Film Reviews

Hong Kong and Vine

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NT: How did they prepare for these complicated character issues?
JW: Nick and John and I spent some time rehearsing all in one room and having a long discussion about the characters. They both created the characters and then talked to each other and imitated each other. For instance, John threw out some ideas for when he was playing the good guy, then Nick would make some suggestions for John as a good guy. Then, during the shooting, I did some experimenting: Most of their scenes were separate, so whenever I finished shooting with one of them, I'd cut his scene together fast and show the scene to the other one, so he could see how he was playing the character.

These two actors, I have to tell you, it was the most wonderful experience I've ever had: They have no jealousy. They were so polite and humble and respectful of each other. Every day, whenever they came to the set, all they talked about was the character and the scene. Even if one of them wasn't in the scene, he'd often be on the set, talking to the other to see how he worked . . . to learn from him. They were like two brothers . . . actually, better than brothers, because there were no fights or jealousy. They were just happy to be working together.

NT: The intensity of the performances is reminiscent of your Hong Kong films.

JW: At first, they were playing the emotional scenes a little more subtle--the traditional American way. But they really wanted to do something a little more real. So, after the first day, I said, "Let's try it another way: my way. You want to cry--just cry; you want to laugh--just laugh. You want to hit the wall--do it. You want to smash the table--smash the table. You want to sit down--just sit down. Just do it exactly how you feel." Wow! That opened everyone up. It made John and Joan Allen and Nick Cage very happy, so we tried it that way. Some people think that's maybe too over the top, but it gives the actors a lot of room to explore themselves.

So we only do one or two takes for each setup. And then that was it. And everyone felt great, because all the emotions were real. And it kept things interesting for me: I've already seen the whole movie in my mind, so I like to have new things happening every day. I usually see the actors move first, then I set up the cameras. But, sometimes, after I've set up all those cameras and we're shooting, suddenly they'll come up with something from their instinct. They'll just do it. Usually something that wasn't in the script or in the rehearsal. That really excites me.

Like the scene in the clinic, when [the hero] wakes up, having become Nick Cage. In the rehearsal, he looked in the mirror and got up and laughed and got mad and grabbed the stand and smashed the mirror; that was it, and it was great. But, when we were shooting, he got up and laughed and got mad and smashed the mirror and suddenly he turned, yelling and screaming at his friends, "Fuckyoufuckyoufuckyou!" That part came from his instincts at that moment, and he went off-camera yelling at the people and changing his lines. I was so surprised. It was great. And I felt great about it. Of course, then I had to say, "Nick, sorry about that, but none of the cameras caught it. How about we do it again?"

That kind of happening really excites me. And that's what I usually do. It's really the same thing I did in Hong Kong with Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung. That's why this movie really touches a lot of the audience--because some of the moments were so real, and not as black and white as in the script.

NT: Your more rabid fans may still expect your Hollywood films to be exactly like your Hong Kong films--even down to Chow Yun-Fat flying through the air with both guns blazing. But you've done a lot of things in your career. Would you have continued making the same kinds of films if you had stayed in Hong Kong?

JW: I don't think I would have done too many more. I probably would have done a couple, but I always want to change and try something else. I love that the fans are so much supportive and so appreciative of my style, and, whether in Hong Kong or here, I would always keep my own style. But not always the same topics. It depends on my mood and how I feel about the world and the society.

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Andy Klein