Art of War, The : Production Notes

Movie PosterWesley Snipes stars in Art of War, The (2000), an international thriller set against the high-stakes corridors of the United Nations. The film also stars Anne Archer (Clear And Present Danger (1994) , Short Cuts (1993) ) as Shaw’s supervisor, Hooks, an ambitious FBI agent; Maury Chaykin (Entrapment (1999) ) as Capella; Marie Matiko (Corruptor, The (1999) ) as Julia Fang, the U.N. translator who is Shaw’s only ally; and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Chan, the ruthless businessman Shaw suspects of being the mastermind behind the plot; with Michael Biehn (Aliens (1986) , the upcoming Cherry Falls (2000) ) as Shaw’s American agent partner, Bly; and Donald Sutherland (Instinct (1999) , Time To Kill, A (1996) ) as U.N. Secretary General Thomas. Also featured in the cast are James Hong (Red Corner (1997) ), as Ambassador Wu, and Liliana Komorowska (Assignment, The (1997) ) as Novak.

Directed by Christian Duguay (TV’s 'Joan of Arc', Assignment, The (1997) ) from a screenplay by Wayne Beach and Simon Barry and story by Wayne Beach , the film is produced by Nicolas Clermont (Eye Of The Beholder (1999) This Is My Father (1998) , Monument Avenue) for Franchise Pictures. Elie Samaha , Dan Halsted and Wesley Snipes are the executive producers.

Morgan Creek Productions, Inc. and Franchise Pictures and Amen Ra Films present a Filmline International Production of a film by Christian Duguay , Wesley Snipes stars in Art of War, The (2000) . The film is distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Internationally acclaimed box office star Wesley Snipes portrays Neil Shaw, who works with an elite team of covert agents so deeply classified they don’t officially exist. "We’re fixers," says Snipes. "We’re the guys who do the things that others take all the credit for, whatever that is. We make problems go away. Or cause problems where necessary."


Snipes, who has starred in such recent action hits as Blade (1998) and U.S. Marshals (1998) , sees Shaw as equal parts physical prowess and mental acuity. "He’s not just a guy from the streets and he’s not just a guy from the back rooms of Washington, D.C.," says the actor. "The combination is very unusual for today’s films. He’s comfortable with not necessarily taking sides. He is also a Buddhist, which colors his work and his outlook on the world. And at the same time this role gives me the opportunity to use the martial arts, in which I have some experience. So the mix is interesting to me."

Michael Biehn stars as Shaw’s partner, Bly. "We’re like brothers," says Biehn. Biehn, who is used to playing the all-business military officer in films like Navy SEALs (1990) and Aliens (1986) , sees Bly as the more playful half of the team. "Even though what Bly is doing is very intense, he takes it like it’s all just a game, but a big game -- the kind that makes Shaw and Bly tick. They are in service to a government that has tangled political reasons for what they do, but to us it’s like a chess match in which we try to one-up each other and our enemies. And that’s really where you get a lot of the Art of War, trying to subtly take advantage of your opponent."

The Art of War is an ancient handbook by Sun Tsu, a powerful Asian general who believed that wars can be won without ever having to actually fight. Many great generals, including Napoleon, utilized Sun Tsu’s philosophy in defeating their enemies. Its tenets are as applicable to the world of business and politics as they are to war.

"It's about strategy, manipulation and control, all the way through," says director Christian Duguay , who previously directed the acclaimed telefilm 'Joan of Arc' and the feature thriller Assignment, The (1997) . "We shot much of the film through mirrors to convey the subtleties, strategies and manipulations going on. What you’re seeing is often the wrong side of the image. The whole film is based on the theme of manipulation and the idea that things are not what they appear (those are the central themes of Art of War, The (2000) ). I adopted that metaphor for the cinematographic style of the film. That's exactly the way we play it. We even finish the film that way, in the hallways of the U.N. building, with one character manipulating the other, who is manipulating still another, etc. That's what I think makes this film very unique and exciting."

