Sino-Americana

Firstly, I should begin by stating my interest in continually acknowledging the slightly overlooked influence of Bruce Lee because, without him, we wouldn’t have so much collaborating opportunities taking place between Hollywood and the Hong Kong film world. That said, there are even more missed opportunities involving H.K. movie stars who were tipped to work in Hollywood. I wonder how much popularity that H.K. cinema would have received with the extra exposure e.g. In the early stages of conceptualizing The Matrix, the Wachowskis wanted Bruce’s son to play Neo, and Chow Yun-Fat to play Morpheus. Brandon’s death made them think of other candidates – Donnie Yen as Neo and Sammo Hung as Morpheus. Had he lived, he would’ve starred in an adaptation of Speed Racer.



Jackie Chan was to team up with Tom Hanks in 1987. The title was Singapore Sling. Their schedules would not allow it, but thank God that it didn’t happen. Otherwise, many film fans would have missed out on Project A II and Dragons ForeverMichael Douglas wanted JC to play the villain in Black Rain. JC’s opinion is that not only did the film make Asians look bad but why would his fans want to see him as a bad guy? Similarly, Sylvester Stallone talked with JC about a project in which JC would play a drug dealer who turned into a good guy. JC didn’t like it. He didn’t want to play a pusher on screen – even one who gets reformed. SS knows that JC has always enjoyed his movies, and that he admires him very much. Over time, they had gotten to be friends. However, JC couldn’t compromise his own values, even to work with a friend.



There was a project that was developed for JC and Wesley Snipes – Confucius Brown. They were to play long-lost brothers, but it never came into fruition as JC had problems with the script. Their schedules ended up getting crossed up, so it never happened. Wesley jokes that it was reborn as Rush Hour. Despite the rebirth, it was heard by JC that Confucius Brown would be back on track with Michelle Yeoh playing the role of Wesley’s sister until he backed out. Then Martin Lawrence had agreed to do it. The project remains unfilmed.



Another film that Sly had offered JC was Demolition Man. He wanted JC to play the part that eventually went to Wesley – a super villain running loose in the far future. JC didn’t feel right about that role either. The two people who JC wanted to work with, and couldn’t, ended up working with each other. In 2000, it was reported that Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever was going to have Wesley and Jet Li pitted against each other with Li playing the role that Lucy Liu ended up playing. The reason to cast these two martial artists was because Wesley played the role that Jet had rejected for a thriller titled The Art of War (2000).



Sly and JC share two things in common i.e. both of them became stars via films where they played underdog characters whose slightly dim-witted personas make good after training. Secondly, after the successes of those films, one of their own previous films had been released that had been re-edited. In JC’s case, a dodgy Kung Fu flick named Little Tiger of Canton retitled Master with Cracked Fingers; whereas in Sly’s case it was a dodgy porn flick named The Party at Kitty and Stud’s (a.k.a. White Fire) which was retitled The Italian Stallion.



The success of Face/Off meant that John Woo received directing invitations by David Duchovny, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sly and even Leonardio DiCaprio. John doesn’t regret not working with any of these people, because Tom Cruise had more hype around him. Jordan Chan, however, regrets having to turn down JC’s invitation to play the villain in Rush Hour. The reason was because of Jordan’s schedule on a period TV series (Duke of Mount Deer).



According to a Taiwanese newspaper called United Daily News, Michelle was to be in the fourth Indiana Jones movie (although this was before it became Indiana Jones and The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). She took a short break from the filming of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine and made a visit to Taiwan to explain what was going on. Apparently, Steven Spielberg visited the set of Memoirs of a Geisha (2005) and said to her: “Don’t forget we will work together in the Indiana Jones project.”



Then she replied: “I will be waiting for you.”



This is not the first time that she was attached to the project. In 2001, according to another report, producer Kathleen Kennedy claimed that Michelle was in talks with Ste and they had known each other for 7 or 8 years. It’s amazing how Tomorrow Never Dies opened doors for Michelle. On the strength of her being cast in a James Bond movie, her price tag in H.K. went up to 3.8 million in H.K. currency. The other actresses in the top five were Josephina Siao (5.5 million), Maggie Cheung (3 million), Anita Mui (2.5 million) and Anita Yuen (1.5 million).



Martin Campbell saw Hard-Boiled and wanted Philip Kwok to play a character similar to Mad Dog in GoldenEye. Kwok received a phone call from the 007 production office based in England but he couldn’t understand what the other person was saying. The only words which he could decipher were James Bond and 007, so he assumed that they wanted him to play Bond. He had an English guy ring up the production office and it turned out that Martin was really keen to have Kwok play the immune archnemesis that Sean Bean played.



