The wake of Sept. 11 would have seemed the perfect opportunity for a film trumpeting the heroism of American soldiers. But for Woo, time just wasn’t on his side. His ”Windtalkers,” about the relationship between a World War II Navajo ”code talker” (Beach) and his Marine protector (Cage), was originally slated for release last November, but despite having three editors working simultaneously during postproduction, he still had to ask MGM to extend the deadline. ”We couldn’t afford to do anything wrong,” says the director. ”I didn’t want to make a joke out of this because it’s a very serious movie.”
Serious enough that Woo, best known for ”Mission: Impossible 2” and ”Face/Off,” admits to being so moved by the writers’ pitch that he cried. Not that he’s gone totally soft: The film has its share of bombs, blood, and down-and-dirty action. In fact, the actors, who spent the requisite week in movie boot camp, were still unprepared for the scope of the battle scenes. ”In one of the biggest,” says Woo, ”we had 280 bombs on the field…and I was using 13 cameras.” Slater admits the combat scenario brought a moment of panic: ”I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, but one of the script supervisors said when the first bomb went off, she heard me say ‘Holy s—!’ and then I just started to run my ass off.” The shoot was risky enough that Woo ”suggested using stunt doubles…but all the actors wanted to do it themselves.” What about insurance liability? ”We didn’t let the studio know.” It knows now.