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Statistics :
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Interview Thomas Hudak
Interview Page 1
Author(s) : Arnaud Lanuque
Date : 8/5/2005
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Joyce Mina Godenzi
Thomas Hudak
Sammo Hung Kam Bo
Philip Ko Fei
Andrew Lau Wai Keung
Alan Tam Wing Lun
Tsui Hark
Jean-Claude Van Damme
Dick Wei
Yuen Biao
Movies :
Angel Mission
Eastern Condors
Enter The Dragon
Knock Off
A Man Called Hero
The Matrix
Shanghai Knights
The Wesley's Mysterious File
< Previous
Interview made on April October 2003.

Huge thanks to Thomas Hudak for his extreme kindness and help. We wish him the best for his career!

Thomas Hudaka gweilo in Hong Kong

HKCinemagic : Can you tell us what brought you to HK and how you got involved in HK cinema ?

Thomas Hudak : Sure. I came in the early 1986 with the objective of setting up an American based software company presence in Asia , and it was financial counting software and me being an accountant I was selected. I was already a Martial instructor in the US . So I came in here, I had my business and then I had my passion for martial arts so I found a gentleman who was teaching and I introduced myself. He was Chinese of course. He said “Certainly, come in and participate” and after a few days he said “You may wear your black belt” because I took it off and didn't wear it initially. I would do my work during the day and then in the evening, twice a week, I would participate in his class. Very shortly, I think it was six or seven weeks, he said to me one day “Tom would you like to make a movie? I have very good contacts”. My instructor was Martin Chan Chuk Sam who is still teaching on Kowloon side and still does therapy for many of the actors.

HKCM : What kind of martial art were you studying with him?
TH : This style is Jin Wu Kwoon which is a Chinese melt version with kung fu and karate. His father was a great kung fu master and Martin also studied karate, Shotokan style in Malaysia when he was a child and came here. So Jin Wu Kwoon, it's a mix. And he said “Tom, I know several directors are looking for evil guys to be in their work so you can just call in the week end”. So I made the contact, they took me in, I did a few movies, I was easy to work with. And they kept calling me every so often for a few movies. And over the years, I did about 30 parts, sometimes small roles, sometimes large roles. And most recently, I got, I guess, a character actor part, as the aging warrior who refuses to lose his power, the dismissed CIA director, the frustrated FBI director with his own agenda and of course, with my looks, I'm always a bad guy. I was once good like the consul general of USA or the police commissioner but usually I'm the evil, frustrated CIA director, FBI director.

HKCM : So you only got involved thanks to your master? I thought it was because of your class being filled with stars.
TH : That's also true. In that class, that Martin was instructing, I remember thinking « boy! Chinese are very good looking people! ». Cause they were all very good looking women and handsome men. I was thinking « wah ! Fantastic ! ». And then very shortly after that there was a movie out called Eastern Condors, they were all in that! 5 people of my class were in that!


