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Interview Roy Horan : gweilo actor and producer in HK
The Chinese Connection 1/1 - Page 1
Author(s) : Arnaud Lanuque
Date : 13/3/2006
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Roy Horan
Hwang Jang Lee
Bruce Lee
Bruce Li Siu Lung
Ng See Yuen
Corey Yuen Kwai
Movies :
Bruce Lee's Deadly Kung Fu
Snake In The Eagle’s Shadow
Snuff Bottle Connection
Lexic :
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Page 2 : A Westerner in Jackie Chan's Shadow

Unforgetable western face thanks to his Jesus look, who appeared on the big screen of Hong Kong in the end of the 70ies, Roy Horan had completely vanished from the industry at the beginning of the 90ies. It is in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University we found the man. He has become a teacher there but didn't lose anything of his passion for cinema. During the long interview he agreed to give us, he proved to be someone friendly and warm, happy to be able to share the numerous stories he gathered in the industry..

Bruce Lee's Secret

HKCinemagic : How did you enter in the Asian Cinema business?
Roy Horan : Here is how it happened…I was in Japan helping a close friend, a fellow American who stayed in Japan after the Korean War, with his business. During this time, a Japanese studio, Toei, asked my travelling companion, another friend, and I to cast for a movie because we were both studying Karate and Shorinji Kempo. I wasn't really interested but watched my friend get casted in the movie starring Yamashita Tadashi, a famous Japanese karate film star. I later hung around to watch them do some of the filming…
HKCinemagic : Wich year was that ?
Roy Horan : Probably around 1974. I wasn't really interested in acting because movies were not my thing. Later, I went to Taiwan and studied kung fu with a guy named Larry Tan who's now teaching in New York. People now call him Master Tan. I was staying with Larry when one day he came to me with a proposal: “There's gonna be a film shooting in Taiwan , would you be willing to come along and have a look at it?” I said, “Not really”. Larry responded, “It's full of foreigners, at least it'll be fun to watch!” “Well, all right!”, I said. I went along to amuse myself with the shooting of Bruce Lee's Secret . As I was standing around, the producer came to Larry and inquired, “Can your friend fight?” All this was happening in Mandarin which I didn't understand a word of at the time. Larry, without hesitation, said “Yes” so, the producer asked if I was willing to take a punch in his film. I negotiated what was then a ridiculously high price ‘cause I just wasn't interested, but the producer bought it without hesitation. I then took a few hits by a Bruce Lee look-a-like called Ho Chung Tao (Bruce Li), dived into the pavement, and presumably died. About a day later, I get a call again from the producer who asks me to do a speaking part in the film. I looked amazed, “But I'm dead already?” “Don't worry, you'll be a different character!”, he said. (laughs) “Sorry, but I look the same”. Eventually, I did the gig; again he comes back to me, this time asking if I wanted to be one of the lead bad guys! I was a bit confused, “What kind of script is this?”…guess they were kind of making it up as they went along. So, I ended up playing multiple roles in the picture. I assumed it would be a wash-out at the box-office. However, at the time, audiences were interested in Bruce Lee-type stories. The film turned out to be successful in Taiwan and, supposedly, Hong Kong as well. I'm sure it was very successful for the producer, given the little amount of money he put into it. When it first previewed, I was working in Australia and had no idea that it had even been released. I planned to return to Taiwan to learn Chinese. The producer wrote me just before I left Australia and said he'd like me to be in another of his films. I was like “Yeah, no thanks…I'm just coming back to learn Chinese.” After some months of hanging out in Taiwan, another producer, Lee Man Yau, approached me to play in Snuff Bottle Connection. This film proved, eventually, to be my ticket into the Hong Kong movie industry. However, it was Bruce Lee's Secret that put me into first contact with Hwang Jang Lee. He also acted in Snuff Bottle Connection which was shot in Taipei in 1977.
Snuff Bottle Connection
HKCinemagic : In this movie, you play the part of a cunning Russian diplomat.
Roy Horan : (laughs) Yeah, a cunning Russian diplomat… I don't know…I've always been a Russian…or something like that! Russians were the evil ones in the world at the time, so why not make me a Russian. I have a beard, high nose and fitted the image. (laughs).
HKCinemagic : How much input did you have in the creation of your character in Snuff Bottle Connection?
Roy Horan : Well, actually, in terms of foreign actors providing input into their characters, that didn't exist in Chinese films. You were already lucky if you understood the dialogue before you shot. There were copyright issues with scripts that even affected the local actors. If a producer, or director, had a script that was viewed by a competitor, the script, or its main idea, would suddenly appear in the theatres before the original had completed filming. What the producers did to save their investment was to handout the script to the performers scene-by-scene. The director knew the entire script, of course, but the actors only had a general feeling for what their characters were supposed to be thinking, feeling and doing…because there was no access to the entire script. It was for protection. So, of course, when you get down to foreigners… you know, they are just there for… how to put it, entertainment value. The way it normally happened is you'd show up on the set, they'd say: “OK, these are the clothes you should wear, this is your make up, you're an evil Russian, here's the situation you're facing in this scene and we want you to say “X Y D” for this kind of affect.” If you didn't understand Mandarin, and they couldn't understand your English, they'd have you count the Chinese syllables in the dialogue…ten syllables, OK, so count with feeling: ‘ one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten '…and they'd dub it into Chinese. It was somewhat ridiculous. Yet, I suppose counting-out uncontrollable rage has some sort of long-term therapeutic affect.
