John Woo And Oliver Stone Had A Kung-Fu Project That Never Made It To Production

While some folks might boil him down to dual-wielding handguns and doves, John Woo has had a long and varied directing career. His first full directorial debut was way back in 1974 on the kung fu action flick "The Young Dragons." After directing several action and comedy films, Woo finally found his calling with 1986's "A Better Tomorrow."

"A Better Tomorrow" was a very modern action film for its time. It stars Ti Lung and Leslie Cheung as brothers on two sides of the law, with the former being a Triad and the latter becoming a police trainee. It also features Chow Yun-Fat in an amazing turn as Mark Lee, the criminal brother's best friend. Gun fu, doves, and the entire "Heroic Bloodshed" genre that defined Woo all began in "A Better Tomorrow."

Those Heroic Bloodshed films, including "A Better Tomorrow," "The Killer," and "Hard Boiled," were the films that caught the eye of producers and fellow filmmakers on the international scene. While Woo's first Hollywood film would be "Hard Target" in 1993, it wasn't the first project that he was in talks for. Nor the second!

Looking For a Better Tomorrow with Oliver Stone

In a look back at the creation of "Hard Target" with The Hollywood Reporter, Woo talked about the first projects he was offered in his transition to Hollywood. He mentioned that his first call came in 1991 during the filming of "Hard Boiled" from then-20th Century Fox executive vice president Tom Jacobson, who offered Woo several scripts. Woo said that Jacobson had a "high interest" in producing a film with him, but doesn't explain where the talks fell apart.

The second call Woo received was from legendary filmmaker Oliver Stone. "The second call was from Oliver Stone. And we [met in Paris during the Cannes Film Festival] and had a great meeting, and he wanted to produce a movie for me," he told THR. "He gave me a script. It was a modern kung-fu movie set in South Asia and Los Angeles — called Kato, or Ballistic — and the star was a Korean-American actor, Phillip Rhee."

It's surprising that an action film with Woo was on Oliver Stone's radar. At the time, the director's last three films — "Born of the Fourth of July," "The Doors," and "JFK" — were all autobiographical or historic in nature, and he was working on "Heaven & Earth," another biographical war drama. Even his producer credits leaned towards drama, including 1992's "Zebrahead" and 1992's "South Central".

Philip Rhee was an upcoming action star at the time, having co-starred in "Silent Assassins" and "Best of the Best," the latter of which he received story credit for. Woo even shared a brief action scene he had planned for the film. "I liked the script, and I even had an idea for a butterfly scene," he explained. "The main character is practicing martial arts and a butterfly [lands on him], so he holds the butterfly in his palm and keeps practicing."

An almost impossible mission

Sadly, the Oliver Stone film didn't work out. While Woo was a veteran director in Hong Kong by this point, Hollywood still considered him a neophyte. Woo had a good working relationship with Stone, but executives weren't willing to pay him enough to shoot the film.

"Mr. Stone gave me great respect and also help me to team up with a very good crew, but the film didn't work out. It was a Warner Bros. production," he explained. "My agent and partner said the studio treated me like a first-time director and didn't give me respectful pay. I was quite disappointed because I greatly admire Oliver Stone and I really wanted to learn something from him."

It's a shame, because Woo had done a number of classic martial arts films, but his Hollywood projects tended toward straight action and gunplay like his Heroic Bloodshed films. We never got to see what a modern kung fu with Woo at the helm would've looked like. Woo wouldn't return to that older style until 2010's "Reign of Assassins," which was a Chinese production.

Later in his career, Woo would even follow Oliver Stone on another Hollywood picture. Tom Cruise originally tried to partner with his "Born on the Fourth of July" director for a "Mission: Impossible" sequel. When the Stone version of the film stalled out, Woo joined the project, ultimately releasing "Mission: Impossible 2" in 2000.