HKCM : Joyce Mina Godenzi amongst others…
TH : Yes. That was true … You're paying attention better than I. There were numerous occasions when they said “We work with a guy in the class, he has great form and control, get Tom in, he never makes contact and he seems to be very controlled”. So it was Martin that thought I would be good and I think some members of the class thinking « Sifu, can we ask Tom if he can come in? ». Once I did a few scenes with them and work with a few directors, they were always thinking « let's get that guy again ». For the casting they called sifu, had my own number, they called the casting person… That's how I got in the film industry. But you're 100% right. I remember the first movie they approached me it was because they were running out of bad guys. No more bad guys, they had all been used so much. And KK Chung and Alan Tam and a few of the others would say “yeah, use Tom, he's ok “.
HKCM : Your first movie was Angel Mission. Can you talk of the direction of Philip Ko ?
TH : Yeah, I have a copy of it here. It was very unusual. I was working only the week end because I was working full time and travelling different locations. I remember him saying “You're not getting much preparation whatsoever, not seeing the script “. He kept saying that, and his English not being exceptionally strong at that time, I don't know what it is now, He was very good at showing us what he wanted (Thomas makes a few glances and attitudes) and then let it go. He was an excellent director considering that the language barrier was there.
HKCM : And considering the budget which was very cheap I suppose.
TH : Oh yeah! Very! We used my apartment one time. He said “Tom, can we use your apartment?” I said « sure » because I had a big apartment at that time. They were taping the light in a corner, I remember my helper was very concerned that they were going to do damage. They were in the bed, there was a love scene, and it was cut, not with me of course. They were using the facility you know. So yeah, his direction, as I mentioned, was surprisingly good especially when I look back at it now, being more informed. Everyone has an impression when you first get in a movie that you'll going to be with your own trailer, and they'll give you the script days before, and the fights scenes are organised but no, the fight scenes are done, especially in HK, at the last minute. It's a tremendous pressure to be able to do whatever they ask you to be able to do, but it's very important to tell them: “No, my right leg is better with that move than my left leg and let me spin clockwise as opposed to counter clock wise because I have a better ability to go that way”. So it's important to let them know and they'll work around that. They're very good at putting something together but they are very flexible at modifying it. If they want a spinning hooked kick and you're better with your left than your right, that's fine, go with that. They also ask you “can you do that?” and, the same day if you're not they'll be the first one to say we go to something else. When we did my fight scene, particularly with Dick Wei in Angel's Revenge , a stuntman told me “we have to put some padding on you”. I was like “Hit me, go hit me!” and the stunt men he said “No, you're with Dick Wei, you HAVE to be padded!”
HKCM : Dick Wei has a reputation to be very tough.
TH : Quite a tough gentleman. In the fight scene he really blasted me. I was wearing pads around my torso and I had them on the back cause I bounced off of a bookshelf much like the one over there, so with layers in it. And even when he did the sweeps they were solid. So Dick believed in, and I admire him because I didn't get hurt, I got bruised but I didn't get injured, that we go for it. And it looks like I was banged around. It looks good.
HKCM : Was there pressure as they probably expect you to be very good at the first take?
TH : Yes, there's a tremendous amount of pressure to get in the least amount of takes because it has economic implications. But at the same time there is a time schedule there too. I remember during one, it was a simple move, just a punch and then a grab, not much, and it took us maybe 4 takes and the patience was wearing thin on the director. He wasn't getting angry but he was like “Come on Thomas! Don't make it so difficult, it's simple, do it for me”. Sometimes there is a difference between what a good martial arts move is and what is a good cinema made martial move. You try to hide the techniques when you're really fighting, you don't want to show it coming, you want to minimise it. But in the martial arts cinematography aspect you try to embellish, to show if off, make it look so obviously powerful. And space is different too. So in the first couple of movies it really took me some time to get my martial arts movie moves working. Later on I would become what they call “First take Tom”.
HKCM : You worked on a US movie, The Last Dragon , before working in HK. Can you tell us the difference between the 2 ways of working?
TH : It was a relatively big production; they had a lot of martial artists together. They had a lot of time to choreograph it. We knew we had a partner pre arranged, he and I would explore different aspects of the fight scene. Much more planned than in HK. But it has both positive and negative. They looked a little bit planned sometimes, they lost the spontaneity that HK aspires too. At the same time it was more efficient to get the shooting schedule managed, I think it was the size of the budget.
HKCM : You always play bad guys; do you feel a frustration because of that?
TH : Actually no (laughs). There are some people I see in movies and they constantly play a bad guy like James Wood, but recently he sometimes get to be the good guy. But that's ok because if you're supposed to dance well that's a celebration of your skills. And if you try to sing when you dance sometimes it doesn't come across well. So I look at myself and I have this kind of look, you know, frustrated, angry, and it works very well.
HKCM : Let's talk of A Man Called Hero. What is your feeling about the fact that they cut your part in the DVD and VCD release of the movie?
TH : It's one of my best work, and also because of the resources we use on the film. We shot from interesting and exotic locations in Shanghai , the one scene where we were plotting the attacks: Lonely facility, large scale conference room, Klux Klux Klan clad individuals... And it was some of my best work so I was very frustrated that they took it out. I'm also disappointed I can not find a DVD version of the, what they called, director's cut. I'm fortunate enough to have found a VCD version when it first came out in Malaysia . Many, many times individuals would call me and tell me: “Tom, I saw your movie on TV, I stayed up and watch it and all I saw was your name on the credit” (laughs). So, yeah it's one of my biggest disappointments.

