John Woo Brings Arthurian Gunfighter Tale To Hollywood In ‘Caliber’

John Woo might have returned to his roots — shooting “1949” and the “Red Cliff” films in China — but when he’s done, he wants to go back to America’s roots, in the Wild West. But when the first film project he hoped would take him there fell through, he found another in the re-imagining of King Arthur in frontier times in “Caliber.”

“I knew John wanted to develop a western about the Chinese and the railroads, how they helped build the American West,” Radical president and publisher Barry Levine said, referring to “The Divide.” “But that never happened.”

So Levine, sensing an opportunity, took a presentation to Woo with “Caliber” writer Sam Sarkar, first in Singapore, and then in Beijing, to show him how gunfighters had replaced the Knights of the Round Table, and how a particular, fated pistol only meant for one man with justice on his side could shoot lightning instead of bullets. All the familiar names – Arthur, Lancelot, Guinevere, Morgan Le Fay – were re-imagined (Guinevere becomes Gwen, for instance). “We went on set and watched him work, and we talked about how the characters could be in a film,” Levine said. “And he got it. He had a vision for it and it coincided with our vision.”

Right now, Levine said, the writer and director are determining “whose film is it,” as in, should they focus on Arthur, or Lancelot? “Lance is a tortured character,” Levine said. “He’s surrounded by ghosts that no one can see but him, and he doesn’t want to shoot anybody, because he doesn’t want to go through having to deal with their ghosts.”

Beyond that, the film wouldn’t necessarily be a direct adaptation of Sarkar’s first five-issue series, “First Canon of Justice” — since Sarkar hopes to continue the series with many further adventures — but will be more inspired by the transplant of the 11th century story to the 19th century.

“Our comic books are not made to dictate to a director what the film is,” Levine said. “They’re there for inspiration. The story is important, but it’s visually oriented. You don’t get A-list directors invested unless you have what it takes to get them in this world, and that’s a great eye. And [John Woo] is Kurosawa. He’s got an amazing eye.”

Do you like revisionist King Arthur stories? Are you reading “Caliber”? Who would you want to play Arthur, Lance, or Gwen?