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Autor: anton 17 September 2010
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John Woo: from Hong Kong to Hollywood, The Killer and Face/Off
John Woo and his â€œheroic bloodshedâ€ have revolutionized and rejuvenated the action genre, combining melodrama with action to create the male melodrama, in which he explores the codes of masculinity while redefining them. Robert Hanke says that â€œexplosive pyrotechnics seem to be privileged over plot, narrative or characterâ€ (Hanke 41) and yet notes that Jillian Sandell maintains the opinion that Woo does not â€œcelebrate this violence, but rather uses it to represent a nostalgia for a lost code of honor and chivalryâ€ (Hanke 1999: 45). While characterized by violence, Wooâ€™s films define masculinity within a changing world. He does not set out to make violent films, defending A Better Tomorrow by saying â€œItâ€™s not a gangster movie. Itâ€™s a film about chivalry, about honor, but set in the modern world. I want to teach the new generation: â€˜What is friendship? What is brotherhood? What have we lost? What we have to get back.â€™â€ (Logan 1995: 116), a statement that can be applied to both The Killer (1989) and Face/Off (1997). In The Killer, Jeff and Stanley are nostalgic about the past, saying how things have changed. Loss is a literal theme in both movies, as Jeff tries to regain Sallyâ€™s sight and in Face/Off Archer has lost his son and seeks to regain a sense of identity and purpose, and ultimately a son. Woo makes his films to fill this lack that he sees in the modern world.
He is influenced by many different films and national cinemas, and his heroes are modern incarnations of the chivalric xia figures of martial arts cinema in the 1960s, â€œavatars of a fallen group of knightly heroesâ€ (Williams 2000: 143). In The Killer, Jeff is a noble, loyal and chivalric, a â€œtwentieth-century version of [a] Chinese knight with traditional codes of loyalty and friendship yet still relevant to the contemporary worldâ€(Williams 2000: 148). In this modern interpretation he is a gangster, yet still encompasses all of these characteristics, a break from the xia figures who were either lawful or operating outside of the lawâ€™s influence. Woo gives us a new kind of male protagonist, one that â€œcombines physical violence and emotional intensityâ€ (Hanke 1999: 39), visible from the start of The Killer. Jeff is introduced to us as cool and calm, casually shooting a room full of people. This expressionless killing is contrasted with the following scene which shows his wounds being tended to in a close up of his face that displays that pain and emotion that he is feeling. This opposition between violence and sensitivity is clearly demonstrated by the characters of Caster Troy and Sean Archer in Face/Off when they swap faces, and they must appropriate the characteristics of the other in order to survive, â€œthe binary logic of either violent or emotionally sensitive is dissolved into both violent and sensitiveâ€ (Hanke 1999: 53). Similarly in The Killer, Li is a mirror image for Jeff, the only difference being a badge. Wooâ€™s films are based on these oppositions, particlularly good/evil, which is visible in the images he uses at the end of both films, the shootouts taking place in a church with slow motion action. On a wider scale he tries to reconcile the gap between past and present, trying to get back what is lost.
Wooâ€™s Hong Kong films introduced a new hero, a new masculinity rather than homoeroticism, emphasizing male bonding and brotherhood, showing us that masculinity is â€œfluid and open to redefinitionâ€ (Hanke 1999: 56). This hero further evolves in the Hollywood produced Face/Off, which â€œrepresents the masculine subjectâ€™s uneasy accommodation to the interdependence of emotional, family life and professional lifeâ€ (Hanke 1999: 56). He explores the theme of the family, what it means to be a husband and a father, not just a solitary wandering figure. Hanke concludes that Woo â€œreinvents masculinity as a dialect of violence and sensitivityâ€ within an ever changing world. This evolution is not limited to either Hong Kong or Hollywood, as John Woo is a transnational global auteur, speaking the universal language of action. Chow Yun-fat is quoted as saying that Hard Boiled is seventy percent action, thirty percent story, characteristic of many John Woo films. Yet Hanke quotes Lisa Coulthard and argues that the action â€œis a kind of melodramatic excess that may be read as a special form of displaced, external form of inner sufferingâ€ (Hanke 1999: 55). Woo offers the world a new vision of a sensitive and yet strong masculine hero that everyone can interpret and understand, and which in turn influences other directors such as Quentin Tarantino. His extreme action is in fact a way in which he can reach all languages, a sign that he is truly a global filmmaker.
- Bey Logan, Hong Kong Action Cinema, Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1995
- Robert Hanke, â€œJohn Wooâ€™s Cinema of Hyperkinetic Violence: from A Better Tomorrow to Face/Offâ€, Film Criticism v.24:1, Fall 1999: 39-59
- Tony Williams, â€œSpace, Place, and Spectacle: The Crisis Cinema of John Wooâ€, The Cinema of Hong Kong - History, Arts, Identity, eds. Poshek Fu and David Desser, Cambridge, UK; New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, 2000
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