EDITORIALS

Sunday Discussion: What Do YOU Think of John Woo?

by
February 3, 2008

John Woo

Earlier this morning we posted a teaser trailer for John Woo's upcoming Chinese epic Red Cliff. In the article I made mention of the fact that I personally believe that John Woo is a hack director, saying that "he's made nothing but utter crap" since the 90's. Since then some people have called me out claiming my statement is incredibly harsh and wrong and that calling Woo a hack in lieu of other crappy directors is just ridiculous. I stand to hold my own opinion, and I don't think I'm alone, but I've been called out before (Hancock trailer anyone?), so this time I must ask - what do YOU think of John Woo?

My extreme dislike for Woo originally developed after Paycheck, his most recent feature film. That came out in 2003 and now 5 years later he still hasn't made a feature film, how coincidental, especially considering that Paycheck was a giant piece of crap that failed at the box office (it only made $53.8 million total on a $60 million budget). After that movie, I looked back and realized that he's one of the worst action directors in recent years. I'll admit that I haven't seen many of his Chinese movies from 1992 and earlier, but ever since Face/Off, he's been just plain bad.

To start things off, I actually really like both Broken Arrow and Face/Off, two of his earlier Hollywood movies from 1996 and 1997 respectively. They're not that bad, but then again, I'm referencing viewings probably back before 2000 and not since then. I bet if I went back and watched them I might not enjoy them as much, especially with my current animosity towards Woo. Since Face/Off in 1997, Woo has directed Mission: Impossible II, Windtalkers, Hostage, and Paycheck, some of the worst, most formulaic piles of action crap I've ever seen. All Woo does to throw action into a movie is rent some closed off location so they can hire stunt drivers to drive anything from motorcycles to cars and shoot at things and blow them up. Real directors like to challenge themselves and film in locations that make sense to the setting.

I could go on and on with my problems with Woo's directing, but I'll just slow down here. I have no problem calling Woo a hack. I'm not going to retract my statement, instead I'm going to boldly defend what I said and what I believe in. I'm not about to cover it up for fear of the "masses" getting angry at what I said - because we're all about opinions and discussion here and that's what this is about. I respect that other people appreciate him, but I certainly do not. I think Woo couldn't create a very good action movie for the life of him, and it's obvious that he's scared (and Hollywood is) of bringing him back after the disaster that was Paycheck. And now he's been hiding out back in his homeland of China working on a sprawling historic epic.

What is your take on John Woo? Do you think he is as big of a hack as I do or do you have a bit of fanboy appreciation for him? I'd love to hear everyone else's thoughts on Woo as well. And if you think he is actually a good director, please explain why, and don't just call me an idiot and end it there. I hope there is a bit more intelligent discussion due to come out of this than just calling me an idiot for having my own viewpoint.

