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 HKCinemagic 2

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Interview with top gweilo Mike Leeder
People, films and opinions. 1/1 - Page 4
Info
Author(s) : Arnaud Lanuque
Date : 1/3/2010
Type(s) : Interview
 
 Intext Links  
People :
Frankie Chan Fan Kei
Jeff Falcon
Movies :
Fun And Fury
 
< Previous
Page 3 : Mike Leeder, casting director
 
 Notes  
Interview conducted by Arnaud Lanuque in Hong Kong in March 2007 and March 2010.
Some photos were kindly provided by Mike Leeder.

We are grateful to Mike Leeder for his time.


HKCinemagic.com: You have a very good relationship with Frankie Chan, can you talk about him?
Mike Leeder: I have a lot of respect for Frankie Chan, I consider him as my mentor. It's Jeff Falcon who introduced him to me. I was “Frankie Chan! You're the Prodigal Son !” and Frankie was like “I like this guy! He knows who I am.” On Fun and Fury, Bruce Fontaine was originally the main villain. But for some reason, the production stopped for about six months. And Bruce ended up doing real jobs by then. When Frankie called him to come back to shoot, he said he could only give him two or three days. That's why suddenly Norman Chu comes at the end. I think it's Kim's best fight. That was the time even a small company could spend seven days for a fight scene. That's the time it took to shoot the fight between Kim and Frankie. And Frankie is a cool guy. He's another guy people have the wrong opinion of.
 

Frankie Chan in Outlaw Brothers

 
HKCinemagic.com: That's because of the image he has built for himself as an actor.
Mike Leeder: Yes. And he has his way of doing things and sometimes he won't compromise.
 
HKCinemagic.com: Do you know how much of Operation Condor he directed?
Mike Leeder: He directed most of the film. He came in more to be a simple director help. It was still Jackie Chan calling the shots and the one who devised most of the stuff happening. Chan Chi Hwa did the opening in the Philippines. I'm not sure if he was supposed to have the credit of a full director or just assistant director. Some people assumed Jackie took credit for him but I'm not sure about that. When I came to the set, at least, it was Frankie who was directing.
 

Cynthia Rothrock and Jeff Falcon in Prince of the Sun

 
HKCinemagic.com: You talked about Jeff Falcon, one of the best western martial artists in activity in the HK industry during its heyday. How did you meet him?
Mike Leeder: I'd been in Hong Kong for about a week and as running for the Star Ferry between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. We both happened to be running and just caught the ferry as they were closing the gate, I looked at him and said “Hey, you're Jeff Falcon!” He was a little surprised, “You were in Inspector Wears Skirts and Blonde Fury!” He was surprised that I knew who he was and his movies and we got chatting and I told him I'd like to do an interview with him at some point. We did the interview and became good friends. He was one of my closest friends and mentors when I first came to Hong Kong , and I really appreciate everything he did for me and the advices he gave me back then. I do think a lot of people got the wrong idea of Jeff, he could at times come across in a lot of people's opinion as a little full of himself, or cocky. But I think it was just he'd trained so hard in China and originally been training to be a Wushu coach, so if you were training or doing something and he felt it wasn't as good as it could be, or that you could do better, he'd tell you. Now I was a very bad martial artist myself and he would point out what I was doing wrong, but I could see how some people might take it the wrong way. But it wasn't meant as a diss to anyone, it was just the way he looked at things, he was very critical of his own work. I remember arguing with him about how good he was in Outlaw Brothers while he felt he didn't do a good job.

When we met we exchanged numbers, so we could arrange the interview and I managed to lose his number and didn't hear back from him, and thought “oh maybe he was just being polite when we met.” And then I managed to bump into him again and he explained he'd also lost my number, we arranged the interview and a strong friendship was formed. He was just starting the production of Prince of the Sunwith Cynthia Rothrock and Conan Lee, and invited me to hang out on set, and I did for much of the shoot, I really got to experience the long hours, the fun, the frustration and most of Hong Kong movie-making as an observer for the first time.

The film shot briefly in Taiwan (the China scenes), a little bit in Tibet and the majority in Hong Kong with Wellson Chin who directed Inspector Wears Skirts, etc. as the director. It's funny but they didn't really seem to use Cynthia Rothrock as well as they could have on the movie, they had paid a good sum to fly her back and yet they didn't really focus on her while she was there, so she, I and Jeff would just hang out for much of the shoot. Then when they were running out of time with her, they had to rework certain elements… in the original version Conan Lee's character wasn't really meant to do much fighting, what he did was supposed to be comical and clumsy, that's why he has those earlier scenes where he doesn't really know his own strength, then when they changed things they came up with the idea of him being possessed by Lam Ching-ying's spirit and becoming a real fighter.

