In a 2001 issue (#23) of Giant Robot, Wong Jing explained why he has yet to make a Hollywood film. A film’s failure can affect the financing of his Hong Kong films. He also stated that John Woo is the only H.K. film director to have real success. Wong claimed that John was one of ten H.K. directors who made U.S. films. He didn’t list them, but I know that he means Corey Yuen Kwai, John Woo, Tony Leung Siu-Hung, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark, Ronny Yu, Kirk Wong, Stanley Tong, Peter Chan and Leung Po-Chi.
There is a difference between a film that is financed by a U.S. studio and a Chinese-financed production that takes place in the West. No Retreat, No Surrender (a Seasonal production featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme) is not a Hollywood movie despite having a primarily U.S. cast and crew. Similarly, Mr. Nice Guy (a Jackie Chan movie directed by Sammo Hung) is not an Australian movie despite having a primarily Australian cast and crew. Both of these movies were recorded in English. Enter the Dragon, despite having a primarily Chinese cast, crew and setting, is a Hollywood-financed production.
Despite Jing’s reticence, his best friend made a sojourn to the U.S. His name is Andrew Lau. His roles as producer and cinematographer made him a ghost director of Jing’s The Last Tycoon. The featured image of my article is a still from The Flock (a.k.a. Hunted). It stars Richard Gere and Claire Danes. It has a cameo courtesy of Avril Lavigne. Andrew was hired because Martin Scorsese remade Infernal Affairs and thanked him in his Oscar speech. Jing’s interview may be seen as dated given the above-average box office success of Ronny Yu’s Freddy vs. Jason. Alas, the latter’s career was short-lived as he became automatically associated with horror.
Ronny’s other Hollywood movie was Bride of Chucky (1998). It had passable box office success (it did okay enough to warrant a final theatrically released sequel). However, his first English language movie was Warriors of Virtue (1997). It was a clunker. Bride of Chucky was his Hollywood début, although his U.S. début was Warriors of Virtue. Corey Yuen’s Hollywood début was DOA: Dead or Alive (2006), although his U.S. début was No Retreat, No Surrender (1986).
My article is about H.K. directors who made American débuts which succumb to one of the ten commandments. Warriors of Virtue broke the first commandment – do not worship other Gods. The villain is a warlord who demands to be treated like one. No Retreat, No Surrender is guilty of breaking the second commandment – do not create a graven image. The hero is a Bruce Lee fan who imagines him as a teacher who only he can see.
Godfrey Ho’s U.S. début was Undefeatable where he was credited as Godfrey Hall. It broke the third commandment – don’t say the lord’s name in vain. I’m not surprised that Jing wasn’t aware of him because Godfrey was never one of the most famous directors in H.K. because he didn’t make movies that had much of a run in cinemas, although he did attract perhaps enough famous stars to warrant a Chinese whisper.
Tsui Hark’s Double Team (a 1997 box office bomb which featured Mickey Rourke) broke the fourth commandment – keep the Sabbath holy. The monks in the movie were seen as being more devoted to computers than churches, hence why they were cyber-monks. Tony Leung Siu-Hung directed Superfights in 1995. This broke the fifth commandment – honour thy father and mother. The protagonist disregards his mother’s warning to not participate in a televised combat event. His father isn’t mentioned at all in the movie, so it could be presumed that he must have lost his life to one such event.
Leung Po-Chi’s Cabin by the Lake, a Judd Nelson TV movie which was made in 1999, broke the sixth commandment – don’t kill. Unlike Andrew Lau, Leung never had a U.S. movie which even enjoyed a limited cinema release in the U.S. despite being a superior director. Also released in 1999 was Peter Chan’s The Love Letter (a box office disappointment co-starring Tom Selleck and Ellen DeGeneres). This broke the tenth commandment – thou shall not covet. Ringo Lam’s Maximum Risk (a minimum risk flop co-leading Natasha Henstridge) broke the seventh commandment – don’t commit adultery (albeit she played the fiancée of a twin brother).