Despite being honoured, he had to decline since the role required him to speak English. The director of Tomorrow Never Dies (Roger Spottiswoode) kept Kwok in mind and wanted him to play a Chinese-speaking part (General Chang) as well as be the stunt arranger for the scenes in H.K. involving Michelle’s character, so he naturally accepted the offer. Originally, Sammo was offered the action duties but rejected it because of the lack of freedom.



In June of 1999, Stanley Tong appeared on a H.K. radio program to talk about the U.S. Sammo TV series that he previously worked on. Season 2 of Martial Law had yet to begin, but it wouldn’t be shot in H.K. as reported earlier. It was revealed that each episode’s budget would be U.S.$ 2.3. million. That’s 50.6 million altogether versus the 20 million of the previous season, which originally was supposed to consist of 13 episodes instead of 22. In fact, both seasons have 22 episodes. What was most memorable about his interview is that he had two movies in the works which, in the long run, didn’t involve him. One was based on a Swedish fairy tale whereas the other was a sci-fi movie starring Schwarzenegger. The latter project was The 6th Day.



Bruce Willis suggested to JC that they should make a movie together but there wasn’t a script around that fit their personalities. Conan Lee apparently had a fight scene in Lethal Weapon 4 that was removed (despite the fact that Joel Silver liked Conan’s H.K. films). JC chose not to play the villain of the last sequel. John Hughes wanted JC to star in The Bee – the script of which had JC as an architect who is trying to develop some land and is harassed by a bee that seems to have a mind of its own. The movie would have given him the chance to do some very funny stunts but JC wasn’t sure that he wanted to make his late `90s return to Hollywood in a film where he was stupider than a bug.



JC offered Donnie the chance to play the villain role in Rush Hour 2 (which ended up being played by John Lone). The joke was that Donnie had turned down the chance to play a similar role in a superior sequel – Drunken Master 2. Donnie turned down Rush Hour 2 and accepted a similar offer in Shanghai Knights since he felt a historical setting would be more fitting for both of them. Initially, JC agreed to make Beverly Hills Ninja with Chris Farley, but later he withdrew before being replaced by Robin Shou.



In 1989, there was talk in the U.S. press of Sammo about to make a film in North America. It was to be produced by S. C. Dacy, executive-produced by Ed Pressman and it would’ve starred Joyce Godenzi opposite Sybil Danning. Sammo flew to L.A. for talks with Dacy and Pressman. Later, it was announced that High Caliber was to be made starring Yukari Oshima and directed by Frankie Chan.



Sammo’s response to it was:


“Firstly, I didn’t like the script. I can’t catch the point of the story. As director, I have to grasp everything. With this film, I can’t, so I can’t make this film. A lot of people in Hong Kong say to me “You must make this or that movie” and I say “Okay, let me think about it.” If I can catch the point, I’ll do it. If not, I won’t. If I don’t understand the characters, the point of the story, the way to shoot it, then how can I make this film?”



Sammo theorizes…


“The example that I would use is that each movie project is like a four hundred foot well that you’re asking me to jump into. If there’s no way out, no ladders or hand-holds, then if I jump in, I’m never going to get out! I realize that High Caliber was a good chance for me but I didn’t feel it, so I can’t make it.”



Lam Ching-Ying never appeared in the 1988 remake of Mr. Vampire (titled Demon Hunters) because he was too busy, which prompted producer David Chan to hire Yuen Wah – an amazing acrobat who was considered a more commercially appealing option to Western audiences than Lam (the new star was Bruce’s stunt {or acrobatic} double in three of his films). His English was so limited that Golden Harvest should seriously have considered hiring either JC, Sammo or even Yuen Biao (who went to America in the early `70s in an attempt to become a star but didn’t get any work). A week prior to filming, Tanya Roberts (the Bond babe in A View to a Kill) was demanding the comforts of Hollywood on a H.K. budget.



Golden Harvest’s Raymond Chow gladly terminated her service before replacing her with Michelle Phillips. Time passed. It was more of the same with Michelle. To make matters worse, Jack Scalia couldn’t handle more than a month of acting with someone who couldn’t speak much in the way of English. You would think that Ray would have learned something from JC’s earlier experiences. Ray sent them both packing. He pulled the plug on the project. According to a European H.K. film fan, there was a brief piece on a European version of Entertainment Tonight that showed Tanya chased through the woods and Wah in the Taoist outfit.