The Ku Klux Klan scene in A Man Called Hero (in the original version)
HKCM : Did Andrew Lau give you an explanation about the removal of these scenes?
TH : Yes. One reason was because of the fact that the movie, being quite popular, was being shown both on airlines and cable TV but time limitations found it useful to reduce the length of it. And additionally, because of the controversial nature of my character, who is a racist and a bigot, and very insulting to the Chinese heritage. They fought that in the international flight it would not be good. And I think it loses some of its impact, it shows the important issues that faces Chinese immigrants in the early turn of the nineteen/twentieth century. And it's a shame because it does show that people suffered but still triumph. So it's a positive message. Life is like that, the natural order of the universe is disordered and you have to expect these things and when you can triumph it makes victory even sweeter. I hope someday it will come out because it was an interesting character they developed. I think they originally have plans to use this character again, that's why I wasn't killed.
HKCM : And you have never been contacted about this potential sequel?
TH : Once in a while, Andrew, the director, tell to me “We're still working on it! We're still working on it! We're still thinking about it!” I think now that the economy has picked up and that Chinese films are receiving a greater amount of interest and acclaim, it could come out.
HKCM : What do you think of the direction of Andrew Lau? Especially compared to another visual director you have worked with: Tsui Hark.
TH : I find Andrew more of my liking. He avoids some of the technical shots that Tsui Hark is famous for. Because you see them now more, with a gun they show the bullet in the chamber, show you the wound being made... I think that was an interesting technique but I think it's overdone now and I would be disappointed if everybody tried to do the same situation now. Sometimes it's just a full flat waste of time. You see it now even on TV programs, like when they show you what the attack did, from an action point of view it's unnecessary. I think Andrew has his own style and it's nice that he doesn't try to mimic anyone else even if there is a certain degree of success which goes with it. I think he should find his own way and I think he is doing just that, and very well.
HKCM : You had another disappointment in Knock Off where you were supposed to fight against Jean-Claude Van Damme. Can you explain us what happened?
TH : Yes, that's another interesting story (laughs). I laugh about it because it would probably not have changed my career anyway but who knows? I was one of the two CIA individuals left and the second unit assistant director was in charge of killing us both off. Maybe she was under the assumption that being the older individual, I couldn't possibly be the martial artist, so the day before my other colleague was supposed to be killed; I was killed by way of a gun. I thought maybe they were running out of time and that was the way I had to go and deal with it. And then I was told “You're wrapped Tom! Take care, see you!” The following day my colleague went to film his death scene. The next day he called me to tell me this, that they said “ok, now Steve, you're going to jump out from here, spin kick and then….” “Oh! Oh! I'm not the martial artist; you killed him the day before.” And they were “ooh?! That's the guy...?”; “Yes that's him”. So they just very quickly shot Steve, Van Damme shot him very quickly, and they devised a fight scene with the remaining guys. I'm sure that the assistant director never brought that up (laughs). But Steve, a very good friend of mine, told me very quickly that her mouth dropped and there were a lot of faces turning red and so on. Because Van Damme and me had an initial fight scene in the catwalk, which set the tone for “next time I won't be so foolish, I will be more careful and we'll have a good fight because I'm the heavy hitter!” It was being set up very well... What they ended up doing was they got the heavy hitter from the Russians, Van Damme was supposed to take out the heavy hitter from each group. He took out the heavy hitter from the Americans, then he took out the heavy hitter from the Russians, and that was the initial plan.
HKCM : Can you tell us your impressions of the action director on this film, the legendary Sammo Hung?
TH : I thought he was very good. He was very helpful and extremely concerned with the welfare of everybody involved. He was very direct and very hurried; he didn't have time to play games. I got hit with the camera and he really, really got after the cameraman to be more careful and so on... They had the camera on a long boom and whacked me when they brought it in slightly. I was so focused; they hit me on the outside side of the head. He asked me several times if I was ok and he told the cameraman to be more careful. And it was his own people so he didn't spare anything on them. Later on in a scene he was very helpful: We were falling off of containers, supposedly when the boat was hit, we had to be jolted and fall off the containers. He went through a very elaborate explanation of what was going on, and make sure we understand what we should do. He did it himself; he insisted on keeping our shoulders curled and bringing our chin to our chests. So he was I thought very good, excellent.
HKCM : And what do you remember of the attitude of Jean Claude Van Damme while shooting the movie? It is said that he was in a troublesome situation.
TH : Jean Claude Van Damme was taking full advantage of all the wonderful entertainment facilities Hong Kong had to offer. Sometimes he was a little bit hung-over from going out but he was very good to everyone around him. Many times he was a little distracted (laughs).
HKCM : What is the movie you've worked on you prefer? On the acting side and on the action side.
TH : The Van Damme movie of course, but also A Man Called Hero with the fight scene... The large mafia mob fight scene where I fight Yuen Biao is probably my most exciting moment. And I also find the acting in that, which was somehow the first work I originally did where there was character development : I was concerned about my son's injuries, I was upset about the Chinese taking over my country. There was real acting there! In the past I was just an evil guy, I was hurting some guys because my boss told me so! In this one I had some real character motivations and of course the last one I did, The Wesley's Mysterious Files, I had the chance to do some actual character development. I had two faces; one is the proper FBI/CIA director and the other one where I have my own agenda.
HKCM : What do you remember of your collaboration with Jackie Chan on the American Express commercial?
TH : It was a wonderful opportunity! He's becoming so busy, and still he's, one of the most popular star of all time. And he can always get better, the more he does, the more international he becomes, the more fans and admirers he develops, the more people see how wonderful his skills are in movie making. So, for me, to have the opportunity to work with him is like a physicist working with Einstein. When we worked together I was able to see both why he has the reputation he has and from where his visions are coming. He's really a contributor, many times there's a director and they hire Jackie and Jackie expects to follow the direction of the director. Many times they all know “we want Jackie to contribute what he feels, what he sees, he has such camera knowledge, angles and so on”. From now on I think directors are being asked to say: “manage this individual, get him to give you what you think he can give to achieve your big plan”. So it was just fantastic to see how he incorporated his stunts and how he has his own ideas: He threw them out to the directors, “I have 4 interpretations of the way the scene can work” and a couple of times he did them. And they were like, knocked back, “It's wonderful Jackie but it's too much for us, for this an American Express ad it's just too much!” And he's fine; he said “yeah maybe you're right, let's try this one...” and so on. There was no ego involved; it was just the pure research of the best performance, presentation we could get.
HKCM : Was there any problem because of your size? Because Jackie is known not to like to fight against tall persons.
TH : I was aware of it. There was a time I was supposed to be towering over him, angry, but during the retype of the stunts I made sure that my position was bend leg which gave me better balance and give him ability to move around me. They purposely hired a big guy because they wanted an overpowering evil, and at the same time, because of the martial arts skills I possess, it was easy to adapt.
HKCM : You were never approached by Jackie to work in one of his movie?
TH : No, never. He has his own people and he prefers working with them. And again because of the size difference it would have a direct impact on how it looks.


