More chemistry than magnets

For two film-makers who are considered as complete opposites, John Woo and Wong Jing are actually two sides of the same coin. John’s Bullet in the Head and Jing’s Pantyhose Hero contain slow-motion shots where someone’s back is mangled. What cements the connection (and reduces the coincidence) is that both movies were released in 1990. On a more serious note, Bullet in the Head and Jing’s The Big Score (also 1990) contained references to the Tiananmen Square massacre. These two movies are arguably the darkest that each director has done. Both movies did not fare well at the Hong Kong box office.

Both film-makers have made movies where 13 is shown to be an unlucky number. In Bullet in the Head, the three friends ponder their future in front of a parking facility where 13 can be seen on one of the floors. In Naked Killer (written and produced by Jing), the main antagonist steps off the thirteenth floor to kill her target. Bullet in the Head was the best action drama that Simon Yam co-starred in whereas Naked Killer was the best action comedy that he had co-starred in. In Woo’s Windtalkers, there is a tent labelled 13. Naturally, the soldiers have a doomed fate.

What Woo and Wong also have in common is that they cite Martin Scorsese as one of their influences. Woo’s The Killer was dedicated to Scorsese, which the latter appreciated. It seems that Wong felt sorry for Woo when The Killer wasn’t big box office business in H.K. It was an above-average hit but still covered its budget, which was H.K.$ 14 million (that’s 2 million U.S. dollars) and it recouped more than 18 million Hong Kong dollars. Wong implicitly referenced this in The Big Score within the context of a dialogue scene between himself and Danny Lee (the co-star of The Killer).

The Big Score humorously rekindles the triangular dynamic between the blind woman, the detective and the crook who he reluctantly teams up with. In both movies, the MacGuffin is a briefcase of money. Both movies contain a shootout that takes place in a parking facility. Both movies were better received in Taiwan than in H.K. While not as influential as The KillerThe Big Score would influence Woo’s Mission: Impossible II. Both movies contain a car chase whose scenarios were to create the action movie equivalent of a man and woman romantically playing hard-to-get.

Not so coincidentally, The Big Score references Tom Cruise. In 2003, Jing’s Naked Weapon referenced the shot in Mission: Impossible II where a knife is close to Ethan’s eye. There was a rumour that circulated in the H.K. press about Tom wanting Wong to direct Mission: Impossible II. The H.K. press claimed that the final action sequence was going to be on a rollercoaster. Also, Ethan’s love interest was meant to be played by Chingmy Yau (who had retired by then). In 2004, it was reported that Tom had bought the remake rights to Jing’s Colour of the Truth.

Back to the Woo connection, Naked Weapon referenced The Killer in three instances. There’s an assassination that takes place during a dragon boat festival (where a team add to the Woo aura by wearing shirts which proclaim Jesus loves you), there’s a scene which uses editing to compare the detective who’s situated where the killer used to be, and there’s a reference to the Magnum production company i.e. the cop chases the killer into a van which stores Magnum ice cream. Although, one of the production company behind The Killer was inspired by a Clint Eastwood movie called Magnum Force.

Naked Killer (the prototype for Naked Weapon) was basically a loose remake of The Killer, right down to the juxtaposition montage where editing compares the cop and killer doing the same thing. Another aspect reflecting that of The Killer is a protagonist suffering from accidentally shooting someone who he knows. Nonetheless, both directorial minds are inherently entrenched with parallels. If John remade Naked Killer, it would make everything come full circle. It would certainly be more original than, once again, remaking The Killer (à la the 1998 Jing-produced Her Name is Cat).

For The Twin Dragons, one of the male screenwriters (Barry Wong) gave roles of a religious nature to Woo and Wong because he realized that they are storytellers of the same ilk. Woo played a priest whereas Wong played a spiritual healer. The movie was directed by Tsui Hark – a former colleague and current rival of Woo. Tsui wanted to surpass the boat chase in The Killer (which he produced). This would explain Woo’s interest in wanting to surpass him with a similar scene in Hard Target. Woo was disappointed that the budget wouldn’t allow him to film such a scene, although Face/Off literally afforded him that opportunity.