With a star of Snipes’ caliber at the center of the film, Duguay assembled an acclaimed cast that possessed intelligence and ease with the material. Notes Duguay, "The characters are carefully written in the script but each of these cast members brought so much more to the role, actors like Wesley Snipes , Anne Archer , Donald Sutherland , Michael Biehn and Maury Chaykin . They are so different from one another, but all so spot-on for their roles."

Award-winning actor Donald Sutherland , legendary star of such recent films as Space Cowboys (2000) , Instinct (1999) and JFK (1991) and a Canadian himself, was the perfect choice to play a Canadian diplomat. "The character I play is the Secretary General of the United Nations, and I play a Canadian, which gives me great delight," says Sutherland. "I have an opportunity in the course of the script to expose some of the differences between Canadians and Americans. Robertson Davies defined the difference between the Canadian and the American as a question of frontiers. For Americans, the frontier is the Far West and their hero is an outlaw. For Canadians, the frontier is the Far North and our hero is a mounted policeman. And inherent in that is the different structure of the two characters."

Sutherland also contributed the idea of casting a woman in the role of Hooks, the iron-fisted chief of security at the United Nations, who guides and suggests to the Secretary General certain actions to be taken and yet knows when to retreat when her boss disagrees. Anne Archer was excited to play a woman with such control. Says Archer, "I think that Eleanor Hooks applies the whole strategy of the Art of War, sabotaging just enough to ensure that everything falls apart without the necessity of fighting a real war. You can do it in a much more subtle and covert way, and I think that Eleanor Hooks understands that strategy quite well. She has always worked behind the scenes in espionage with the CIA and National Security Agency. So, she knows it well and is not afraid to apply it."

"It’s not a character you expect to see me playing, which makes it particularly interesting," adds the actress. The character of Cappella was specifically written with actor Maury Chaykin in mind. Duguay and Chaykin met while shooting the miniseries 'Joan of Arc' the previous year. "I had a great time with Christian on 'Joan of Arc' and was very impressed with him as a director," says Chaykin. "He is both a real gentleman, extremely talented, and incredibly enthusiastic about whatever he does."

Chaykin agrees the character he plays in Art of War, The (2000) is perfectly in tune with his personality. "I think because it seemed to me to be one of the only elements of humor in the script, and that’s what was attractive to me," he says. "Normally I’m not particularly attracted to thrillers or mysteries or things like that. But this character was very much like me, had a sensibility that was very much like mine, I think, so that’s what attracted me to it."

Another complex character in this tale of deception is David Chan, the ruthless businessman Shaw suspects of being the mastermind behind the apparent sabotage of the agreement with China. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa , who plays him, sees Chan as "a hybrid," says the actor. "He’s one of those cowboys that everyone forgot to add into their mix when they were checking out the enemy’s strength and weaknesses. He’s stuck between the two cultures, but he has a vision that is beyond the two cultures. He has a chunk of the East, of course, that he brings, but he also knows the West. And he has to deal with both sides in order to forward his vision."

Marie Matiko also stars as Julia, the U.N. translator who plays a key role in Shaw’s uncovering of the conspiracy. "The beauty of the script is that it brings out the strengths of the East and the strengths of the West equally," says Matiko, "and the universality of both."

Matiko feels her character Julia perfectly illustrates this dichotomy: "On the outside, Julia is trying to be a New Yorker. Her mannerisms, the way she talks, the way she looks -- it’s all New York. She is from Asia and her roots are still in Asia, but outwardly she’s very American."

The production team commenced their work in Montreal, Duguay’s home turf. Says Duguay, "I think shooting in Montreal was the biggest asset because I knew everyone in the crew. Everyone on every level, from the cast to the crew, believed we were doing something special."

