Director Moves From Hip-Hop To "War"

Action star Jet Li in a scene from the 2007 Lionsgate film "War" directed by Phillip G. Atwell.
Douglas Curran
We've all seen his music videos. From Eminem's controversial "Stan" to the latest from 50 Cent, director Philip G. Atwell has worked with some of today's most iconic hip-hop stars.

Now Atwell has turned his attention to the big screen with "War," a new combat-infused movie starring Jet Li, one of the top performers within the martial arts field and star of "Romeo Must Die" and "Cradle 2 The Grave."

"War" centers on a tale of vengeance between two men, allowing scores of violence to ensue as the Asian mafia quickly becomes involved in the conflict.

Atwell, a veteran video director, had a lot to say on his chancy jump from MTV to Hollywood.

"I thought the script … was a good script. Jet Li was attached to star in it, and the opportunity to work with Jet Li was something that I wasn't really looking to pass up on," Atwell revealed. Indeed, as Li recently claimed to have left the martial arts genre after 2006's "Fearless," it seems puzzling that the actor would come out of his retirement so quickly. But Atwell was quick to set the record straight on his film's star.

"I took it to mean that with his epic Kung Fu movies, 'Fearless' would be his last one," the director said. Atwell was also quick to note that viewers should not expect a classic Kung Fu film when going to see "War." "The film has a balance of some martial arts and weapons. But there's a lot of people who get shot in this movie," he said, much to the delight of this movie's targeted audience of young men looking for an action-packed summer diversion.

Photos: Celebrity Circuit
Aside from Jet Li, "War" features other notable stars, such as the veteran performer Luis Guzman, perhaps best known for his frequent collaborations with Stephen Soderbergh and Paul Thomas Anderson. As an actor primarily recognized for his oftentimes eccentric roles, Guzman might not seem like an ideal candidate for an intense action thriller. But Atwell had nothing but praise for him. "Luis Guzman is just a terrific human being," he said. "He's a pro. He gets it all the way around. He realizes, like so many people who are in the business, how blessed they are to be doing what they're doing."

In terms of casting the film, Atwell's extensive background in the hip-hop world was not an influence in this process. Viewers should not expect any of his former musical collaborators, such as Dr. Dre or The Game, to pop up anywhere throughout "War," even on the movie's soundtrack.

"The film itself really wasn't kind of based in the urban hip-hop world. It's definitely an urban environment but not one that spoke to specifically hardcore hip hop … To me, it would have been a little bit cheeky just to throw hip hop music in just because of people that I knew or things that I've been exposed to in the past," Atwell said.

Focusing more on plot as opposed to music, Atwell had a clear vision which he wanted to convey in "War." That message dealt primarily with the issues of vengeance. "You find out that for every action is a reaction. The vengeance is the reaction…By the end of the film, there's a certain atonement that everyone has to take," he said of the film.

Atwell is hardly the first music video director to head for the big screen. As Brett Ratner and McG proved before him, more and more filmmakers are materializing, perhaps quite unexpectedly, from the music industry. "War" opens nationwide on Aug. 24.

By Ken Lombardi