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 HKCinemagic 2

Statistics :
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Interview with Toby Russell, a student of Robert Tai
Toby Russel and Kung Fu Movies 1/1 - Page 1
Author(s) : Yannick Langevin
Arnaud Lanuque
Date : 17/2/2007
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Jeff Falcon
Bruce Fontaine
Mark Houghton
Sam Hui Koon Kit
Hwang Jang Lee
David Lai Dai Wai
Bey Logan
Toby Russell
Robert Tai Chi Hsien
Steve Tartalia
Tsui Hark
Movies :
Aces Go Places III : Our Man From Bond Street
Devil Killer
The Inspector Wears Skirts 2
The Isle Of Fantasy
Lonely Fifteen
Possessed 2
Snake In The Monkey's Shadow
Trinity Goes East
The Victim
The Way Of The Dragon
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Page 2 : Toby Russel and Taiwanese Kung Fu movies
Questions by Arnaud Lanuque for HKcinemagic.com

Multi-hypenate journalist-producer-actor-director Toby Russell has been a key actor of the kung fu b-movie scene in general and of the independent Taiwanese kung fu scene in particuliar. He worked many years in Hong Kong and Taiwan where he still resides today, in Taipei. He was involved directly or indirectly in many kung fu movies. Familiar with most big names of the golden age of the genre, Russell co-founded the now defunct famous English magazine "Eastern Heroes" and the "Vengeance Video" labels  for which he directed a few documentaries like Cinema of Vengeance, Death by misadventure or Top Fighter 1 and 2. A friend of Robert Tai's since 1984, Russell was a huge fan of his prior to 1980, especially when he saw Devil Killer and then absolutely wanted to meet this "mad" man as he calls him.

Russell's knowledge in this field is wide, so we tried to make an almost comprehensive interview. We asked a wide range of questions. There are not just questions from HKCinemagic that you will find in the transcript below but also from our friends, webmasters and writers from Drkungfu, Cinemasie and Nanarland . We worked together to explore with Toby Rusell this unknown universe of kung fu b movies. Russell kindly answered all our questions with great openness and we are grateful for his time and his patience.

The following Q&A was done by email and is divided into three parts.

In the first one, Russell talks about the 80s and 90s kung fu movies.

In the second part, he gives us important info to understand Robert Tai's world and the Taiwanese independent kung fu movie scene of the early 80s.

And finally, Russell evoques Bruceploitation movies, Godfrey Ho and Malaysian cinema.


HKCinemagic: Why did you found your own video label?
Toby Russell: To make money and to bring out as many kung fu films as possible .
HKCinemagic: What are the elements you pay the most attention to when you release a movie ? Do you care about the quality of the feature, the print or the original soundtrack?
Toby Russell: As good as I can make them, in some cases if the film is a classic I want to make it as good as I can afford, like I want to release Snake in the Monkey Shadow, but the mandarin track is lost and they made a new one I hated so I won't release it until I can find the original Cantonese or Mandarin track. The English one belongs to Rp Shsh of Imperial Pictures.
HKCinemagic: What do you think of the evolution of the video market in the West? How do you intend to compete with some new companies as HK Legends?
Toby Russell: HK Legends are my friends. Brian White used to work for me, they are not my competition. If someone wants a film they will buy it.
HKCinemagic: You recently tried audio commentaries. Do you like this experience? Do you find it a good mean to share your passion with fans?
Toby Russell: I don't like doing it at all, I get bored with it. I am not a good talker.
HKCinemagic: Do you intend to direct new documentaries about Chinese action movies?
Toby Russell: Not at the moment.


Death by Misadventure, Cinema of Vengeance, Top Fighter and Top Fighter 2 directed by Toby Russell


HKCinemagic: You've worked in both HK and Taiwan. What do you think of the difference of production and shooting methods in these two places? Was there a rivalry between Taiwanese and HK productions or a mutual understanding and solidarity as Chinese filmmakers?
Toby Russell: HK people are more rude and nasty. They will do things to deliberately make you look bad. Taiwan is the opposite.
HKCinemagic: You seem to prefer Taiwanese kung fu films more. Why do you find them more interesting than those made in HK?
Toby Russell: No I don't agree with that, I like both HK and Taiwan.
HKCinemagic: As a foreigner, where did you find yourself more at ease, most welcomed by locals from the film industry?
Toby Russell: Film people are easy to talk to as I know their films better than them, so they are happy with this, even in HK.


Possessed 2


HKCinemagic: How did you get involved in Possessed 2? Can you help us identify the black gentleman who has worked on it (If I'm correct, he's also in Isle of Fantasy)?
Toby Russell: I had no money in HK so I asked my friend if he could get me a small part. He did. There were two black guys in the film. One was Errol Chan, the other is a New Zealander who was also in Way of the Dragon, I forget his name now. I was a fan of the director David Lai, I had seen his film Lonely 15 and we talked about it in between takes, good fun.
HKCinemagic: Same question about Aces Go Places 3. Did you witness the problems Tsui Hark experienced in the making of the movie?
Toby Russell: Yes, he got mad with the production manager for hiring me as I was so young. He said "How can this fucking kid be a top C.I.A man!!!!" I was about 19 then, I was also a Father Christmas. I had to change my eyebrows with Sam Hui. I was glad to meet him, he's the best Chinese singer in my opinion.


Toby Russelll on the left in Aces go Places 3 (Mad Mission 3)


HKCinemagic: Why didn't you appear more in movies than some of your colleagues such as Bey Logan?
Toby Russell: I did a lot of films in Taiwan, in Malaysia also, but they have not been seen too much overseas. Sometimes I watch TV and see myself, I forgot I did this film.
HKCinemagic: You practice martial arts but didn't show much of your martial abilities on screen except in Ninja Final Duel. Why?
Toby Russell: I am no good that's why.
HKCinemagic: Were you in good terms with the group of foreigners working in the industry in the early 90s (Mark Houghton, Bruce Fontaine, Steve Tartalia, Jeff Falcon...)?
Toby Russell: Yes, I know them all, they are my friends... Well, most of them.


Bruce Fontaine, John Ladalski, Erica Roe, Jeff Falcon and Dan Mintz on The Inspector wears Skirts 2 's set


HKCinemagic: It's very rare for a Westerner to be fully involved in the creative process of movie making in HK or Taiwan. Did you encounter any obstacles to it?
Toby Russell: No.
HKCinemagic: Does Trinity Goes East represent the dream work you had always wanted to do? What would be your dream project and how close have you been from doing it with your previous productions?
Toby Russell: No, Trinity was not a dream project but it was a film I thought would have been done much better than it was. The main problem was the location, Vietnam. It's a terrible place to shoot that kind of film. I wanted to shoot in Taiwan, HK, Malaysia anywhere but there. But [Robert] Tai insisted on it. I knew it would not be so good if we did it there and I was right but the film is not so bad. But it was the first project we lost money on.

My dream film would be to make a film with fights like in The Victim, the weapons of Jackie Chan, the flips of Robert Tai's film, the kicks of Hwang Jang Lee and the realism of Tommy Carruthers, in a 20's Shanghai story setting.

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