I’m reminded of The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires (a.k.a. The 7 Brothers Meet Dracula). Initially, Christopher Lee was going to play Professor Van Helsing but turned down the role and recommended it to Peter Cushing.



JC was meant to play the role that Vin Diesel played in The Pacifier. A few J.C. stunt guys worked on the film. JC would end up starring in a less profitable version titled The Spy Next DoorKaren Mok (who was in Around the World in 80 Days) has long been trying to conquer the U.S. market but to no avail. She had been going to screen tests but, in the end, she couldn’t land the roles. Too bad, because she speaks with not the slightest hint of a Chinese accent. She speaks with an English accent. In 1998, she was approached by Peter Greenaway (British director) for 8½ Women (1999) but turned down the part because she was reluctant to do the required full-frontal nudity.



The Hollywood début of Simon Yam was initially going to be a second attempt at playing Yun-Fat’s rival (i.e. after Full Contact). Like Chow, the début was going to be The Replacement Killers. About playing Mr. Wei, Simon turned it down as he thought that the script was weak.



Chow had rejected the chance to play Christie in Alien: Resurrection, which was the commercially superior choice as it is better to have a supporting role in a big movie than a lead role in a B movie (even if said B movie gets a theatrical release instead of a video one). This was something that JC learned when the Cannonball Run duology turned out to be way more successful than The Big Brawl and The ProtectorJoss Whedon (the writer of what was known as Alien 4) is such a fan of Chow that he even referenced him in an episode of Angel.



The international fame of Bruce Le during the late `70s/early `80s lead him to being attached to two American productions that failed to occur for him. The first one was meant to be a Kung Fu comedy entitled Salt, Pepper & Soy Sauce, whereas the other one was going to be F.I.S.T. à la Mission: Impossible and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It was reported in `84 that the agreement fell through and the role for the former would go to Carter Wong, though that didn’t crystallize either. The project was left to wither.



Alongside Stephen Chow, Andy Lau has a strong bias for not acting in American films on a continual basis like their contemporaries (although acting with Matt Damon in The Great Wall might change this in the same way that Rush Hour made JC have a change of heart). For Ste, it’s all about the red tape. For Andy, it was more personal. He turned down a role as a cross-dressing Chinese opera diva in M. Butterfly because film-makers refused to entertain his suggestion to delete a scene (it was probably a sex scene). Andy commented: “They said – You’re nobody, don’t bargain with us.”



John Lone eventually played the part of the Beijing transvestite who becomes the love object of a French diplomat who initially is ignorant of Lone’s gender. But the controversial role wasn’t why Andy rejected the offer, as he comments that his fans would accept him playing a homosexual. He claimed that he was willing to take part in Happy Together by Wong Kar-Wai, but he opted out of playing what would become the Leslie Cheung role because of disagreements over the production timetable. Still, he didn’t miss out on anything. Even though it was a David Cronenberg film, the film was barely a blip on the box office radar. It’s not like when Tony Leung Ka-Fai rejected the chance to star in The Last Emperor because he felt he lacked experience. It’s too bad, because Lone became a star with that movie.



I think that it’s strange for no-one in Hollywood to have proposed a buddy movie where Yuen Biao co-stars opposite Scott Baio. Even that idea isn’t as strange as when Peter Chan planned to make his directorial break in Hollywood on a Universal rom-com called Susie and Hercules. The script was written by the writer who wrote Steel Magnolias. The year was 1997, and the story was about a hateful divorce attorney who is hired by a sincere primatologist going to court for a pair of gorillas who were separated by force. The project was shelved when Universal realized that The Love Letter would make for a better introduction.



A female film worker who worked on the JC mailing list back in the nineties, and who knew the Renaissance Films people, revealed that the latter jumped through some major hoops trying to get Brigitte Lin to play the Jacqueline Kim role on the Green Dragon episodes (i.e. part I and II of The Debt) of Xena: Warrior Princess (which had obviously been written with her in mind). Not only was Ms. Lin not interested, but she also made it clear (as in politely but firmly) that she did not appreciate being asked. She hoped that she would not be offered any more roles in the future. The Garbo comparisons are more apt than presumed (she really wanted to be left alone). The second choice for the role of Lao Ma was Maggie Cheung. The third choice was Francoise Yip, but she was deemed unsuitable.

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