It was an interesting cast and crew, Lam Ching-ying was a little stand-off-ish but I later learnt that was just his personality, he was a very private person. He wasn't the most outgoing and immediately friendly person. I met him several times over the years and he never really warmed up but I was told later by Sammo Hung and Yuen Wah that that was just the way he was, but that he was a very loyal friend. The films villainous evil monk was played by Lau Shun who would later play Wong Fei-hong's father in Once Upon a Time in China 3 and 4 etc., [he] really is a nice guy, and he could still move very well for his age.

Yuen Tak (Richard Hung) was the films action director. I recognized him from movies like The Master and Angels 2, I told him that but he was “No I'm Madonna!” He had been the stunt double for Madonna when she and Sean Penn shot Shanghai Surprise, and he would show people a photo of him and her dressed identically mugging for the camera. He's a very good choreographer, but very demanding. They shot a lot of really good stuff on the movie but so much of the action that was being captured on set didn't seem to make it into the finished film. We did some long hours too, for Cynthia's last day they started shooting on a Friday morning and went through till about 5 or 6pm on the Saturday, shooting the playground fight, followed by the chase through the park and some other stuff in and around Central. It was probably close to a 30 something hour shoot. Cynthia was leaving the next day so we wanted to go out for dinner, but we ended up getting asked to leave hte hotel coffee shop as we were all falling asleep and they thought we were drunk.

As I said Jeff was incredibly talented, very good martial skills, good ideas for scripts too. We developed several projects, but a lot of people would get the wrong idea. Also he wasn't the greatest one for going out and partying, he lived out on Discovery Bay on Lantau Island , so he was a little removed from a lot of people. He would train and write and do his own thing, and I think a lot of people felt he was snubbing them. I would say for the first three or four years I was in HK, he was my closest friend. Sadly we drifted apart, we kept in touch for a while but I lost contact with him just after the release of Six String Samurai, not sure where he is now but wish him all the best!

 
HKCinemagic.com: Jeff Falcon was really a great martial artist.
Mike Leeder: There's a movie Jeff did called Caged Beauties/ Fight for Love. Jeff basically goes Rambo! The producer wanted to shoot an exploitation film in Thailand. It was with Chan Sing and Derek Wan. In the film, Jeff was supposed to go to Derek Wan's wedding and communists kidnap everyone. Cheng Sing runs a labour camp where all they do is torturing women. Derek get tortured, Jeff puts on a headband and takes revenge. There are a number of really good fights between Jeff and Choi Jing-yat again. There's also a Taiwanese bodybuilder involved, she was in many films [To Gwai Fa]. Scary looking but sweet girl. Jeff does an Eastern Condors kind of things in the jungle with booby traps... It's an exploitation movie, so the story doesn't make a lot of sense at times but there's some really good action!
 
HKCinemagic.com: What about Way of the Lady Boxer ?
Mike Leeder: The company which did it was called Grandwell Films. [It was] shot in China. They asked Jeff to come in to do a cameo. And then they would do another film in Shanghai where Jeff would be the main bad guy. So they shot Way of the Lady Boxers and he was there for a couple of weeks with Max [Kasimsky], two weeks and a half. And I asked him “did you get to fight Carter Wong?” “No” “Sibelle Hu?” “No” “But you always fight Sibelle Hu!” “Yeah, I know, but not this time.” And of course, the other films he was supposed to do never came out. It's frustrating because the film has some moments but it has also a lot of bad things, it's probably time and budgets constraints.
 
HKCinemagic.com: And Sibelle Hu has never been a very good Girl With Gun…
Mike Leeder: She's a really nice lady and can be a very good actress, but she‘s not the lifelong action woman, but she got typecast in the action genre. I got to do some very low budget movie with her, and was quite excited to fight her but she wasn't as sharp as I thought and I got a few knocks. But she was very apologetic about hitting you by accident, there are some people who don't care if they hit you, but will raise hell if they get hit. She was very aware of her limitations and I never felt there were any intentional attempts at hitting people from her. I think the problem is she did so many movies, and a lot of them really didn't serve her well, often they would just shoot a lot of action that was so obviously not her and then drop her in for close ups, and people didn't take her seriously. But then you see her in Fong Sai Yukand she is just so good and believable as a fighter. Yeah, she's doubled at times for that fight but she comes across so well, she's someone who could have done a lot more if people had given her better films and more time.