HKCinemagic : In your case, on this specific film, how was it as you had quite some dialogue?
Roy Horan : I was speaking mostly in English, though there may have been some simple Mandarin. Because I understood enough Mandarin; a crew member could read out the Chinese dialogue to me and then, by matching syllables, I'd come up with an English equivalent. That was really the only way to satisfy the Chinese dubbing requirement and deal with the fact that you can't act very well by counting numbers.
HKCinemagic : And it made you more interesting for the producers.
Roy Horan : Yeah, the fact that I spoke Chinese was a big advantage because I could talk with the directors and get more feedback on my performance...sometimes positive, sometimes less positive, but at least there was communication!
HKCinemagic : Can you confirm us the identity of your 2 foreigners colleagues in the movie ?
Roy Horan : OK, the first one was wearing a wig, right?
HKCinemagic : Yeah.
Roy Horan : He was the guy Larry Tang originally wanted me to watch in Bruce Lee's Secret because he had been in a number of Taiwanese films. His Chinese name was “Dragon-something”…Tang Long, I think. The other guy, the heavier one, was probably brought in from some local dojo, I guess. I never saw him performing in anything else.
HKCinemagic : In the middle of the movie, you do a nice little martial art demonstration. But, surprisingly, your final fight is very short wich is quite frustrating.
Roy Horan : Well, there is a good reason for that. In the story, they want to make the good guys look good on screen. Logical, right? So, in order to make the good guys look good, they need to find the most evil bad guy they can to fight against them. In this film, it was Hwang Jang Lee. He had the martial arts skills, and he was Asian. Any performer whose acting takes away either from the good guy (or the target-marketed bad guy) is not beneficial to the story…or the pocketbook! It distracts the audience. Not saying that I'm better than Hwang Jang Lee, or anything like that, but any reasonably powerful performance I may undertake, especially in an end fight sequence, would detract from the main cast. Sure, it was a let down because they built my character with some decent action and then it all fizzles in the last fight. I suppose they thought it would enhance the main cast, “Look, this evil Russian is such a great martial artist, but see, we can take him down in five seconds”. Story wise, it doesn't quite work. I think it's a scripting issue because directors often worked with stereotypes but were not always clear on the actors capabilities, and how to make them flow.
HKCinemagic : So, there was no other fight scenes shot with you wich didn't make it in the final cut?
Roy Horan : No, no. It was planned like that. They decided I would die quickly and the main fight would be against Hwang Jang Lee. Still, there was a funny story that happened in the shooting. Do you know Corey Yuen?
HKCinemagic : Of course.
Roy Horan : He was a stuntman on the film. In fact, he was also my stuntman. I felt sorry for him, but it seems quite funny now. The budget for the film was very low. During the shooting, it was also very hot, almost 40°C. I had to wear a Russian outfit with a thick woollen coat, very warm pants, and so forth. Due to the low budget, they made only one outfit. So here I am, fighting, sweating…and foreigners when they sweat smell a little bit different than Chinese do! (laughs) Corey Yuen had to do some stunts for me. So, he had to wear my stinking, sweaty outfit, and it was horrible for him. (laughs) I believe it took quite some discipline to keep his mind focused and do stunts under those conditions. (laughs)
Snake in the Eagle's Shadow
HKCinemagic : Then, you moved to Snake in the Eagle's Shadow. How did you get involved with it?
Roy Horan : Hwang Jang Lee, who first appeared in Bruce Lee's Secret, could not speak any Chinese, or English. The producer put him up in his apartment, to save money. Hwang Jang Lee, except for a few Koreans in Taipei , didn't have many friends. I was interested in getting to know him because I found his martial arts to be quite spectacular. He was also a thinker. I remember us sitting down, trying to communicate about Taekwondo through pictures…and I can't draw. We would be drawing different things and he would tell me the word in Korean. Then, I would say it in Chinese, and English. We communicated for quite a while like this. Around the time Snuff Bottle Connection started, we knew we would be working together. We made the decision that he was going to teach me Tae Kwon Do, and I would learn his style. At the time, Hwang was still staying in the Bruce Lee's Secret producer's apartment. I would go to Hwang's room at 5am in the morning, every single day, get him out of bed, proceed up to the roof of his apartment building and practice Tae Kwon Do for a couple of hours. Then we'd have breakfast…bread sticks and hot tofu soup. We did this every single day, 7 days a week and developed a pretty good relationship…not to mention an addiction to the food!