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  • Heckle
    I posted on the red cliff comments also but i must take notice with something you said. "formulaic piles of action crap" I am betting if i go back thru the reviews i would find that you love "formulaic piles of action crap"
  • Monte
    I would have to agree with you that Woo hasn't made any good action movies since about 1996 to the present, but I do loke some of his movies prior to that like "Hard Boiled" but actually thats probably because I am a Chow Yun-Fat fan. I like Nicolas Cage But "Face/Off" was really a let down and I think it was the directors fault and not the actors.
  • chris
    Do you even like action movies? Seriously:oP "I think Woo couldn't create a very good action movie for the life of him" Yes, thats why he's one of the most widely celebrated and loved action film directors in cinema, and countless directors emulate the style of his HK action films to this day. That's why there are numerous books and studies written about his classic films such as 'A Better Tommorrow' and 'The Killer'. It's why he made Van Damme look badass after a string of crappy 'martial arts films' in Hard Target. I agree 100% his USA films haven't been the best, especially since Face/Off, but how any movie fan can come out with something like the above quote is beyond me....(if you don't like action movies then fine, you would REALLY dislike Woo's HK stuff!). Go to your local DVD rental store and get: The Killer Hard Boiled A Better Tommorrow Bullet In The Head Last Hurrah for Chivalry Watch them, then come back and state he can't make a good action film.
  • REAL6
    He's only a Hollywood hack!!! Have him go back to Hong Kong and China and let him show you who makes the best ACTION MOVIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Like Chris just said!!!!!! Go to your local DVD rental store and get: The Killer Hard Boiled A Better Tommorrow Bullet In The Head Last Hurrah for Chivalry Watch them, then come back and state he can't make a good action film. The Killer Hard Boiled ARE PROB THE BEST TWO ACTION MOVIES EVER MADE!!!
  • Guy
    Saying John Woo is a hack because most of his Hollywood movies have sucked is like saying Jackie Chan is useless because of Rush Hour! Woo's back catalogue of HK action movies are not only brilliant but genre defining. He was pretty much the man who reinvented the whole 'two pistols' thing. I think its worth noting that a lot of the formulaic nature of some of his films is because he invented a lot of those forms. Even in Hollywood Face/Off isn't bad, Broken Arrow is fantastic and Windtalkers isn't as bad as its made out to be (hell, I'd rate it higher than Saving Private Ryan). I'm presonally not stoked about Red Cliff's but I think Woo is allowed his failures just like we ignore Spielburgs 1941 or (in my case) SPR.
  • Chris
    Since John Woo started making "American" films...well...they have been crap. It is hard to call him a hack after making such great movies in Hong Kong, but his Hollywood fare doesn't do much for his legacy.
  • Joe M.
    First, lets define what a hack is, because maybe that's the confusion. A hack-director is somebody who's movie lacks point-of-view or vision. What that means is: a hack director basically hoses down a scene from every angle hoping to just get it on screen and hoping to find something to piece together later in editing. That's why most TV sucks. Lots of hacks working in TV. (Well, that and writers control TV shows, which is apparent in how most look) OR, ia hack is a director who's staging and camerawork is ordinary and pedestrian, lacking imagination. Or worse yet: SAFE. Again, see most TV shows. But look at M. Night. Like him or hate him, he's undoubtedly a signature director. You KNOW you're seeing an M. Night movie without seeing the creidts. You can LITERALLY guess it's an M. Night movie within minutes. Watch "The Happening" trailer and you'll see what I mean. The same goes for Woo. No matter what, you KNOW it's Woo. He's distinct, he's specific, he's purposeful. A good director is telling you a story from an exact, precise point of view. And no matter, the "star" of the movie, he(or she--Julie Taymor is a visionary director) shapes performances to fit into the story he's telling. Hitchcock did this. Spielberg does this. Scorcese. DePalma. Zemeckics. These guys make movies that are dripping with personality. THERE personality. A hack director's movie is vanilla. Bland. Homogenized. That's why John Woo is not a hack. Because despite having MADE bad movies (like Paycheck), each movie, even in failure, is molded BY WOO to be A WOO MOVIE. And the only directors that can do that, are NOT hacks.
  • nick
    Paycheck was exactly what the title referred to, merely a paycheck. Calling Woo a hank for a few bumps in the road, that's like calling FF Coppola a hack for Godfather III, or Ang Lee a hack for Hulk....
