Only a handful of directors can say that their work has changed filmmaking forever. John Woo has done it twice. As a young upstart in late ’60s Hong Kong, Woo was working as an assistant director at the hallowed Shaw Brothers studio by day and absorbing the rebellious spirit of the French New Wave at night.
As a fledgling director in the ’70s, he worked with the brightest stars Hong Kong had to offer, sharpening his skills on comedies and martial arts films made within the restrictive parameters of the HK studio system. But, as he tells Letterboxd, “in my heart, I thought, ‘I can do it like François Truffaut.’”
Woo recently received a Career Achievement Award from Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, a place where Asian filmmakers have been sharing their work with an appreciative North American audience since the late 1990s. As the festival writes on its website, “Without John Woo, there would be no Fantasia.” And indeed, the shape of both East Asian and American filmmaking would be very different if Woo had never had the courage to follow his heart and create a new style of action known as “heroic bloodshed.”