For someone who wasn't a trained fighter or stuntwoman, she was also very brave, she did some very scary action scenes at times. When I first met her I asked her about the scene in Devil Hunters , where her, Moon Lee and Ray Lui leap out of a building as it explodes and they're literally engulfed in flames, I was like “how did you do that?” And she rolled up her sleeves and showed me the burns she got from the shooting of that scene, they all got hurt doing that and unfortunately she got the brunt of the explosion. It takes some courage to do a stunt like that, and even more to come back into action film-making after that. I remember they did a charity event and they had Sibelle do a fire burn for that, and I think part of it was so she could overcome that fear.

The funny thing is the worst injury Jeff got while fighting anyone was from Kara Hui (My Young Auntie) when they were doing Inspector Wears Skirts. Jeff is battling her and Ellen Chan, and Hui had the most screen and fighting experience but she caught him with the battleaxe and split his head open. Accidents happen when you're making action films, sometimes you're going to get hurt!

 
HKCinemagic.com: She's more fitted for parts like Brigitte Lin Ching Hsia ones.
Mike Leeder: Yes, indeed. More elegant, more graceful parts but they always tried to sell her like Jackie Chan.
 
HKCinemagic.com: Because of her involvement in My Lucky Stars ?
Mike Leeder: Yes, My Lucky Starsand Inspector Wears Skirts, suddenly she was an action woman.
 
HKCinemagic.com: Can you talk about the other famous Girls With Guns you had the opportunity to meet like Yukari Oshima?
Mike Leeder: We went to interview Yukari Oshima and took the plane to Fukuoka but there had just been an earthquake over there. So I called her up and said something like “Hey, I would understand if you can't make it” and she was “no, no problem, I just don't have anywhere to live at the moment, so we may have to do it in a hotel.” She's great. She was really considered as one of the guys by the stuntmen. Moon Lee was sweet. Sibelle Hu didn't like to do it. Michiko Nishiwaki was great too. Her big thing was to pick you up. She would give you a rendez-vous somewhere and she would pick you up because she was really strong. Cynthia Khan is in Taiwan now and looking better than ever.
 
HKCinemagic.com: You got to know Sophia Crawford when she was in HK?
Mike Leeder: I didn't really get to know Sophia too well in Hong Kong . We met a few times but we didn't really know each other too well. I think she was finding her feet in Hong kong , she learnt a lot and really worked at her skills. And that has really helped her in the States where she has proven herself as phenomenal screen fighter and stuntwoman. I think some of the movies she made in Hong Kong aren't exactly the movies she set out to make, that sometimes people will tell you a role or a scene will be played a certain way, and then later on when you see it, and it's not what you were expecting, it's too late.

She's a very nice woman, has very good skills and really proved herself as a stuntwoman. She admits to not really knowing anything when she first arrived in Hong Kong , but she really worked at her skills and they've stood her well.

 
HKCinemagic.com: What about Agnes Aurelio?
Mike Leeder: She's the sweetest woman in the world. Licence To Stealis one of my favourite, I love that movie. It has some of the most obvious cameos by Samo, twice in the movie, once in a lift and as a cop on the roof with Timmy. Jeff Falcon was actually doubling for Joyce Godenzi. He also helped choreograph. The first shot of the fight house for instance, it is Jeff.
 

A very feminine Jeff Falcon in Lethal Contact

 
HKCinemagic.com: Is it a kind of private joke to have him fight dressed as a woman in Lethal Contact?  
Mike Leeder: I don't know, Kent Cheng was like “oh it will be funny.” Kent Cheng is great. There was a time on Wonder Seven, he was sleeping on a chair and the chair broke and he fell on the floor very hard and he just laughed, took another chair and went back to sleep.
 
HKCinemagic.com: Did you meet Wong Chun Yeung, the Kubrick of Girls With Guns ?
Mike Leeder: I met him. The poster for Dreaming the Reality was like the best poster of all time! I remember Jeff was wondering why I was so thrilled with it and I was “It's Moon Lee! Yukari Oshima! Sibelle Hu! Kickboxing! Thailand ! This is great!” Jeff was like “This is stupid.” I met him very briefly and he was very much like a journeyman kind of director like “oh, you like my stuff? Thank you very much” I remember for Angel Terminators, Bruce Fontaine was quite pleased with it “I'm so fast, I look so cool!” The funny thing on Angel Terminators 2is that they shot the scene when Bruce and the western team arrive. And then they basically slept on the set for two days. And Bruce had told them he had a full time job now, and could only give them a few days and they didn't use him properly. They ended up killing him off so quickly, and giving Mark King more to do.
 
