quote Saiyan

The title is the Cantonese word for Westerner and a politically correct version of gweilo (this and gwailo are usually translated as either white ghost or white devil). Saiyan is surprisingly infrequent among Hong Kong film fans despite the huge popularity of the Dragon Ball TV sagas. Wong Jing (a legendary film cognoscente) is such a big fan of Dragon Ball that he infused characteristics into three of his 1993 movies – Future Cops (a woefully overlooked satire), Perfect Exchange (a misunderstood parody) and Kung Fu Cult Master (an underrated masterpiece). Hong Kong Superstars is the Holy Grail of H.K. film magazines. I only have issues because I was one of the club members when it began in the late `90s. I feel bad that many fans are missing out, so I decided to reprint the interviews so that future generations can have something to learn from (as an actor or just a fan). This article will concentrate on four Westerners – Thorsten Nickel, Michael Ian Lambert, Darren Shahlavi and Jude Poyer.

Stuart Cutler did an interview with Thorsten in 1999. When asked about how he became a martial artist and got involved to play the main villain in Thunderbolt, Thor replied:

“When I was younger, I studied Shotokan Karate but then later I got heavily into boxing. Once, though, I got caught by a punch in the ring that just blacked me out for a few minutes and that really scared me. I was still conscious, but I didn’t know where I was, what I was doing or even who I was for those few minutes. That basically was a warning sign to me about what can happen, so I stopped boxing thereafter. Now I train in Thai boxing mainly for fitness, and I do a lot of running. My first big break was when I was playing a character in the Jackie Chan: Kung Fu Master video game. Then, whilst I was working on My Father is a Hero, Gordon Chan offered me the role. It was to be the biggest H.K. production ever shot with a budget of U.S.$ 28 million and filmed on location in Japan, Malaysia and the U.S.A.”

When asked about the schedule of the production and the amount of driving that he did, Nickel responded:

“It lasted six months in all and I did most of my own driving, except for the dangerous stunts obviously. It was a strange feeling when it came out in Hong Kong because I attended the big première and experienced overnight fame. Suddenly, everybody wanted to talk to me, take photos and ask for signatures. Being a big blonde Westerner, it was hard not to attract attention; although none of this happened to me before Thunderbolt.”

When asked about what was next for him, Nick stated:

“I’m waiting for Thunderbolt to come out in the U.S. sometime this year. They keep saying it’ll happen, but then it gets put back on hold again. When it does, that should open a whole new market for me. I’ve recently made a movie in Canada called Crisis, which is an action/drama and I co-star with David Bradley. The temperature was 25 degrees below zero most of the time! I am also going to be starring in an action TV series entitled Puma in my home country of Germany for one of their biggest channels called RTL. Donnie Yen will be working on it as a fight choreographer. As much as I am proud of what I’ve already done, this will at least be something my parents can watch and understand properly; so I am looking forward to that. Perhaps Jackie will want to use me for one of his future projects too, because we got on really well together.”

Mike Lambert was interviewed by Chris Ducker in 1999. He explained how he became a mainstay of martial arts cinema:

“Obviously, the guys that inspired me to get into the business were people like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Jimmy Wang Yu. Although, the one person that really made me think seriously about it was Bey Logan. One day, he said to me: You can get into movies, just pick what way you want to go – the West or the East. I chose Hong Kong because it was easier to get there, no Green card needed and all that, so that’s how I got to Hong Kong. Within two weeks, I was doing some work on a video game where they wanted me to do several moves and stances which were used to basically transform me onto the video game screen. After that, I got the chance at being in The Quest with Van Damme.”

This is no such thing as Silence of the Lambert when asked to differentiate between being a professional kickboxer and being a professional stuntman:

“In tournaments, you fight very close – everything is in close quarters. In the movies, you have to elaborate every single move, so it’s bigger and looks good for the camera. So yeah, there’s a big difference between the two. I’ve probably been hurt more doing movies though.”

