trademark slow-motion gunfight and the aesthetics of violence and won him the Best Film of the 6th Hong Kong Film Awards. In 1990, John Woo won the Best Director of the 9th Hong Kong Film Awards with The Killer, and also acted in the action film Rebel From China in the same year.   In 1993, John Woo started his journey to the west in the Hollywood. The 1997 sci-fi/action film Face/Off brought him the “Golden Circle Award” from the Chinese National Endowment for the Arts. In 2000, his Mission: Impossible II , became worldwide box office champion of the year. In 2006, John Woo made his return to Chinese cinema as the executive producer of the action film Blood Brothers. In June 2009, he won the Golden Cup Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Chinese Film in Shanghai International Film Festival. In the same year, he was awarded the Outstanding Abroad Director of Ornamental Column Awards for the war film Battle of Red Cliff. In 2010, he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement of the 67th Venice International Film Festival. In 2015, he won the SAMURAI Award of the 28th Tokyo International Film Festival.
While being interviewed, John Woo shared his original intention and experience in making Manhunt.
Q: Why do you want to do the Chinese remake of Manhunt? What’s so appealing?
John Woo: I’ve always loved and admired Ken Takakura’s films. His image and performance have been very impactful when I design characters for my own films. For example, Chow Yun-Fat’s character was a semi-embodiment of Ken Takakura in A Better Tomorrow. When learning that Ken Takakura had passed away, I was very sad and therefore decided to do a movie or remake his previous films as homage. Another reason is that I love Japanese gangster films in the 1960s. When Media Asia invited me to do the remake of Manhunt, I was very happy and agreed without asking anything. Although it has been so long since I last watched the film that the image is getting blurry, it is still a Ken Takakura film that is so impactful and welcome in China. In addition, it’s a story about a wronged good man who found out about the truth single-handedly with his own courage and wisdom. Such a story is very inspirational.


Q: So, what’s the difference between the Chinese version of Manhunt and the previous Japanese one?
John Woo: As Media Asia can only buy the rights of the original novel rather than that of the film, many plots in the old film are not allowed to be used and we can only resort to the novel for different plots. But it is the same story after all, so the main storyline hasn’t changed much. Since the novel was written in the 1960s and 1970s, life now has varied greatly from back then. Our new film is a story with a modern-day background that a lot of stories, the emotions of the characters, and major conspiracies in the film are modern ones. In terms of emotion, the film tells the friendship between a Japanese policeman and a framed Chinese man. Such content is quite consistent with my personal storytelling. Of course, there is also love story between the hero and heroine, and the action scenes are much more evolved.


Q: In your films, there has always been an image of “pigeon”. This time, “pigeon” also appeared in the poster of Manhunt. Does it bear some special meaning?
John Woo: I like the use of pigeons. It’s almost like a director likes to work with certain actors. I personify the pigeon as an actor and a special envoy of messages. Sometimes, it strengthens the personality of characters and sometimes it symbolizes the characters and their inner world in the film. It is a kind of spirit and beauty. When used under different circumstances, the pigeon has different vibes. It conveys meanings in a way language cannot. I’m so used to using pigeons that it’s like an element in the formula. Sometimes it’s me, but most of the time it’s the demand from concerned cinephiles. It seems that they care more about it than I do (laughter).


Q: When we talk about you and your films, one of the keywords would be ” the aesthetics of violence “. How do you like such a positioning? In the Manhunt, did you deliberately elaborate the action scene of “aesthetics of violence” that people expect?
John Woo: Surely, I wouldn’t want to be labeled as ” aesthetics of violence”, though I do appreciate this term that my audience summarized from my early works. In addition to the violence, I also want to shoot films with other themes. For example, I have always been thinking about making a film about a beautiful love story. As for Manhunt, the theme of the story is to seek truth and love, so there are definitely elaborated action scenes. However, all these are built up by the development of the story itself, not just violence for violence’s sake. We let nature take its course. Although the film does not include the element of “aesthetics of violent “, it is still a film very consistent with my own style.


Q: With all your achievements and glories, do you have any regrets in filmmaking? Things that could have been done otherwise or better?. Do you have any regret when shooting Manhunt this time?
John Woo: I had many regrets in filmmaking (laughter). For example, I have always wanted to shoot a film about Jing Ke the righteous assassinator , or Li Bai the Tang dynasty poet. A novel martial arts film in a whole new dimension. But I have not gotten such an opportunity yet.

Sometimes, the problem is that when my big-budget films draw well, I will be defined as a “blockbuster director”. In fact, it is difficult to have enough creative space in a big-budget film. You have to cater to all, the investors, the producers and distributors. Their opinions tend to influence the creative flow, which makes it difficult to maintain the freedom in filmmaking. In addition, although the film industry is booming, I think I’m still working in a unprofessional environment. The whole team still needs to work on its professionalism, because I think that the best film can only be created in a very professional environment.
I said so because when I was making The Crossing, which is my lifelong regret, there was not enough time for me to have a director’s cut due to various reasons. When I asked the company for a director’s cut, I was asked what a director’s cut was. Such unprofessional people in film business, I was somewhat disappointed. The Crossing was divided into two parts, that was not my intention. It was a mistake. The division made the whole story fall apart and together with the shortsightedness in distribution and almost non-existent P&A, of course the box office was a failure. It will always remain my biggest pain in my life as a director.
There is, of course, flaws in Manhunt, too. It was difficult to shoot the exterior scenes in Japan. Elaborate car chases and big CG shots were not allowed in busy streets in Japan. That’s understandable. But everyone worked hard to make up for it, and the result turned out just as perfect.


Q: How do you think of the “IP (Chinese name for film adaptation) heat”?
John Woo: I don’t pay much attention to “IP” (laughter).


Q: In recent years, film adaptation, currently known as IP adaptations in China, have kept the “high in box office, low in word of mouth” effect . Do you have pressure when remaking Manhunt? What’s your greatest chanllenge?
John Woo: There are many successful adaptation films which are very popular. That is a good thing. The film industry indeed lacks of good scripts. In this regard, written works can provide inspirations and good stories, which help films have more diversified development. That is the good part. There are many kinds of films, each of which has its own style, storytelling and the means to attract audience. I have no pressure in adaptation. And of course, if other screenwriters have good IP and stories, I will take them seriously.


Q: What do you expect from the audience when they watch Manhunt?
John Woo: I hope that the audience can feel it’s a new and different Manhunt rather than simply the remake of the old one. After all, it’s a different time background with different spectacles and emotions (laughter).


Q: What’s your next film? Do you want to try a different genre?
John Woo: Next I will shoot an American film. Before that, I’m preparing for a big-budget Chinese production.

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