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 HKCinemagic 2

Statistics :
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Interview with Ninja director Godfrey Ho
The Shaw Brothers period 1/1 - Page 1
Author(s) : Arnaud Lanuque
Date : 3/3/2007
Type(s) : Interview
 Intext Links  
People :
Jackie Chan
Chang Cheh
Godfrey Ho Chi Keung
Sammo Hung Kam Bo
Kwok Ting Hung
Joseph Lai San Lun
Lau Kar Leung
Richard Norton
Tsui Hark
Wong Kar Wai
John Woo
Simon Yuen Siu Tien
Movies :
The Blood Brothers
Companies :
IFD Films and Arts Ltd
Shaw Brothers
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Page 2 : The Korean Connection

With the development of the Internet and the growing exchange of information, the name Godfrey Ho has acquired a cult status in action-movie fan circles. To the extent that the Hong Kong director became an almost mythical figure, suspected to be the real person behind many pseudonyms or bogus credits. Time has come to terminate the growing number of rumours about him (including a now dead website which included a fake interview with Godfrey) and let the man talk for himself. We hope this interview will shed a new light on the real Mr. Godfrey Ho: a typical Hong Kong director whose wits only equal his great kindness.

One foot in the industry: The Shaw Brothers years

HKCinemagic : How did you get to work in Hong Kong film industry?
Godfrey Ho: Actually, I started my career when I was… Wow, I hardly remember it (laughs)… when I was 20 something. I worked in Shaw Brothers as a continuity person.
HKCinemagic : You entered through a selection exam?
Godfrey Ho: No, I was recommended by somebody. He was a DP [director of photography] for Shaw Brothers. When he knew I was quite interested by filmmaking, he said “Godfrey, you want to know more about filmmaking? You want to learn?” “Yes, of course,” I said. “Good, which job do you want to do?” “Ooh, well, camera is good but if you work as an assistant you can only become a DP and technical stuff are not my expertise so why not director?” “Ok, if you want to be a director, you have to start as continuity”

So I joined Shaw Brothers and started working as a continuity man for action director Chang Cheh. It lasted around a year and then I was promoted assistant director. After that, John Woo also joined the team as assistant director. I worked as the first assistant director and he was the second one. So we knew each other quite well at this moment.

HKCinemagic : You only worked with Chang Cheh when you were at the Shaw Brothers? Not any other directors?
Godfrey Ho: Only Chang Cheh. At that time, he was a very famous action director, very well known and he was working almost every day. He normally directed 4 movies a year. He was a hard working person but he didn't work all day, only starting from the afternoon. He couldn't sleep early at night, he was a late sleeper. So, he couldn't get up early in the morning. But everybody had to be on set starting from 9 AM . We waited for the director until 1 PM , then he shot (laughs). We were free in the morning session, most of the stuntmen were gambling and I spent my time watching dubbing, editing or visiting some other studios to watch other directors working. There were more than 10 big studios at that time! It was huge! I was lucky to be there.
HKCinemagic : Did you have good working relationship with Chang Cheh?
Godfrey Ho: He had a good personality… Actually, I found out at that time, the director was really like a king in the studio. Everybody had to serve him, he was smoking cigars, shouting, losing its temper easily. I still remember there was a movie set in Korea . After the wrap party, I drank some kind of wine and got a little drunk. Then, I went to his room, entered and started shouting at him! (laughs). Late morning, he came to me “Hey, Godfrey, you know you were drunk last night” “Oh, really?” “And you shout at me speaking English”. Chang Cheh was not good at English but his wife knew it and she did the translation. “You know you are the first assistant director? And you were so impolite!” (laughs). Since that, he became a bit harsh with me. Before, he never lost temper with me. After that incident, he didn't respect me anymore. But I had to endure it because I wanted to do movies and learn more. It was a kind of master/student relationship like Jackie Chan [/Simon Yuen]. You know you are a small potato and you have to endure it. Not like now. Now, even me as the father of my son, I would get an answer like “Hey father, you should not treat me like that, you should respect me”. Before, we had to obey no matter what.
HKCinemagic : Especially as he was one of the biggest director of his time!
Godfrey Ho: Yes and it's also why I wanted to become a director. I thought, one day, I could be like that (laughs). But, in fact, being a director now is not like before, especially when you work independently. You must take care of everything as you are the leader of the team. If you move slowly, everybody will move slowly. If you move fast, everybody will move fast. Because we have to shoot according to rundown. If you are too late, the budget will be over. That's what I teach my students “You want to be a good director? First you must learn to control your rundown, to control your budget. “You are not born to be Wong Kar Wai or Tsui Hark, that kind of big directors who can spend their money wherever they like”. It's a bad habit of Hong Kong movie system. It's not like in Hollywood . In Hollywood , if you go over your budget, there will be a controller who will fire the director and get somebody to replace him. Because this guy represents the bank. In Hong Kong , we get the money directly from the producer, in cash, not from the bank; they never lend money to films (laughs).
Nanarland: There is a story about Chang Cheh who made John Woo weep on the set of Blood Brothers. Can you confirm us?
Godfrey Ho: No, no, no, Chang Cheh never shout at John Woo. John Woo worked for Chang Cheh as an assistant director only for one year. After that, he left to direct his own movies for an independent company. As a matter of fact, John Woo seldom worked as an assistant director. He mostly took care of editing, he was not on set. Because he's a kind of person who seldom talk. A kind of shy person. He was smoking French cigarettes at that time and he was nicknamed “French guy” because of that. But he respected Chang Cheh and he learned things from him, the slow motion effect, that kind of style. He admired Chang Cheh, that's why even when he got a name for himself he said “I learned that from Chang Cheh.” Not the technique but the creativity. Me, I only learned the technical aspects from Chang Cheh. He never taught us directly, we learned it through experience on the sets. Because, as an assistant director, I had to organise all the shots. We had to watch the rushes every day after working. So it was both a hard and good experience. It was non stop, you had to work every day, no holiday… But that was a good way to force me to learn about filmmaking.

