Inspired by a computer worm

Inspired by a computer worm
Director Michael Mann fulfilled a long-held dream of shooting in Asia with Blackhat.

Director Michael Mann's trademark has been stylish dramas about crime and corruption - award-winning films such as Heat (1995), The Insider (1996) and Collateral (2004), which have won the director widespread critical admiration.

But with his latest, Blackhat, he tackles an altogether new kind of underworld - international cybercrime - where "blackhats'' or malicious hackers could, in theory, attack a nuclear power plant or manipulate financial markets.

He also got to set it in Asia, a region he had been dying to film since first visiting Hong Kong in the 1970s, and cast two Asian stars - Taiwanese-American singer Wang Leehom and Chinese actress Tang Wei - in a story that starts with the sabotage of a nuclear plant in China.

Speaking to reporters in Los Angeles recently, the 71-year-old says he was inspired by the 2010 discovery of the computer worm Stuxnet, which infiltrated nuclear facilities in Iran and damaged centrifuges by making them spin erratically.

"It was the first digital weapon, and it was a stealth drone: It hit, had an effect, but the target didn't know it had had an effect for 18 months.

"When I read about it, I thought, wow, if the malware was a person, this would be a drama because of the way it moved in and first took over the monitors to make them say, hey, everything is fine. And if it was discovered, it destroyed whatever discovered it."

For a director more familiar with guns and car chases, this meant learning the basics of how computers and networks work. "I was a novice to this kind of programming and weaponry, but it took me into the whole area of cyber-intrusion.

"Then we had meetings in Washington and with blackhat hackers, which was kind of a revelation to me - I started viewing everything, our lives, differently. It's almost as if we're all swimming in this atmosphere of interconnectedness and data, but we're not aware of it, we still think we're living lives with privacy, in which we control everything that comes in and out. But, of course, we don't.

"So that opened up the possibility of telling this story from the cutting edge of the world as it is right now."

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