What the director watches for inspiration for ''Face/Off'' and more

By Donald Liebenson
Updated July 18, 1997 at 04:00 AM EDT

Hong Kong director John Woo has long enjoyed a fervent following among discriminating action buffs. And now his Hollywood films — Hard Target, Broken Arrow, and the current hit Face/Off — have recent converts checking out such early Woo masterworks as Bullet in the Head, Hard Boiled, and The Killer. But what has Woo been checking out? Vintage stuff by and large, and not just Sam Peckinpah, though he does list that past master of balletic violence among his idols. ”I have so many,” he says. ”Hitchcock and Truffaut are two. Stanley Kubrick. I try to make homages to old-time movies.”

To prepare for Face/Off and its switcheroo story, Woo watched director John Frankenheimer’s Seconds (1966, Paramount), which stars Rock Hudson as plastic surgery’s highest achievement. ”I love Frankenheimer movies,” he says. ”The opening is great. The images are a surprise.” More recently, the flashy Steve McQueen-Faye Dunaway thriller The Thomas Crown Affair (1968, MGM/UA) was in Woo’s VCR. ”I watched this because I am going to make a heist movie, King’s Ransom. This was very charming and very romantic. I always wanted to make a movie full of suspense, elegance, charm, and excitement.”