  • I think that John Woo's work once he arrived in Hollywood has been very Mediocre, When you say Hack i think that you are saying he has no Talent when in face I think he is incredibly talented, I just think that he is doing the same thing over and over since he's been in hollywood. Hard Target and Face Off are recycled ideas and action sequences he'd already used in much better action films he made in Hong Kong. I also think that many director's working today were very influenced by John Woo's works in Hong Kong and have since surpassed him as far as the progression of Action Films today. We've seen a Guy holding two guns ablaze flying through the air and it's been done to death quite frankly. John Woo needs to grow and try something else. I think he's great at elaborate action sequences but he's got to let go of his old tricks. MUST SEE: THE KILLER
  • Curtis
    I haven't seen many of John Woo's movies and don't really care for him much, though i must say i really enjoyed Broken Arrow and i don't know why everyone hated Mission Impossible 2 i thought it was excellent and in my opinion his best movie that I've seen, tho my opinion doesn't really count since I've only seen two of his movies.
  • Hank
    First of all, John Woo did not direct Hostage. So while his later movies have not been particularly good, he can be absolved of all blame responsible for that awful turd. I can see why you'd say he's a hack after viewing his American movies. But I think that is an extremely narrow look at his filmography. Rent the movies other users mentioned and I think you would be pretty surprised at how good they are. They're also not just good in terms of great action sequences, but the story and the characters are compelling as well. Faves: Hard Boiled A Better Tomorrow
  • Joe C
    Joe M. thanks for making clear what a hack director is. I was confused with that terminology. All directors have ups and downs and good and bad pieces of work. I agree that after Woo started making movies in Hollywood, anything after Face/off, are quite bad. However, based upon those movies and called him a hack director is quiet extreme. For example, if someone watched War of the World and never seen any of Steven Spielberg movies, and called him a crap director. That's just wrong. Alex, please check those old school Woo movies out and please let us know what you think. Faves: Hard Boiled and the Killer
  • Spike-the-Poet
    You are an un-educated film critic. Lets "...just call..." you "... an idiot and end it there. PS: Hannah Montana vs Cloverfield? Blockbusters or important films? Have you watched any older horror films yet?
  • John Truong
    I can't believe you would pass judgement on John Woo as a director without having seen any of his work from that whole period of his career. That's just so... ignorant. I think plenty of other people have mentioned some of his great films but there's another one that's a favorite of mine and it's "Hostage". Are we talking about the same "Hostage" here? The one I'm talking about is the 9 1/2 minute short film he directed for BMW's The Hire series. Go watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7hFX48fY5k Unfortunately, it might be the best thing he's done in America, but it's in no way a POS.
  • Lets see you make a feature film.
    John Woo has a visual style all his own. How many directors can do that. If pop culture has spoofed his style, (which they have aka duel wielding guns, doves) then he cant be all that bad. Seen The Matrix? Uwe Boll is a bad director ie Blood Rayne, In the name of the king. Alot of it probably has do to with the people he has to work with, producers, contracts to honor. Seeing as you haven't seen his earlier stuff, Hard-boiled, A Better Tomorrow... you are missing out. You have your opinion and thats fine, but its not a popular one by any stretch.
  • PG
    It saddens me to hear such ignorant and idiotic remarks about a talented director like John Woo from someone that covers movies for a living. I seriously question your credibility now. From the consensus it looks like no one agrees with you, Alex. I think that says a lot. John Woo is one of the few Asian directors who have made a name for himself in Hollywood, and that's no easy task for any minority in the business. For him to be one of the pioneers of some of these signature action elements that you see in the genre today is an achievement in itself. A Chinese epic like Red Cliff is exactly what John Woo needs, a fresh, new medium for him to put his action skills to test.
  • Sumit
    You seriously need to watch his HK back catalogue ASAP. Hollywood castrated Woo apart from Face/Off his US films have all been average to bad but his HK films are amazing. Hard Boiled is the finest action film of all time surpassing even Die Hard. The scene where the camera does not cut away for many minute whilst following proves that Woo is incredibly talented. I doubt even the lies of Spielberg or Cameron or McTiernen is his prime could match that sequence. Hard Boiled is a film that can never repeated without killing stuntmen or resorting to CG. To call him a hack for his US films is fair but you are not qualified to judge his career if those are the only films you've seen. And like someone above mentioned a hack is a director with no style or personality, something which all Woo films have in spades whether you like that style or not).
  • this is like judging Francis Ford Coppola on The Rainmaker, Jack, Godfather III, Gardens of Stone, Peggy Sue got Married, The Cotton Club, and Tucker without ever having seen Godfather I & II, Apocalypse Now, and The Conversation. ridiculous.

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