HKCinemagic.com: I heard you were partly involved in one of the forgotten jewel of HK action cinema, Night Life Hero ?
Mike Leeder: The film is credited to Sam Wong (Wong Ga -leung) and was choreographed and produced by my “godfather” Alip Sak (Shak Lap-fai). He was a veteran Shaw Brothers' stuntman, he's one of the Five Elements Ninjas. He did a lot of work for Shaw Bros, Golden Harvest, independent producers, etc. A lot of work as a stuntman and assistant action director, etc. He had formed his company, Videocam Films, and wanted to show people he could do his own movie and that became Night Life Hero. I remember when they worked on the script, it was supposed to be a comedy, this, that. And there was a scene in which Chin Kar Lok was getting married and he's with Max Mok Siu Chung telling him not to worry about the money, he'll take care of it. And at one point I said “hey it could be like A Better Tomorrow bla bla” and he said “go and write it!” So I wrote a bit of that. I did a little bit at the end also, the pads thing when Max Mok remove his jacket and we see pads, it was my joke. I was really happy with that. The movie came out and did pretty well, showed Alip knew what he was doing.

Alip comes from Indonesia , and he would return there and become very successful as a producer/director/choreographer in Indonesia working on a lot of projects like Dara Dai Cinta, Mawreh Mewrah, etc. We were meant to do a project with Billy Chong but after the pilot, there were some creative differences involving Billy Chong. Alip just did a movie called Fight: City of Darkness which is very impressive action wise.

 

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Mike Miller and Kim Penn on the set of Knock Off

 
HKCinemagic.com: Can you talk about Knock Off for which you spent quite some time on set?
Mike Leeder: When you watch Knock Off, it's full of wild camera shots but then it just stops and become a generic action movie. They shot a lot of action which they never used. Mike Miller's fight scene was like four times longer. Jeff Wolfe's case was the same. It was a very problematic production. They were shooting three units at times, so Jean-Claude [Van Damme] would be running from unit to unit, and we'd be filming a lot of stuff with Alex Kyzlecki (stunt double) and Todd Senofonte (his photo/stunt double from Fist of Legends 2). The end fight between Mike Miller and JCVD went on for a long time. They both took some major knocks. But if you watch the finished film, the movie starts off with lots of cool wild camerawork and ideas, and suddenly about half way through it feels like someone else took over the editing, as it becomes very generic and the fight scenes get chopped down to a fraction of what's been shot.

Jean-Claude is another guy I have a lot of respect for. We've known each other for a long time, and there is still so much that people don't know about him, and too often he gets misrepresented by people. Once you know him, you begin to understand that a lot of the time things he says are being taken out of context. He's a very intelligent guy, and people forget just what his movies have done for the martial arts movie world internationally. Look at JCVD, that's a hell of a brave film for someone to do. He laid himself bare with that role. Same for the Behind Closed Doors reality show, there's a lot of stuff in there that many people wouldn't show, he admits he has nothing left to hide. I have a great deal of respect for him.

 

Ridley Tsui (far right) in Skinny Tiger Fatty Dragon

 
HKCinemagic.com: Can you tell us more about Ridley Tsui whom you got to know from the IFD days?
Mike Leeder: Ridley is one of the most under-rated stuntmen and action directors in the business. He is the last of the Peking Opera generation; he began his career as a stuntman before he'd even hit 15 and worked his way up from stuntman to assistant action director, to action choreographer and director. Very intelligent guy, very good skill set. He's a very old friend.

The first two movies Ridley Tsui directed, it was quite funny, I called him and told him I watched this movie he did with Eddie Ko Hung. And he was “where did you see this movie?” “I just rented it.” “I'm coming up now!” He wanted to buy it because it had never been released. He shot it for Golden Harvest and he was the hero dressed the all movie like Jackie in Police Story 2, with the pastel suit. Karel Wong is the bad guy. There's a lot of action. And Golden Harvest chose to sit on it.

 
HKCinemagic.com: I heard you also met Cheung Kwok Leung from Tiger Cage 3.
Mike Leeder: Cheung Kwok Leung is like a rougher version of Donnie Yen. When I met him, he was “Oh I just play tennis now.” A friend of mine was dating him and so I got to meet him and I was “you're Ricky Cheung!” In Tiger Cage 3, Cheung Man is so sexy in this movie, great action by Woo Ping, Ridley is cool in this movie. There are a few movies like that, like Final Run, which are kind of forgotten.
 
