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Saturday, August 26, 2000

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
John Woo attends a blessing at Kualoa Ranch. Woo is
directing the movie 'Windtalkers,' which will begin
seven weeks of filming Monday.

‘Windtalkers’ finds
bonds in wartime

The film, being shot on
Kualoa Ranch, has its
battle scenery prepared

By Tim Ryan

"Windtalkers" will not be another "Mission: Impossible II," promises director John Woo, who also directed the hugely successful Tom Cruise film.

"This film is about friendship, how people of different cultures can still come together to form a common bond," said Woo, who was attending a Hawaiian blessing yesterday at Kualoa Ranch, which is where the bulk of "Windtalkers" will be filmed. "The story is not about enemies, but of understanding and the tremendous contributions people make for their countries."

Nicholas Cage and Christian Slater are teaming up with the action-oriented filmmaker as two World War II soldiers guarding Navajo Indians. The Navajo language was used as a code by the U.S. military during the war, and Axis powers couldn't break it. Cage and Slater's characters have orders to kill the men they're guarding if any danger, like threat of capture, arises.

Both actors have worked in Woo films before -- Slater in "Broken Arrow" and Cage in "Face/Off."

The valley on the Kahuku side of Kualoa Ranch has been turned into a Saipan battlefield. Dozens of eight-foot diameter, three-foot deep foxholes are spread over several acres. Some of the nearly perfectly round holes have American flags standing next to them.

Next to each foxhole, tiny pink streamers sit next to smaller holes where Woo said explosives will be ignited. A few hundred yards along a valley slope are larger white markers indicating where an enormous fireball special effect will occur, Woo said.

In that one shot, which will feature a helicopter strafing the landscape, there will be 200 explosions, Woo said.

Several WWII Japanese tanks sit on the Kualoa battlefield. Dozens of palm trees have been planted here, and fronds lying on the ground have been deliberately burned to show the effects of battle.

A few hundred extras attended the blessing in soldier uniform costume, with canteens, rifles and bayonets. The film will use as many as 1,000 extras, with 700 appearing frequently in the film. About 200 extras will portray Japanese soldiers.

Woo said the action scenes in "Windtalkers" will be "realistic" and appear "like a documentary" in the film. "I want to tell a true story," he said.

And that's the main reason Woo said he wanted to film in Hawaii rather than in other, perhaps less costly, locations like Australia.

"Hawaii looks like Saipan," he said. "And there's experienced crew here and creative people.

"Good crew, good story and good food make for a good movie."

Though MGM officials aren't talking about the budget for "Windtalkers," published reports say the picture is costing about $100 million. The Academy Award-winning Cage's salary of late is about $20 million.

MGM has hired about eight Honolulu firemen and paramedics to ensure safety during filming. And there are at least that many security personnel watching the valley, the dirt road leading to the battlefield, and the valley perimeter.

"The security is as much to prevent people wandering into areas where they could get hurt as it is to keep the curious out," said a crew member who requested anonymity.

Filming begins Monday and is scheduled to last seven weeks.

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