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WINDTALKERS

The Story
Windtalkers is a character-driven, emotional action drama set in the Pacific during World War II - a somewhat different setting than John Woo's other American action films. This time, Woo's stage is the 1944 Battle of Saipan, recreated onscreen in stunning detail. At the heart of the lightning-paced combat, the story centers on the incredible friendship that develops between Marines in battle and the complex relationship between the legendary Navajo American code talkers and their designated Marine guards.

The theme of friendship and the film's complex characterizations are what drew Woo and his longtime producing partner Terence Chang to the project. "I fell in love with the story the minute I heard it," Woo says. "It's so emotional, a celebration of the human spirit. I had been looking for something different from a generic action film, something our company could develop." The pair felt they'd found the perfect material in Windtalkers.

Windtalkers presented Woo with the opportunity to revisit ideas similar to those in his celebrated Hong Kong films like The Killer (Woo and Chang's first collaboration in 1989) and Hard-Boiled. "John is basically known in the West as an action director, but some of his best films in Hong Kong are largely based on the theme of friendship among men," Chang says. "He's obviously very good with action, but he's also incredible with actors and drama and telling a story in a way that really affects an audience."

The idea for Windtalkers began with producers Alison Rosenzweig and Tracie Graham. About ten years ago, Rosenzweig was first told about the code talkers by her brother Seth, a World War II aficionado. He had long been fascinated by their heroic contribution to the war in the Pacific and encouraged her to develop a movie about this relatively unknown chapter in American and Marine history. "I was absolutely compelled," she says, "but at first I felt their story would make a great documentary and wasn't necessarily material for a feature."

Eight years later, while looking for projects to develop, Rosenzweig shared her knowledge of the code talkers with producing partner Graham. "I was immediately enthralled," says Graham, "but equally perplexed as to how to turn the story of the code talkers into a feature narrative." Determined, the two producers delved into history books, eventually stumbling upon the dramatic key they'd been seeking.

"I read that during the war code talkers were assigned Marine guards for protection," says Rosenzweig. "They were to protect the code talker and his code from falling into the hands of the Japanese." According to Rosenzweig, her reading revealed that if a code talker was in danger of being captured, the Marine guard was to prevent the code from being compromised at all costs. After thorough research, Marine Corps historians were unable to locate any evidence that such orders ever took place - it would be illegal for a Marine to be ordered to kill a fellow Marine. But the notion that a serviceman might have had to kill one of his own, someone he'd fought alongside and with whom he'd become friends, resonated with the producers. Intrigued by the emotional implications of such orders, Rosenzweig and Graham realized they had their story.

It was also fascinating to them that the code talkers were virtually unknown until fairly recently. "The existence of the code talkers was not declassified until 1969," says Graham. "Even though the code talkers were invaluable in winning World War II, the U.S. military wanted their accomplishments to remain secret, precisely because they'd been so successful. They were the military's secret weapon in the war, and they felt they might need them again."

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