Two years ago, Fox announced with great ballyhoo that legendary Chinese director John Woo had been signed to do
a series for the network.
John Woo's Once a Thief was filmed, and Fox aired the pilot as a prime-time movie to good reviews. But the series never made Fox's lineup.
It did, however, make it to the small screen in other countries that have huge appetites for action series.
Now, The Movie Channel has gotten Woo to recut the first two-hour episode to include several minutes of unseen footage. It will air at 7:05 p.m. ET/PT Saturday, followed by a second two-hour episode of the series, produced but not directed by Woo.
"I still don't know why Fox never took the show," says Woo, best known for his Chinese action films with Jackie Chan and Chow Yun Fat, as well as the 1997 U.S. hit Face/Off with John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. "They didn't tell me and I didn't ask. All I was concerned about was making a good movie."
In Once a Thief, adopted siblings attempt to break away from their Hong Kong crime family to work on the other side of the law. Ivan Sergei and Sandrine Holt star.
Toronto-based Alliance Communications, which produced Once a Thief, convinced The Movie Channel that "the movie that was on Fox was OK, but restored to Woo's original director's cut, it was really good," says Mark Zakarin, executive vice president of Showtime Networks, parent company to The Movie Channel. "We looked at it, and we agreed."
For the Fox pilot, Woo cut out a lot of action sequences, which now have been restored. "All the action was pretty funny, like a cartoon," says Woo, who is developing Mission: Impossible 2 with Tom Cruise. "It wasn't violent at all. That's why we put it back in - to give the audience more enjoyment."
Woo says he tried to make every episode of Once a Thief "like a little movie, instead of a TV series. Every story is individual."
His third Once a Thief "movie" airs Aug. 22 on The Movie Channel.
Woo wanted to work in television "to have a closer contact with the audience. TV excites me because so many more people can see your work." And his experience in the medium was "good training for me. I got to learn to work smarter and faster in a limited and smaller project."
Woo has since produced another TV pilot, Blackjack, starring Dolph Lundgren (Rocky IV) for the USA Network. Lundgren plays a former U.S. marshal who protects high-profile clients, including a rich supermodel.
But Woo's luck was no better at USA. The cable network will air the pilot as a movie Sept. 15 but has rejected it as a series.
By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
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