Honor, Loyalty, and Friendship: John Woo on Le cercle rouge

On Film / Features — Apr 11, 2011

I believe in my world. I believe in brotherhood and everything that goes with it. Like honor, loyalty, and friendship. The reason why Le cercle rouge is a classic gangster film is because it embodies this kind of romanticism.

For me, there are two great moments. One happens during the heist. Yves Montand has set up his rifle on the tripod and locates the alarm sensor on the wall through the scope.

There is a quick exchange of looks between him and the others. Suddenly, Yves takes the rifle off the tripod and shoots without using the scope. With that single shot, he proves the undeniable existence of his magnificent skill and at the same time shows admirable confidence.

The other moment takes place after the heist, when Alain Delon visits Yves at his house. Alain looks into the dark closet, and Yves just smiles. It shows that he is no longer afraid. His demons are gone because he has gained redemption through his friendship.

The Yves Montand character, Jansen, is someone whom I identify with very much. He has a noble spirit that is hard to find in movies today. He knows about loyalty and also sacrifice.

Melville is very good with actors. He made them stars; he made them crystal. I will never forget the emotional depths of Alain Delon’s blue eyes. One could see not only his exterior but his interior, his emotions and his past . . .

Le cercle rouge is a film with little dialogue and a lot of atmosphere. Jean-Pierre Melville, a gentleman who believed in the philosophy (very much like the Asian philosophy) of the code of honor, could edit a film and work a camera like no other. He’s given me moments of inspiration that I have used for some of my films, like A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, and Hard Boiled. His movies had a coolness and a style that separated him from other filmmakers of his time.

Filmmaker John Woo wrote this tribute for the 2003 Criterion Collection DVD release of Le cercle rouge.