The Lambert who didn’t get raped and killed in Alien had this to say about working with Chan on two movies:

“Well, it was great. Obviously, to be able to make movies with a guy you’ve looked up to for years is fantastic, so I enjoyed every minute of it. My part in Thunderbolt wasn’t a very big part, mostly stunt work, but the experience was second to none. The role I played in Who Am I? was a lot bigger. I was, in fact, due to have the end fight scene with Jackie, but everything ran behind schedule and they didn’t have enough time to set up the shots they wanted, so that scene was cut from the script. Jackie is a great guy, a lot of fun to be around and a fantastic movie maker; but if you get on the wrong side of him on a film set, he’ll go crazy. Movies are his life, so when he’s making one, he’ll put everything into it. He’s a nice fellow 99% of the time, but that other 1% – boom! But really, a really cool guy.”

Lambert discusses Black Mask – a superhero movie which he was in:

“Great. Every movie you make, you learn something. I learnt a lot on that set. The action director, Yuen Woo-Ping, was great. The sets were great. I think my fighting was pretty good too. Jet is a fantastic martial artist although he, like Jackie, isn’t the best kicker in the world, he makes up for it whilst using props and weapons. Once again, a really nice guy to work with. I like that movie. If you work consistently throughout the summer, it can almost kill you. I was working on Black Mask and Best of the Best, an S.A.S. movie, at the same time. It was July, and I was going from one set to the other. I was losing about 9 pounds a day in fluids. When you get home, you’re so tired but you have to drink and eat to put the weight back on. Then, the next day, you lose it all again. It’s very hard. In fact, knackering!”

Mike goes from talking about working with Li to Lee (same pronunciation) in Enter the Eagles (which was originally meant to be filmed entirely in Prague):

“At first, I was like – My God, I’m working with Bruce Lee’s daughter in her first H.K. movie. Then I thought to myself – Just get on with it. The novelty wore off very quickly, but I think the scenes we did together were very good. Shannon was very good, especially for someone who only had limited training. She was very competent and able to hold her own. The movie starts well, the story is okay but, like many H.K. movies, they used the budget up too quickly, so towards the end of the movie – it drops off slightly. The cast is a good one, though. Also, Golden Harvest have done a good job in promoting it, so the movie will do well. Although I feel her next movie will be the best of the two that she is signed to do.”

Unfortunately, that movie never happened because she was homesick. After working with Sammo Hung and Corey Yuen on that movie, she would’ve benefited from taking some time off before working with Yuen Woo-Ping after his stint on The Matrix (albeit if Golden Harvest were savvy enough to follow through on this). Back to H.K. Superstars, Darren Shahlavi was also interviewed by Mr. Cutler in 1999. When asked about how he was lucky enough to play the main villain as opposed to the main Western villain in Tai Chi II, he answered:

“This movie all came about whilst I was in Hong Kong and I met up with Anthony Wong Wing-Fai, who was one of the producers. He promised me a role in their new movie and I just thought – Yeah, right. That’s what they all say! I was doing some work as a nightclub bouncer and I was called back by him to meet up with director Yuen Woo-Ping. I showed him a few kicks and stuff then he said he’d like to use me. At first, I think he wasn’t too sure what I could and couldn’t do, but when I told him I’d do anything – that’s when my role became much bigger and, as we were filming, it eventually evolved into the principal bad guy.”

He was then asked to talk about a Gary Daniels movie (titled Blood Moon) that had its world première on the HBO channel. He said:

“The director, Tony Leung Siu-Hung, based my character on Hwang Jang-Lee, so he gave me a long-haired wig and even tried to give me a moustache, but I said no to that. He reckoned the hair looked good in slow motion, plus Gary had just had his hair cut short for this movie, so we kept that.”

He was then asked to talk about the film after that – Hostile Environment. He confessed:

“We had to use police officers as extras for the fight scenes who we recruited by going down to their local gym. Considering they’d never done anything like this before, the fights turned out pretty good.”

