John Woo is talking up the legacy of his 2002 WWII drama “Windtalkers.”

The acclaimed action director revisited the film in a wide-ranging New Yorker interview marking his first U.S. film in 20 years, “Silent Night.” Woo addressed how studio MGM let him reign free on “Windtalkers,” which reunited him with “Face/Off” actor Nicolas Cage. The film follows a Marine (Cage) who is assigned to protect a Navajo code talker (Adam Beach) during the Battle of Saipan.

“The studio, MGM, let me do what I wanted to, especially if I wanted to make changes,” Woo said. “At the beginning, I argued quite a lot with the writers. They didn’t want to change their original idea, which was to follow one character’s painful inner struggle.”

He continued, “Cage was pretty much like a John Wayne type, but I wanted to change the movie to be more about friendship. I wanted to change the story so that, at the end, he’s friends with his Native American partner, and they appreciate each other. I also wanted to change the Native American character from being cold-blooded to being a more heartwarming person. The writers didn’t completely like that idea, so we argued a lot. In the end, the studio sided with me: ‘It’s O.K., John, go ahead and do it.’”

Woo noted that the production, however, was plagued with further issues.

“Unfortunately, so many terrible things happened while we shot ‘Windtalkers.’ We had very bad weather, for example,” Woo said. “There were heavy rains for over a month while we were on location, so we lost a lot of money. I still love that movie, and tried to make all the war scenes as realistic as we could.”

Woo also reflected on “Face/Off,” the iconic film that pits Cage against John Travolta in a mafia game of cat and mouse. The then-president of Paramount Pictures, Sherry Lansing, essentially gave Woo the freedom to go full-throttle, complete with his signature white doves as props.

“Before we started shooting, [Sherry] gathered everybody, including producers, writers, and key people from the studio, and said, ‘Don’t give him any notes. All I want is a John Woo movie,’” Woo said. “I was so grateful. Everybody was so surprised, too. Usually the director gets a lot of notes from everybody. But, no, Sherry Lansing set me free, so I was able to collaborate with the screenwriters at the end.”

Woo added that “Face/Off” was “originally a science-fiction movie,” but he swapped out “90 to 95 percent of the planned visual effects” to instead emphasize traditional action elements.

“I also set it in the modern day, or something like ten years from now, not so far away. I also wanted more of a dramatic focus,” he said. “The original story idea was pretty simple: the good guy exchanges faces with the bad guy to break up his criminal organization and save the world. I changed the story so that the good guy’s also saving his own son.”

Woo added, “At the beginning, some people at the studio got a little worried. They weren’t sure if action fans would accept this kind of movie, because action fans want to see action, not a drama. But we did a test screening, and people loved it.”

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