So, that's why, a little bit after John Woo left, I organised with an editor [Kwok Ting Hung] and another guy who worked for Chang Cheh, and who was graduated from a France film school actually. And he said “let's shoot in France ”. It was a kind of a gimmick because, this way, it would look like a high budget movie. At that period of time, it was hard to see foreign countries, that kind of scenery, unlike now you can see it everywhere. He wanted to be the director and that was fine with me. And once in Paris , he didn't know how to direct! On set, he didn't know how to do the shots. So I took the place instead. Especially as I was also a producer on this movie. I had asked my father to lend me money. The budget was not much, I think it was HK$ 400,000 for the whole movie. So I said “if you cannot do it, let me do it”. So I started to direct and he was “Wow, Godfrey, how come you are so fast?” “It's because I have experience, working all the time at Shaw Brothers”. Because as the first assistant director on set you had to do everything for the director. He would say, this shot is like this, and me “ok, I arrange it,” dealt with the extras, everything and then it was “ready, roll camera, action!” and then “cut!” And then I prepared the next shot.

HKCinemagic : You were in charge of execution and all the practical aspects.
Godfrey Ho: Yes, that's right. And I learned in such a way. And that's how I did Paris Killer. I didn't know anything about distribution at that time. One of my partner Kwok Ting Hung knew distributors from Taiwan and other places in Asia . But we didn't know how to sell the film. That's how I got to meet Joseph Lai. I proposed him to distribute the movie, at that time he was working as a distributor, and the movie made money. And afterwards, Ocean Shores bought the rights for video distribution. At that time, we didn't know what was video! But the boss of Ocean Shores was really smart, he knew video would be a big stream in the future. It was like “I buy the worldwide video rights of your movie. How much? 5.000 HK$? Ok”. We were very happy about it at that time but after we regretted so much (laughs). That's how Ocean Shores made a lot of money. But no complain, because he knew how to make distribution. Most of the independent companies and even people like Lau Kar Leung, Sammo Hung and the likes knew how to make movies but didn't know anything about distribution. Actually, only distributors made money. The directors and others just work for the richest.
HKCinemagic : So it was at this time you met Joseph Lai. Was it when IFD was founded?
Godfrey Ho: IFD was created later. I sold the worldwide rights of the movie to Joseph Lai and after that I still carried on my career as a director doing other movies. Until about 5, 6 or 7 years later on, movies really slowed down. No more movies to be made. So I joined Joseph Lai's company to learn distribution. And then, I advised him “why not produce some kind of movies with foreigners in them?” To get all the foreign people here we said: “you are from the US ? You want to have fun? Come! You're from France ? Great, join in!”

Wherever they come from [they were welcome as long as they were not] Chinese. And then we make them ninjas or anything. We produce something like 5 to 6 of these kind of movies a year. Because it was a combination. It made a lot of money because it was very popular on the market. The people of the film markets were like “how come you have foreign people in your movies? It's so good for our audiences, to have some of our own people in those Chinese movies.” It was some kind of a gimmick and it worked. After that, even Jackie Chan used foreign people as bad guys in his movies…. People like Richard Norton. Because how could you put a foreign people in a Chinese movie story? Before, it was only as priests (laughs).

HKCinemagic : Or police officers.
Godfrey Ho: Right. Afterwards, a lot of Cantonese movies had gweilos. And I also organised a dubbing team in Hong Kong to dub the movies and to train the people to dub, because at that time, the number of people to dub was not sufficient for the studio. So I had to find some kind of back up. I would go to the Chungking Mansions [in Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui]. It was like: “You are a traveller? You want to make money for a couple of days? How much? One hour, I give you fifty bucks” “But I don't know how to…” “Never mind, I teach you” (laughs).
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