Sunday, September 14, 1997


By ANIKA VAN WYK -- Calgary Sun
The cream at the top of Hollywood's A-list are clamoring to work with John

The highly successful Hong Kong action director was convinced to work in
North America by such stars as Jean Claude Van Damme (Hard Target), John
Travolta (Broken Arrow) and Nicolas Cage (Face/Off).

But when it came to converting his action caper film Once a Thief into a
television series, it was Alliance and a couple of Canadians who wooed the
great Woo.

John Woo's Once A Thief airs Fridays at 8 p.m on DE.

Executive producers and writers Glenn Davis and William Laurin were first
brought in to do the well-received TV movie, and are now at the helm of the
cutting-edge series.

"I wish there was a romantic story about how we got involved, but basically
we were called by our agency and asked if we wanted to meet John Woo," says
Laurin. "We thought it was a trick question," he adds, laughing.

"Woo is quite involved in the show. He reads all the scripts and is very
involved in choosing the directors (including Calgarian John Fawcett)."

The one-hour adventure show about a team of crime-fighting specialists is
definitely quirky -- there is the romance mixed with balletic violence that
Woo's famous for, but of course it's toned down for TV audiences.

"I don't find the show violent -- really the violent scenes are big
choreographed dances. We think of violence in the same way the old westerns
and Errol Flynn swashbucklers did," says Davis.

"I guarantee you haven't seen this before. It's pure entertainment -- it's a
ride and sometimes we wink at the audience and say `aren't you having fun',"
explains Davis.

His partner agrees: "The show reproduces the feel of Woo's Hong Kong movies.
It's an ironic show, and at first people can find it difficult to understand
that the guns, action and comedy go together."

The show stars Genie nominated Sandrine Holt (Black Robe), Ivan Sergei
(Dangerous Minds), Nicholas Lea (The X-Files, The Commish -- former Beau
Monde singer) and Jennifer Dale (Side Effects).

Monday, August 18, 1997

TV Woo'd

Famous action director tries his hand at small screen with all-Canuck cast

Express Writer
Filmmaker John Woo is facing off in homes this fall with a new action
television series.

The offbeat Once A Thief promises to be like no other Canadian production,
vow its executive producers and writers who were in Edmonton recently.

Its unique style is cause for some concern.

"Our biggest fear is of being misunderstood,'' says William Laurin of the
Toronto-produced show, which has the distinct flavor of a Hong Kong action

"It's a very wacky, ironic, multi-layered show,'' says Laurin.

"I hope that people do get it. It's something of a challenging show. It's
not what you expect.''

Revolving around an elite crime-fighting team, the show's surface involves
plenty of over-the-top gunfights and hand-to-hand combat.

Look a little deeper and the action show is also heavy on humor, says
Laurin's partner, Glenn Davis.

Add some romance - also open to jokes - and unusual filming techniques for
television and the show is a marked departure from other action shows found
on the set.

"It's a great ride,'' says Davis. "It's meant to be fun.''

>From its over-the-top drama to skilful slow-motion shots, the series clearly
bears the hand of the highly successful Woo (Face/Off, Broken Arrow and Hard
Boiled) who has a reputation for being a maverick in the industry.

The Alliance Communication's television series, set to air Sept. 19 (CFRN at
10 p.m.) is based on the feature film Once A Thief, directed by Woo.

His first foray in TV was to direct a two-hour pilot movie of the same name,
set to air Sunday (CFRN at 9 p.m.)

The crime-fighting trio - two are refugees who fled a criminal empire in
Hong Kong - belong to an elite force in North America.

The show's all-Canadian cast includes Nicholas Lea (X-Files, Bad Company),
Sandrine Holt (Black Robe), Ivan Sergei (Dangerous Minds) and Jennifer Dale
(Side Effects, Love & Larceny.)

Woo is much more than a name on the series, says Davis.

He reads every script and looks at all cuts.

Woo's controversial approach to violence - he sees it as poetry in motion -
has been altered for TV.

While lots of bullets fly, no blood is spilled.

Despite people toting machine-guns, no one on the streets thinks to call the
police. It reinforces the fiction flavor.

"There are no long, agonizing deaths,'' says Laurin.

"The show is not by any stretch of the imagination a piece of gritty
reality. It's a hyper-real show.

"We actually run the show on a daily basis, Glenn and I, and we have a
personal aversion to violence. Our background is romantic comedy writers,''
says Laurin. "You never shake that. You just can't take the jokes out.''

The show does offer laughs in the midst of unthinkable locations, such as
the crime fighter who's complaining about job dissatisfaction in the middle
of a gun battle.

While the pair are enthusiastic about the results, they know it's ultimately
up to viewers to decide whether it's a hit or a dud.