HKCinemagic.com: Yeah, like Fatal Termination.
Mike Leeder: That's Mike Abbott's best (laughs). I saw it in cinema because I really went to see all the movies being released here. One time I was in Samo's office and there was Collin Chou and Drugs Fightershad just been released. And he was like “you see Mike, my movie has been released in 15 cinemas.” “Wow, but where are those cinemas?” and Samo was “they are sex cinemas” (laughs). I also saw Chin Kar Lok's Green Hornet in theatre.
 
HKCinemagic.com: I heard you were also on the set of Don't Give a Damn !, with its infamous imitation of black people by Yuen Biao.
Mike Leeder: Yes, I was on set for a lot of Don't Give a Damn !…including the ending when Samo, Bobby and Ngai Sing were really going for it at times. As for the infamous scene, it's utterly non-politically correct I admit, and I will say that it comes across a lot harsher and outrageous when you see it in the film than when they were shooting it. Myself and Bobby were on set, and they had Yuen Biao and Takeshi Kaneshiro dressed as African Americans, and Bobby Samuels was giving them idea about the way they should walk, gesture, etc. But we didn't have any idea that dialogue would be in the film. That was something of a shock to us all. We knew Samo wanted them to be acting over the top, they're not meant to be an accurate representation but that dialogue did really cross the line in ways I don't think people intended.

I do like the movie, the Chinese title is ‘Mo min Bei' which literally means “I give you no face/respect” And a lot of people complained when one of the posters for the film was the entire cast with their backs to the camera. It's not a perfect movie, but I do like it, it's got some great action and humour but it's a little disjointed. Samo was trying out new ideas, the market was changing... It was a fun set to be on, seeing Samo and Yuen Biao working together again, so many cameos from people…

 

Cho Wing, Bobby Samuel and Kenny Ho on the set of Red Wolf

 
HKCinemagic.com: Some people of Don't Give a Damn were involved in Red Wolf too. It was when the G7 was created. Strangely, the film was lacking the presence of the only woman involved in the group. Do you know why?
Mike Leeder: Yeah, because she asked for too much money. She had been proposed Elaine's [Lui] role but then she said she wanted that much money, bla b la bla. And someone came and said “but you also work for TVB at this rate.” Then Elaine Lui came in and she did fantastic. There was Roy also, he knew Habby from Don't Give a Damn. Habby was a great kickboxer but I'm not sure he was right for movies, he didn't have enough patience, he was more into real fighting. One time on Red Wolf, we were all on the set, and Yuen Woo Ping ate a lot of candy while we just had apples or orange. And Habby complained it was unfair. So we all said “yeah, yeah, it's so unfair!” And Habby said “I'm going over there and take the candy away!” And we were all “Yeah Habby! Do it!” And he did! The G7 was a great idea but Mike Miller and Bobby were the only one with a real interest in it. The company was kind of trying to help and make them commit but Red Wolf ended up being the one and only. Shortly after, Bobby went back to the States.
 
HKCinemagic.com: What's your take on the Triads influence on the industry?
Mike Leeder: There are people in the industry with shall we say varied business interests, some of which may not be as legal as others. But I'm sorry to say I think that is applicable to the film industry in pretty much every country, just occasionally here it's a bit more open.

There are producers and directors, actors, action directors, etc. who I get along very well with that some people might have an issue with and vice versa, but unless you're looking for trouble then most of the time it won't come looking for you. They regard it as a business and violence, etc. is bad for business.

There was a time in the late 80's, early 90's when things did get a little out of control culminating in the 1992 stealing of reels from Alls Well Ends Well, the Anita Mui incident, the murder of Choi Chi-ming, etc. But that was a brief period and it's not like that these days. Sometimes people tell you “this guy is a big triad boss,” but there are a lot of misinformation in many case.

I think there is a certain amount of organised crime in every entertainment industry all over the world.

 
HKCinemagic.com: Do you think it's easier for a westerner to find its place in the HK entertainment industry behind the camera than before ?
Mike Leeder: I used to think so but things are evolving. Now there is an Indian guy working for TVB for example who get to play good supporting role. But if you bring Tom Hanks to Hong Kong, what role can he play? This is a Chinese place, people tend to forget that. It's changing though, even in mainland China, in Shanghai. But on the other hand, people like Maggie Q or Michael Wong are still regarded as foreigners here.
 

Last Project : Tarung, City of Darkness

 
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Page 3 : Mike Leeder, casting director

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