Lastly, he was asked to open up about working with the notorious (if not exactly nefarious) Phillip Ko on Techno Warriors. He confided:

“We filmed for 8 or 9 weeks mostly outdoors, primarily on the beach, in full costume doing non-stop fight sequences and I suffered from heat exhaustion not surprisingly! They wanted to get as much footage on film so that they could make two films out of it for the price of one.”

In 1999, he turned down the chance to work with Cynthia Rothrock on Tiger Claws 3 because he didn’t want to play the typical martial arts villain that you find in American B movies. Additionally, a film project that fell through the cracks was a straight-to-video screenplay titled Embassy. The star was going to be Mickey Rourke. Unfortunately, Mr. Shahlavi died of a heart attack in 2015. What makes his death sadder is that, in 2009, he had mentioned in an interview about someone sabotaging him so that he wouldn’t play Patrick Lung’s role in Black Mask.

He didn’t mention the person’s name, but he said that he used to see him as a big brother. Lambert is a year older, whereas Winston Ellis is 7 years older. The latter had less of a chance to shine than the former, as Shahlavi slightly hinted: “It amazed me how someone can jeopardise a great opportunity for someone they know, mistakenly believing it will create a chance for themselves.”

Still not convinced? Mark Houghton mentioned in an interview that Darren used to live with Winston in H.K. because they already knew each other in England. Winston had initially hired Darren (then 17 years old) to work at his bodybuilding gym in Reading. It was Winston who is responsible for Darren having a movie career in the first place, because he introduced him to Bey Logan whereas the latter introduced him to Mark (who trained him how to be a stuntman and hired him for three movies in Malaysia).

In 2000, Jude Poyer was interviewed by Chris Ducker for the October issue of Hong Kong Superstars (whose copies are more difficult to find online than other H.K. zines – both mag’ and fan). After the interview, Jude had completed filming scenes for Gen-Y Cops (where Paul {Ant-Man} Rudd* played the villain). Here is what Jude had to say about the process of getting the part in A Man Called Hero:

“I got a call to say that a new movie was looking for a couple of Caucasian actors to play a father and his son. Both had to be able to do dialogue, fight and perform stunts. So myself and Tom Hudak, who worked on Knock Off with myself, went up to Golden Harvest to cast for the assistant director – Sylvia Liu Jing-Yi. She and I had previously worked on The Blacksheep Affair. When she told us that her latest project was a follow-up of sorts to The Storm Riders, I wasn’t excited since I’m not a big fan of that film. But then she mentioned that Yuen Biao was going to appear in the film, and if I got the part, I’d have to fight him. You could say my interest increased somewhat at that point. Tom and I showed her some acting and martial arts stuff, so that was that. I think we found out that they wanted the pair of us almost immediately. I was somewhat relieved. I seldom drink, and that weekend I’d been in China at a friend’s birthday party, so when I went to the casting, I was still recovering from a hangover.”

He details the perks of working on it:

“Shooting was a lot fun. I flew up to Shanghai three times – the last time we drove onto Suzhou for the mine scenes. I can only say good things about Yuen Biao, Ken Lo Wai-Kwong, Elvis Tsui, Frankie Ng and the other cast members. As for the crew, the director (Andrew Lau) is a very friendly guy – making his actors feel very comfortable. He has a clear vision of what he has to shoot on a given day, and I don’t think he’s at all intimidated by the scale of such films, or the fact that a lot of what he shoots must be integrated with CGI. Obviously, it’s a great feeling for any actor to work on a major production, and to be working with people you’ve admired over the years is a major plus. To find that they are just as talented as you’d expected and that they have pleasant personalities is a bonus too. I liked A Man Called Hero because I got to combine three of my passions in one role.”