"The most promising and encouraging thing about this show is that it's stuff
that's never been done on television before,'' says Davis.

"The most terrifying thing about this show is it's stuff that's never been
done on television before.''

Production of the 22 shows is expected to finish in December. The producers
say a U.S. broadcaster will soon join the list of those picking up the show.
It will also run in Austria, Germany and Spain.

Sunday, May 4, 1997

Shoot-'em-up director Woo a gentle soul

Toronto Sun
For a filmmaker who delights in shoot-'em-up, bullet-ripping action flicks,
revered Hong Kong director John Woo is kind of gun-shy in person.

"I'm grateful for all your talents," Woo shyly said yesterday, briefly
addressing the hooting cast and crew of his current production, Once A
Thief, a new series shooting in town. "I'm moved."

Speaking from a podium appropriately rifled with mock bulletholes, Woo
(Broken Arrow, Hard Target) screened a few minutes of the series, set to air
on CTV this fall, for the crowd gathered on the stark set on Fleet St.

Based on his two-hour TV movie of the same name, the sequence shown was
adrenalin-pumping, jumping, shooting, hurtling in slow-mo time -- pure

"Everyone likes action," says actor Ivan Sergei, who plays a street-smart
gun-slinger in the series, "John Woo is Super-Action."


The series reunites actors Sergei, Sandrine Holt, Nicholas Lea (The X-Files)
and Jennifer Dale as the handsome team of international crime busters with
little patience for the criminal element.

Described as "a romantic comedy with automatic weapons" by
writer/co-producer William Laurin, the show is in production for 22 episodes
and will cost over $30 million. It will be distributed world-wide by Alliance.

Over a much calmer lunch of dim sum and jasmin tea, producer Woo (who
clocked 282 deaths in his 1992 film, Hard-Boiled), explains his violent
streak as an actual aversion to it.

"When I was young, I had so much anger raised in a slum. My family was very
poor," he says. "Every day, I had to deal with gangs and they used to beat
me up."

Woo's gun-toting heroes, says the soft-spoken filmmaker, are really
"fighting for justice and helping others ... it's a dream I couldn't do
myself as a child."

December 10, 1996

Woo's Once a Thief to become TV series

TORONTO (CP) -- Alliance Communications of Toronto says it is going ahead
with production on a full season of Once a Thief, a martial-arts action
series based on the recent TV movie directed by John Woo.
Once a Thief turned in unimpressive ratings when broadcast on the
CanWest-Global system in September and there are no broadcast commitments
yet from either Canada or the U.S. for a series.
But Alliance decided to proceed anyway. Woo, the cult-film director who has
moved from Hong Kong to Hollywood, says he enjoyed the film shoot in
Vancouver and might even direct a few episodes of the series.
September 28, 1996

It's work that Woos Nick Lea

Toronto Sun
Over the phone and over-caffeinated, Nicholas Lea talks about the
aches and pains of an action role and the aggravation of uncertainty.
"I'm pacing around like some kind of caged animal," Lea says, jacked up
after breaking a coffee fast.
The actor is restlessly playing the waiting game until Fox decides whether
to expand tomorrow night's TV movie, John Woo's Once A Thief, into a weekly
The film, Woo's first for television, airs at 8 p.m. on Fox, at 9 on Global.
An adventure about a crime-fighting trio, two defectors from the Hong Kong
underworld, played by Ivan Sergei and Sandrine Holt, and a former cop,
played by Lea, the movie is marked by the stylish action and tongue-in-cheek
violence that are Woo's trademark.
Lea's and Sergei's characters meet in a balletic fight scene in which the
asthetically-appreciative pair take pains not to nick the furniture.
"To the two characters, it's deadly serious," Lea says of the extremely
funny sequence.
"Physically it was pretty tough. I've got to say the next day I was in some
pain. This is one of the first jobs I've had where I show up every day with
elbow pads and knee pads."
Executive producers Glenn Davis and William Laurin describe Lea's character,
ex-detective Victor Mansfield, as a "Gen-X Steve McQueen."
"Wow. I'll take that as a compliment," says Lea.
"But right from the beginning when I read the script I saw this guy as
having more of an edge than I think they saw. They wanted him to be the
everyman kind of guy that everyone could relate to. I saw him as being much
darker but that's sort of my take about a lot of things anyway. I like to
look for the dark side, the incomplete side, of characters."
Fox has ordered six more Once A Thief scripts and is considering it as a
midseason series. Lea signed a standard five-year contract and until the
network votes yea or nay, is obligated to remain available.
"You have to sit back and wait and I'm not good at that. I get a little
impatient," he admits.
"I'm still trying to find a way to creatively fill my time when I'm not
working. For the first week, I sort of feel like I deserve it, even though
that might not quite be the truth, but I just like to work. As an actor,
when you're not working, you're going, 'What am I? What the hell am I?'"
What Lea is is a Vancouver native who studied art at college and sang lead
for the alternative rock band Beau Monde before breaking into acting.
Although he still plays and sings on his own time, he's yet to have a
singing role on TV or film.
"Hopefully one of these years," he says. "Like another Eddie And The
Cruisers would be cool."
Suddenly, there's a low buzz on the phone line.
"Maybe there's some surveillance going on," Lea jokes, in a paranoid fashion
in keeping with his best-known role as The X-Files' duplicitous FBI Agent
Krycek was last seen alien-infested, locked in a secret military bunker and
presumably done for.
"Nine lives," Lea presumes of plans for at least two more Krycek episodes,
although he doesn't know yet how he managed to cheat death.
"I know nothing. I'm going to call and see if they can give me something,
like if I should stop eating now if Krycek's supposed to be totally
emaciated or whether he was kept in kind of a time-suspended-animation
thing. I'm really curious."