In the middle of filming, Duguay assembled some footage into a sequence which he showed the crew. "It really got them involved in the success of the film in spite of the long hours," he remembers. For the Hong Kong and New York City sequences, Duguay and his team decided to re-create the cities but enrich it with the help of digital imaging. Stunts were also a key element to the action. In the pulse-pounding opening sequence in which Shaw must escape from the top of a skyscraper by jumping off the building -- but only after running a gauntlet of security personnel -- Wesley Snipes worked closely with fight choreographer Jeff Ward to create wire-work action that would later be digitally enhanced. "He has to battle all these security guys without firing any weapons," says Ward. "It’s all hand-to-hand combat. With the character’s background as an agent, he already knows where he has to go. So, anything that comes in his way he has to deal with."

The filmmakers also ran a car right into an actual diner. "This wasn’t some paper mâché thing," says stunt coordinator Michael Scherer . "We built a real diner and put people inside it. Everything was very real. When the car tried to get out, we didn’t help it out; we just let it sit there and do its thing until it finally got out on its own, which looked real."

Production crewOther action scenes were carefully planned and choreographed by Scherer and Ward. Says Scherer, "Time was our main concern. It forced everyone to carefully budget their time. What helped us was how much of the physical scenes Wesley Snipes was actually capable of doing himself."

Scherer also relates that sometimes Snipes took his stunt work a little too far. "Sometimes he’d get right in there," he says. "He scared the bejesus out of me. He stood in front of a massive garbage truck that I had to stop over him. When I saw him standing there, I got out of the truck and said, ‘Okay, what’s going on here?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m cool, I saw the way you’re driving; I can handle this.’"

Ward has worked with Wesley Snipes for over 10 years. "We’ve trained together in all different aspects of martial arts, stunts, training, driving, motorcycles, you name it," says Ward. "He has it in him to do it and not really rely on a double; he’s very adaptable and very skilled."

Since martial arts play a significant role in the action scenes, the filmmakers brought in experienced martial artists from Asia to join the cast. "They’re fast; they’re precise; the moves are incredible," says Scherer. "The actors and stuntmen rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed so that they could do it full speed -- and I mean full speed. Everything was done full blast."

Ward’s choreography of the fights also played a major part in the action. "These guys just didn’t step out there and do whatever they wanted," adds Scherer. "Someone had to design it first. That’s where Jeff came in."

Archer notes that the fighters were not the only ones withstanding intense physical exertion. "I think very often in films like this the toughest thing is the physical stamina it takes for a director to survive the shoot," she muses.

"Christian is quite amazing because he was under so much pressure and he never got stressed out. He remained very cool and he also didn’t compromise as we got into time problems. He was determined to take his time to get what he wanted, and I think that differentiates the men from the boys when it comes to directing."

Duguay maintains his vision by doing much of the camerawork himself. "I've tried to direct without operating the camera and I found it difficult because I think you miss something when you just watch a monitor," he says. "I like handling the camera and working with the actor on his performance at the same time. That way, you’re not a half a beat behind and are always in sync with the performance. And when this happens, you know it goes onto the screen, you know it goes directly to the audience."

Donald Sutherland notes, "I have a hand; I have an eye; I have a nose. Christian has a hand, an eye, a nose and he has a camera. It’s an integral part of his body and it’s a part of his soul. It moves with him. It’s extraordinary. The style is really less a camera style and more a style of an eye, a vision from his soul."

Christian Duguay describes his craft as a more pragmatic, evolutionary process. "From one film to another I try to go deeper and deeper," he says. "I think I'm trying to be more and more articulate about the way I tell a story; the way I'm going to punctuate it with the camera; the way I'm going to have every frame of the film be totally interactive with the story I'm telling. And although the camera is almost acrobatic in this film, I don't think people will notice it. It's like a long, long ballet where you choreograph and circle around people interacting with each other."

Wesley Snipes agrees: "Yeah, people will be very, very impressed, and he’ll blow up after this. Like boom! Out of here."