He describes the perils of working on it:

“There’s a reason why they call it stunt-work. I did wire jerk-backs, explosions and a leap. There was also the body burn where my arms and back were on fire. It’s not the most impressive body burn ever committed to celluloid, that’s for sure, but I did it without the aid of protective clothing, fire-resistant gels or even a fire extinguisher. We didn’t anticipate the fire getting as big and out of control as it did. I had a few very close calls. I’m certainly not complaining, though!”

He explains the Lau film that would be later known as The Wesley Mysterious Files:

Blue Blood Man is a science fiction story partly set in the U.S. They were using a lot of Western extras to play C.I.A. and S.W.A.T. team guys. They thought it would be nice if, when the aliens start causing havoc, a Caucasian face could be seen on the guy crashing through windows, etc. I did quite a lot of stunts – falls, explosions and getting repeatedly beaten up by a CGI alien! Filming had to stop because Andy was committed to his concert run. Shooting was meant to resume after that was over, but didn’t. Andrew Lau went on to direct The Legend of Speed. I don’t know the fate of the film but I’ve heard that it’s been shelved due to some disputes. If that’s the case, it’s a shame because what I saw of the rough footage was very stylish, and there was some good action. If they were to resume filming now though, the continuity problems would be horrendous. For starters, Almen is pregnant.”

This is what Jude had to say about Fist Power:

“First up, I’d like to say that it is not a great film. The director, Aman Cheung, has received some stick from fans and critics in the West over some of his films but people don’t realize the budgetary along with the scheduling conditions under which they are made. I just did another film for him – a ghost/love story called Twilight Garden starring Julian Cheung and Annie Wu. That film was scheduled for 11 days. The directorial Cheung did it in 9. Fist Power was shot in 13 days. I worked on 2 days. The fight in the park was filmed in about 9 hours in the pouring rain! It was a very demanding shoot, very exhausting, and I took some knocks like kicks to head! I had some black bruises and a headache afterwards. I have to say, though, I liked working with Chiu Man-Cheuk, who has to be the most physically gifted actor that I’ve worked with. Ma Yuk-Sing, one of the action directors who worked on The Blacksheep Affair, did a great job. In Hong Kong, he’s famous for being able to get the job done fast and he’s probably the busiest action director because of this. I think it’s a shame that the editing of the fights did his choreography an injustice.”

He shows some candid insight in regards to an overlooked Jet Li film:

Hitman was nice for me because I’ve enjoyed Jet Li’s work for a long time, particularly Martial Arts of Shaolin. I didn’t have a particularly standout role in that film, but it was nice to share some screen time with him. I remember being most impressed by his acting. I was watching the TV monitor on the set and seeing him do the close-ups. He’s got a very expressive face. I’m not surprised that he’s doing well in Hollywood, but I guess that rules out the chances of me working with him for some time!”

In 2000, Jude worked on a Sega game movie (or should that be a movie within a Sega game?):

“I just got back yesterday, actually, from location work in the Philippines. The project is called Honey, I Love You and is an interactive film for Sega’s Dreamcast console. It stars Daniel Wu, Jade Leung, Kathy Chow and newcomer Vanessa Chiu, who was in Spacked Out – the Chinese version of Larry Clark’s Kids. Surprise, surprise, I play the villain of the piece. Shooting also took place in Hong Kong and Milan, but not Japan. This is ironic because we had a Japanese director and crew members. Also, we had crew from wherever we were filming. For the Hong Kong action, the action director was a guy called Bobby Wu Chi-Lung. His name might not be familiar to your readers because he tends to do TV shows, but they may know him as the action director for The Way of the Lady BoxersKung Fu Mistress, The Longest Nite and Black Cat in Jail. On a visual level, readers will recognize him as the member of Chiu’s family who fights with the big pole at the end of Fist Power. He’s a talented, nice guy and I liked working with him.”