PHOTO: DOUBLE DUTY ... Nick Lea plays a former policeman in John Woo's Once
A Thief. The actor also portrays the duplicitous FBI agent Krycek on The

September 27, 1996

Once A Thief is vintage John Woo

Ottawa Sun
Fans of Hong Kong director John Woo's movies will spot his signature all
over his first TV offering.
Once A Thief cashes in on the slow-motion
horizontal-dive-while-dodging-bullets, the airborne somersaults and the
vintage Woo shots of foes locked in a pistol-aimed-at-the-head showdown of
mutually assured destruction that have made Woo films famous.
While this dance-inspired violence is becoming standard action-movie fare,
it's a blast watching it straight from the maker, who infuses it with humor.
Once A Thief is a high-speed romp from the Hong Kong mob world to its
subsidiary, Vancouver.
Sandrine Holt and Ivan Sergei are young lovers, Li Ann and Mac, who want to
escape their adopted "Godfather," who has trained them for a life of crime.
Of course, it's a choice that ends in mayhem -- exploding buildings, traps
and plot twists -- not to mention a change in locale.
In Vancouver, Mac and Li Ann have just enough time for an awkward reunion
before they're plying their trade for an underground crime-fighting unit
alongside Li Ann's new fiance, Victor (Nicholas Lea). Their first
assignment: Stopping the spread of their ex-family's crime ring.
The best scenes in the movie are between Mac and Victor, who rival each
other for Li Ann's affections. They first meet in a beautifully
choreographed scene at Li Ann's apartment, with the two men stalking each
other with roses intended for her.
Another is a direct take from Woo's original Once A Thief (1991) with the
two daredevils swinging from a chandelier as they steal a Rembrandt from a
distant wall. The catch? The floor will electrocute them if they fall.
Mistrust and in-fighting between Holt, Sergei and Lea results in repartee
verging on corny, but they manage to pull it off -- and make us hope for
more cases for the odd trio to tackle.
With possible plans for Once A Thief to go to series, we just may get that