Francis Ng, Andrew Lin and Thomas Hudak in 2000AD


HKCM : In the future you plan to improve your acting skills or maybe develop a career behind the camera?
TH : That's a good question. Of course I would like to develop more my acting, there are very good classes offered here in Hong Kong University. Additionally, do some cinematography, I had this opportunity lately, and I would like to become more an action director, to help in choreographing the fight scenes, to add a more realistic touch in some ways. One of my favourite fight scenes comes from the movie First Blood with Sylvester Stallone which is one which is familiar with the style of fighting that I do with my martial arts, when he is in the police department and he has a flashback and he uses a kind of Kenpo Karate, Special Forces... It's ugly but very realistic, it looks like an individual who is fighting with skills on automatic and at the same time he's not fully aware of what's going on because he's having a flashback. It's very much like the Bourne Identity. I would like to try to incorporate that kind of training individuals, fighting individuals.
HKCM : Would you be interested to be part of a production which would mix HK and US style of action?
TH : Yeah, it would be, you know, another example as in Enter the Dragonwhere they used the best of both and they got a fantastic result. That would be the best. Sometimes when I return to America and I talk to people about what I've done, people say “You know you should really go out, talk to some people in California or in New York ”. I'd like to go knocking on some doors but it's a matter of time, how much time you have to contribute and so on... But it's something we all have experienced... If I was a French actor and I would return to France I'd say “Listen, I've learned a few things, I think we can do a real blend of style”. That's what they are doing now with Shanghai Knights, The Matrix...
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