It’s been a long road back to Hollywood for John Woo. His last American film was the science fiction film directed by Ben Affleck SalaryIt was a commercial success that was largely dismissed by critics. That was a full 20 years ago. However, in 2023, one of the greatest minds in action films returns to the United States A quiet nighta largely dialogue-free revenge thriller in which the legendary director reinvents his style once again.
Wu has not been gone since SalaryI just got out of Hollywood and I’m working in China. His output at that time included some historical dramas (most notably the two-part epic Red Cliff) and action and thriller film Chase. While there were some gems there, Wu has since told Polygon that Salaryhe was not happy with the limited projects available to him.
“In China, it’s all I can do [were] “Historical films,” Wu says. “In America, since I’ve been hired as a big-budget filmmaker, there are a lot of great scripts for small productions [I want to direct]But they will never come to me. So I was very frustrated, and I was very limited. All I could do was a big commercial action movie. I never got a real script.
Wu was waiting for the right project for his next step, and he found it A quiet night. Robert Archer Lane’s script included no dialogue, which immediately struck Wu as a challenge, allowing him to reinvent the way he thought about his films. Wu grew up as a fan of silent cinema, especially Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. But he told Polygon that he deliberately avoided using those movements as reference points in favor of relying on his instincts.
The film’s gimmick presented some limitations and obstacles, but Woo was more interested in trying to make an action film that felt more cohesive than the highly stylized, melodramatic action for which he was known.
“[It was good] “To try something new,” Wu says. “I’ve made a really big change [to] my style. It doesn’t look like much of a Hollywood movie. All the action sequences, brought more realism [approach]. Some of the events are not over the top, and all of the events work to the benefit of the character and the human story.
Photo: Carlos Latapi/Lionsgate
This story follows Brian Goodluck (Joel Kinnaman), a father whose young son, an innocent bystander, is killed on Christmas Eve after a drive-by shooting by local gang members. While chasing the perpetrators, Brian was shot in the throat, and lost his ability to speak. A year (and a training montage) later, Brian is ready for revenge.
While Woo tries a different, more consistent approach A quiet nightHowever, his connection to the emotional elements of his stories is still very present. Brian’s wife, Saya (Catalina Sandino Moreno), is also grieving the loss of their son, and Wu’s camera (and the film’s silence) focuses on the pain. Brian wants to express his anger but doesn’t know how, especially without using his voice.
The film’s most effective emotional beats come in the dream sequences, in which Brian imagines himself playing with his son, or lying in bed, before waking up to stark reality. The lighting suddenly changes in those moments, as toys and colorful lights are quickly replaced by the dull colors of life without their son. These moments were initially flashbacks, but together Woo and Kinnaman came up with the idea of a dream sequence, allowing scene changes to occur in-camera to greater effect.
“In the script, there was a flashback,” Wu says. “He was playing with toys with his son. It was very boring to watch, and then Joel Kinnaman turned to me and said, ‘What if I dreamed that I was sleeping next to my son?'” So I removed all the flashbacks, and said, ‘Okay, let’s do it all in one take.’
Woo has Kinnaman lie on the bed and close his eyes as the camera zooms into close-up. Then, Brian’s son (Anthony Giulietti) sleeps with him, and the camera pulls back to see them both. Finally, the camera pans into another close-up, and when it pulls back, his son has disappeared. “The dream is over,” Wu said.
“I really like to see how actors feel in a particular scene,” he says. “I like to incorporate their whole thought and emotion into the scene.”
These dream sequences aren’t the only stylish scenes shot at once; It’s a John Woo movie, after all. A quiet night He shines in the action scenes, of which there are many in the back half of the film. Two in particular stand out: a close-quarters battle with a gangster in the garage, and a battle against an entire group of gangsters as Brian travels up the stairs in their base of operations. Both were mostly shot in one continuous take.
“It felt very real, very powerful,” Wu says of the garage scene. “I had only used a similar technique in my Hong Kong films, but for a Hollywood film, this was a first for me.”
The staircase sequence was particularly challenging due to how tight the location was and the number of extras involved in the shot, which sees Brian fighting through four floors of stairs. Wu says his team only had one day to rehearse and one day to film the sequence.
“The stunt team was very excited, they had never tried it before,” says Wu. “And Joel Kinnaman, he’s a really good actor. He’s not a superhero or super fighter type, so he feels very real. So our actions feel real, too.”
While Woo may have mastered the single action sequence in Legendary hospital sequence in Hard boiled, it’s not a technique he relies on again and again in his films. But the action master clearly has been thinking about it: He told Polygon that he’s sick and tired of fight sequences that use too many jump cuts and shaky camera techniques.
“It’s hard to read what they’re doing, how they’re fighting,” Wu says. “They’re trying to get that feeling, but the feeling isn’t enough. It looks fake to me. They use this kind of technique because the actor can’t fight. That’s the only impression they give me. I like long fights, because they make the audience feel like they’re real, and they have Real impact.
Photo: Carlos Latapi/Lionsgate
While there are recognizable Woo calling cards (including Scott “Kid Cody” Mescudi’s dual-wielding pistols, at Mescudi’s specific request), A quiet night He approaches John Woo’s work from a different point of view. Without dialogue, the film leans into other elements of sound design, with several large car wrecks and large shootouts containing a very satisfying soundtrack.
But John Woo’s big calling card in everyone’s minds is the doves. Doves appear in many of Woo’s films, and it seems like this movie might be too serious to include that light touch. This was Wu’s intention, but his crew had other plans, and they almost roguely attacked the director.
“I tried [not to have doves]“To do it a little differently,” Wu says. “But my cast and crew weren’t happy about it. So my art department made fun of me. And in one shot in the street, they painted a picture of me and a dove on the wall. Because they all missed her, and they all wanted to have her. And it ended up in the movie [anyway]”.
A quiet night In theaters December 1.
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