LOS ANGELES--John Woo has a confession. In the interview room of a Los Angeles hotel, the much-copied action director, whose films include Hard Target, Face/Off, and Mission: Impossible II, says he borrows liberally from the films of his own hero.
"There is a lot of Alfred Hitchcock in there," he says of Paycheck, the Vancouver-shot film that opens on Christmas Day. "The shot of Ben [Affleck] running through the subway tunnel was inspired by North by Northwest. You have the same camera angle and a long lens. Then there is a shot of two lovebirds, which is a bit like The Birds. And there is a moment when one door opens and another door closes and the camera keeps following him. That was much like the way that Hitchcock created the suspense in Psycho. The pace that we use and the whole idea of a man searching for truth and clues to who he is comes from [The] 39 Steps. I love Hitchcock movies and I think most filmmakers have learned so much from his movies."
Paycheck stars Affleck as a techno wiz who volunteers beforehand to shed all memory of the three years it will take for him to complete an eight-figure-salary job. When the job is completed, he finds there is no money but that there are a lot of people out to kill him. Chase scenes have always been Woo's forte, but he says he believes you can't care about the action if you don't care about the characters.
"I love to work with great actors," he says. "That is one of the reasons I wanted to be a filmmaker. I feel that my kind of movie is not just about action, it is also about characters. I always focus on the character and the performance."
If the action and characters are of equal importance to Woo, he is also interested in telling a story that will have a lasting effect.
"I wanted to say something through the movie," he says. "So I chose the topic of the film with that in mind. When I got this script I was very excited because it allowed me to send some good messages. Philosophically, it is about a man who hands over control over his destiny so his only escape is to change that destiny. In Asia there are a lot of young kids who see no hope for their lives, and so people have asked me to encourage them. When I read this script [based on a story by Philip K. Dick] I felt it represented a good opportunity to do that. I wanted the movie to show that there is hope and a lot of good people around, and so they should not feel alone and they should try to change their destinies, like this character. I suggested to the writer, 'Let's cut down the sci-fi here' and end up with a meaningful film. Then I put my focus on the character and the drama and changed the tone of the movie. Originally it was a very depressing sci-fi movie, but I changed it to give people hope."