Kirk Wong’s The Big Hit (starring Mark Wahlberg) was made in 1996 and shelved in 1997 before being released in 1998. It was moderately profitable i.e. it had the sort of commercial outcome which gets a small cult following instead of major fanfare. It’s one of those movies which comes and goes without causing much paranoia among competitors. I won’t give away how, but it had a plot point which involved breaking the ninth commandment – do not lie.
Stanley Tong’s Mr. Magoo was made and released in 1997. Leslie Nielsen was miscast (Gene Hackman should’ve starred). It was a minor B.O. dud. It broke the eighth commandment – do not steal. The narrative should’ve been like a Rube Goldberg scenario instead of being a second-rate Bond-esque movie where Kelly Lynch played a character whose names were Marvel-ish alliterations. A better title would’ve been Casualties of Causalities.
Now that I’ve listed the ten directors who made U.S. films, this would mean disregarding Lucas Lo from the list because he wasn’t already a director but rather a glorified errand boy (assistant director) who also acted as a continuity checker (i.e. script supervisor). His assistance for Seasonal’s Walk on Fire (1988) somehow made him qualifiable, but even Lo Wei would have been a better selection because of his claim to fame as Bruce Lee’s most famous H.K. director.
After everything that’s been typed, it would be easy to perceive Andrew as the twelfth example of a H.K. director making a U.S. movie. However, his début is the thirteenth. In 2002, Tony Ching (mostly known among fans as Ching Siu-Tung) directed a Steven Seagal movie titled Belly of the Beast. In 2006, the Pang brothers directed Kristen Stewart in The Messengers. The fourteenth introduction was Shadow: Dead Riot, which was directed by Derek Wan in 2005.
The fifteenth instance was Andrew Loo (who co-directed a 2005 H.K. movie titled It Had to Be You). In 2013, he made his U.S. début co-directing Andrew Lau’s Revenge of the Green Dragons (featuring Ray Liotta and executively produced by Martin Scorsese). Loo also co-produced Andrew Lau’s The Flock, which was made in late 2005, reshot by a U.S. director (Niels Mueller) in 2006, released to foreign cinemas in 2007 (to predict how well that it would do in U.S. cinemas) before the demotion to U.S. DVD in 2008.
This is what Loo had to say about Lau’s forced leave when I sent him a Facebook message: “He had creative differences with Philippe Martinez and Elie Samaha (the producers). Richard was always on our (the other Andrew’s) side, but they were determined to make more of a slasher/exploitation film. In the end, we came in under budget by a million dollars thinking we would add a few scenes after the assembly cut but we were never given the chance. It could have been a really nice film.”
Back to the person who replaced Corey Yuen as the director of Seasonal’s English language films, Lucas Lo’s birth name is Lo Yuen-Ming, but many (myself included) assumed that Lucas was Seasonal’s founder: Ng See-Yuen (who has directed many movies). This was because there was a time when it wasn’t mentioned on the Hong Kong Movie Database about who Lucas really was e.g. in an early noughties interview for a Bruce Lee website, Bey Logan talked about Ng See-Yuen having just completed a U.S. film. I checked Ng’s IMDB profile, there was nothing. Pardon the pun, but lo and behold, Lucas Lowe’s profile had him listed as the director of Diaries of Darkness (Shannon Tweed starred in this 2000 thriller).
His true identity was revealed on Ng’s site for the Hong Kong Film Directors Guild. Lo Yuen-Ming made his nom de guerre become less Chinese by changing it to Lucas Lowe for King of the Kickboxers and from that point onward. With the exception of No Retreat, No Surrender 2: Raging Thunder, Lowe’s Seasonal movies went DTV (a.k.a. direct-to-video). Anyway, Diaries of Darkness was the last U.S. directorial feature of Lucas Lowe, who went on to produce The Black Door (2001).