John Woo wants to make a musical

John Woo. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG
John Woo. -- ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

The film-maker, famous for action-thrillers, dreams of directing something like West Side Story one day

Director John Woo said that he had beaten throat cancer and had no thoughts of retiring any time soon.

"I have recovered completely... I see how precious life is. I'm grateful to be making movies and will continue to make another five to 10 more movies," Woo, 68, told Life! on Thursday. "I will try to cut down on my work, to give more time to my children, to speak to them and listen to them. I want to thank everyone who was concerned about my health," he said.

The father of three is in Singapore to attend the local premiere of his latest film, the wartime romance The Crossing.

Two years ago, he was forced to postpone production of the US$65-million (S$85-million) project to seek treatment.

Speaking to Life! at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, he looked generally well, but tired.

Known for Hong Kong action-thriller classics such as A Better Tomorrow (1986), The Killer (1989) and Hard Boiled (1992), he moved to the United States in the early 1990s to pursue a career in Hollywood.

Since then, he has made a name with more action-oriented material such as Hard Target (1993) and Mission Impossible II (2000).

He returned to Asia in recent years and released the big-budget historical drama Red Cliff, Parts 1 and 2 (2008, 2009).

He squashed the notion that he had abandoned Hollywood. There were reports that its system of pervasive management oversight over the creative process did not agree with him, but on Thursday, he spoke enthusiastically about his latest American project, a World War II drama based on the exploits of a squad of China-based American pilots called the Flying Tigers.

"I never left Hollywood. I love the people there, I love working there," he said.

He credited the American system for giving him access to new camera and computer graphics technologies, as well as highly efficient project management techniques.

Management and crews there take professionalism seriously and talent from all over the world is valued and made to feel welcome, he said.

And unlike in Asia, Americans in general view the movie business as an industry made up of skilled, hardworking people who are worthy of respect.

"They really do make dreams come true. Whatever it is that is in your mind, they can make it happen," he said.

If there is any frustration in his life, it comes from being pigeonholed as a maker of big movies, especially in the action genre.

He is eager for the chance to make smaller human dramas, but faces opposition from producers who see him as an action director, he said.

The Crossing lavishes attention on something rarely seen in movies from Greater China - an extended musical interlude, featuring high-society couples dancing in pre-revolutionary Shanghai.

It speaks to Woo's love of musicals and he spoke about his dream of making one some day.

"I'm dying to make a musical, something like West Side Story," he said.

The central event of The Crossing is the 1949 sinking of the Taiping, with its loss of over 1,000 lives. The story covers the Chinese communist revolution and the touchy subject of Taiwan as the refuge for members of the Kuomintang.

The film's main investor is China-based Beijing Galloping Horse Film & TV Production and Woo said the political hurdles, if any, were minor.

The film has been released in both China and Taiwan.

"This is a love story, not a political film," he said.

johnlui@sph.com.sg

The Crossing is showing in cinemas now.