The Killer has another intrinsic connection with Jing. Chow Yun-Fat fired two handguns at once in God of Gamblers, which was released in the same year that John’s movie had come out (1989). Both movies contain a shootout in a parking facility. Both movies have Peter Pau Tak-Hai as one of the cinematographers. There were plans for both films to be remade but no Hollywood director officially remade them. Denzel Washington was to play the detective in The KillerGod of Gamblers was also almost remade with an African-American star. This time, it was Samuel L. Jackson.

Wong’s Kung Fu Cult Master has a few similarities with Woo’s Bullet in the Head. Both are excellent epic period films which are fast-paced due to being heavily condensed, they cost less than U.S.$ 4 million to make and they didn’t do well at the H.K. box offices. Woo’s Hard-Boiled shares an admirable attribute with Wong’s The Last Blood. Both are highly enjoyable contemporary actioners which have hospital showdowns and budgets less than U.S.$ 5 million. According to Wong’s memoir (i.e. Juvenile Jing), The Last Blood was made in the summer of 1990.

Hard-Boiled shares two things in common with God of Gamblers. The less obvious connection is that both movies have a shot that lasts for more than two minutes. What cements the connection is that the longevity of each shot was more to do with accounting than artistry. The more obvious connection is that both shots showcased Chow Yun-Fat. Woo had referenced God of Gamblers in Once a Thief (1991) by way of having Chow use razor-sharp cards as weapons, although the idea was already seen in Wong’s Challenge of the Gamesters (1981) instead of God of Gamblers.

Because of Once a Thief making more money than Tricky Brains (due to thieves being more daring than tricksters), Jing attempted to surpass John with the lethal cards gimmick in City Hunter. Because Hard-Boiled made more money than The Last Blood, Jing had lampooned A Better Tomorrow in Boys are Easy. Jing had already lampooned that movie in the previous decade i.e. The Romancing Star (starring Chow Yun-Fat). Jing had lampooned A Better Tomorrow in 1987 because John’s Heroes Shed No Tears (made in 1983 but released in 1986) is like Jing’s Mercenaries from Hong Kong (1982) due to both movies being about a Chinese military group who fight in Cambodia.

It’s more than fitting that Ti Lung was cast in A Better Tomorrow because of Mercenaries from Hong Kong. Ti even thanked Jing after winning the Golden Horse award in November, 1986. God of Gamblers was influenced by A Better Tomorrow II i.e. a man looks after a guy who has just become mentally disturbed. The guy only picks up a gun when his bodyguard is shot. Later, the guy is restored to his normal state. Back to the Woo/Wong synergy, the latter remade A Better Tomorrow as Return to a Better Tomorrow in 1994. He had the confidence after seeing the former’s Hard Target be something of a failure. Wong’s movie was less of a box office bomb.

Be that as it may, he thought that it was fair to surpass Woo by having the main character fire two shotguns at once instead of two Berettas. Wong then decided to make a sequel to God of Gamblers which, like Once a Thief, is an action comedy which begins in France (although we see less of it here). Unlike Once a Thief, Wong’s sequel broke the box office record (à la the first movie). The success allowed Jing to make High Risk – a satire of mostly U.S. action movies which featured a Chinese caricature of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s image in Hard Target. Jing had a more personal reason to lampoon that movie.

John had one-upped City Hunter by having JCVD fire a shotgun on top of a descending mechanical bird instead of firing a machine gun on top of a wired inflatable dolphin, although John later has JCVD swinging in a similar fashion to Jackie Chan (who was the main target of ridicule in High Risk). Critics were quick to note that the Chinese title of High Risk is a play on the Chinese title for Die Hard. Also, the Chinese title of Hard-Boiled (whichhas a finale inspired by Die Hard) is similar to the Chinese title of Dirty Harry. On a less symmetrical note, Jing and John have a fondness for musicals. This is more obvious in Jing’s longer filmography. However, John had directed a drama which took place in the world of Chinese opera i.e. Princess Chang Ping (1976).

Speaking of musicals, the use of Over the Rainbow in Face/Off almost echoes the use of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head during a silent montage in God of Gamblers. Jing and John had the same number of votes in 1999 when a H.K. survey was conducted to find out who’s the most popular film-maker. Both came second after Steven Spielberg. Even though Jing is mainly known for comedies and John is mainly known for dramas, they have proven they can be profitable at doing what the opposite guy can do. If John can be described as the H.K. Sam Peckinpah then Jing can be described as the H.K. Walter Hill due to the combination of diversity and quality in his many attempts at telling stories in the action genre.


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