John Woo

John Woo

Fittingly for a director who has scored cinematic hits in Hong Kong and Hollywood, John Woo says his next film will depict Chinese and Americans working side-by-side successfully.

After tackling ancient history in “Red Cliff,” released in US theaters on Friday, Woo is fast-forwarding to World War Two for his next film “Flying Tigers,” about American pilots working in the Chinese Air Force.

The famous volunteer outfit — notable for the menacing sets of jaws emblazoned on their aircraft — fought against the Japanese throughout Asia.

“It’s about an American volunteer team working with the Chinese airforce to fight with the Japanese in wartime and they worked together so well. They made a great contribution and they helped win the war,” Woo told AFP at a recent press event in Beverly Hills to promote “Red Cliff.”

“The whole story is about friendship between Chinese and Americans — they worked together and won the war. And Chinese people are grateful for that; it’s hard to forget what they did.”

Reports in Hollywood have linked Tom Cruise to a complex project that Woo expects to be “very challenging.” After his experience in making “Red Cliff” however, Woo remains undaunted by the prospect.

The 2008 epic, which has been condensed from the four-hour two-part film released in Asia to a more manageable two and a half hours, remains the most expensive Asian-financed film in history.

At times Woo was directing more than 2,000 people on set including some 750 soldiers from China’s People’s Liberation Army hired as extras.

For Woo, “Red Cliff” was a natural progression after a career that saw him follow up his early Hong Kong crime classics such as “Hard Boiled” and “A Better Tomorrow” with mainstream studio hits like 1997’s “Face/Off” and 2000’s “Mission Impossible II.”

“‘Red Cliff’ was a movie I wanted to make since I’d started working in Hollywood,” Woo says. “I’d learnt a lot from so many good people so I thought it’s about time to bring what I learned from Hollywood back to Asia.

“There are so many young filmmakers in China and they are all eager to learn. They have a real passion for movies and they want to work on big-budget, Hollywood-type movies. So ‘Red Cliff’ was the perfect opportunity.”

But while Woo exported Hollywood production values back to Asia for “Red Cliff,” the project was mercifully free of the sort of studio interference that would have been the norm for a film of that size made in the United States.

“Let me put it this way: it’s always easier making a movie like ‘Red Cliff’ in Asia,” Woo explains. “Everything was so simple. In China, I just walked into the office and let them know that I want to make a movie called ‘Red Cliff.’ And they said ‘Okay let’s do it.’

“I had no need to take notes from anyone, I didn’t have to take advice from anyone, no need for meetings. I just closed the door, worked with my team, did my own thing and made my own film,” he said.

“I’ve learned so much about big-budget movies from working in Hollywood. But I never got used to the meetings and having so many people involved. It just takes so much longer to start a project, or even to make a decision.” (By Rob Woollard/ AFP)