Misadventures in Hollywood: How Hong Kong’s Stars Lost Their Way in Hollywood

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John Woo fans knew his stuff would be a hard sell to American audiences. For the most part, Woo’s tastes in onscreen violence, coupled with pulpy melodrama, can be off-putting to the uninitiated, but did it have to be this hard? “Hard Target” (1993) was essentially stillborn; the longer international cut (released in Japan) is probably Woo’s best non-Hong Kong movie. The international version is fully loaded with Woo’s trademark extreme (and bordering on cartoonish) violence and more screen time is devoted to fleshing out villains Lance Henriksen and Arnold Vosloo. But distributor Universal chafed at the movie’s length, while the MPAA objected to the graphic violence, despite the fact that Woo’s earlier, longer, and bloodier Hong Kong movies can now be found uncut at Blockbuster, Hollywood Video, Wal-Mart, and Best Buy.

Woo’s other American movies, “Broken Arrow” (1996), “Windtalkers” (2002), and “Paycheck” (2003), ranged from okay to good, but not a single great one in the mix. Outside of a few John Woo flourishes, all three films could have been directed by anyone. “Mission: Impossible 2” (2000) was John Woo trying to direct like John Woo, and it’s ultimately overloaded with goofy self-plagiarism and arguably the shortest leading man Woo’s ever worked with. (Keep in mind, this includes Tony Leung and Jackie Cheung.) The closest Woo came to his old product was “Face/Off” in 1997, when mainstream America finally got a taste of why he’s such a big deal.

Next up for Woo is “Land of Destiny,” which will reunite him with Nicolas Cage (the star of “Windtalkers” and “Face/Off”) and, finally, finally, Chow Yun-fat. It only took ten-plus years. And while Chow and Woo’s reunion is not a guarantee of quality, considering that the duo have “A Better Tomorrow” and its sequel (1986/87), “The Killer” (1989), and “Hard-Boiled” on their resumes, there is hope.

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