Just when you thought that you had read the end of it, you’ve only eaten half the sandwich:

“The schedule for the action was not as generous as many movies, but we were able to incorporate a lot of different techniques – kicks, Karate blocks, a miniscule of Wing Chun hand-work and mini tramp/acrobatic stuff. It was a demanding experience. I mean, as well as the characterisation to focus my energy on, there was a lot of action. Daniel and I have three fight scenes. I also had to wear some mad make-up for one scene, which took four hours to apply. I looked like a demon that was one layer short of resembling a skeleton. There were a few days when I was doing twelve hours of fighting at night on the video game then I would go home from that location to shower and shave before heading straight out the door to the New Territories to do a single day’s shooting on Aman’s film. After the one day shoot, it was rinse and repeat. Once his film was over, I’d head off to do the video game shoot! That said, though, I’m not complaining – the director was fantastic. By that, I mean receptive, giving and enthusiastic. On the whole, the cast and crew were a nice bunch too, in particular the Filipinos.”

He inadvertently reveals his biggest responsibility and best job – working for the Hong Kong Stuntman Association:

“The H.K.S.A. was set up to help unify and, to an extent, regulate the stunt community. It looks into issues like payment, insurance and more recently gaining government support to improve the lot of stuntmen in Hong Kong through subsiding courses along with a bunch of other things that are best abbreviated as etc. I’m just a small potato in the organization – a regular member. People like Yuen Bing, Stephen Tung-Wai and Ridley Tsui have been on the committee. At the end of ’98, the committee got together with Jackie Chan and devised a Stuntman Training Course so that they could help find new blood for the stunt industry. This is because the industry of the past could look to the Chinese Opera schools for new talent. So far, there’s been two courses. For the second one, which just ended, I was instructing kicking and assisting with other classes, including gymnastics and Chinese Kung Fu. It was a pretty intense course with the students attending 3 hour classes for five days per week within the space of a year’s quarter. By the end of it, you could see that they’d come a long way. Some of the other instructors included Yeung Ching-Ching (a former Shaw Brothers actress turned stuntwoman) and Rocky Lai from the JC Stunt Team.”

The below quotation about A Man Called Hero was taken from Jude’s defunct site:

“VCDs are even cheaper here in Suzhou than those in Shanghai. Relieving the boredom found here in our out-of-the-way hotel was well worth the taxi ride into the town center. Walking through the lobby wet from rain and heavy laden with shopping, I see Biao, Ken, Tsui and Chi-Hung sitting at a table with a near-empty bottle of red. They call me over, we finish off the wine and examine my buys. Biao isn’t sure whether to be impressed by my purchase of a pirate copy of Painted Faces – a dramatization of his childhood with Jackie Chan and Sammo Hung. “The VCD isn’t available in Hong Kong” – I offer. Ken picks up my copy of Incredible Kung Fu Mission and dismisses the kicks of rubbery John Liu as lacking power. “His Sifu, Tan Tao-Liang was good though,” say I. “Tan was my Sifu for kicking too” smiles Biao. “Brother Biao…” pipes up Elvis Tsui who, now loosened by the wine’s effects, bares a closer resemblance to the Tsui that what I had seen on screen; “…Your kicks are great.”

H.K.S. was a U.K. magazine that was the shorter-lived successor to Eastern Heroes. It’s highly unlikely to find issues of H.K.S. online. Their legacy is survived by this page.

* Around the time Gen-Y Cops came out, Rudd guested on The Today Show in the U.S. when they were coincidentally featuring a world tour of cities that included H.K. After they did the H.K. piece (which featured live interviews with Jackie and Donnie Yen’s sister), they cut to Paul discussing his role in the then-unaired episodes of Friends. He discussed his experiences filming in H.K. He basically made fun of the movie in a spiteful way, for instance by stating “Gen-Y Cops, which of course, was a sequel to Gen-X Cops.” He also said “I now know what unions are for” when referring to doing all of his own stunts. With no previous warning or explanation, the crew smeared fire-retardant gel all over his legs. Needless to say, it made him nervous. He also joked about the “joy” of eating raw jellyfish while in H.K. In a nutshell, he implied that he wouldn’t want to work in H.K. any time soon!


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