September 25, 1996

Working with Woo

Ottawa Sun
When a William Morris agent asked writer-producer Bill Laurin if he'd like
to talk to legendary action director John Woo about a TV project, it sounded
like a rhetorical question.
" `Do you want to meet John Woo?' is like, `Do you want to go out with Helen
Hunt?' Yeah sure," recalls Laurin.
At the time, the Hong Kong director's cult movies (The Killer, 1989,
Hard-Boiled, 1992) were not in wide circulation, but Woo-style
"violence-as-ballet" had been popularized by the maker of Reservoir Dogs and
Pulp Fiction.
"It began with (Quentin) Tarantino telling everyone quite truthfully that
90% of what he did was John Woo. People would be scouring the obscure video
stores in Chinatown looking for the guy's work," says Laurin, over the phone
from Toronto.
Laurin and partner Glenn Davis, who have written and produced such TV
projects as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, emerged from the Woo meeting with a
stack of Woo videos, thinking he was "the most charming, brilliant,
interesting guy."
After what Laurin calls "24 stunning hours" of Woo-watching, he realized
working with the director would be unlike any prior television he'd done.
"This is as close as I've ever been to a guy who's just a genius," says
Laurin of Woo, whose only other North American fare is Hollywood's Hard
Target (1993) and Broken Arrow (1994).
Once A Thief, a made-for-TV remake of a 1991 movie of the same name by Woo,
is the final product of the fateful meeting. It airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on
It's produced by Alliance Communications for Global and Fox, and might go to
The action centres on two adopted members (Li Ann Tsei, played by Sandrine
Holt and Mac Ramsey, played by Ivan Sergei) of a Hong Kong mob family, the
Tangs, who decide to escape.
When their escape plans literally blow up in their face, the two lovers are
separated. But we meet them again when both are recruited by an underground
crime-fighting unit based in Vancouver -- to form a team with Li Ann's new
fiance Victor (Nicholas Lea) under an icy boss, played by Jennifer Dale.
Woo's genius lies, Laurin found, in tossing out the rule books and giving
the camera a life of its own.
"No matter how you conceive of a scene when you write it, when John comes to
put it on its feet, the camera is never where you think it's going to be. He
has the power to give the camera its own psychology separate from what the
obvious psychology of the scene is."
In a bedroom scene in which Li Ann and Mac decide to break free from the
Tangs, the lighting shifts between golden yellow and stark white -- a
jarring Woo touch.
Laurin says the crew was kind of alarmed when filming it, wondering if they
should tell Woo his lighting was off.
"It's a good example of John not caring about a rule. The network was very
good about not giving notes on John's style, but normally we would have had
executives screaming at us."
Laurin and Davis wrote the script -- with only a few interjections from Woo.
The opening scene was rewritten as a tango contest at Woo's request. Coming
from a former dance teacher and a man known for his ultra-stylized violence,
it all made sense, even it went against type, says Laurin.
"After all, how many action pictures open with a tango?"
And one scene written completely by Woo happens as Mac breaks into Li Ann's
Vancouver apartment. He and Victor stalk each other with bouquets of roses
in place of guns.
"He wanted to do a variation of his famous scene with two people with guns
to each other's head -- it's from The Killer."
The lighthearted interlude in a movie full of gunfire, Laurin suggests, is
closer to Woo's heart than hardcore violence.
"John feels to a certain extent he's misunderstood by North American
audiences. What he really wants to do is very romantic, slightly ironic --
that's why he picked us," says Laurin, adding he and Davis are "more
Moonlighting than Die Hard."

September 24, 1996

Woo hoping to gun down viewers with TV movie

Canadian Press
TORONTO -- The King of Gunfire is what they call him in the film world.
But John Woo, the revered Hong Kong action director now lured to Hollywood,
says he's really a former hippie who detests violence and yearns to make a
musical, maybe with John Travolta.
Picture that.
"I'm singin' in the rain ... rat-a-tat-tat, blam, blam!!!"
Woo is promoting Once a Thief, his first stab at a made-for-TV movie and the
pilot for a possible series he would oversee. Shot for Canada's Alliance
Productions, this remake of one of his earlier Hong Kong violence-as-ballet
cult hits airs Sunday night on the CanWest Global system and Fox TV.
Understandably the shooting schedule and budget are smaller than what
American studios provided him for big-screen fare like Hard Target and
Broken Arrow. But Woo says while he never watched TV except for the news, he
fell in love with the medium.
Why? Because TV people are like soldiers, admirable for their passion and
willingness to slug it out for long hours in the trenches with no complaints.
"To make a TV movie is like going to war. You have to fight and try to
survive every minute, every second. That's what I like, just to keep
working, working."
TV is closer to the tight-fisted, no-nonsense filmmaking he was used to in
Asian cinema, Woo says -- and a far cry from Hollywood's frustrating star
perks, waste-of-time corporate meetings and ironclad rules and regulations.
He was surprised, for example, to be told that an American film hero must be
squeaky clean, shouldn't fire guns too often and cannot die in the end.
Will Once a Thief still deliver the beautifully choreographed action Woo
fans expect?
"Oh yes! We've got it all!" he insists, conceding only the blood had to be
toned down for prime time.
The film also caused Woo to fall in love with the energy of Vancouver which
made him homesick for his native Hong Kong, which will soon fall under
Chinese rule.
And he insists the plot, about Asian gangsters transplanted to Vancouver,
was not contrived simply to take advantage of the usual economic benefits of
filming in Canada.
"The city is really beautiful, so that's why we decided to make the story
Woo also plans to make movies in Toronto under an exclusive TV production
deal signed with Alliance.
And he wants to work again with Graham Yost, the young Canadian screenwriter
who broke into Hollywood with his hit script for Speed. Woo directed Yost's
second effort, Broken Arrow with Travolta.
"I think the great thing about Graham is not only can he create a lot of
great action sequences, I also like the way he creates a character," says Woo.
"His characters are very human and humorous, and very interesting."
Once a Thief's stars are all young unknowns who bring a cocky charm to their
roles -- especially Ivan Sergei as Mac, the adopted son of a Hong Kong
godfather who flees to Canada in an attempt to go straight.
The lanky and droll Sergei admits the role is not only fun but has the
potential to catapult him into stardom.
"You get paid to be a kid, and these guys make you look great!"

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