Now, comes the connection with Snake in the Eagle's Shadow… I didn't really want to be an actor. I was just acting for fun, entertainment, and to make a few extra dollars. I wasn't thinking of getting involved in the movie industry and had to leave Taiwan as my airplane ticket was expiring. I decided to go back to Canada and had my bag packed, all ready to go. The ticket actually expired the following day. That night, I got a call from Hwang Jang Lee. He said, “Ng See Yuen (a producer) wants to meet you at the Hilton Hotel.”

- I said, “But I'm leaving tomorrow morning!”
- He said, “Humour me! Come over to the hotel”.
- So I went to the hotel. It was the second time I had met Ng. He said, “I'd like you to do me a favour.”
- “How can I do you a favour?”
- “Come to Hong Kong ”.
- “But I can't go to Hong Kong , my ticket is expired, I have to head back to Canada”.
- He said “You know what…do me this favour and I'll give you another ticket. You can then go back to Canada if we can't come up with anything else that interests you”.
- I said, “Ok, what's the favour?”

He told me he had the rights to release Snuff Bottle Connection in Hong Kong . In order to promote the film; he was organising a very special promotion. He had issued an ad in the newspaper which said Hwang Jang Lee, in a fight to the death, could take anyone in 2 or 3 minutes…or, something like that. Ng was looking for a suitable challenger. He recently had found one, an Asian full contact champion. I said “Well, that's good for you, but what does he have to do with me?” Ng said (pause)…Well, actually, I think what he didn't want to say is that Hwang Jang Lee was the prized commodity…not me. For this reason, he asked me to fight the guy first. So, if I die, Hwang Jang Lee gets a crack at the challenger. I thought…clever…it gives Hwang time to observe the guy's fighting style…improve the odds. I said “Oh, that's really interesting (laughs)…just a little favour for a plane ticket, no problem!” (laugh). My attitude back in those days, however, was pretty macho, so I said, “OK, all right, I'll do this thing!”

When we arrived in Hong Kong , there was a lot of press waiting at the airport. I remember, in a later press meeting, seeing the champion's agent and asking him, “Does your fighter know what he's getting in for?”

The agent said, “What do you mean by that?”

“Hwang Jang Lee was in Vietnam, and according to my understanding, he actually used martial arts to kill people…that is, he has plenty experience dealing out death…is your fighter aware of this?”

The guy didn't say anything but I could see that he sensed a problem. The event was being filmed a few days later as a documentary at the Golden Harvest Studio…a clever cover. The only way it could be interrupted, or stopped, was if someone complained to the police.

On the day of the fight, we showed up to a crowd of undercover policemen and triads. We were immediately moved, by the police, from the car to a room, and asked to wait. Later, we learned that the challenger's wife had filed a complaint with the police. It stopped the fight…but the promotion worked. After the film released successfully, I was ready to go back to Canada . Ng See Yuen called me into his office, “We have another picture we want to do and would like you to act in it”. “What's the picture?” I asked. “Oh, it's with a new guy we're trying to develop by the name of Jackie Chan”.

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Page 2 : A Westerner in Jackie Chan's Shadow

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