Dear John Letter
I remember that day long ago when I was just out of college. I was depressed about something — my life ahead, the four years I spent on a useless degree,
how the hell I was supposed to make my dream of becoming a filmmaker a
reality, etc. As always, my escape plan was a good movie. I saw that
there was a Chinese film playing at Cinema Village. I thought, “Hmm, a
good Hsiao-hsien Hou or a Chen Kaige would go good with my mood today.”
What I didn’t realize was that I didn’t walk into some slow-artsy
fartsy Chinese epic about the cultural revolution, I walked into your
movie, “Hard Boiled.” The director’s cut at that!
had no idea what it was. And I had never seen anything like that before
in my life. I knew Bruce Lee. I knew Jackie Chan. But that was the
extent of my knowledge of Hong Kong cinema at that time. I was still
just a New England Korean American boy living in the big city. I didn’t
grow up with the Music Palace
or Hong Kong chop-socky films. “Hard Boiled” blew me away, blew me
apart, blew the roof right off that theater. I think I was one of maybe
ten people in the entire theater, but the blood rushing through me made
me feel like I was at a stadium rock conert in a hurricane. I couldn’t
believe my eyes.
You see, John, I was at a point in my life
where I was doubting that someone like me, an Asian American, could
make films. I didn’t want to make “The Joy Luck Club.”
I never even read “The Joy Luck Club!” I didn’t know anything about
being “Asian” or “Asian American.” I just wanted to make films. But
what the hell kind of movies could I make?
have no idea, but when I watched the magic you created, I realized that
all I had to do was tell the stories that excited me. You taught me
that anything was possible and that you can’t fall victim to the
world’s expectations of you. When Tony Leung and Philip Kwok
ran down the hallway of the infant ward shooting over their heads at
one another, jumping through windows, blasting away, I knew I had
chosen the right path in life. You made Asian film exciting for me.
Hell, you made film exciting for me. You pushed it to the limit. You
made the most lyrical beautiful dances out of shell casings and 9mm
automatics. You will always be a personal hero of mine. You will always
be one of the reasons why I want to make films.
So I went to see “Paycheck” yesterday.
finally happened. The last nail in the coffin. Hollywood finally tamed
you. I will not say that “Paycheck” was an entire piece of crap. It was
watchable. I dug the chase sequence. I thought there were some nice
touches in it. You even have an uncanny knack of being able to cast
actors I hate and still keep me interested. Van Damme in “Hard Target.”
Travolta and Christian Slater
in “Broken Arrow.” Travolta again and Nicholas Cage in “Face/Off.” Tom
Cruise in “MI2” (I know came with the package, but still). And now Ben
Affleck and Uma Thurman? You couldn’t have cast two more uninteresting
actors to carry your movie and yet I still watched.
noticed this time around was that the magic was gone. This was passable
Hollywood-fare. But this wasn’t a John Woo film. Not the John Woo I
remember. Your name was on it. You even had a dove fly in at one point.
But this was no John Woo film. This wasn’t even “Once A Thief.”
I remember when you made “Hard Target”
and they reported that you wanted 50 assassins to go after Van Damme’s
mullet-headed hero. The studio said it would be too unbelievable. You
conceded. But I thought, “Okay, they got you this time. But next time,
you just wait.” Then you did “Broken Arrow” and “Face/Off” and the
themes of brotherhood that played so well in “The Killer” and “A Better
Tomorrow,” just couldn’t translate. Americans don’t understand
brotherhood and honor.
Admittedly,”Face/Off” came close, but… Nicholas Cage? I’m sure you were thinking he was the same Nicholas Cage as “Valley Girl”
and “Raising Arizona,” but he wasn’t. Your Nicholas Cage was one of
those alien replacements of Nicholas Cage like “Invasion of the Body
Snatchers.” That old great Nicholas Cage is gone forever. “Face/Off”
was about the closest I had seen you push to work those old muscles.
then I think it was MI2 that really did you in. It should have been a
perfect match for you. No pressure to create the first in the series. A
winning formula where you could have 50, 100, 300 assassins and it
would make sense. But it was flat. Really flat. From what I heard about
the production — Tom Cruise
demanding to do his own stunts and then locking you out of your own
editing room in post? Who could have survived a blow like that?
Anyway after “MI2,” I didn’t even bother to go see “Windtalkers.”
thought you were going to come to America and really show Hollywood how
to make a blockbuster action film. I thought you were going to
revolutionize the way people even thought about the genre of action. I
thought you were going to set a new standard for what is an acceptably
photographed gun fight.
After watching “Paycheck,” I realized
it was you that learned something new. Hollywood taught you how to make
a living. I am not upset with you. I totally understand. I remember
reading interviews with you back before you crossed over, about how you
wanted to get your family out of Hong Kong before it was returned to China.
You wanted your children to get good educations. You wanted a better
life, a better tomorrow (sorry for the pun, I had to).
amazing that you were able to forge a career here at all. You are still
considered an A-list director despite not even coming close to the
artistic leaps you had made in younger days. You are directing in a
second language. It’s an amazing journey you have made. You are the Monkey King of Hollywood. I respect you. If nothing else, I will always have respect for you.
In writing this, I did some research and saw that you have finally officially announced that Western with the Chinese gunslinger which was to be the vehicle to reunite you with Chow Yun Fat.
I don’t want to get my hopes up. I will wait. I remember people talking
about this back when you did “Hard Target.” I will wait and see. Maybe
I’ll eat crow. Make me eat crow. And doves and 50 assassins. Please.
is not a traditional “Dear John” letter. I am not breaking up with you.
I am just recognizing that the passion and fire we used to have is not
there any longer. I will still always cherish the times we had
together. How many times I watched the first ten minutes of “Hard
Boiled” just to give myself the courage or the motivation to go back
out there and fight! I will always remember those days fondly. We will
always be friends. Please understand that this isn’t “goodbye,” this is
And please please, try to cast better.
Mike 2 Cents